Restaurant review: Patrick's of Pratt Street tempts tradition

Irish nachos, french fries smothered in Irish cheddar cheese served with bacon, at <a href="http://findlocal.baltimoresun.com/listings/patricks-of-pratt-street-baltimore">Patrick's of Pratt Street</a>.
Irish nachos, french fries smothered in Irish cheddar cheese served with bacon, at Patrick's of Pratt Street. (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore Sun)

Since 1869, Patrick's of Pratt Street has been a Baltimore institution. But after more than 140 years, the owners of the long-standing Irish pub are tempting tradition.

Last year, they brought in new managers who have been trying to broaden Patrick's culinary borders to include more gastropub fare. While the menu changes succeed for the most part, a lot is lost in the details.

To say that Patrick's is a small restaurant would be generous. Imagine a small row home whose front room has been half-filled with a large wooden bar, with tables occupying the rest of the floor space. It's not impossible to get through, but try to get a table closer to the front door so you wont have to walk through the cramped seating area.

On busy nights, the staff asks customers to help pass food over the bar and to the hungry patrons. That's just part of the cozy tavern's charm.

Our server, who was quick to make us feel like regulars, suggested we order Raven lager ($3.50), a Baltimore-brewed beer that's great for colder nights and heavier foods. Its caramel and nutty flavor neither over- nor underwhelmed the dishes we had at Patrick's.

The Irish nachos ($7.95) might seem contradictory, but the dish was certainly worth ordering. They were nachos in name only — crinkle fries topped with a house-made cheese sauce, shredded Irish Dubliner cheddar and finished with bacon. This simple, hearty appetizer went fast. And, as with most things in life, it could have used more bacon. The two slices (not nearly enough, for the record) came whole, which meant we had to chop them up with butter knives to get some smoky goodness in every bite.

While the nachos were a play on words, the veggie samosas ($6.95) were the real thing. The Indian favorite was wrapped in phyllo dough, deep fried, and served with a sour cream and coriander sauce. It was the highlight of our meal. The bite-sized triangles were crispy and filled with a satisfying mix of spicy potato. This dish pops up on the specials menu every few weeks, but it's so good that it should become a regular item.

The entrees sounded promising but ultimately were a bit of a let down. Since they were out of the corned beef sandwich the night we went, we ordered the steak du jour, which turned out to be a rib eye ($21.95). Cooked just under medium, it was meaty but too tough — almost a chore to chew. Patrick's keeps a bottle of Goodall's Irish steak sauce on the bar. Try it — the tremendously thick sauce was tart and sweet with hints of tamarind and molasses, and when used sparingly, complemented the meat. It would be great on a burger.

One small tweak would have really helped the Bunny Chow ($12.95 with chicken). This South African dish is made with a zesty curry sauce and, according to the menu, is served in a bread bowl. While the chicken was cooked proficiently and the sauce was interestingly spiced, the mixture came served in a hollowed-out hamburger bun — not a proper bread bowl. The bread instantly became soggy and detracted from the dish. Perhaps they were out of them that night, but better quality bread would have made this dish really good.

The desserts were also a mixed bag. The Amarula Mousse ($5.95), made in house, was chocolaty and delicious but in no way a mousse. It was more of a ganache, thick enough to stand a utensil in. Disappointingly, there was also little Amarula flavoring in it. (Amarula is a slightly fruity yet creamy South African liqueur that is normally drunk over ice.)

While not made in house, the chocolate cake ($5) was excellent and gigantic. One piece could have fed three people and would be great with a cup of coffee at the end of a meal.

Though a few changes to the recipes and presentation are still needed, Patrick's is on the right path. It's a great bar, and, after managing these growing pains, will be a fun place to have a meal as well.

Patrick's of Pratt Street

Back-story: This long-running Irish bar opened in 1869. It has recently been taken over by new management and they have been trying to stretch their wings and venture into more global cuisine. It remains a great place to have a pint.

Parking: There is plenty of parking on Pratt Street as well as the surrounding streets.

Signature dish: The veggie samosas, wrapped in phyllo dough, deep fried and served with a sour cream and coriander sauce, were the highlight of our meal.

Where: 934 W. Pratt St., Baltimore

Contact: 443-869-6136, patspubs.com

Open: 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-1:30 a.m. Friday-Saturday

Credit Cards: Visa, MasterCard, Discover

Food: ✭✭1/2

Service: ✭✭✭

Atmosphere: ✭✭✭