The come-as-you-are neighborhood bar-and-restaurant is such a ubiquitous entity all over Baltimore that it may be difficult to get enthused about another one. But Blair’s on Hudson, which opened a few months ago in Canton, rewards attention. You don’t find an excellent curried cod on every corner, let alone a dessert in the shape of a mini-potted plant.
Blair’s is the handiwork of Ted Stelzenmuller, who closed his popular Jack’s Bistro early this year after a decade to focus on this new venture. If there’s nothing particularly distinctive about the layout, decor or lighting, a blue floor adds a vibrant touch.
Our weeknight visit got off to a good start with quick, amiable attention from the host and equally welcoming attention from the server. (Sure, such basic niceties should be a given anywhere, but you and I know they ain’t.)
The mixologist showed off admirable skill. I enjoyed her supple martini-with-a-twist using Dorothy Parker gin (a personal favorite that I seldom find in restaurants).
Blair’s specialty cocktails included a piquant, slightly smoky concotion dubbed “Remember the Thyme” (vodka, mezcal, cucumber, thyme simple syrup, et al.), and a frothy, chocolately, not-too-sweet fusion fueled by rum and mezcal. There’s an interesting beer and wine list, too.
Our Thai-inspired appetizer of very tender chicken wings impressed with its bright combination of lime, basil, cilantro, lemongrass and more. Speaking of tender, slices of a practically melt-in-your-mouth, Guinness-braised filet mignon atop expertly cooked, slyly spicy grits made for a hearty starter.
A mac-and-cheese-and-chocolate starter from Jack’s Bistro has been carried over here. I don’t know why anyone would want to ruin such a pasta dish with such a confection (or vice versa), and even less sure why anyone would crave the cloying, gooey taste. But there are questions of greater cosmic consequence to ponder these days, so I’ll leave that one to others.
There was much to savor in a juicy, double-patty “French burger” in a fine brioche bun, finished off with creamy brie, bacon, grilled onions, and, for a hint of sweetness, red pear and cognac jam. Thick, satisfying fries were another plus.
A panang curry, with its peanutty hints, made a vibrant reparation for a moist Atlantic cod filet. Green beans and rice fulfilled the accompaniment task nicely; same for the warm, buttered pita.
Although the beef-grits starter is plenty filling on its own, you can go the extra carnivore mile and splurge on the filet mignon entree, which means more of that Guinness-braised flavoring and more of those rich grits, as well.
We hit a major letdown with a crab cake, stringy in texture, undistinguished in flavor. It wasn’t helped by Brussels sprouts that tasted more boiled than roasted, or by a bland mound of pasta salad with shrimp.
At dessert time, the chiffon-like consistency of a mango mousse cake left some of us disappointed. More successful was a s’mores variant that looked like French fries and gravy — addictive fried strips of funnel cake bathed in a deep chocolate sauce, backed up by thick slabs of marshmallow.
But we had uniform appreciation of the handiwork involved in the potted, candied lemon cheesecake, buried beneath a “soil” of chocolate cookie crumbles with a mint leaf poking out. The super-sweet insides weren’t as memorable as the cool presentation, but didn’t need to be.
The eco-friendly practice at Blair’s of serving most items on biodegradable plates made from palm fronds bothered my dining companions, who thought the yellowy color made food look very unappetizing. But I wondered WWAD: What would Al (as in Gore) do? I figured he’d say, “Better than making them from hanging chads,” and salute this earnest contribution to a worthy cause.
Blair’s on Hudson
2822 Hudson St., Canton
Cuisine: American bistro fare, with Asian and European influences
Prices: Appetizers $8 to $13; burgers $15 to $16 ($10 on Tuesdays); entrees $14 to $36
Ambience: An unfussy place with a very casual vibe. Can get boisterous when full.
Service: Smooth, attentive, well-informed
Parking: Street (nearby if you’re really, really lucky)
Special diets: They can be accommodated.
Wheelchair accessible: There is no ramp, but staffers will assist handicapped patrons.