Despite its name, there is nothing dire about the Dead End Saloon in Fells Point. In fact, it is quite a lively spot, even on a weeknight.
The establishment's name stems not from its atmosphere, nor its clientele, but from its location. It sits on a cobblestone way, Fell Street, that ends abruptly at the water. If you attempted to travel beyond Fell Street, you would meet an unfortunate watery demise.
When the saloon added a kitchen in the late 1990s, the "Pelican Grille" was added to its full name. But most folks refer to it simply as the Dead End, and in layout, atmosphere and fare, it is a typical saloon. It is one big room dominated by a long bar. An added attraction is that there are two entrances, one on Fell Street, another on Wolfe Street. This could come in handy if you had to make a hasty exit. Just don't tell someone to meet you outside the saloon — they could be waiting for hours at the wrong door.
There is a sprinkling of tables in the front and along one wall. It is not as dark as most bars. The room is cleverly decorated with brightly colored flags covering the ceiling, and an admirable collection of beer tap handles hanging behind the bar. The other night, the tap handles mingled with Christmas lights — a nice seasonal touch, I thought.
Speaking of tap handles, the bar had a carefully chosen array of beers on tap, including Resurrection ($4.50) and Dogfish Head IPA ($6).
Like many Baltimore bars, the Dead End promotes its crabs and burgers. An appetizer of Cajun crab lumps ($12.95) was a hit. This was a mixture of Cajun seasoning, a crab imperial sauce and lots of crab meat baked until the top of the dish was golden. Served with pieces of French bread, it delivered a rich mix of flavors. The cream of crab soup ($7.50 a cup) was also well done, very creamy and crabby; a good dish for a cold night. The Dead End chicken wings, ($7.95) were numerous, if not stellar.
The kitchen rotates specials, including lunch dishes, on different days of the week. Monday was meatloaf night ($8.95), but my wife and I and our elder son were not in a meatloaf mood. My wife chose a black-and-blue chicken breast ($9.95),a blackened chicken breast with mushrooms that looked exotic but tasted bland. My son had a French dip sandwich ($8.95), roast beef on crusty bread dipped in beef juice. It was pretty ordinary.
The burger ($7.95), however, was exceptional. A half-pound of ground beef, formed by hand — no prepackaged patties — and grilled, medium rare. For an extra buck, I added a slice of bleu cheese. I was living large. The only fault I could find with this burger was its bun, which was a little flabby. Toasting could solve that.
On the night we were there, only one server worked the entire room. Service was competent, if not swift.
There was a good vibe to this saloon. Our servers — there was a shift change, so we started with a woman ended with a man — were welcoming. The clientele, a mix of all ages, freely engaged in that rare modern-day behavior: conversation.
The Dead End Saloon is a long way from a four-star restaurant. But it pours a good pint, makes a good burger and the staff smiles at you.
For me, that makes it a tavern worth visiting.
Where: 935 Fell St.
Contact: 410-732-3602, deadendsaloon.com
Hours: 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Monday-Saturday
Entrees: $7.95-$12.95 (crab cakes can be more expensive)
Credit Cards: All major
[Outstanding: ✭✭✭✭Good: ✭✭✭Fair or uneven: ✭✭Poor: ✭]