Ian Hummel is just as passionate about his restaurant's historic building as he is about its beer. The brewmaster and co-owner of Brew House No. 16 in Mount Vernon wanted to save the old fire station while creating something new.
"It keeps the firehouse alive," he said of preserving this piece of Baltimore history. "It was really important to us."
Hummel, who studied brewing in Germany, makes his own craft beers at the onsite microbrewery, where tanks gleam amid preserved tiled walls, firemen's poles and a pressed-metal ceiling.
"It just felt right," he said. "I saw a lot of potential here."
Hummel, who runs the place with his father, Harry, plans to expand the restaurant, which opened in October, to the building's second floor. Harry Hummel, an architect, is working on the specs.
"It's just as beautiful," Hummel said of the upper room. "It will be a German beer hall-themed space."
The restaurateur wants the first floor to concentrate on the dining scene. Already, chef Adam Snyder, formerly of Cunningham's, has devised an upscale pub menu to complement the drafts, including Brew House's English pale ale, a porter-style dark rye bitter and an American amber lager. Among the other beers available are Flying Dog blood orange ale and Liefmans Fruitesse, a sparkling fruit beer from Belgium.
But spirits and wine are not left out, with specialty cocktails and glasses and bottles of various grapes available.
We started our meal with a crookneck squash soup, a lush autumn-orange bisque steeped with roasted chicken broth and freckled with candied pumpkin seeds. Two cardamom marshmallows floated atop the soup, adding a warm, spicy depth.
The baby kale salad gave the greenery a welcome twist with black walnuts, local apples and goat cheese, with a wash of white balsamic dressing. The bacon and oyster pie was homey and comforting with chunks of the signature ingredients plus soft parsnips and potatoes in a cream sauce topped with a puffy golden pastry.
Of course, mac and cheese is on the menu because every restaurant has a version these days. Brew House's concoction capitalizes on a mix of aged cheddar, Gruyere and pecorino, spiked with smoky, tangy tasso and sprinkled with sourdough crumbs.
While we were happy we weren't bombarded with courses before we finished our current ones, we had a long wait before our entrees arrived. Our waitress wasn't much help because she disappeared for long periods. She could have been trapped in the back like we were when we tried to return from the restroom.
The dining room tables are in the front of the restaurant and set uncomfortably close together, making mobility difficult. It gets worse as you try to get through the rear bar area, where patrons form barriers in a narrow pathway.
We were soon appeased with one of the best chicken dinners we've had. The pan-roasted breast, bathed in rich red-pepper gravy, sat atop Asiago polenta and braised winter greens. The piece de resistance, though, was the plump apple walnut chicken sausage, delivering a deliciously rustic element to the meal.
Steak frites, with beef from Roseda Farm in Monkton, were seared goodness with an inventive black walnut romesco sauce. The excellent hand-cut fries were crispy and salty.
The Tilghman Island rockfish, adorned with a zingy habanero rum butter, would have been a moist white beauty on its own, but the kitchen cleverly added sweet littleneck clams with Israeli couscous and baby kale for a stellar dish.
A friend who had spent a lot of time in Canada was thrilled to see poutine on the menu, but the excitement was short-lived. The restaurant's interpretation of the popular snack from our neighbor to the north added a mouthwatering short rib confit to the mound of fries draped with roasted garlic gravy. But one of the key ingredients, cheese curds, was underrepresented and got lost in the mix.
We were disappointed the restaurant was out of the chocolate pretzel bread pudding on our visit, but we were pleased with our other choices, though there was a glitch. Our waitress brought us two of the same dessert. She quickly rebounded with the appropriate one and didn't charge us for the extra dish.
The apple carnival, assembled on a wood board, celebrated the fruit with a small toasted apple cake bolstering a ball of sour apple sorbet that was balancing apple slices like an accomplished juggler. The missing-in-action dish, a silky pawpaw panna cotta with a dollop of grapefruit marmalade, was a refreshing ending when it finally arrived.
Hummel, who is from Glen Rock, Pa., calls himself a "farm boy who came to the city." He's now adding his own history to Baltimore and the old firehouse.