The Red Star Bar & Grill in Fells Point isn’t always on my radar, with so many other options in the neighborhood. But I stopped by recently and was glad to become reacquainted with its casual food and good cheer.
Even though it’s tucked away on a quiet side street, people don’t have any trouble finding it. On a Sunday evening, a number of patrons were sitting at the bar or at tables in the handsome wood-and-brick space.
A mostly American menu focuses on appetizers, gourmet pizzas, sandwiches, burgers and a limited selection of entrees. I was happy to see an array of salads offered. But your bill can quickly add up if you’re not paying attention to the prices, like the wings for $14, a bison burger for $16.50 and crab cakes for $27.
This version of the Red Star opened in 2004. (The building housed other restaurants before that — including one also called Red Star.)
In its earliest days, according to the restaurant’s website, the building was a place of solace for bedraggled sailors, who found their way by following painted red stars on the sidewalk. Hence, the restaurant’s name.
Today, you’ll find modern-day visitors instead of old salts. But the Red Star is still a beacon worth finding.
SCENE & DECOR: The striking, sophisticated tavern is a pleasant place to sit with its low lighting, brick walls, booths and communal tables. With its high ceilings, it can be noisy. We heard every word of a neighboring table’s one-sided conversation (by the end of our dinner, we were feeling sorry for the man’s poor date, who barely got a word in). There is seating on the quieter second floor on Fridays and Saturdays if an event isn’t booked.
APPETIZERS: The sweet chili mussels dish ($13) features the large, meaty green-lipped variety. Jalapenos and a zingy curry gave the buttery morsels a lot of personality. A beet salad ($15) was thoughtfully arranged with sliced beets, surprisingly good peach slices for the season, smoked pecans and goat cheese on a fluff of arugula. The flavors blended well, although I wish there had been more prosciutto than the paltry slivers hiding in the greens.
ENTREES: We hadn’t finished our appetizers before our main dishes arrived, creating a jumble of plates on the table. A 10-inch mushroom pizza ($11.50) stood out, featuring caramelized mushrooms and onions, mozzarella and goat cheese on a thin, flatbread crust. A drizzle of balsamic gave it tang. The blackened salmon BLT sandwich ($17) took a classic and made it better with fish. Tater tots weren’t available, so we chose the vegetable of the day as a side. Our waitress told us it would be broccoli, but we were fine with the sautéed squash that showed up.
DRINKS: You can settle in with familiar wine choices, draft or bottled beer, and an assortment of martinis and classic cocktails. Kudos for non-alcoholic drinks like a sweet cucumber mint iced tea and a pomegranate lemonade spritzer.
SERVICE: Our waitress was pleasant and helpful.
DESSERT: If we had it to do all over again, we’d get one of the advertised drunken rum cakes, made by a Baltimore-based company. Instead, we tried the made-in-house gingersnap bread pudding ($7). The cake-like slices were barely warm, with some pieces outright cold, and there was no discernible ginger flavor. Pass on this one.
The Red Star Bar & Grill
Backstory: Red Star Bar & Grill opened in 2004. A Red Star North in Charles Village is set to open in February, and the owners are also working on the former Dead End Saloon in Fells Point, said general manager Nicole Sheckells.
Signature dish: The mushroom pizza
Where: 906 S. Wolfe St., Fells Point
Contact: 410-675-0212, redstarbar.us
Open: Kitchen: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. (pizzas till midnight) Friday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. (pizzas till midnight) Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. Brunch is served on Saturdays and Sundays.
Credit Cards: All major
Handicap accessible: Yes
Bottom line: Red Star was pricier than we expected, but the food is a notch up from what you usually find at a typical pub.