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Eat Feature

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Café Tattoo · Sisson's Restaurant · Henninger's · Alonso's · Charles Village Pub · Mick O'Shea's · Kelly's · Buddies Pub & Jazz Club · Swallow at the Hollow · Peter's Inn

Posted 2/25/1998

Dark and mysterious or loud, brash, and boisterous--dining at the pub, tavern, or bar is all about kickin' back with a cold mug and a hot plate of simple, solid chow. The chef--and that's a stretch--is named Nick, or at least he should be. He smokes gas-station cigars and wears an apron that once upon a time was white. But damn, what he does on the grill. Somebody say bacon cheeseburger? Of course, some of the pubberies listed here have ambitious menus and chefs who deserve to wear the towering hat. But the attitude is the same: Nice to see ya. Have another beer. Hungry?

Small, smoky, dim, and famous for its 100-plus microbrews and steady string of blues bands, Café Tattoo (4825 Bel Air Road, [410] 325-7427) also serves up some pretty great meat on a styrofoam plate. We're talking zero frills here, but the pulled pork and barbecued chicken are so tender, flimsy plastic forks suffice. And don't miss the burritos--bundles of beans and smoky meats swimming in sweet, thick BBQ sauce.

The state's oldest brewpub, Sisson's Restaurant (36 E. Cross St., [410] 539-2093), continues to thrive in its cozy niche in the heart of the Federal Hill scene. The tasty liquid lineup features everything from a light golden ale to a thick, toasty stout, plus an effervescent Belgian brew and fruit beers such as blueberry wheat for those who like that kind of thing. And if the pricey, Cajun-influenced entrées push the definition of pub dining somewhat, wallet-friendly eating options can be found: perhaps the area's best pulled-pork barbecue sandwich, and a seafood salad that toothsomely unites spiced crawfish, smoked salmon, and poached shrimp on a crispy lettuce bed.

Henninger's (1812 Bank St., [410] 342-2172) is a delightful little eatery nestled in the frat-free end of Fells Point. This is pub food with a pedigree: solid ingredients--lamb, flounder, duck--served "new American style" (that is, with panache and smarts) in an intimate, romantic dinning room. (It's almost like eating at a beloved relative's home--but without the sound of Wheel of Fortune spilling through the wall from where your senile uncle sits with his TV tray and slippers). At the bar side of the operation, quirky co-owner Kenny can entertain you with his goofy collection of kitsch. (Ask to see the "Barfo Family.")

Alonso's (415 W. Cold Spring Lane, [410] 235-3433) is famous citywide for its jaw-stretching burgers and overloaded spill-into-your-lap pizza slices. So why, why does this venerable joint maintain only a thimble-sized dining room? Maybe they don't want success to spoil them, or to take away the neighborly atmosphere that permeates the dim, crowded confines. If you want a fat burger or a thick, crusty pizza you'll wait for one of the handful of tables like everyone else.

The food at the Charles Village Pub (3107 St. Paul St., [410] 243-1611) is about as predictable as a nonanimated Fox sitcom. And that's a good thing. The Hopkins students, Hopkins professors, and Chas Village locals who slide into the flaccid benches (arrayed beneath a grease-opaqued photo montage of long-forgotten sports glories) know what awaits: a decent burger, a burrito that is about as Mexican as bobsledding but is tasty nonetheless, and an overstuffed club that will fill the gape in your gut with ease. On Monday and Wednesday evenings after 9 p.m. beers are 50 cents off--another good thing. (There are also Charles Village Pubs in Towson and Catonsville.

The Irish have gifted the world with many things (like, say, music and literature), but food rarely makes that particular short list. But if you have jones for the solid, unseasoned offerings of the Emerald Isle, Mick O'Sheas (328 N. Charles St., [410] 539-7504) can satisfy, serving a stick-to-the-ribs shepherd's pie and a classic corned-beef-and-cabbage plate (as well as a host of American standards). They also do fine job with another of the Gaelic gifts: stout (Guinness or Murphy's), best quaffed when the bar swings to the lilting timbres of live Irish music (including, on occasion, the singing City Councilman, Martin O'Malley).

If you had to put one Bawlmer bar into a time capsule to be opened a hundred years hence as a prime example of the breed, Kelly's (2108 Eastern Ave., [410] 327-2312) would make the list of finalists. Courting couples, sweat-streaked softball teams, and karaoke cowboys stream into this easygoing, east-side hangout for steamed hard shells, shrimp, burgers, and beer. Come on in and take a load off, hon.

Buddies Pub & Jazz Club (313 N. Charles St., [410] 332-4200) is perhaps best known for serving up Miles, Dizzy, and Monk (in the form of jazz jams Thursday through Saturday). Buddies also lays out an epic soup-and-salad bar for the midday lunch crowd and serves a host of well-turned pub faves until late (so you can eat to the beat).

With its windowless Formstone facade, the Swallow at the Hollow (5921 York Road, [410] 532-7452) is a bit grim on the outside. Come to think of it, with its endless array of beer mirrors and bat-cave lighting, it's a bit grim on the inside too. But Hollow regulars--and families with kids are counted among them---wouldn't change a thing about this venerable Govans local, least of all the cheap, tasty food. Enjoy an oyster sandwich stuffed with plump fried bivalves. Chomp into a fat, chin-dripping burger that's twice as good and half as expensive as those peddled to tourists downtown. Be it ever so humble, there's no place like the Hollow.

You're practically guaranteed a good time at Peter's Inn (504 S. Ann St., [410] 675-7313). The longtime Fells Point watering hole attracts an eclectic crowd of regulars, who happily pack the dark, kitsch-filled drinkery. And why not? The atmosphere is homey, the people are friendly, and the quaffs are plentiful. Even better, there's chow. And how: Peter's features perhaps the best, most inventive pub food in town: vegetarian paella, Mexican chicken soup, Moroccan stew, and more. For bar grub, Peter's is a name you'll want to get to know.

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