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The only business of note on a Canton side street and patronized, at least on this night, by a way postadolescent crowd, Buddy’s Elliott Street Bar and Grill feels miles away from the frenetic core of Canton social life. And what distinguishes Buddy’s from the countless other Baltimore neighborhood bar and grills it resembles is the anomalous presence, in the back of its plain and tidy dining room, of an open kitchen. You could take this as Buddy’s commitment to quality food, or professionalism, or at the very least some assurance that the chef won’t sneeze in your soup.
Buddy’s small back-of-house dining room is plain and tidy and not very fancy. One wall is brick, the other is whitewash-and-wood; burgundy tables and votive candles dress the tables. It’s a nice, kitsch-free place that brings to mind McCabe’s in Hampden and Duda’s in Fell’s Point.
ýhe appetizer menu is mostly standard 21st-century melting-pot pub grub. Buddy’s did a real nice job with an appetizer of bruschetta ($6), topping toasty baguette slices with a pert summer-fresh mix of marinated plum tomatoes, garlic, basil, and Parmesan. All very simple but handsomely arranged, and generous, too—don’t you just hate it when you’re brought out two slices of toast and a thimbleful of bruschetta topping?
The caprese appetizer, the mozzarella pyramid ($9), should have been rendered as simply. The menu suggested such: a stacking of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, olives, and arugula. But Buddy’s overdid this one, squirting far too much strong balsamic vinegar on a salad bowl full of good tomatoes but slightly foamy mozzarella. A third appetizer, cheddar and bacon-stuffed potato skins ($7), were firm and fluffy, but could have stood a few seconds more under the broiler and either more pig meat or a sprinkling of salt to give them more decadent mouthfeel.
The standard-fare entrée menu at Buddy’s is sprinkled with a few instances of surprising ambition—a pistachio-encrusted lamb with a Chianti demi-glace; a chicken breast stuffed with mozzarella, basil, and spinach and served over a turmeric chicken velute. Such touches indicate a chef given some room to experiment, meaning that Buddy’s is willing to slowly build an audience for more enterprising fare. In the meantime, it’s going to be pretty hard separating customers from their crab cakes.
The crab cakes are out-of-this world great. Available as a sandwich ($14) or as a dinner with garlic-mashed potatoes and a vegetable ($24 for two crab cakes or, and I love this, $15 for a single cake dinner), Buddy’s version is handsomely sized, about the size of hockey puck, and manifestly lumpy. Broiled to a crispy golden brown, silky, and warm, the seasoning borders very closely on the salty, and some palates may find them too much so. I thought there was just enough to tease out the native crab flavor.
Flecked with peppercorns, and flattered by a hearty demi-glace, a four-inch-thick, plate-filling New York strip ($19) offered very intense true steak flavor but was occasionally tough, a fate that often befalls this esteemed he-man cut. Better luck with Maryland’s official state fish. A pan-seared rockfish ($19) retained its unique combination of gamy and mild, and was given some subtle culinary thrills and color from a vivid and spiky spinach coulis and well-tempered yellow rice.
For the second time in recent weeks, while leaving I noticed the chef eating what looked like a special entrée that I didn’t care for, in this case a blackened chicken and andouille sausage pasta dish ($18). I had wanted more heat from the chicken, which was bland, and especially the sausage, which was too crumbly and indistinct. The Cajun cream sauce was zestless, too. That the chef was enjoying his efforts impressed me; it made me like Buddy’s a little more.
I appreciated, too, the good service; the availability of a Saturday night light-fare menu of soups, salads, and sandwiches (including a $6 kosher hot dog); and the flecks of coconut in the fresh whipped cream that topped a traditional brownie sundae ($4). And Buddy’s superbly concocts a top-shelf Manhattan for $4.75. Go the first time for the crab cakes, then shop around the rest of the menu—though uneven just now, Buddy’s shows commitment and promise.