At 2 a.m. on a recent Saturday morning, the Sip and Bite on Boston Street was packed.
A salvation for the inebriated, a sanctuary for the sleepless and fellowship for the lonely, the small Canton restaurant has been serving great old school diner food since Truman was president. And newly renovated inside and out, it's still as good as ever.
Walking in, the comforting sound of spatulas hitting the flattop griddle made us feel right at home. The interior has gotten a face lift over the past year and a half — fresh paint, new equipment — but still keeps its old school diner feel. The outside, though, couldn't be more different. A recently finished facade features a black exterior and a sleek aluminum entranceway. It's handsome but a bit too modern and monolithic for the classic, warming food served within.
Luckily, we made it before the rush and were seated at a booth. There, we were waited on by a swift but slammed server. We ordered off Sip and Bite's new late night menu, and the food came quickly.
The breakfast wrap ($6.50) was the most traditional of the items we tried, but nonetheless a solid sandwich. Three scrambled eggs shared a soft pita with hickory bacon and American cheese. It was a satisfying late night/early morning breakfast, served with a side of delicious hash browns.
The chicken and shrimp cheese steak ($8.50) was a gorgeously gooey sub filled with fried shrimp, chopped chicken, American cheese and fixed up with caramelized onion, lettuce and hot pepper spread. This sandwich would do you well at 2 in the morning or 2 in the afternoon. It was the hit of the night.
The classic hot roast beef sandwich ($12.95) is probably the best you'll find at a diner in Baltimore. Thick and tender slices of beef brisket come topped with savory beef gravy, and for added flavor, sauced with beef au jus. This rich mixture rested on a couple slices of toast, served steaming hot. If there is a standard on which all diners should be judged, it would be this dish — and Sip & Bite sets the bar high.
The Eastern Shore ($8.95) was a sandwich with fried egg, a lot of bacon and crab cake on toast. The sandwich's texture changed from bite to bite, depending on what part of the egg you ate. Both tasted wonderful, but we were partial to the creamier egg yolk, which accentuated the velvety crab cake. The bacon was a salty/smoky counterpoint which added crunch. It was a really good deal.
Before we could ask for dessert, we were given our check — and we got the point. By then, our busy server was juggling a packed house. But with the dessert case right next to us, I just had to order some sweets to go.
The strawberry cheese cake ($4) had a standard graham cracker crumb crust, and the cake came with strawberry jam on top. It was smooth and not too sweet with a line of frosting around the top for decoration. As cheesecakes go, this is one was a better version than you usually get at diner, but not great.
The slice of carrot cake ($3.75) had a pleasingly spicy aroma and flavor topped off with sweet icing. The dense cake was full of carrot and though a bit dry, a fork full of both cake and icing made for a good bite of dessert.
Modern outside or not, the Sip & Bite still serves up classic diner food. No matter what time of day, you can get great fare at a reasonable price. It's good to see this iconic Baltimore institution isn't just resting on its laurels.
Sip and Bite
Back-story: A Baltimore icon, the Sip and Bite has been serving great diner food since 1948. It was recently renovated inside and out, but keeps its classic diner fare.
Parking: Parking can be tricky depending on what time of day you go, but generally you will find something within walking distance.
Signature dish: The classic hot roast beef sandwich is probably the best you'll find at a Baltimore diner — thick, tender slices of beef brisket topped with beef gravy.
Where: 2200 Boston St., Baltimore
Open: 24 hours daily — except from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesdays
Credit Cards: Visa, MasterCard, AMEX, Discover
[Key: Excellent: ✭✭✭✭; Good: ✭✭✭; Uneven: ✭✭; Poor: ✭]