Revisiting the heyday of department stores and five-and-dimes

Top 10 Fine-Dining Bars


This week's topic, Top 10 Fine-Dining Bars, intrigues me because they seem to me to be a peculiarly Baltimore institution.

They aren't bistros. They aren't wine bars. The decor isn't stylish -- in fact, you can't even describe it as decor. They are places in city neighborhoods to go for a beer that also happen to have surprisingly inventive food. ...

If I thought of a place as a restaurant first and a bar second, I didn't put it on the list (with the exception of one, and Other Reviewer Richard talked me into it).

Here's my list in alphabetical order. Let the arguments, outrage and scorn begin:

Annabel Lee in the Canton area. At heart it's a neighborhood corner bar, only with duck fat fries, filet mignon and mushroom risotto.

Brewer's Art in Mount Vernon. Other Reviewer Richard convinced me this is more brewpub than restaurant and deserves to be on this list, although plenty will argue otherwise. The fine New American cuisine isn't in question.

Hamilton Tavern in Hamilton. OK, it's very casual fine dining, but the menu includes a beet and prosciutto salad, roasted harvest vegetables, and a meatloaf made with pulled duck as well as ground beef and pork.

* Mama's on the Half Shell in Canton. I know it's appeared on lists as a seafood restaurant, but it always feels more like a bar to me, even the upstairs dining room.

* One-Eyed Mike's in Fells Point. Still more bar than restaurant, but any place that offers both balsamic vinaigrette and raspberry vinaigrette offers more than just pub grub.

* Peter's Inn in Fells Point. The quintessential example of the genre. No one could mistake this for anything but a neighborhood bar, but oh, that osso buco and those pots de creme.

* Red Star in Fells Point. Any bar whose kitchen even knows what aioli is, let alone has $10 yam fries with brown sugar aioli on the menu, gets my vote as a fine-dining bar.

* Reserve in South Baltimore. This was the bar that inspired this Top 10. When I reviewed it recently, I commented on the disconnect between the imaginative food and the neighborhood bar-like atmosphere.

* Ryleigh's Oyster Bar in Federal Hill. A few years ago Ryleigh's Brewpub became Ryleigh's Oyster Bar, and the menu got much more imaginative, with dishes like coriander-crusted tuna and salad with duck confit.

* Waterfront in Fells Point. Under "Pub Grub" is panko-encrusted fried oysters with a horseradish cream sauce. Enough said.

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