Patrick and Katie Russell have done it again.
In June, the Monkton couple opened Kooper's Jacksonville, their third Kooper's location and fifth Baltimore-area restaurant. Their operation also includes two food trucks.
Like the original Kooper's Tavern in Fells Point and its newer sister in Mays Chapel, Kooper's Jacksonville is a happy, casual spot. With great burgers and a strong beer selection, Kooper's is a smart choice for Jacksonville. The restaurant manages to be both a lively pub and a family-friendly dinner spot.
Scene & Decor Fans of the other Kooper's locations will feel right at home at the new Jacksonville restaurant. The decor of all three spots is cozy with a canine focus — think exposed brick walls covered with Expressionist paintings of dogs.
Around 6:30 on a sunny Thursday evening, the generous outdoor patio was packed with young families, and inside, the bar and dining-room tables were also mostly filled.
Drinks Kooper's has an extensive beer list, including a wide variety of Belgian brews, but we stuck close to home with a pint of Kooper's own Yellow Tail Ale ($4), a creamy, light beer that's easy to drink on its own or with food.
A glass of house syrah ($5), from Cline Cellars in Sonoma, was peppery and fruity — a good match for burgers.
Appetizer If you've been to other Kooper's locations, the Jacksonville menu won't hold any big surprises. The selection is pub- and family-friendly, from shareable appetizers like mussels and wings to a wide selection of burgers.
We started with calamari ($10), served without twists; just a light fry, chunky marinara sauce and a few slices of lemon.
The squid was cooked nicely, with just enough breading for crunch. But the marinara was the highlight. Made in-house, with bright chunks of tomato, the sauce was sunny and well-seasoned.
Entrees Kooper's offers 10 different burgers, plus a DIY option with plenty of choices of meats and toppings. After hearing another table's waiter extol the virtues of the Elvis Got the Blues burger ($11) — it's one of their best-sellers, he said — we went for it.
The burger was big and topped generously with Maytag blue cheese and crispy applewood smoked bacon (the king did love bacon, after all). Blue cheese has strong flavor, but the kitchen used a careful hand, so the powerful cheese didn't overwhelm the burger itself. The meat was lovely and cooked just to medium rare.
Fries, on the side, were thick-cut and well-seasoned.
In addition to burgers and sandwiches, Kooper's menu includes a couple of favorites from the Russells' other restaurants. The traditional Irish breakfast ($17), borrowed from Slainte Irish Pub in Fells Point, made for a very filling dinner.
The plate looked daunting, with food nearly spilling over the edges. It was a meat-fest, with sausages (including both black and white pudding — that is, sausage made with and without blood), and rashers (Canadian bacon). Roasted tomatoes, beans and toast rounded it out. Just looking at it filled our bellies with anticipation and a little dread. It was just so much food.
But every element on the plate was so tasty, we managed to devour the whole thing. The tomatoes brightened the dish as a whole and the toast, eaten simply with butter, provided a calming counterpoint to the meats.
Dessert Kooper's most interesting dessert is the Irish cream sundae ($9), a rich brownie sundae topped with a boozy splash of Irish cream. Sweet and just slightly potent, it was a fun way to end the meal.
Service The team at Kooper's is friendly and obviously well trained; everyone who walked past our table eyeballed it to see if there was an empty plate to remove or a glass to fill. If our own waiter got lost for a few minutes toward the end of the meal, while he was busy with other tables, we didn't mind. His coworkers picked up the slack.
Overhearing snippets of conversations, we realized that most of the people sitting near us were already repeat customers, and they were pleased to be back.
The Russells have already proven themselves impressive restaurateurs; with loose plans for more restaurants already in the works, they're on their way to domination. As long as they keep opening places with great service and consistently good food, we will be happy to welcome our new restaurant overlords.
Back story: Opened last June, Kooper's Jacksonville is the third Kooper's location in the Baltimore area. Others include the original Fells Point restaurant and a spot in Mays Chapel; the owners also have two food trucks, plus the popular Fells Point bar/restaurants Slainte Irish Pub and Woody's Rum Bar and Island Grill. Like the other Kooper's locations, Kooper's Jacksonville is friendly and fun, serving straightforward American food and fantastic burgers.
Parking: Lot in front
Signature dish: The Elvis Got the Blues burger is justifiably popular. The "blues" come in the form of Maytag blue cheese, which is topped with several slices of smoky bacon. The piquant and salty toppings are good ones but the burger itself shines, even without the condiments. Big, juicy and cooked beautifully, it's a burger for serious connoisseurs.
Where: Manor Shopping Center, 3493 Sweet Air Road, Jacksonville 21131
Contact: 443-689-7252; koopers.com
Open: 11 a.m. to 12 a.m., Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday (Kitchen closes at 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday)
Credit Cards: All except Discover
Bottom line: Baltimore's third Kooper's location is a fun, friendly, tasty addition to Jacksonville