Kooper's North brings tasty pub fare, spotty service to Mays Chapel
New expansion of Fells Point bar already drawing crowds
Burgers are one of the specialties at Kooper's North. (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun / September 13, 2012)
At this point, that reputation is mostly deserved. Like its sister restaurants in Fells Point — Kooper's Tavern, Slainte Irish Pub, and Woody's Rum Bar — Kooper's offers a clever gourmet spin on pub-friendly burgers and sandwiches.
However, service at the Mays Chapel outpost hasn't achieved the high standards set by the city locations.
Patrick and Katie Russell, who oversee the three Fells Point restaurants and co-own Manor Tavern, partnered with Miles Perlman to open Kooper's North in the space vacated last year by Restaurant Sabor. The trio believed the Kooper's concept — good, casual food and dozens of beer choices — would be a good fit for the vibrant northern Baltimore County community near Mays Chapel.
The look and feel of the original Fells Point Kooper's has made its way to the county. Warm wood, stained-glass accents and brightly colored paintings of dogs give the space the feel of a downtown bar, despite its shopping center location.
On a recent Thursday night, the restaurant was jammed. Just before 7 p.m., couples and families spilled out onto the sidewalk in front of the restaurant; the wait was 45 minutes.
Once we snagged a table, we ordered from the extensive drinks menu — a fresh and interesting mango mojito ($7.95) and an easily drinkable Yellow Tail Ale ($4.50), produced for Kooper's by Heavy Seas Brewing.
An appetizer of "Baltimore-style" mussels ($9), cooked in Heavy Seas ale, Old Bay and onions, was a tasty local take on the old French-Belgian favorite. The shellfish, plump in their shells, took on the flavor of the spicy, yeasty broth. Crusty white bread, served on the side, was a useful mop for extra broth.
As we ate, we studied the lively and friendly crowd. Everyone seemed to know one another, creating a fun atmosphere of table-hopping and smiles. However, that same camaraderie had downsides, too.
Our waitress was pleasant, but she seemed to have a relationship with the people at a nearby table. They received a lot of attention; we were shortchanged.
Though we received drinks and appetizers quickly, we sat too long between the other courses. Plus, she mixed up one of our orders, delivering a lamb burger instead of the requested lamb sandwich.
Fortunately, what we received, the "lamburger a la Grecque," ($13) was tasty. The burger, made of a mixture of lamb and sirloin with feta, olives, and garlic blended in, was savory and tender. The mix was careful — no one flavor overpowered the others.
In place of a bun, rosemary focaccia was crunchy and woodsy. All the flavors worked together, but a dollop of fresh and herbaceous cilantro-mint chutney was our favorite element.
On the side, french fries were extra-crunchy and just salty enough.
The Billy's Kobe burger ($15), an impressive-looking combination of Kobe beef topped with roasted garlic cream cheese, bacon and arugula, was a sophisticated and nuanced take on the traditional bacon cheeseburger. The tangy cream cheese and fresh spice of arugula cut the rich saltiness of beef and bacon. However, arriving closer to well-done than medium rare, the burger wasn't as tender or flavorful as it might have been.
Instead of regular fries, a light and sweet side of sweet potato fries ($1 extra) balanced the burger's savory intensity. An added sprinkle of salt gave the fries extra oomph.
After dinner, we sat with empty plates for an extended stretch. By the time we received our dessert — a brownie sundae topped with ice cream and Bailey's Irish Cream ($8.95) — the ice cream had melted into a soupy mess. Still, the combination of warm, rich brownie, cool ice cream and extra-sweet Bailey's was a good one.
After dessert, we waited, again, for the check. Even at nearly 9 p.m., the restaurant was still packed.
Despite the waits, our interactions with the staff were good ones, from the chipper hostess to helpful and friendly busboys. The timing and attention problems we experienced may work themselves out, as the staff adjusts to the crowds.