By Richard Gorelick
The Baltimore Sun
8:57 AM EDT, June 21, 2013
The original Chesapeake Restaurant was a Baltimore dining institution for more than 50 years until it closed in the late 1980s. After a 24-year dormancy, the doors at 1701 North Charles St. are open again. The new restaurant began dinner service on Monday.
We figured you’d have some questions, so we went to see The Chesapeake for ourselves. It's too early to give it a full review, but here's what things look like so far.
Is it the old Chesapeake Restaurant?
It is not. But it's not trying to be.
The old Chesapeake was for destination dining. The new restaurant is designed more as a neighborhood place, where you might meet some friends before a show or stop off for a drink on the way home from Penn Station. Another thing: the old restaurant was huge. In its prime, the restaurant rambled across first and second floors of what had originally been five former town houses. The new Chesapeake occupies the ground level of the two southern-most buildings.
What do see when you walk in?
It's a big, high-ceilinged vertical space. A long marble bar is on the left flanked by a variety of seating options including booths and high tables. Let's call this the main tavern area. It's where most people will want to be. But if you want a proper sit-down dinner, there is along strip of booths and tables by the southern windows that face Lanvale Street.
What's there to eat?
The opening menu has things you can share at a long cocktail hour (cheese and charcuterie, oysters, beer nuts), light fare for pre-movie snacks (burgers and salads) and a handful of entrees (roasted chicken, shrimp and grits). The top-priced item is a New York strip. There are weekly specials, too, things like fried chicken and biscuits on Monday and prime rib for two on Friday and Saturday.
Is there a theme?
The menu's website touts an "approachable menu of fresh, locally sourced and sustainable offerings." And its Facebook page uses the phrase "farm-to-table." But neither provides details about the sourcing. I've been telling people it's contemporary tavern fare.
What do they have to drink?
Think local and vintage. The beer on tap is from Union Craft Brewing, and the bottled beers are from East coast craft breweries. There are about 20 wines by the glass, priced between $9 and $15. At least for now, the bar might not be stocking your favorite gin or Scotch. The bar program focuses on American spirits, which means there's an interesting selection of ryes and domestic gins and vodkas.
I can't get a Tanqueray and tonic?
That's what I'm saying.
How are the prices?
I wouldn't call this cheap eats, but the prices are in line with similar places around town. The entrees range from $18 to $34. The Chesapeake burger is $15. A couple could get a light dinner for $50, but a full dinner with wine will be more like $100. But the Tuesday night special is $1 oysters and $2 Natty Bohs.
Good to know. Should we go now, or should I wait until they work out the kinks?
I'd hold off on a full dinner. The menu feels like a work in progress. But absolutely check out the space. Meet some friends there for a drink, and have a look at the menu.
Great, we have these friends who are really, really fussy about service. Should we ask them to join us?
No, I'd wait. Actually, your friends sound awful.
They are, but they have a pool. Oh, where should we park?
Park where you do when you go the Charles Theatre. There's on-street parking and that garage across the street. There's no valet parking being offered.
So, this isn't a review?
Right, it's more like first impressions. A full review this early wouldn’t be useful to the reader. We’ll publish one not too far down the road.
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