The re-do trend in the restaurant world keeps on spinning. Among the most recent local examples is the impressive Ludlow Market, previously the Wine Market Bistro, tucked inside the historic Foundry building in Locust Point.
Owner Chris Spann closed that bistro last spring after a nearly 14-year run, while keeping open the wine store that was part of the original concept and remains connected.
The revised establishment has a longer name — Ludlow Market, Bar and Bottle Shop — taken from Ludlow Street, where the entrance is located (the official address is Fort Avenue). Inside the restaurant portion of the business, the industrial-chic look is pretty much the same as it was before, though bright red chairs and a few other touches provide fresh spark.
That’s not the only thing that feels new. I never did like the old bistro. All I recall from a few visits during its early years is fussy food and attitudinal service. But that aftertaste dissipated entirely as soon as I stepped into Ludlow Market, where the vibe seemed friendly and a convivial, informative server helped to guide our party through quite a classy meal.
If there’s an informal atmosphere inside the restaurant, the kitchen is clearly serious about the food. Imagination and sensitivity were readily apparent in each course. (The chef, Christopher Audia, hails from Baltimore and honed his skills at stylish spots in Boston and Washington.)
Before making menu decisions, we enjoyed chewy, rustic bread and fine drinks. Never mind the distressing (OK, mildly disappointing) setback when we discovered that a favorite bourbon wasn’t stocked at the bar; we were ably steered toward a substitute that worked well in an old-fashioned. With rah-rah, buy-local spirit, we also sipped on a nicely balanced martini using Baltimore’s Shot Tower gin.
We liked the regional and international beer options. Same for the thoughtful, compact wine list, which holds several economical picks; the full-bodied Juggernaut cabernet we settled on made an uplifting complement to the dinner. (Customers can also buy any bottle from the wine shop and drink it in the restaurant for an $11 corkage fee.)
Small and small-ish plates outnumber entrees here. That makes Ludlow Market ideal for light suppers, especially during the summer months when a little nourishment can go a long way. (Speaking of summer, the restaurant’s cozy outdoor eating area is going to be popular.)
The house greens salad was anything but routine, thanks not just to the vitality of a Greek dressing and bits of feta, but also the luscious, citrus-marinated olives. Shrimp toast — a delicate radish salad enlivened the shrimp perched on puffs of bread moistened with chili oil — looked as elegant as it tasted.
Smoked mayo-topped fritters, packed with black-eyed peas rested on a bed of tangy collard greens, provided considerable pleasure. A chilled corn soup also satisfied, its creamy base fortified with vigorous lumps of crab meat.
Among the moderate-sized offerings, we tried the cavatelli, a pasta that doesn’t turn up every day. The small, perfectly al dente shells were mixed with asparagus, morels, egg and more to form a hearty bowl.
A sandwich special of the day turned out to be a bit of a setback. The concept sounded promising — a twist on traditional caprese salad. The locally grown tomatoes were very good, and so was the mozzarella. But those ingredients were an awkward fit for a brioche bun, making everything hard to eat and appreciate.
The “tiki” pork shoulder entree delighted easily with the tenderness of the meat and the snappy blend of pickled pineapple, papaya slaw and peanuts. The hangar steak was also flavorful, joined on the plate by broccoli that could have benefited from a little less of a fondue sauce.
For a side, we couldn’t pass up the beef fat fries, which had such robust taste and texture that the three spicy dips that accompanied them proved superfluous.
Desserts — a lovely blueberry bread pudding, a lively coconut lime tart — proved rewarding, too.
Downsides at Ludlow Market? We had a few. The music was a little too eclectic, sometimes just plain annoying. And the room got very noisy as tables filled up. But those were small prices to pay for experiencing the assets of what is very much an eater’s market.
Ludlow Market 3.5 stars
Location: 921 E. Fort Ave.
Contact: 410-244-6166, ludlowmarketbaltimore.com
Cuisine: New American
Prices: Appetizers $7 to $12; mid-sized plates $12 to $18; entrees $23 to $42
Ambience: A lively, noisy-when-full room that is both casual and subtly chic
Service: Our exceptionally attentive, well-informed server added much to the meal.
Special diets: They can be accommodated.
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
[Key: Superlative: 5 stars; Excellent: 4 stars; Very good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star]