The Laughing Pint

Soberano-Esparza (left) and owner Shannon Cassidy (Baltimore Sun photo by Elizabeth Malby / April 15, 2009)

The Laughing Pint bills itself as the nicest little bar in Baltimore. I won't argue. Niceness was the first and last impression I got from this east-side outpost, from both the staff and my fellow customers, one of whom literally invited me to eat off his plates. Part of the Laughing Pint's charm comes from its being anchored in kind of a rough neighborhood in East Baltimore. I was expecting salty indifference at best; niceness is better.

The proprietor here is Shannon Cassidy. I think you can tell when a place is being run by an industry pro, and particularly someone whose experience is in the front of the house. The simple execution of small details starts to accumulate into an impressive whole.

The Laughing Pint has a very attractive cocktail menu. It's known especially for its greyhounds made from freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, but the bar was featuring blood-orange margaritas and pomegranate cosmopolitans, too, all of them for about $6.

I ran into a friend who preferred the Laughing Pint before it was renovated last fall, when the kitchen became operational. I like it the way it is now, with red- and green-topped tables lined up along a wooden banquette opposite the bar. The Laughing Pint's pool table and free shuffleboard machine have been relocated to the back.

The food menu begins with a statement of philosophy from Cassidy, which boils down to an emphasis on fresh and healthful food.

The Laughing Pint has a small menu, but it's very well thought out, and very considerate to both frugal folks and vegetarians. The chef here is Concepcion Soberano-Esparza, from the recently departed and very vegetarian-friendly Zodiac. So, there are chicken wings among the appetizers (very, very peppery hot chicken wings that were too hot for me but perfect for a heat-seeking friend) but a hummus plate and a mollete, too.

The mollete is the Laughing Pint's take on a classic Mexican snack, rendered here with toasted baguette, white beans and homemade salsa. (Remembering that vegetarians need protein is another thing that makes a difference.) The kitchen produces a soup of the day; when we visited, it was bean with ham, which I liked for its strength and saltiness.

The entree list has just four sandwiches and two burritos, but there are nightly specials (tacos on Tuesdays, pasta on Wednesdays and meatloaf on Thursdays), and an expanded selection of entrees on weekends. We tried a conventional burger and one made from chickpeas. The former was fine, of good size, but a bit pedestrian and in need of some seasoning. The chickpea burger was disappointing, though, blandly seasoned and of a mealy consistency.

That meatloaf special, which included plain steamed vegetables and mashed potatoes, was a good deal for $10, but I probably wouldn't order it again. It, too, tasted bland.

Overall, the idea of the food was better than the results, but I found myself pulling for the food anyway, and definitely in a forgiving mood about it. I hope that the coming months bring more and fresher vegetables, and maybe a few more midweek entrees.

The Laughing Pint
Where: 3531 Gough St.

Call: 410-342-6544

Open: 5:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays

Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, AMEX, Discover

Food: **

Service: *** 1/2

Ambience: *** 1/2

Appetizers: $2.75-$7

Entrees: $8-$10


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