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Southern Exposure

A Southern-inspired restaurant takes up residence in the Can Company


Sam Holden

Langermann's

Phone:410-534-3287
Address:2400 Boston St.
Baltimore, MD 

More on Langermann's.

By Mary K. Zajac | Posted 3/10/2010

"They used to make ammunition here during the war," said one of my dining companions as we sipped beers at Langermann's, the newest addition to Canton's Can Company. The more recent history of the former American Can Company--which also manufactured cans used by the long row of canneries that edged Canton's waterfront in the 1940s--is less colorful, but still dynamic. Kiss Café inhabited the space prior to Langermann's; Spike and Charlie Gjerde's Atlantic was an early tenant, too.

On paper, the Can Company would seem to have several factors that could guarantee urban success: It's within walking distance of neighborhood housing and it has parking for those coming from further afield. Still, it's oddly unsettling that the restaurants that seem to have the most longevity in the Can Company are chains, like the Austin Grill and the Outback Steakhouse. (Even the draw of Raven Ray Lewis' name couldn't keep his late barbecue joint alive.) And maybe playing it safe will be Langermann's ticket to staying alive in a tough market.

Part of Langermann's challenge is the restaurant's space. The place is huge with both a bar and two levels of dining. And while wood and wrought iron gives the room some much needed warmth (though a small fireplace nestled in the side dining area is easy to miss), the whole effect is more than a little corporate generic, somewhat like eating in the lobby of a new hotel. It's not unattractive, but the acoustics are lousy, and voices get absorbed into the low din mix of sound system and bar conversation.

This may not matter, however, once the bread basket arrives and you dig into the cornbread, bright with unexpected bursts of jalapeño, or a perfectly serviceable biscuit, crisp and light, and far from the doughy variety you can pop from a refrigerated roll. Langermann's motto is "Southern. Inspired." after all, and while not everything hews to this inspiration (the seared yellowfin tuna appetizer with egregiously undercooked sasparilla beans [$8.95], for example), the menu is broadly friendly, and servings are generous, and fairly priced. Of the dozen entrées on the menu, only two hit the $20.95 mark, the highest price on the menu.

Although purists will debate how authentically Southern Langermann's preparations are, the dishes that are most successful are the ones that nod to origins south of the Mason-Dixon line, like fried green tomatoes ($6.95), crunchy with a panko-like crumb and topped with a tart, silky chow chow, the pickled, cabbage-based condiment that's as delicious to eat as it is to say. Barbecue spare ribs ($7.95) wear a sauce more Asian (think strong notes of soy sauce) than Southern on their meaty bones, and the staff thoughtfully brings copious napkins to the table with your order. The cranberry relish served with the ribs seems a bit of an afterthought, however; its spicy-hot flavors don't meld well with the ribs, and it's not clear what purpose it serves when the ribs are already sauced.

While Langermann's also offers bar-favorite appetizers like wings, steamed mussels, crab and artichoke dip, and even fried catfish fingers, entrées are a little dressier. Sauces abound--from a bordelaise napping braised beef short ribs to a cider-butter sauce on seared scallops--giving flair to a mostly comfort food-based menu. A snowy fillet of sea bass ($19.95), surrounded by a pale yellow puddle of creamed corn (more sauce than vegetable) into which fingerling potatoes melted, was the picture of mildness in the very best way. A small handful of arugula cut through the richness and kept the dish from being overwhelmingly one-dimensional. But if the sea bass was demure, the pork chop ($18.95) was all muscle and brawn, a straightforward, hefty chop balanced by a mound of mashed candied sweet potatoes and refreshingly bitter sautéed spinach.

We were warned that the crab cakes ($20.95) were "Southern style," and not "how they make them around here," as our server put it. Mostly this means no Old Bay, and I have to admit I missed it. Oh, the cakes tasted fresh and had lump crabmeat (though they also had more filler than expected), but they were mild to the point of boredom (the accompanying succotash--a mélange of black-eyed peas, tomato, and fresh corn--was much more interesting). In a town that loves a certain kind of crab cake (and certainly qualifies as Southern), a crab cake so indistinct is a disappointment. Much better were the shrimp and grits ($17.95), an island of soft, springy grits surrounded by a rich unctuous broth, and topped with shrimp, coins of andouille sausage, and a confetti of tomatoes. Although that wasn't my order, it would be next time.

Langermann's makes in-house desserts that change frequently, and a tiny ramekin of key lime pudding cake (no longer on the menu), light and limey, spongy, sweet-and-tart, fared better than a monster portion of bourbon bread pudding dwarfed by three scoops of ice cream and gratified with caramel sauce ($6). Uncle! This is surely overkill for a humble, old-fashioned dessert.

The restaurant shows better restraint in its mostly New World wine list and limited taps on draft (points for offering local Clipper City Loose Cannon, though). Offering old-fashioned cocktails like the rob roy or the sidecar is also a trend worth continuing. Perhaps come summer, Langermann's will add a mint julep to its list of classics, extending the Southern hospitality just a little further.

Don't mess with crab cakes.

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