As Enormous fans of special-occasion dinners at Salt in Upper Fells Point, we were elated to hear back in December that chef/co-owner Jason Ambrose opened a more casual spot, 1157 Bar and Kitchen (1157 Haubert St.,  449-5525), in Locust Point.
While Salt's upscale entrees of steaks and pastas, as well as its renowned duck fat fries, are amazing, the option of enjoying Ambrose's creative style of cooking in a more approachable and affordable environment was appealing.
Warmly lit, sporting orange walls with chalkboards announcing plentiful whiskey options, with a bar staff who greeted us immediately, the restaurant is inviting. Seating options are varied from bar seats to the wall-lining two-seat booths, or the communal table seating eight, but there is no denying that space is tight. If you want a seat you better get there early or be prepared to wait—1157 doesn't take reservations.
Cocktails were the first success of the night. The Black Manhattan ($9), which our bartender/server explained gets its darker color from the unexpected addition of Amaro Averna, was smooth and subtly sweet with a depth beyond the traditional Manhattan. Border Patrol ($9), utilizing El Peloton de la Muerte mezcal, is a mezcal lover's dream come true with serious smokiness from the liquor and notes of sweeter flavors from the Cointreau and maple. We were told that the bar is experimenting with some barrel aging of classic cocktails, like the Negroni, but they had just sold out the night before. Those chalkboards drew us in, too—all told, there are close to 70 bourbon/rye/scotch choices ranging from $6 to $35. 1157 is one of the few bars to offer Japanese whisky, including the Yamazaki 12 Year ($12).
Appetizers quickly arrived from the kitchen. Chimichurri beef tartare ($13) was a large enough portion for our party of four to share. Plated with a small pickled hard-boiled quail egg, each bite was a perfect one, with a zesty zing from the horseradish and undertones of citrus.
Crispy "Buffalo" sweetbreads ($15), served with blue cheese, were an elevated take on the traditional buffalo wing. While most bars in town have their own version of the omnipresent chicken wing, Ambrose ups the ante by replacing poultry with offal in the fryer, then lightly coating the pieces with a tangy hot sauce. These nontraditional bites were crispy on the outside while tender inside, all the while sporting the vinegar-y heat we typically enjoy on wings.
Sandwiches were just as enjoyable as the appetizers. One of our favorites, the ratatouille and burrata cheese ($8), featured crispy crusted rosemary foccacia with a heavenly, fluffy texture that enveloped the eggplant-based vegetable mixture, balsamic, and burrata. The sandwich may not be first-date material, with juicy veggies falling onto our plates while gooey cheese and balsamic oozed onto our hands as we crunched down on the crusty bread, but we just kept our forks nearby to scoop up the bits we missed on the first bite around.
We also adored the chorizo sausage ($12) with creamy avocado, fried duck egg, and sofrito. The crispy brioche bun held up under the weight of the ingredients and sopped up some of the yolk that oozed through when we sliced through the sandwich. Our only warning is that the natural spiciness of the sausage paired with the heat of the sofrito makes this one spicy concoction, so those with sensitive taste buds might steer clear.
Duck confit ($10) and the braised short rib melt ($12) both had satisfying fillings. The former was filled with savory, juicy duck mingling with the somewhat-sweet cherry mostarda and nutty Gruyere cheese, while the latter had melt-in-your mouth meat covered in melty aged cheddar with just enough crisp red onions and a light smear of creamy, zesty horseradish mayonnaise that made it like an elevated take on Maryland style pit beef, but with an au jus on the side that gave it a french dip flair.
Our only disappointment was that the heavy-handed toasting of the baguette for the duck, and ciabatta for the short rib, made each sandwich hard to manage. While the over-browned bread didn't adversely affect the taste, the too-tough texture necessitated such a strong hold and bite on the sandwich that most of the juicy contents were forced to spill onto our plates.
With each of the sandwiches, 1157 surprised us with a ramekin of Mediterranean quinoa salad instead of the standard fries or chips paired with most sandwiches at other spots. We appreciated the nod toward ingenuity, but inconsistency was an issue: Some bowls had equal ratios of lemon flavor and feta, while one dish had no noticeable feta and an absence of citrus. Overall, though, we loved this change-up on the traditional side starch.
By the time we finished our after-dinner drinks, the remaining four seats at our communal table were filled by two happy couples, and many of the booths were taken as well—we were smart to come early. The menu has changed since we visited, but we expect that, based on the quality of the food and the drinks that we enjoyed, seats at this cozy off-the-beaten-path joint will become an increasingly hot commodity.