<p>When we walked into Humagalas in Bel Air, we were expecting a suburban, chain-like restaurant experience with average food and service. Boy, were we wrong.
The family-owned eatery, in the former DuClaw Brewing Co. space, proves that a burger-and-pizza place can deliver freshly prepared, locally sourced products that are better than average.
It’s not such a surprise when you find out that the owners, brothers Bob and Bill Frankis of the Frankis Restaurant Group, are experienced restaurateurs. They operate five Greene Turtle Sports Bar and Grille locations in Maryland and Delaware — two of which are in Harford County.
They even have an explanation for the restaurant’s crazy name. “Humagalas” was a family moniker used by their father for his sons when they were either good or mischievous, as in his “little Humagalas.”
The siblings thought the term of endearment fit the new restaurant, which opened in March with the slogan “Real Food — Real Friends.”
The original plan at Humagalas was to focus on burgers, said Bob Frankis, a Bel Air resident who had been thinking about the idea for a few years. When the DuClaw space became available, he knew it was time to make it happen.
Eventually, pizza became part of the menu after the Frankises conferred with a pizza consultant who had spent 15 years in Sicily. “We wanted a true, authentic pizza,” Bob Frankis said.
The result is a tempting lineup of 12-inch brick-oven artisan pies that can also be customized. We enjoyed a Bianca Bosco with mozzarella, pecorino, goat cheese and ricotta slathered on a chewy, slightly charred crust and strewn with generous amounts of basil, spinach and mushrooms.
The dining room is set up in a way that you don’t feel crammed in next to other diners. We sat in one of several booths that were covered in a fun black-and-white cowhide pattern and set amid a phalanx of wood tables. A bank of banquettes separates the dining area from a large bar in the soaring modern space with brick accents, arched windows and Edison-light chandeliers.
There are several creative drinks, including 10 different martinis and craft cocktails. The Maryland mule was a thirst-quenching twist on the 1940s libation with Sagamore whiskey, fresh lime juice and ginger beer. Local beers, representing Heavy Seas Beer, DuClaw, Union Craft Brewing and others, and several wines by the glass, were also on the menu.
Our server was an amiable guy who seemed scattered at times. When a manager saw us waiting for our desserts at the end of our dinner, he stepped in to see if he could help.
There are four starters, and we kicked off our meal with really good bacon-wrapped, stuffed jalapeños. The bacon was crisp, and the filling was cheesy and creamy.
The three broiled crab balls were also terrific. They were like mini-crab cakes puffed with lumps and served with a tangy Cajun remoulade sauce.
There’s a burger for everyone, including local dry-aged beef, elk, bison, chicken and a black-bean patty, with whimsical names like California Dude, the Holy Grail and Buffalo Bill.
You can also create your own combinations, picking a protein, rub, sauce, cheese, bun, toppings and sides.
We were drawn to the Bad Hombre burger — maybe it was the wicked name or the intriguing ingredients. We loved every sloppy bite. It started with a fat beef patty and was stacked with pepper Jack cheese, caramelized onions, grilled jalapeños, tomato and mixed field greens, moistened with salsa roja and chipotle mayo. The toasted brioche had an “H” embossed in the top bun.
We opted for boardwalk fries for an extra $2, instead of the standard kettle chips offered. The addicting hot, crispy sticks hinted of truffle oil and Old Bay seasoning.
The Trippin’ Chicken burger was delicious on a pretzel bun. We weren’t expecting a boneless chicken breast from its description on the menu, thinking it would be ground chicken, but were pleased with the substantial cutlet, covered with porcini mushrooms, Brie, fried leeks, spinach, a tomato slice and truffle aioli.
We chose cole slaw as a side for an additional couple of bucks. The shredded purple cabbage was glazed with too much mayonnaise for our taste buds.
Most desserts are shakes, though you can get a scoop of ice cream for $2. The cookie-dough shake was satisfying, with pieces of cookie dough in the thick beverage and dotting a whipped-cream layer on top. There was no chocolate sauce with the drink as advertised on the menu, but we didn’t miss it.
Spiked shakes will end your meal on a high note, though ours wasn’t DUI-potent. But the Irish coffee one was still perky with Bailey’s Irish cream, Jameson Irish whiskey and chocolate coffee beans in the mix.
Humagalas stands out among the many family-friendly restaurants in the area by offering carefully prepared food with local roots.
I live here,” said Bob Frankis. “I know the community.”
Humagalas16 Bel Air South Pkwy., Bel Air410-515-3222humagalas.com
The vibe: We were greeted pleasantly at the hostess stand and seated quickly on a weekday evening. The dining room wasn’t busy on our visit, so it was easy to carry on a conversation.
You’ll fit in wearing: Casual attire
Don’t miss: The Bad Hombre burger
Best for kids: Kids are given crayons and a placemat imprinted with games, a coloring section and a menu that includes grilled chicken, a mini cheeseburger, cheese pizza and chicken tenders for $6 each. One side dish is included, with choices like boardwalk fries, mac and cheese, and baked apples.
Reservations: Accepts reservations for 10 or more
Handicap Accessible: Yes
Price range: Appetizers, $8-$12; pizzas, $10-$15; burgers, $13-$16