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Smaltimore's sushi proves this place is about more than just good beer

Sushi at a beer bar? Sounds strange, but at Smaltimore, it works. So does everything else.

Since it opened in July in the Canton space that used to house Lager's Pub, Smaltimore has received a lot of love from the local crowd. It has a gimmick: beer prices that change based on supply and demand (the more people ordering a certain beer, the more expensive it gets and vice versa).

That — along with friendly, easygoing service — make Smaltimore a fun bar. As a restaurant, it's also very likable. The food — including sushi and more standard pub fare — is well executed and, as it turns out, sushi is great with a couple beers.

Scene & Decor When we stepped into Smaltimore, around seven on a Saturday night, a wall of sound hit us. Not a promising sign for dinner conversation but we acclimated. What seemed noisy ended up providing energetic background buzz.

Clearly a sports bar, Smaltimore's decor is dominated by 16 televisions placed around the perimeter of the space. During our visit, most screens showed football games but four were dedicated to the bar's ever-changing drink prices.

Drinks Smaltimore is, no doubt, a beer drinkers' bar. The list of beers is diverse, including the usual suspects plus an impressive variety of local craft beers.

Crispin Cider, Union Craft Brewing Black Market Baby American Pale Ale, Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale, Brewer's Art Resurrection, Evolution Craft Brewing Company Oyster Stout and Natty Boh pints all crossed our table during dinner. The long list — and the draw of watching prices change on the screens — encouraged us to mix up our orders more than we normally would.

Smaltimore has a decent wine list, too. It won't set an oenophile's world on fire, but it covers all the major varietals and regions.

Appetizers Smaltimore's menu was driven by its layout. According to owner Jason Zink, the kitchen came with a separate nook perfect for cold food prep, making the sushi and burgers combo a natural from a logistical standpoint.

We started on the "hot" side of the menu, with an order of wings ($9 for 10). Plumper than the average wing, they were meaty and tender with crisp skin. On the advice of our waitress, we opted for the mild sauce, which did have a bit of a kick, but after a small trial cup of the hotter stuff, we wished we'd amped up the heat.

Entrees Also from the cooked portion of the menu, a bacon cheeseburger topped with a fried egg ($8) was well-seasoned and juicy. The egg was exactly as we like it: done around the edges with a yolk that ran down the burger when we nicked it with a fork.

Our only complaint about the burger was the bun. We love potato rolls as much as anyone (maybe more), but this one was a little too small for the burger. The flavor was great but we made a mess.

The mess got worse when we dipped our burger into a cup of "awesomesauce," a mayonnaise and ketchup mixture that was, indeed, awesome.

Richard Chung, the owner of Park Bench Pub in Riverside, is responsible for Smaltimore's sushi. A longtime fan of Chung's sushi, Zink thought it would go over well with his customers.

And it does. Though the sushi menu isn't adventurous — broiled eel is as wild as it gets — the rolls are neatly prepared, ingredients are fresh and every bite tasted great.

The eel option — the unagi and cucumber roll ($6.50) — was topped with a dollop of sweet teriyaki that balanced the fish and vegetable, and the Patterson Park ($9) combined several raw favorites, mixing yellow tail, avocado and spicy tuna.

The best roll we tried was the So Cal ($6.50), a simple combination of fresh crab and avocado sprinkled with Old Bay. Crab + Old Bay is as familiar as it gets but the preparation gave us a fresh perspective on Baltimore's favorite combo.

Service As busy as Smaltimore was during our dinner, our waitress kept our drinks filled and the kitchen turned out food in a well-paced manner. As a bonus, the waitress was funny and friendly. Her attitude convinced us to stick around for a few post-dinner beers. And to come back as soon as possible.


Smaltimore

Back story: Since its July opening, Smaltimore has been a huge hit with the Canton party crowd, who flock there to watch sports and down beers. The beer list is impressive for a small space and the gimmick — beer prices that change based on supply and demand — is entertaining. Owner Jason Zink recently added a dozen sushi rolls to his pubby menu (think burgers and wings). While simple, both the sushi and the cooked menu are tasty and a good match for the beer.

Parking: Street parking

Signature dish: Smaltimore distinguishes itself from other Canton bars with its sushi menu, available Wednesday through Sunday. While the list of rolls isn't wildly adventurous, the sushi is well made. Rolls like the So Cal, with its real crabmeat, cucumber, avocado and sprinkle of surprisingly perfect Old Bay, are a great match for a few pints.

TVs: 16, four of which broadcast the bar's ever-changing beer prices

Where: 2522 Fait Ave., Baltimore

Contact: 410-522-1421, smaltimorebaltimore.com

Open: 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., Monday-Friday; 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday

Credit Cards: All major

Reservations: Accepted

Bottom line: Sushi and burgers make this hopping bar a great place for drinks and dinner

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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