SoBo Market in South Baltimore puts its own spin on the term "local watering hole."
Neighbors stop by for drinks and snacks, but they can also pick up prepared meals to go and specialty products like pickles and jams. And it's not just for grown-ups. There is a kids' menu, as well as family-friendly brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.
The approach has helped SoBo Market carve out a role as a gathering spot for this growing area of town.
An offshoot of the longtime SoBo Cafe in Federal Hill, SoBo Market is the collaboration of SoBo Cafe owner Anna Leventis and bar manager Jim Glick. Wayne Haskell is a partner in the building.
"We thought it was a good way to expand the brand and push things south," Glick said.
The cafe opened in 2014 and began expanding its food offerings in stages until the kitchen was complete in 2015.
The menu includes snacks, small plates, soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts. The food is prepped at SoBo Cafe and finished at Sobo Market, Glick said.
Glick is an affable host, playing vinyl records like the Rolling Stones' "Sticky Fingers," chatting with customers and greeting newcomers. It doesn't take long to feel like part of the gang.
The bartenders are equally friendly as they create craft cocktails, ranging from an alcohol-infused punch to dirty martinis.
SoBo Market can seat about 30 people. We sat at a long bar that takes up most of the room; there is also seating at window ledges and at two communal picnic tables.
During our visit, a steady stream of people flowed in and out of the cafe.
"It was the right idea at the right time," Glick said. "It's a new bar for a new neighborhood."
Scene & decor: The bright red walls, gunmetal gray bar and window ledges with stools are welcoming whether you're staying for a cocktail and a meal or heading to the small market section for to-go staples like chips and pickles or prepackaged foods.
Appetizers: Deviled eggs ($6) are always a treat. SoBo's version was good, but we couldn't detect any of the advertised house-smoked salmon in the creamy yolk of the three halves. The fried capers on top were a flavorful touch. A highlight was the heavenly chilled sweet corn soup ($5 cup) with poblano peppers and feta cheese. The popcorn garnish on top was a clever addition that added a pleasant crunch to the dish.
Entrees The casual offerings fit the personality of the laid-back bar-restaurant. For our main meal, we delved into the SoBo-pasto ($11), a wood board laden with provolone, Genoa salami, house-pickled vegetables and olives, along with rustic bread slices and crackers. We added a quinoa salad ($4) — and were glad we did. The warm grains were tossed with roasted squash, dried cranberries, celery and pumpkin seeds for a great flavor profile. The tuna confit sandwich ($12) was a terrific mouthful, with tender fish, lettuce, green olive tapenade and preserved lemon oil on a chewy ciabatta roll. A side dish of pasta salad was a delicious mound of cavatappi swirls, red peppers and onions, glistening with arugula pesto.
Drinks: The wines and beers are fine, but you'll want to indulge in a cocktail made by some of the most personable bartenders in town. Try the signature SoBo Market Punch ($5 at happy hour, 4 p.m.-6:30 p.m.; $8 other times) — a potent mix of fruit juices, rum, bourbon and port. The Deli Dill Pickle ($9) is a wicked dirty martini made with dill pickles instead of olives.
Dessert: It doesn't get much better than local ice cream from Rising Sun-based Kilby Cream — except when you combine it with SoBo's housemade chocolate chip cookies to make an ice-cream sandwich ($5). We recommend Kilby's black cherry flavor. The blueberry bread pudding ($7), redolent with fruit, was a warm square of goodness served with a pile of whipped cream and fresh strawberries and blueberries.