In parts of the city where almost every corner seems to house a pub (or two), it’s probably a good idea for a newcomer to offer something a little unexpected. On that score, Baltimore Built Bistro succeeds admirably.
Although you can find pretzels and burgers here, the pretzels come coated with mozzarella and prosciutto, and the burgers get a distinctive boost from paprika. Not your everyday fare, I’d say. Same for the sandwich selections, which include one with roasted eggplant and a club incorporating turkey, bacon and asparagus.
Baltimore Built Bistro — “B3” for short — occupies a Fells Point spot previously home to Bad Decisions. With plain gray and white walls, black tables and chairs, and a large bar, the newcomer’s interior has an unfussy air. (Introducing more personality into the decor wouldn’t hurt.)
The light-fare side of the compact, small-plate menu offers such things as tuna tartare and a hearty charcuterie. We zeroed in on the crab-and-avocado wontons. As luck would have it, the chef decided the avocados available the day we stopped by were not up to par. Even without that ingredient, the fried wontons, light and snappy, revealed a filling of salty charm, aided by a tingly orange jalapeno glaze swirled on the plate.
The slider duo impressed. The eggplant slider — a larger version is available as a sandwich — gained vitality from sun-dried tomato pesto, roasted peppers and spinach. The duo’s burger half, which also has a full-sized version, stood out for the delectably seasoned Angus beef (just salt, pepper and onion powder along with the paprika, we learned), and enjoyed the well-balanced support of smoked mozzarella and bacon.
Served in a cool, cylindrical vessel, the satisfying house salad featured romaine, cucumber, tomato and the extra vibrancy of pickled red onion, all comfortably dressed in a citrus vinaigrette.
The poached pear salad, outfitted with goat cheese, toasted almonds and a honey-almond vinaigrette, likewise exuded freshness and flair. We added scallops to that dish, and they were terrific — expertly seared, pillowy in texture.
The shaved rib eye sub held a generous portion of good-quality beef, romaine, smoked mozzarella, tomato and caramelized onion. The grilled chicken sandwich derived too much sweetness from a cranberry pesto, but the spinach and goat cheese provided balance. Neither the sub roll nor the ciabatta for the chicken sandwich revealed enough taste or texture; grilling or toasting might have helped.
In our fries-fixated age, it was refreshing that the day’s choice of sides for the sandwiches consisted of three salads — potato, pasta, Caesar (the latter with too-thick Parmesan pieces in it). Extra marks for the tangy pasta salad, given added weight from hearty slices of red and green tomato.
Less persuasive was the pretzel appetizer — a mound of doughy puffs revealing little pretzel taste. And although the coating of crumbled prosciutto and melted cheese had a good flavor, the ingredients congealed into an unappealing mass.
The pleasant dessert offering that night seemed like a crumbly cross between a blond brownie and raisin-inflected bread pudding, and came with a dark, lush chocolate sauce.
Drinks were a letdown. A gin and tonic with basil and (undetectable) elderflower fell flat, for example. And a martini ordered with a lemon twist shouldn’t have arrived with three olives submerged in it, too.
I got the impression that B3 is still feeling its way, figuring out its identity, trying out various ideas. But I also picked up a strong vibe of imagination and determination, enough to suggest that, even with all the competition (the popular pub Ale Mary’s sits right across the street), this bistro is built to last.
Baltimore Built Bistro
1928 Fleet St., Fells Point
Cuisine: New American
Prices: Light fare and salads $5 to $14; sandwiches $12 to $15
Ambiance: Plain, but pleasant
Service: Amiable and helpful
Parking: If the parking gods smile, spaces can be found on nearby streets.
Special diets: They can be accommodated.
Wheelchair accessible: Call ahead