Like a lot of taverns in the Baltimore area, the Yellow Dog Tavern in Canton has a lively first floor dominated by the bar and a quieter second floor filled with tables and chairs.
When my wife and I showed up there for dinner on a recent weeknight, we picked the upstairs dining area. It is a lovely space, with windows looking out on neighborhood rowhouses. Framed photos of dogs owned by staff members serve as decoration, along with paintings hanging on the brick walls.
While almost every seat was taken downstairs, we had plenty of privacy upstairs. We were the only ones there. That we were the solo upstairs customers probably figured in the slow pace of our service. While the new-American-style food at the Yellow Dog was quite good, it did take a long time to get to us.
The Yellow Dog, which has been around since 2007, strikes me as the new model for a neighborhood tavern. It has a well-chosen selection of craft beers ($5 for Flying Dog K-9 Cruiser draft), a good wine list ($8 for a glass of cabernet), specialty cocktails ($7 pumpkintinis) and solid, sometimes exceptional, cooking.
Fare runs from the signature $3.99 Yellow Dog on a stick — an all-beef frank battered in jalapeno corn bread then flash-fried — to the $23 cowgirl steak, a sirloin rubbed with espresso. I started off with a Yellow Dog and was impressed with this simple yet savory dish
The shrimp tostada appetizer ($7.99) was not so simple. A corn tortilla was covered with crushed black beans and a salad made of cilantro. Next in the mix came plump black tiger shrimp that had been sauteed with red onions, garlic and habanero peppers, then finished with a sauce made with chilies and vodka. Wow, was this a mouthful — an intriguing mix of flavors, the chief one being the perfectly cooked shrimp. Quite a dish.
Another outstanding choice was the Cazuela ($15.99), a Spanish dish that falls somewhere between a thick soup and vegetable-laden stew. Here, chorizo sausage and more shrimp were served with spinach, roasted tomatoes, squash and onions in a cream sauce. As good as the sausage and shrimp were, the real stars in this number were the vegetables. They were bursting with flavor. This whole savory, creamy shooting match was served over polenta. My, my, my, was it good.
The Kobe beef sliders ($11.99) were — pardon the contradictory adjectives — usual nouveau bar fare. Instead of the traditional burger (there is an 8-ounce $11 Angus burger on the menu) these three 2-ounce sliders were grilled to order and served on their own tiny rolls. Mine were cooked medium-rare, as I had requested. The sliders were fine, but on reflection, I think I am more of a traditional burger type. I like my burger big enough to hold with two hands. The coleslaw that came with the sliders was terrific: lots of fresh cabbage, sprinkled with fiery Cajun seasoning.
Our dessert, bananas Foster ($5.99), was exceptional. Sections of banana were cooked with sugar and cinnamon, mixed with liqueur and rum, then artfully ignited and served over vanilla ice cream. Again, the work of kitchen impressed us.
When we saw her, our waitress was cheerful and competent. But for much of the evening, we were sitting alone upstairs, listening to the revelry going on below us. The Yellow Dog has superior tavern fare — just don't sit too far away from the kitchen.
Where: 700 S. Potomac St.
Hours: 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday
Entrees: $10.99- $22.99
Credit Cards: American Express, Discover, Master Card, Visa
[Outstanding: ✭✭✭✭ Good: ✭✭✭ Fair or uneven: ✭✭ Poor: ✭]