The original Chesapeake Restaurant was a Baltimore dining institution for more than 50 years until it closed in the late 1980s.
After a 24-year dormancy, the doors at 1701 North Charles St. opened in June 2013, with a new restaurant, named The Chesapeake, which was operated by the property's developer, Ernst Valery, and his partners.
Valery closed The Chesapeake in May and turned the restaurant space over to the Karzai family, the restaurateurs behind The Helmand (which is named, partly, after the family's oldest son, Helmand Karzai), B, a Bolton Hill Bistro and Tapas Teatro.
The Karzai's new restaurant, which is named Pen & Quill, began dinner service on Monday.
We figured you'd have some questions, so we went to see Pen & Quill for ourselves. It's too early to give it a full review, but here's what things look like so far.
Sure. The original Chesapeake Restaurant was a dining institution, a restaurant for special occasions but also for random, weekly visits.
In its prime, the restaurant rambled across first and second floors of what had originally been five former townhouses. The restaurant space that opened in 2013, which is now called Pen & Quill, occupies only the ground level of the two southern-most buildings.
And the restaurant right before Pen & Quill was called The Chesapeake?
Yes, and maybe, looking back, that wasn't a great idea. Because it raised people's expectations.
What if, from here on in, you just called that restaurant the New Chesapeake?
That's a great idea.
OK, beside its new non-expectation-naming name, what else makes Pen & Quill different from the New Chesapeake?
There are cosmetic changes, some of them subtle, some of them pretty emphatic. The half-wall that ran almost the whole length of the main dining room has been removed. That's a major thing, because now the space has great energy. It feels like a place you want to be.
There is some new furniture and new wall treatments. Like I said, some of it's subtle, but what seemed like a problematic space before now doesn't.
How about the menu?
That's different, too, but it's not a radical departure from the menu at its immediate predecessor. There are your basic tavern snacks, small plates and entrees. There is also a hamburger, a lobster roll and a pulled pork-cheek sandwich.
Is there a theme?
No, and that's good. The New Chesapeake tried to promote itself as a farm-to-table restaurant, and it just felt awkward.
Because that's not what you'd put in what is basically a crossroads space. This is where you'd put a restaurant that isn't any particular thing or another. Also, if you don't claim yourself as farm-to-table, you can put Miller Lite on your beer list and no one cares.
What else do they have to drink?
There are eight beers on tap, about half regional, half not. There are more beers in bottles and cans, about 15 wines by the glass, none of them more than $11.
There's a short cocktail list, and it's nice to see that none of them is priced more than $10.
I wouldn't call this cheap eats, but the prices are in line with similar places around town. The entrees range from $22 to $36. The burger is $10. A couple could get a light dinner for $50, but a full dinner will be pricier.
Good to know. Should we go now, or should I wait until they work out the kinks?
I'd go now. The thing that makes Pen & Quill so inviting is that it feels like it's in the hands of restaurant professionals. The operators of The New Chesapeake never quite got a foothold. I give them credit for realizing that this space needed more experienced hands.
Great, we have these friends who are really, really fussy about service. Should we ask them to join us?
We sat at the bar and had really good service. Only awful people are fussy about service at a new restaurant. Or fussy about service in general. You get the service you deserve, and your friends will always get bad service.
Where should we park?
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I don't know. In the lot across the street. Or at a meter.
So, this isn't a review?
Right, it's more like first impressions. A full review this early wouldn't be useful to the reader.
But did you eat anything?
Yes. Get the beef tongue steam bun, which is like a tiny gyro that melts in your mouth. The chicken Maryland, with fried banana, lardons and chicken gravy is a winner. Friends liked what they had, too. The food is from executive chef Bella Kline, a Baltimore native, and it looks like she knows what she's doing.