Any time a celebrated chef opens a new restaurant, even a tiny one, it's a good idea to pay attention. 1157 Bar + Kitchen, the new Locust Point outpost from Jason Ambrose, proves why.
Over the past nine years, Ambrose has developed a solid fan base as the owner and former chef of Salt in Upper Fells Point, garnering praise for his creativity and commitment to flavor.
At 1157, Ambrose's skills are on display, though the new restaurant is not a clone of Salt. Ambrose has said he envisions 1157 as a neighborhood spot where people can drop in and grab a small table or a stool at the bar without reservations.
Scene & Decor When we arrived just before 7 on a chilly Thursday night, the neighborhood seemed on board with Ambrose's vision. The place was packed, with people standing around the bar and occupying most of the tables that run along the restaurant's outside wall. It's a small space, and welcoming, with warm colored walls and dark metal and wood accents.
We found ourselves a spot on the end of a communal table and checked out the crowd, which appeared to be a mix of happy-hour revelers in for a drink (many wearing Under Armour, whose headquarters is nearby) and couples and friends meeting for dinner.
Drinks 1157 offers a thoughtful list of bourbon and rye, but to start, we opted for a pre-dinner Brontide ($6), a dark ale from Stillwater Artisanal Ales, and a pre-dinner cocktail from the short but smart drinks menu.
The Whaler ($8) combined dark rum, orange cardamom shrub and mint — an appealing mix of sweet, cool and tangy. The shrub's acidity kept the rum from being cloying; overall, it was a very good drink.
Appetizers The menu at 1157 is as petite as the place and is dominated by small, creative plates; bar food that's interesting, but not too "out there." The specific dishes will change a few times a year, says Ambrose, though some favorites will likely remain on the menu from season to season.
Octopus ($12), tender on the inside with a crisp outer layer, was drizzled with citrusy orange sauce and served over a bright chickpea and pepper salad. The combination of flavors was sophisticated but fun, thanks to the orange.
One of the more inventive dishes was a plate of crispy, Buffalo-sauced sweetbreads ($15) served over celery root puree with creamy blue cheese. The unexpected take on vintage bar food flavors was a great one, especially because the sweetbreads were cooked beautifully.
Entrees A large bowl of wild boar ragout pasta ($25), one of two entrees offered, was savory and satisfying. Pappardelle tossed with mushrooms, parmesan cheese, the broccoli-like vegetable rapini and hunks of wild boar, made a hearty meal.
Though it was just a sandwich, the chorizo sausage sandwich was just as filling — and packed with extremely likable flavors. The spicy sausage was layered with Manchego cheese and avocado then topped with a fried duck egg.
These days, it seems that nearly everything is available with an egg on top. Sometimes we wonder if it's always necessary. In this case, the sandwich would've been good without the egg but with that extra creamy richness, it was a whole lot better.
Dessert The chocolate peanut butter banana tart ($8) gave us cause for concern for a minute. It just sounded so heavy, with the peanut butter and banana. But the lovely tart was much lighter than we expected, and the flavors worked well together, just as chocolate and peanut butter usually do.
Service Our friendly waiter was working a lot of the room but never left us alone for too long. Despite the crowd, drinks arrived quickly and everything from the kitchen was timed well.
His interaction with us made it clear that he knew the menu. And after hearing his conversation with our tablemates, it was clear that he knew his bourbon, too. Friendly and knowledgeable, he was just the kind of guy you want to see at your favorite neighborhood spot. Which, for the people in its neighborhood, is what 1157 seems destined to become.
Nearby reviews: DishBaltimore.com - Federal Hill / South Baltimore