William Maughlin and "Downtown" Kevin Brown want you to have a good time and good food in Station North, a community they love.
The duo behind the much-adored Station North Arts Cafe Gallery are following up that success with a second restaurant, Nancy by SNAC (as in Station North Arts Cafe), which opened last fall. Plans for a third Station North spot, a barbecue joint, are already in the works.
Nancy is named for Nancy Haragan, the late founder of the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance. Given the arts connection, its location — within the Maryland Institute College of Art Graduate Studio Center on North Avenue — is an appropriate one.
Nancy by SNAC is open for breakfast, lunch and snacks every weekday but for dinner only on Fridays. The short menu changes every week. Brown, a former Baltimore Sun employee, and Maughlin keep things simple, offering four or five entrees and a couple desserts — all fresh, likable takes on familiar American fare.
Scene & Decor During our visit, MICA students were on spring break, so the restaurant was quieter than we'd normally expect, with just a few other diners in the space.
That gave us plenty of time and space to enjoy the restaurant's clean, modern decor and to chat with Brown, who spent most of his time in the kitchen, and Maughlin, who was our waiter.
Service Maughlin and Brown obviously had a history with the three theater-goers at the table next to ours; they laughed and joked like old friends. That could've been awkward for us, but it wasn't thanks to the pair's bubbly personalities. Both Maughlin and Brown are easygoing and friendly as can be.
Fortunately, they also know a thing or two about restaurant service. Our food came out with smiles, and in a timely manner.
Appetizers Nancy by SNAC's menu does not include any appetizers, so we bent the rules a bit, ordering the vegetarian entree ($13) to share as a starter. The plate was a colorful one, a pretty arrangement of broccoli, carrots, grilled zucchini, tiny Brussels sprouts, redskin potatoes and a chopped tower of butternut squash, onion and apple. A few minutes into the meal, Brown delivered another plate of cheese-stuffed mushrooms.
The vegetables were all cooked nicely — soft in some spots and with just a bit of crunch when needed. Though the broccoli was a tiny bit under-seasoned, the amazing carrots, brushed with a syrupy glaze, more than balanced the scales.
Entrees A large slice of broccoli and cheddar quiche ($13), served with a crisp and salty Caesar salad, made us laugh when it arrived. It was so covered by melted cheddar that we could barely see the quiche.
We worried that all that cheese would overwhelm the quiche but somehow, it tasted just cheesy enough. The broccoli was chopped into fine bits, so the eggy base, cheese and vegetable blended into one.
Barbecue is everywhere these days and Nancy by SNAC's version ($13) was some of the better pulled pork we've had recently. Though it wasn't smoky, the meat was tender and moist and the excellent vinegar sauce had the kind of heat that creeps up and catches you by surprise.
On top, a small scoop of slaw added crunch; the whole thing sat on a soft bun just sturdy enough to stand up to the sandwich.
On the side, a small dish of collard greens was a lesson in how greens should be. Very clean, without a speck of grit, well-seasoned and cooked until soft, they were wonderful.
Drinks Nancy by SNAC is BYOB with no corkage fee. As soon as we sat down, Maughlin scurried away our bottle of wine to open it, returning with glasses that he kept filled.
Dessert We tried two desserts: pumpkin cheesecake and apple cobbler ($4.50 each), both of which were made in house. The cheesecake was smooth, dense and sweet, with nice, but not overpowering, pumpkin flavor. The cobbler, which was really more like a deconstructed apple pie, was even better. It was light on pastry but we didn't miss it, as the apples were soft and sweetly fragrant.
Before leaving, we had another chance to chat with Brown and Maughlin, confirming our initial impressions. They are two of the friendliest guys we know. They're welcoming enough that we'd probably eat at Nancy by SNAC even if the food wasn't very good. Fortunately, it is.
Nancy by SNAC
Back story: William Maughlin and "Downtown" Kevin Brown, owners of the Station North Cafe and Gallery, opened Nancy by SNAC in the MICA Graduate Studio Center in September 2013. Nancy is a cafe by day but on Friday evenings, serves an ever-changing dinner menu focusing on a handful of well-executed, straightforward entrees.
Parking: Street parking
Signature dish: Chef/owner Kevin Brown's pulled pork won our hearts. With its vinegar sauce and sneaky heat, crunchy slaw and side of tenderly cooked collard greens, the satisfying sandwich had all the right flavors and textures.
Where: MICA Graduate Studio Center, 131 W. North Ave., Baltimore
Contact: 410-685-0039; facebook.com/nancybysnac
Open: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday; 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Fridays (dinner on Saturday will be added sometime this summer)
Credit Cards: All major
Bottom line: Simple but tasty American classics are delivered with the kind of service that makes everyone feel like a regular