With two stadiums just down the road, Pratt Street Ale House is an easy pick for pre- or post-game refreshments.
Its designer beers and barroom arches distinguish it from lowlier bars. For lunchers, the kitchen is about average.
A recent visit didn't so much change my mind as give me new data on which to base decisions on future stops. But the menu was not what lured me back to this restaurant. The patrons did it.
First impressions: During a last-minute business lunch this summer, I was struck by the vibe in the dining room. The room buzzed with a healthy clatter and chatter of a busy restaurant, with flatware scratching plates, laughter, smiling servers hustling in and out. It felt good to be there.
The following week, a pass by the Ale House piqued my curiosity: Nearly all the more than two dozen patio tables were filled.
A return visit for lunch impressed. If weather permits, try the Ale House patio. Trees provide substantial shade to most of the tables. And it's a comfortable vantage point for people-watching. At the time, the Ale House was gearing up for the big downtown races. (The Ale House staff was even issued earplugs.)
The dish: The second rethinking of the Ale House began when the server set down the Cajun chicken sandwich. Most of the sandwiches here are under $10, but not by much. The Cajun goes for $9.49, with fries. I picked it for price more than a longing for poultry. But it will be hard not to go for this next time.
The white meat was thick, not a bit overcooked, with a light hand on the Cajun seasoning that gave it much subtler spice notes than you might expect. The grilled red peppers and sauteed onions complemented the bird's saucy taste and firm texture.
The brioche roll's shiny crust and supple crumb added appeal while holding up to the sloppy veggies and juicy chicken.
The fries were OK: light yellow, hot, crisp and judiciously salted. No complaints, but there's not much more to say about them.
Our server was a dream. She had as much to do with the upbeat mood of the place as anything else: attentive, genuine smile, never once gave the impression she was slogging through a day's work.
Parting thought: The Pratt Street Ale House has more going for it than location, though its downtown corner helps a lot. And while many lunch diners will only gaze longingly at the beer menu, this visit showed that the kitchen can deliver above-average tastes with a deft touch here and there. I didn't get the same happy-bustle vibe at this visit, but the outdoor dining was just as welcome.
Pratt Street Ale House
Where: 206 W. Pratt St., Baltimore
Contact: 301-244-8900, prattstreetalehouse.com
Lunch hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. daily
Lunch entrees: $8.99-$14.99
[Key: Outstanding: ✭✭✭✭ Good: ✭✭✭ Fair or Uneven: ✭✭ Poor: ✭]