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New Langermann's veers to the casual

The Canton kitchen of Neal Langermann — whose specialties include shrimp and grits, maple smokehouse-rubbed Duroc pork chops, Cape Fear scallops and fried green tomatoes — has produced Low Country meals worth swooning over.

Now, the team behind Langermann's in Canton — Langermann and partners David McGill and Mark Lasker — has opened a restaurant in South Baltimore. The location, 1542 Light St., was recently home to 1542 Gastropub and before that, the Reserve.

The culinary emphasis on Low Country cuisine, as interpreted by Langermann, has made the trip across the harbor.

Some of the entrees have been transformed, and you get the idea that Langermann has embraced this chance to experiment. Seared diver scallops, which in Canton are served with mushroom-sweet potato hash, asparagus and butter sauce, in South Baltimore are served with caramelized onions, spinach and tomato in a lobster-cream sauce. Boston Street's braised short ribs have turned up on Light Street as barbecue pork spareribs, and Canton's roasted chicken in Cajun country sauce is buttermilk-fried chicken in South Baltimore.

There are changes in scale, too. Open for lunch and dinner, the original Langermann's, located in the Can Company complex, is a sprawling, upbeat, full-scale white-tablecloth restaurant. The new Langermann's is a neighborhood tavern and serves dinner and Sunday brunch.

Langermann's on Light, at least for now, has a more compact menu, eight entrees instead of 14. The section of soups, snacks and starter salads has dropped the snacks. We're only talking three items, but they're charming little things like asparagus fries, crispy ravioli and pimento cheese spread.

At its best, as with the Cape Fear scallops appetizer or the Carolina shrimp and grits entree, Langermann's cooking can put a spell on you. Both dishes make good use of a lethal combination of buttery clam sauce and creamy grits. A message on the menu says that Langermann's grits come from the Georgia mountains, where they're known as are "heirloom grits." They're so good, I'd believe anything about them.

The appetizer places bits of tomatoes, scallions and crisp bacon on two plump, adroitly grilled scallops on the clam-soaked grits. It's one of the best seafood-based appetizers in town. The shrimp and grits are better than I remember having at the Canton location, where they seemed soupy to me. The dish was utterly satisfying at Langermann's on Light, with firm, fresh-tasting shrimp and a generous helping of Andouille sausage. The buttermilk-fried chicken was excellent, too, showing off juicy meat underneath the crispy, crunchy skin. Just as good were the sides: green beans stewed with pork and creamy mashed potatoes.

I also like the crispy coating on the fried green tomatoes and the sweet tomato relish and beurre blanc they're served with, although I wish the tomatoes were sliced more thinly. Another appetizer, the bread-and-butter tuna tower, new for the South Baltimore location, sounded promising. It looked pretty, too, a glistening cylinder of tuna atop a thin red line of Smoky Mountain pepper jam. But an overpowering presence of mint upended the whole thing.

I didn't get enough heat from a jerk sandwich, though, and not nearly enough aged-white cheddar flavor from the macaroni and cheese.

Open only a few weeks when we visited, the dining program still felt tentative, as though Langermann's wasn't entirely comfortable in the new space, which is superficially pretty but incoherent. The dining area isn't distinctly separated from the bar operations. Bar customers watching TV outnumbered diners when we visited. I ended up feeling tense.

My concern is this: I don't want to see Langermann's start slouching down to the fit the sports-bar atmosphere. I'd love to see the atmosphere rise up to Neal Langermann's cooking.

The staff we met were friendly, but when we asked where the rolls came from, they had to ask someone in the kitchen. Apparently, they were from a food service, although the corn bread from the Canton location will be served soon in South Baltimore. Why wait? And why is cream for coffee served in little plastic containers?

My companions were not, I should say, as interested as I was in how this tension, between bistro dining and sports bar, was playing out. They thought that Langermann's on Light was a sporty bar that happened to serve a menu with some Low County cuisine on it.

I think Langermann's on Light could be more. I hope its new neighbors encourage them.

Langermann's on Light

Rating: ONE AND A HALF STARS

Where: 1542 Light St.

Contact: 410-528-1200, langermanns.com

Open: Daily for dinner and Sunday brunch

Prices: Appetizers, $7.95-$11.95; entrees, $18.95-$22.95

Food: Carolina cuisine, like she-crab soup and shrimp and grits, and upscale pub food

Service: Friendly, pitched toward a pub level

Best dishes: Cape Fear scallops, fried green tomatoes, Carolina shrimp and grits

Children: There is no children's menu.

Parking: On-street parking, which can be restricted to permit-holders

Noise level: Comfortable, considering its pub setting

Outdoor seating: None

[Key: Superlative: 5 stars; Excellent: 4 stars ; Very Good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star.]

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