Artsy Baltimore Brasserie Impresses with Surprising Style
By Mandy Stark
When dining at a brewery, one normally anticipates mediocre fare to simply supplement the extensive array of beer. Brewer’s Art’s beer selection is rather impressive, but the food itself trumps the drinks. Located in the heart of Charm City on 1106 North Charles, in a refurbished mansion that was originally the first fireproof residence south of New York, Brewer’s Art sets the standards for up-scale brasserie dining.
Two sets of heavy doors lead patrons from the street into the restaurant, where the bar is set in what used to be a family living room. My dining companions and I made our way around the corner to the hostess stand where we were quickly seated in the library, a comforting space perfect for the evening’s company. The hostess brought us water, a task that I found unusual for such a position, but nevertheless, a sign of promptness.
The spacious room was dark, illuminated by dim lights dispersed throughout the exposed-dark-wood-planked ceiling, and multicolored table candles. Pristine white tablecloths and shiny silverware added an elegant accent to the dark interior. The walls, intricately detailed with bookshelf-like built-ins framed with mahogany-finished wood, and the light panel flooring created a nostalgic atmosphere.
Our server attended to our table just minutes after we sat down. My guests ordered drinks, a Malbec wine and a Zodiac beer, which was one of the evening’s special drafts highly recommended by the server (and a good choice it was). The drinks were brought out immediately and our server was very accommodating when answering questions we had.
Although the menu offered a limited selection of starters, salads, and entrées, each item was rather unique. Deciding to pass on the starters, my companions and I ordered salads and entrées. After taking our order, sans pen and paper, our server brought bread to our table, which was a bit chewy and would have been much better had it been warmed.
Shortly thereafter our salads arrived. My $8 watermelon-feta salad with bibb lettuce, green olives, mint, and harissa vinaigrette was no less than outstanding: an incredible combination of sweet, salty, creamy, and crunchy, with a kick from the slightly spicy, briny olives and cool mint. It was one of the best salads I’ve ever had, and I’ve eaten plenty of salads. Likewise, my guests’ salads were just as memorable: a fantastic mastering of the classic Caesar salad, which was $7, and a summery salad with butter lettuce, grilled peaches, toasted pecans, chevre, and a luxurious vanilla-tarragon vinaigrette, which was $8.
“The whole white anchovy filet on top of the parmesan crisp was a nice finishing touch,” noted my companion who had the Caesar salad, and my guest who enjoyed the grilled peach salad raved about her vinaigrette being the highlight of her dish. Each dressing was so delicious, that we sopped up our empty plates with the not-so-pleasant bread.
Our plates were quickly cleared, and following a fitting pace allowing for socializing between courses, our main entrées arrived. My dinner, a moderate portion of a $27 halibut filet served over couscous and a smoked eggplant puree, and finished with a harissa jelly, mint yogurt, and Moroccan carrot salad was exceptional. However, upon taking a first few bites I noticed my fish was slightly undercooked, so I was inclined to send it back. Our server was extremely apologetic, explaining that there was a mere miscommunication in the kitchen and she brought me a fresh, hot dish moments later.
This minor set back would hardly be reason for me not to return, as the dish was superbly well balanced. The silky eggplant puree had a perfect smokiness that paired impeccably with the herbed couscous and tangy yogurt dotted on the side of the plate. A vibrant carrot salad, made more complex with a hint of floral lavender, nestled ever so gently on top of the couscous. The wonderfully sweet white fish contrasted beautifully, and showcased one striking presentation.
My dining companions also thoroughly enjoyed their main dishes. One ordered a $23 grilled double pork chop that was accompanied by cornbread pudding, pickled summer squash, and blackberry gastrique; my other guest ordered a $27 pan-roasted halibut with corn maque-choux, roasted potatoes, tomato compote, and salsa verde. Both dishes were beautifully prepared with brilliant sauces including deep purple, crimson, and jade, and whimsical summer vegetables.
Brewer’s Art offers more than just pub food, it presents the chef’s talents with flair and panache. A feast for the eyes and the palate, imaginative plate presentations marry perfectly with exquisite flavors. Although a bit more expensive than I expected, the meal was well worth it, and the fantastic service made for a memorable experience. I will definitely be returning to Brewer’s Art soon in anticipation of a new menu as it changes seasonally.