Baltimore loves a great neighborhood joint — and Frederick's on Fleet gives Baltimore a lot to love.
Located in Fell's Prospect, the neighborhood squished between Fells Point and Canton, Frederick's has all the characteristics of a top-notch local bar/restaurant, and then some. The drinks are interesting and fresh, the food is familiar and well-executed and the atmosphere is exceptionally friendly.
On top of that, Frederick's story is full of the sort of appealing details that Baltimore residents eat up.
First, a friendship. The three owners — Chef Eric Butterfield, mixologist Jim Saufley and partner Roxanne Henke (she handles the business end) — have known each other for years; Butterfield and Saufley worked together at An Poitin Stil in Timonium.
Next, a building with history. Frederick's is a cozy, two-room space with charm to burn. Vintage boxing posters cover the walls, exposed brick peeks out here and there, and the oversized mirror behind the bar gives the place an appropriately old-school vibe.
Even better, the location has pedigree. Frederick's is named after Frederick Wunder, who ran a brewing operation in the building during the late 19th century. Wunder went bankrupt and his operation was snapped up by two brothers named Straus — who went on to found the National Brewing Company, best known for brewing the National Premium and National Bohemian beers.
But without good food and drinks, none of this would matter much. Fortunately, Frederick's has both.
We stopped in for dinner early on a Sunday evening, finding the space sparsely populated. Immediately, a waitress greeted us with a friendly, warm smile.
We started with drinks from Saufley's carefully curated cocktail menu. From the vintage side of the menu, a gin-gin mule ($8.50) — the minty variation of a Moscow mule — was fresh with just enough snap from house-made ginger beer.
The hot chili ($8), one of Saufley's "modern" drinks, was full of surprises. A concoction of Serrano chili, raspberry vodka, cranberry and lime, served with a slice of Serrano on top, it started out mild and sweet - we tasted more fruit than spice. However, a moment later, the slow burn started.
Frederick's could rest on its drinks laurels, but it doesn't. Though the menu doesn't run to wild surprises, Butterfield's interpretations of simple bar food are capable and tasty.
The recipe for conch fritters ($9) comes straight from the islands; Butterfield convinced a man in Nassau to share it. After some tinkering with quantities and the size of the chopped conch, Butterfield struck gold. The fried fritters are light and airy, with generous chunks of conch brightened by the addition of minced red onion.
A sweet and spicy dipping sauce — reminiscent of a doctored duck sauce — added punch to each bite.
The fish and chips entree ($13) was similarly light , though we wished the fish itself was a little flakier. The hand-cut rounds of fried potato were appealing, especially with an extra shake of salt from the table.
French dip ($9) is a bar-food staple that often goes horribly wrong, either ending up dry or oily. Frederick's version was neither. Served on crusty grilled bread with a side of chips and a small dish of au jus for dipping, the beef was surprisingly moist and tender.
For dessert, Frederick's prominently touts its cupcakes, made by Butterfield's cousin Stacey Kamberger. We tried the French toast cupcake ($4), a cinnamon-specked cake topped with sweet icing and caramel, and sprinkled with bits of bacon.
Desserts with bacon are hot right now and sometimes feel gratuitous. In this case, however, it worked. The cake was light and fragrant, the icing thick, but not sticky sweet, and that extra touch of porky salt was tasty and fun.
Throughout dinner, our waitress kept up the same steady smile. She and the kitchen also kept up a good pace: Our drinks stayed filled and entrees arrived just as appetizers were finished.
Toward the end of our meal, the room started to fill, both with drinkers and diners, all of whom seemed to be in great spirits. With happy staff surrounding them, cool drinks and good food, how could they not be?
FREDERICK'S ON FLEET
Back story: Frederick's on Fleet opened in late August 2012 in Fells Prospect, the neighborhood between Canton and Fells Point. With creative drinks, well-executed bar-friendly fare and affable service, Frederick's is a welcome addition to the area's vibrant restaurant and bar scene.
Parking: Street parking
Signature dish: Chef-owner Eric Butterfield scored the recipe for Frederick's conch fritters from a salty dog in the Bahamas; its authenticity shows. Chunks of conch and red onion, mixed with batter and fried, are surprisingly airy and a sweet and spicy dipping sauce adds Asian-influenced zing.
TVs: Two in the bar and one in the dining room
Where: 2112 Fleet St., Baltimore, MD 21231
Contact: 443-438-4572; http://www.fredericksonfleet.net
Open: 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. daily (Kitchen usually closes by 11 p.m.)
Credit Cards: All major
Rating: 2.5 stars
[Key: Superlative: 5 stars; Excellent: 4 stars; Very Good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star]