The concept of hotel dining in Baltimore has been gaining traction over the past few years, from the 2011 opening of Wit & Wisdom in the Four Seasons in Harbor East to July's debut of Magdalena in Mid-Town Belvedere's ritzy Ivy Hotel.
Poets Modern Cocktails & Eats, in the Hotel Indigo in Mount Vernon, isn't quite on a par with either of those haunts: It's more casual and not as intensely serious about menu development.
But with a cool space and decent service, it deserves to be part of Baltimore's hotel restaurant conversation. Though the food might not knock anyone's socks off in terms of conceptual creativity, it's approachable and showcases local favorites in ways that will also appeal to the hotel's out-of-town guests.
Scene and Decor Poets is just inside the front doors of the hotel, in a semi-open space to the right. The wall behind the bar is the focal point; its bright blue color and built-in shelves holding liquor bottles look fresh and modern.
Those walls seem to promise nights filled with fun; during our Thursday night visit, the crowd seemed to be on board. Though only a few tables were full, the bar was crammed with couples and groups of friends — some appeared to be local, others disappeared up to their rooms after a few drinks. But both visitors and Baltimoreans gave the room a happy buzz.
Appetizer Any local restaurant that anticipates a steady stream of out-of-towners should have a solid crab dip on the menu; Poets' version ($12) was a good one.
Spiked with bits of jalapeno, the dip was spicy — but not overly so — and heavy with crab. We also liked that, in addition to toast points, it came with big slabs of fried wontons for dipping. The wontons were heftier than most tortilla or pita chips, so they stood up to the dip. Their neutral flavor didn't overshadow the crab.
Entrees The Poets menu offers a selection of sandwiches, salads and simple entrees that are approachable, if not full of surprises.
The Poet Wrap ($13), stuffed with greens, cheddar, caramelized onions, bacon, blackened chicken and dressed with ranch dressing, was savory, a little crunchy and just spicy enough. We opted for onion rings on the side ($1 extra) and were pleasantly surprised at their freshness and lack of greasiness — and that the onion itself wasn't the least bit slimy.
The spicy salad ($10) topped with shrimp ($5 extra) was less of an unqualified hit. We liked the warm shrimp, tangy goat cheese and bright balsamic vinaigrette, and the thin slices of grilled apple were an inspired addition. But the pumpkin seeds got lost and there were simply too many fried jalapenos. After the second bite, we tried picking around them, but completely avoiding them was impossible, making the salad more spicy than necessary.
Drinks Poets' wine and beer lists are midsize and reasonable, with several local options on the beer front. We stuck with cocktails, enjoying the bar's Corpse Reviver ($10), a balanced mix of cognac, sweet vermouth, lemon and Grand Marnier, and The Ranch ($10), which blended rye, lemon juice, ginger beer and bitters into a spicy autumnal concoction.
Service Our reserved waiter looked young, but he was good at his job. He didn't hover but stayed on top of everything we needed, from fresh drinks and water refills to delivering the check exactly when we were ready for it.
Dessert By the time we inquired about dessert, the kitchen had only one option available: a moist, sweet chocolate cake ($7). The slab of cake, frosted with more rich chocolate, was an appealing way to end our meal.
While we were slowing down, most of the Poets crowd was just getting the night started. By 9 p.m., we didn't spy any food coming from the kitchen, but the bar scene was heating up.
As we wandered out through the lobby, voices from the bar followed us through the door, and we nearly turned around to join back in the fun. Instead, we vowed to come back again — and soon.
Nearby reviews: Dish Baltimore - Mount Vernon / Midtown