P is for Pub Grub
Peter's Inn · Simon's Pub · Duda's · Sobo Café · Koco's Pub · Kisling's · McCabe's · Dougherty's Pub · Charles Village Pub
Tiny Peter's Inn (504 S. Ann St.,  675-7313) thinks big with its ambitious and expertly realized (and constantly changing) "world food" menu. Terrific atmosphere--dimly, romantically lit--and a hip but friendly crowd make this a place to linger, but come first for the food, which is fresh, delicious, and reasonably priced. Peter's menu cannot be predicted, but the filet mignon is always terrific, and there's generally some garlicky, ambrosial seafood over pasta offered, as well as chicken cooked in some interesting fashion, such as Jamaican jerk-style. Peter's Inn is sensitive to vegetarians and vegans as well, with entrées suitable to both diets always available; we like the Moroccan vegetable stew or anything with pesto. Whatever you get, don't miss the house special garlic bread.
Every neighborhood should have a pub like Simon's Pub (2031 E. Fairmount Ave.  522-4477) in Butcher's Hill: low-key, inviting, and friendly, with terrific food at terrific prices. Standard pub grub (jalapeño poppers, fried calamari) is very good, but the menu really shines with such offerings as deliciously inventive quesadillas (the sweet-potato-and-corn version was to die for) and creative pasta dishes. In true pub fashion there is, of course, an extensive selection of beers on tap, including local brews.
Your surroundings need never be the limit of your experience, as a meal at Duda's (Thames and Bond streets,  276-9719) proves. This hideaway looks to be your standard Fells Point bar, but a glance at the menu welcomes you to the world of a hearty, Mediterranean-style Greek salad, a blackened chicken breast robed in melted blue cheese, and enormous crab cakes that can hold their own against any served in those "seafood" restaurants. The fare may be haute but the prices aren't, and Duda's is thankfully devoid of attitude. That's why everyone eats here, from the most jaded locals to the most starry-eyed tourists.
OK, OK, Sobo Café (6 W. Cross St.,  752-1518) is more restaurant than pub. Though there is an actual bar where patrons can hang out and drink, Sobo's focus is more the warm, funky dining room and intelligent menu consisting of equal parts comfort food (mac 'n' cheese, chili, pot pie) and world cuisine (tropical fruit salsas, innovative pasta dishes). We understand how the arty but unpretentious vibe of the place gives a publike feel, though, since the Sobo is a spot for musicians and other creative citizens of South Baltimore to gather and hang out.
If Hamlet had dined at Koco's Pub (4301 Harford Road,  426-3519), he'd have said, "Is it a crab cake or a softball? That is the question." Don't ask us how Koco's can afford to serve such a shell-free, lump-heavy specimen for what they charge. The taste is amazing too, spicy but creamy. This tiny bar barely has a kitchen, yet the gals therein turn out steaks, wings, sandwiches, steamed shrimp--all of it soul-satisfying and cheap. If you're not a regular, they'll make you feel like one after a couple of visits.
Pub lobster? Kisling's (2100 Fleet St. 327-5477), at the confluence of Canton and Fells Point, offers just that, with an affordable Thursday-night special on the tasty high-end decapod. When we visit, though, we usually stick to the less-ambitious (but no less tasty) stuff from the steamer, such as the top-notch shrimp, or the big burgers and outstanding fries. And they give you malt vinegar for your spuds at the table, which we appreciate.
We also appreciate a place where the chef takes a moment to walk through and ask if your dinner is all right. At McCabe's (3845 Falls Road,  467-1000), we're always happy and we say so. The chef smiles gallantly, inclining his head, and murmurs, "Thank you." This Hampden hangout dishes up soups, sandwiches, salads, and daily specials that show ambition. The humble fried-fish sandwich is elevated here, and even the burgers taste special. Come early on weekend nights: The regulars pack the place, for camaraderie and bar food that's a cut above.
Dougherty's Pub (223 W. Chase St.,  752-4059) in Mount Vernon is notable for its relatively inexpensive drafts, but it's also got an extensive menu of cheaply priced burgers, sandwiches, salads, and heart-stopping appetizers (including such popular booze companions as potato skins, fried mozzarella, and chicken wings). Sample the fat, fresh-cut fries and daily specials; when it's available, try their crispy golden fish 'n' chips with your Bass or Guinness, for that authentic pub feel.
You'll find your share of college types at the Charles Village Pub (3107 St. Paul St.,  243-1611); after all, it's just a couple of blocks from Johns Hopkins' Homewood campus. But the CVP is first and foremost a neighborhood bar, populated by the diverse people who live in Charles Village. For eons, we've come here to down a few brews with friends and to soak up the suds with solid pub grub: burgers, ribs, and damn good steamed shrimp. You won't find anything fancy--the walls, tables, and benches have obviously seen the passage of time and so have many of the patrons--but it's comfortable. We wouldn't have it any other way.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201