Restaurant review

Caribbean and soul food blend well at Picasso's in Station North

For The Baltimore Sun
Restaurant review: Picasso's adds soul to Station North.

Chef Bill Griffin is having fun with the menu at Picasso's in Station North. He's woven a food tapestry of Caribbean-influenced Southern soul food with an Asian flair. But not plopped all together.

You'll find offerings like Low Country-style shrimp and grits, a Thai beef curry rice bowl and Chesapeake chicken, a retro Baltimore dish with lump crab adorning a chicken breast and draped with an herb sauce. The generous portions are pretty with fresh tropical fruits, vegetables and flowers.

The corner restaurant opened in October in a space formerly occupied by the Beatnik bar and restaurant. It operates in a partnership with the nonprofit Art Room, which hosts jazz and other performances in a lounge next door..

Scene & Decor The spare, old-fashioned corner space, down a slight ramp, has a six-seat bar with high-top Formica tables and a separate dining room with six tables. Pale gray walls with white chair-rail moldings are offset with lighting sconces and graphic prints of celebs such as Marvin Gaye, Jimi Hendrix and Marilyn Monroe. A paint-splashed artist's palette, hung by the door, plays into the restaurant's name.

Appetizers Complimentary warm cornbread muffins set the culinary mood at the Caribbean-soul food restaurant. The Soul Streets BBQ rib bites ($9.75) were house-smoked, meaty ribs wonderfully sticky with a tropical mango-pineapple barbecue sauce sprinkled with fresh pineapple cubes. The Maryland she-crab and corn bisque was a standout with sherry-infused cream and a generous amount of tender corn and jumbo lump in the mix ($5.95, cup; $7.95, bowl).

Entrees While not a traditional pressed sandwich, Picasso's Caribbean roast pork Cuban ($10.75) stuffs sliced roasted pork butt, Black Forest ham, pickles, melted provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, banana pepper relish and mustard inside a pillowy soft roll with a pile of fries on the side. The skillet-seared Jamaican jerk wild salmon ($18.50), glazed with a blend of sweet chili and curry sauces, was dotted with fresh pineapple and green onions. It rested next to rice pilaf laced with tomatoes and red onions and atop collards that refreshingly had not been cooked to an inch of existence. An edible purple orchid gave the dish a festive flair.

Drinks Limited wines (a white zinfandel, Riesling and moscato) on our visit; special cocktails like a Blue Picasso, similar to a Long Island Iced Tea, with Curacao; a house Sangria; and domestic and imported beers.

Service A friendly woman behind the bar also handles the tables in the front and in the adjoining room with assistance from a co-worker. Affable co-owner Robert Branch also checks on diners.

Dessert Picasso's beignets ($8) are alone worth a visit. The warm, deep-fried pastries, doused with powdered sugar, are a satisfying taste of New Orleans goodness. The spiced rum dipping sauce is a bonus.

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Picasso's

Backstory: The restaurant is a collaboration with the Art Room, a local nonprofit group dedicated to promoting the arts. An event space next to Picasso's offers music, spoken word performances, exhibits and more. The restaurant's name is in reference to the arts "in all its shapes and forms" as well as a celebration of the culinary arts, said executive chef/co-owner Bill Griffin.

Parking: Street

Signature dish: The skillet-seared Jamaican jerk wild salmon

TVs: Three

Where: 2101 Maryland Ave., Station North

Contact: 443-438-9362; search "Picasso's" on Facebook

Open: 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. brunch and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. dinner Sunday

Credit Cards: All major

Reservations: Yes

Bottom line: The small, congenial corner restaurant delivers a fun menu of Caribbean, American and Asian-influenced dishes.

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