It's one of the nicer menus I've seen in a while, and, with a few minor exceptions, the kitchen's execution of the menu was solid, sometimes impressive. Throw in what I think are reasonable prices and good service - a bit casual but efficient - and Federal Hill's Don't Know Tavern starts to sound like the kind of tavern anyone would love to have in his neighborhood.
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General1453 Light St., Baltimore
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There's a lot I want to try. Even with five at our table, we barely scratched the surface. I'm interested in that cioppino, and the lamb, and also a warm bacon spinach salad with cranberry Stilton, the French onion soup and a French dip sandwich.
What we had, we mostly liked. Blackened scallops gave off some real heat and were cooked just right, but what made this a great appetizer was the accompanying timbale of black bean-and-corn relish and the ancho vinaigrette. Similarly, a plate of large, nicely browned pierogi was prettied up with a pile of sauteed onions (some of which were undercooked), and a snappy peanut dipping sauce helped out the bland potato filling.
I liked the multicolored chips in the nacho appetizer, and I appreciated the corn and black beans layered into it. But there was way too much gloppy bland cheese covering all of it.
That duck entree was a doozy, a succulent smoked duck breast and slivers of seared foie gras served with orzo pilaf in a hearty duck broth. This was an ambitious and very rich dish, and the kitchen pulled it off.
I love that a neighborhood joint is gracing a basic bacon-wrapped filet mignon with a green-peppercorn demi-glace, chive-and-ricotta gnocchi and crisp green beans. I'm impressed that one burger option is Kobe and the other one is bison - the latter slathered with Buffalo fixings, better than it sounds.
Among the specials when we visited were a few relative oddities, including Brazilian-style pacu fish ribs, which are marketed as a healthy alternative to classic barbecued ribs. The pacu flesh does hold up to strong barbecue flavor, but there were a few too many small bones to deal with. An appetizer of stone crab claws wasn't worth the trouble it took to crack them open.
Other things I like about Don't Know Tavern: Its Web site is well organized, drafts are served in imperial (20 ounce) pints, the garlic-herb french fries are terrific, and there's a "chipwich" sundae on the dessert menu.
don't know tavernWhere: 1453 Light St.
Contact: 410-539-0231, dontknowtavern.com
Open: 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday
Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, AMEX