Chef Mark Littleton has groupies.
During his stints at a string of pubby Baltimore restaurants, including Simon's, Lulu's and Annabel Lee Tavern, Littleton developed a strong following, thanks to his inventive take on comfort food.
In July, Littleton and his fiancee, Cheryl Gavoni, opened Adam's Eve in the old Crossroad's Bar and Restaurant space in Canton. And just last week, we overheard a few of Littleton's fans gushing about him.
"We used to go to Annabel Lee's all the time when the chef was there," one patron said. "We loved his food."
Adam's Eve Gastropub is named after Gavoni's late son, Adam. With creative but familiar food and comfortable, casual service, the restaurant lives up to its "gastropub" label.
Inside, about half the space was dedicated to a lively, open bar; tables filled the other half. Throughout, Littleton and Gavoni pay homage to a favorite painting: Vincent van Gogh's "Starry Night." The artist's famous blue and yellow swirls decorate the sign outside. Inside, blue and yellow walls complement prints of the painting.
When we sat, an impressive beer list sat on the table with our menu (after asking, we discovered that wine and cocktail lists are also available).
We started with a crisp Angry Orchard hard cider ($4.50) and a Stillwater Cellar Door ale ($6.50 for an 8-ounce draft), made by local brewer Stillwater Artisanal Ales. The Stillwater was yeasty, a bit hoppy, and interesting all around.
But drinks alone didn't make the experience: Adam's Eve's menu was a cut above average bar fare.
We started with the mushroom "crustinies" ($8) which, fortunately, were not as mushroom-heavy — or cutesy — as the name implied. Four large slices of baguette were topped with tender mushrooms sauteed in Marsala wine, a sprinkling of warm Gorgonzola and chopped tomatoes.
The combination was a good one. The bread stood up to its topping, which was at once earthy, sweet and tangy. No one ingredient dominated.
A handful of bright greens and a fried quail egg were an elegant garnish for the crostini. Scooped up with one of the slices of bread, the quail egg added creamy richness to the mushroom and tomato combo.
The menu is diverse enough to cater to both bar-goers and serious diners. Duck confit sliders ($14) — two small sandwiches of pulled duck, topped with crunchy blueberry slaw — would be easy to eat while bellied up to the bar.
The use of duck, pulled like pork, was inspired, and the meat was tender and flavorful. The sandwiches weren't perfect — the meat was a bit dry, the roll too big and cheddar cheese, melted on the top side of the bun, got lost in the mix.
But taken as a whole, it was a good sandwich. Bright, slightly sweet slaw nearly made up for the lack of sauce and accompanying fries were salty and greasy, just like we like them.
If sliders were good for bar-top dining, the osso bucco ($15) deserved every inch of our linen-topped table in the dining room.
Veal shank, braised in red wine, tomatoes, garlic, mushrooms, and herbs, literally fell off the bone onto our forks. Infused with the flavor of the braising liquid, the meat was savory and powerful. Also in the bowl: a thick, creamy carbonara risotto that made an excellent foil for the veal's sauce.
Our only complaint about the osso bucco: It should come with bread. Not only to sop up the extra sauce, but also to eat with the luscious marrow scooped out of the veal bone. (We made do with half of a slider bun.)
Desserts at Adam's Eve change daily. During our visit, our waiter recommended the bread pudding ($7). The pudding was warm and chewy and to our happy surprise, topped with a salty-sweet "jam" of bacon and onions.
The bread pudding would've been better with a scoop of ice cream, rather than the dense whipped cream that came with it. But even without a blast of cold, the dessert was a good one.
Unfortunately, our after-dinner coffee was only lukewarm and the waiter forgot to bring spoons with our mugs. But with few missteps all evening — from the waiter or the kitchen — the poor coffee experience was easily forgiven.
Littleton's familiar touch will please his old customers — like the ones at the next table, who left shortly before we did, happy to have reunited with a favorite chef.
With old school standouts like the osso bucco, and creative twists like that bacon-onion jam, Littleton is likely to draw a whole new crowd of fans, as well.
Adam's Eve Gastropub
Back story: In July 2012, former Annabel Lee Tavern chef Mark Littleton opened Adam's Eve with his fiancee, Cheryl Gavoni. The Canton restaurant brings together an extensive beer menu and well-executed comfort food with a twist.
Parking: Street parking
Signature dish: Chef Littleton's osso bucco, veal shank braised in wine, herbs and vegetables, is succulent, tender and flavorful — four-star fare in a casual setting.
Where: 3326 Foster Ave., Baltimore
Contact: 410-327-6984, adamsevegastropub.com
Open: Kitchen hours are 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Sunday, Monday and Wednesday; 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Thursday; 5 p.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday. Bar hours are 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Wednesday-Monday.
Credit Cards: All major
Food: ✭ ✭ ✭ 1/2
Service: ✭ ✭ ✭
Atmosphere: ✭ ✭ ✭
[Key: Excellent: ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ; Good: ✭ ✭ ✭; Fair or Uneven: ✭ ✭; Poor: ✭]Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun