They had us at "artisan sausage grill."
Never mind the dozens of beers, clever cocktails, happy hour lunch and fun atmosphere that includes a bar top made up of 17,000 Scrabble tiles and an old-fashioned fortune teller machine. We didn't even care that we had to bus our own tables. That's right. There are no servers, just some of the friendliest bartenders in town.
Everybody looks for a gimmick these days, and partners Rich Pugh, who also owns the Upper Fells Point pizza joint Johnny Rad's, and Randy Coffren found a niche in Highlandtown. They christened their new place Snake Hill after the neighborhood's original name before it was incorporated.
The Formstone corner bar, formerly the Irish Pub, opened in mid-November in the shadows of the old Haussner's Restaurant. It was refurbished into a comfortable gathering spot with 60 seats at several two tops, a communal table and comfy bar stools.
A glass cold case is filled with sausages such as wild boar bratwurst, lamb merguez, alligator andouille and even vegan blends such as smoked apple sage and Mexican chipotle. Your order is cooked on an open grill next to the bar and nestled into a toasted brioche bun. Various toppings and sauces are available to dress up your links.
The food is so down-to-earth good and the place is so congenial you don't even mind taking your empty containers and glasses to the counter when you're finished.
Scene & Decor Besides the impressive Scrabble-tiled bar, Snake Hill has retro knickknacks mixed with colorful liquor bottles displayed on several shelves, including an old Ocean City pennant, a sign advertising National draft beer for 40 cents, a bag of Zeke's Coffee, a cat figurine and a world globe. Small chalkboards etched with beer offerings, a white-brick wall and wood floors also add charm. Two large windows open up the small space.
Appetizers A half-dozen sides and starters are great nibbles to kick off your meal or to savor with drinks. We got off to a good start with five warm hush puppies dusted with powdered sugar and served with delectable whipped honey butter ($4, half order). A bowl of mac and cheese ($5) showcased squiggly cavatappi gleaming with a sensuous white-cheddar sauce that resounded with flavor.
Entrees Creative sausage sandwiches dominate the menu. The Mighty Duck sandwich ($7) took a duck-and-bacon sausage and bolstered it with sweet, white wine-poached pears, caramelized onions and a balsamic reduction. We added spicy peppers and Old Bay whole-grain mustard to the Dogfish Head chicken sausage with beer, feta and spinach ($6) — and it was mouthwatering.
Drinks More than six dozen brews are offered on draft (including welcome specialties from Charm City Meadworks and Key Brewing) and in bottles and cans. Creative cocktails such as a blueberry ginger jam Manhattan and an Old-Fashioned with bacon-infused bourbon and maple syrup are available, as well as familiar wines like chardonnay and malbec.
Service No table service; diners order at the bar and clear their own tables.
Dessert Two desserts are available, including a house-made funnel cake ($6) and a seasonal pastry (price varies) from the excellent Hoehn's Bakery.