In Mount Vernon, a neighborhood stacked with trendy bars, hot nightspots and intriguing ethnic restaurants, Tavern on the Hill stands out — because it's not any of those things.
Instead, the bar and eatery, which opened in July, is purposefully unpretentious. Menu items like hot dogs and sandwiches are served by friendly, casually dressed waiters. But that doesn't mean the staff — or the food — is sloppy. The service, especially, is top-notch.
Scene & Decor Stepping into Tavern on the Hill, glass cases housing desserts greeted us, giving the space the vibe of a carry-out joint. But to the left, the bar was nearly full for happy hour — the atmosphere lived up to the "tavern" promise. (The "hill" is, of course, Mount Vernon.)
We had our choice of seats: When we arrived at 6:30 p.m., most tables sat empty. By 7, nearly all were filled and we were lucky to have our prime table next to an enormous window overlooking Cathedral Street.
Appetizer Mini pretzel dogs ($5.99), with spicy mustard for dipping, was a charming cross between pigs-in-a-blanket and soft pretzels.
The dish was undeniably bar-friendly — ideal for happy hour or late night — and both the chewy pretzel and salty little sausages made us smile. We did, however, wish the dogs were topped with a sprinkle of coarse salt, more for its rough texture than its flavor.
Entrees The amusingly named Three's Company ($9.99) was tasty, though it challenged our capacity for meat-heavy sandwiches. Large piles of turkey, corned beef and roast beef sat between three slices of bread (we opted for rye), dressed with a thousand island sauce.
On the side, a generous helping of hand-cut fries ($1.99) came with an assortment of fry seasoning spices. The options reminded us of potato chips — sour cream and onion was among the group — and added a fun element to decent, but run-of-the-mill fries.
The sandwich was enormous. Even after removing the middle slice of bread, we struggled to finish it.
The meat trio worked, with the three flavors complementing one another. Tangy thousand island dressing added a nice counterpoint, though we would have appreciated more of it, even in a dish for dipping. A few bites of the sandwich were dry.
Lasagna ($13.99), made fresh daily, was as hearty as the sandwich, though not quite as large. A nicely seasoned red sauce dressed soft sheets of pasta layered with ground beef and topped with melted cheese. Though the dish seemed a little light on meat, overall it was comforting and satisfying.
With the lasagna, a house salad of mixed greens, cucumbers, red onion and tomatoes, dressed with a tart-sweet balsamic vinaigrette, was bright and fresh. Our only complaint: The tiny bowl made it difficult to eat without creating a mess.
Drinks One of our few disappointments at Tavern on the Hill was the lack of a cocktail menu. Yes, it's a casual restaurant, but we would have liked to see a few creative drink suggestions.
Instead, we stuck with easy-drinking beers: Natty Boh ($2.50) and a Leinenkugel Summer Shandy ($5.50). Both are refreshing and neither overshadowed the food.
Service From the moment we sat down, our waitress was friendly, prompt, and on point with small details like extra napkins and drink refills. Food was paced properly and we didn't wait a moment longer than we wanted for our check at the end of the meal.
During dinner, one of the owners stopped by our table as he made the rounds, checking on everyone's meals and drinks. Both he and the waitress seemed genuinely happy to chat with us. It's a pleasure to see people enjoy doing their jobs, especially when they do them so well.
Dessert Tavern on the Hill boasts an impressive lists of desserts for a casual bar; many of them imported from Junior's in New York. The toasted almond cake ($5), a spongy, sweet cake topped with light frosting, was a happy end to our heavy meal. The single slice of cake was — mercifully — modestly sized and airy enough to satisfy a sweet tooth without filling us up even more.
Though stuffed, we left Tavern on the Hill happy, satisfied and — most of all — feeling as though we'd be welcomed back with open arms.
Tavern on the Hill
Back story: When three friends banded together to open Tavern on the Hill in July, they hoped it would be an "unpretentious" Mount Vernon spot. With reasonable prices, good food and a friendly atmosphere, they've succeeded.
Parking: Street parking
Signature dish: The Three's Company, a towering sandwich of corned beef, roast beef and turkey, layered with thousand island-style dressing and three slices of bread, is daunting in size but worth it. Pair it with crunchy fries — and ask for a doggy bag to take the second half home.
Where: 900 Cathedral Street, Baltimore
Contact: 410-230-5400; tavernonthehillmtvernon.com
Open: 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday; 8 a.m. to 12 a.m. Monday-Thursday; 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday
Credit Cards: All major
Reservations: Not accepted
Bottom line: Excellent service and good, familiar food in a casual atmosphereCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun