Luckie's Tavern is the newest addition to the Power Plant Live complex, taking over the big end space that was most recently The Lodge. There's a Rat Pack-era theme, conveyed mostly by squeezing the female staff into sexy cocktail clothes and by a thorough and nifty remodeling, which does a pretty good job of creating handsome, clubby spaces within a vast interior.
Gorgeous new old-Vegas neon marquee and sea of red leather aside, this is still principally a place for young people to flirt and drink with a hundred of their closest friends. Early in the evening, the music was plain loud and untied to any era. The Stork Club is gone, and it's never coming back.
Luckie's is brand new, but it was clicking when we visited. The core staff, including general manager Billy Peterson and chef Justin McGuann, worked together at Towson's Vin, and everyone seems invested. It was heartening to see multiple examples of good teamwork and such simple but effective gestures as being offered a menu while waiting at the bar for friends to arrive, and sincere apologies when a huge office party descended on what had been a quiet side lounge.
The menu seems like it couldn't quite make up its mind. There are a few glancing attempts to keep to a theme, with things like a wedge salad, french onion soup and milkshakes. Then there are one or two items that feel like chef's showcases, namely a terrific fried oyster appetizer with bacon lardon, wilted spinach and Dijon remoulade, and a seared rockfish with honey-lemon drizzle and basil oil. But most of the menu is the familiar stuff that every place has these days: quesadillas and calamari for appetizers, baby back ribs and crab cakes for entrees. You kind of wish they'd gambled a bit, one way or the other, either by going totally with the Mad Men era (shrimp cocktails, chow mein, table-side Caesar salads) or against it (chef makes the call).
I'd vote for the latter. McGuann's oyster appetizer was smashing; it was one of the best I've ever had. The oysters had been handled just perfectly - crispy breading, tender inside - and its traditional accompaniments were sassily updated. And I liked the Pit Boss salad, too, an entree-sized pile-up of hand-dressed greens, chopped tomatoes, bacon and shrimp.
By comparison, fried mozzarella and calamari appetizers were decent but not memorable; both needed some kind of flourish. This was true of a grilled cheese sandwich, too (not much for vegetarians to choose from here), and actually more than you could say about Luckie's not-so-good crab cake sandwich, which was loose and bready.
Steak frites was a very good choice. Made luscious with a red-wine butter, the grilled hanger steak was tender with a good, strong beef flavor. The fries at Luckie's are good and crispy, and they're served with chilled ketchup that has been poured into pretty white vessels. Ketchup, when it's cold, is awesome, we all decided at length. This was the kind of classy touch that Luckie's could play up even more.
I'd take a chance on Luckie's 50-percent sirloin/50-percent chuck hamburger, which comes with a fried-egg-on-top option, and I'd take a chance, too, on that rockfish or the pan-roasted pork tenderloin.
I've met hardly anyone who has a neutral opinion about Power Plant Live. The truth is, it can be fun if you go in the right mood with the right group. Luckie's does feel formulaic, but there's something about its superficial glossiness that comes across sweetly, and the early high spirits of its staff make it worth checking out.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun