Breadbangers, a new restaurant in Riverside, is the collaboration we never knew we needed: sandwiches and rock music.
The restaurant opened in June in a corner spot that has, over the past few years, been home to a variety of short-lived restaurant experiments, including Sly Fox, Soigne and, most recently, Tuscan Fresh.
The team behind Breadbangers, several of whom are from Bluegrass Tavern in Federal Hill, hope their casual concept, which revolves around sandwiches, beer and music, is one that sticks. We hope so, too. It's a fun place and, most importantly, the sandwiches are generously built and very tasty.
Scene & Decor From the outside, Breadbangers looks humorously fierce; the logo's sharp angles and lightning bolt slashes scream 1980s heavy metal. Inside, the same typeface shows up on chalkboard menus, where it announces sandwiches with punny names, like "Shrimp Start My Heart" (shrimp salad) and "Talk Birdy to Me" (grilled chicken with shaved ham, gouda and arugula).
The very presence of those chalkboards makes the interior of Breadbangers feel more homey than metal. The place revels in the cheesy-fun world of '80s hair bands and the golden age of MTV. Over the speakers, the strains of guitar-heavy classic rock is audible, but quiet enough that no conversations are interrupted.
During our mid-week visit, Breadbangers was moderately busy around 7:30 p.m., both with carryout orders and diners who stuck around to sit at the bar (where orders are placed and picked up) or at one of the tables in the back of the space.
Appetizers Breadbangers' menu includes a handful of soups and salads, which could function as either appetizers or entrees. We started with a fresh, lively salad of watermelon, feta, arugula and walnuts ($8).
Though we wished the lemon vinaigrette dressing had more zing — the lemon got lost underneath the feta and watermelon — overall, the salad was a good one, with crisp ingredients and thoughtful flavors.
Entrees Sandwich options include wraps, cold sandwiches and warm, pressed sandwiches, each with its own rock-pun name, and each with a bag of Dirty Chips and a pickle on the side. The three we tried were all successful, without reservation.
On the Portabella Some Sugar on Me ($9) — a vegetarian panini stuffed with portabella mushroom, red onion, roasted red pepper, arugula and pepper jack cheese — the mushroom was a highlight, cooked and seasoned with care.
The 2 Minutes to Muffaletta ($11) was a thick work of art, with salami, ham, provolone, and mozzarella stacked on especially nice slices of focaccia bread, made in house and slathered with briny olive tapenade.
Our favorite, the Modern Day Porkboy panini ($10), combined sliced pork, bacon, caramelized onions and gouda and was dressed with barbecue sauce. That's an intense bunch of savory ingredients. Pork and bacon together could be overkill and too much of any one ingredient could have turned the dish into a mockery of barbecue. But it wasn't; the proportions were carefully handled and the sandwich was terrific.
The only real disappointment of the meal was a side dish of pesto pasta salad ($3). The shells, tossed with pesto and sundried tomatoes, and served slightly chilled, were fine, just not very exciting.
Service Because we ordered, paid and picked up our meals from the bar, then retreated to the back room to eat, our interaction with the staff was minimal. But what conversation we did have was friendly and helpful and our food was prepared quickly and efficiently.
Drinks Breadbangers' drinks menu includes a handful of familiar beers and wines, with a few selections available by the pitcher. We washed our meal down with a pitcher of Natty Boh ($7 for 48 ounces or $8 for 60 ounces), a choice that seemed appropriately casual.
Dessert Breadbangers has a kid-friendly angle, with a selection of toys and games stacked near the tables in the back and easy sells on the menu, like a grilled cheese sandwich. The restaurant's sole dessert option — the Dirt M'Girt Cup ($2) — was clearly conceived with mini-palates in mind.
A messy mix of chocolate pudding, Oreo crumbs and bright gummy worms, served in a plastic container, the "dirt" cup is cute and sweet. Too sweet for most adults, probably, but just right for little ones.
If Mom and Dad want dessert, they can always order another pitcher of beer.
Nearby reviews: DishBaltimore.com - Federal Hill / South Baltimore