Over the past several years, Hampden has cemented its position as one of the food-friendliest neighborhoods in Baltimore. It's no surprise, then, to discover that behind one of the bright facades on a particularly charming stretch of 36th Street, a small crew is cooking some fantastic Indian street food.
The restaurant is called The Verandah and it is, sadly, open only for lunch. But between the food's bright flavors and the staff's welcoming attitude, oh what a lunch it is.
Scene & Decor The Verandah's mid-block space is small; the kitchen and counter, at the back, leave only enough room for a handful of tables, plus a couple more on the front porch. But the building is bright and colorful, inside and out, and feels cozy rather than cramped.
On a recent Saturday, we were the first lunch guests, opening the door just a moment after the staff unlocked it. We snagged a small table and began studying the menu written on the wall behind the counter.
Appetizers The Verandah's culinary focus is on Indian street food, cooked with a healthy bent, so the menu is shorter than what's found at a typical Indian carryout joint, with a focus on wraps and chaats (street food snacks).
Despite the street-food angle of the menu, we started with a classic Indian favorite: vegetable samosas ($6.50) that were very likable, with flaky pastry and well-seasoned, savory filling.
They were even better when dipped in the three chutneys served on the side. Each condiment had its own personality. One was a bright, sweet cranberry sauce, the next a spicy red sauce with tomatoes and chillies and the third fresh and green with cilantro. We liked them all, though with the samosas, our favorite was the red sauce for its heat and garlicky undertones.
Entrees The tikki chaat ($7), a steaming bowl of curried chickpeas topped with cilantro and served with two springy potato patties, was thick and hearty like a tomato-based vegetable stew.
The potato patties — round and thick, similar in appearance to a dense biscuit — provided heft and a good neutral base for the chickpeas and broth. All together, the dish was packed with flavor, from the herbs, the vegetables and the spices.
A spicy beef kabab wrap ($9) made an equally good impression. The beef, marinated in mint, ginger and garlic, was paired with red onions and greens, placed on flatbread and rolled into a sandwich.
On its own, the beef was tasty — spicy but not overly so, with well-balanced flavors from the marinade. The rest of the sandwich, and a dip or two into the chutneys, took it up another notch.
While most of the menu is street-food focused, during our visit, a chicken tikka masala special ($12) was a nod to more traditional Indian restaurant offerings. Served with fluffy rice, the masala was lovely. Like the other dishes, the creamy sauce was expertly spiced, so the flavor wasn't masked by heat.
Drinks Though The Verandah does not serve alcohol, BYOB is an option and there is no corkage fee. We opted, though, for the housemade ginger-mint lemonade ($3), which was as sunny as it sounds and a cool, sweet counterpoint to the intense flavors of our meals.
Dessert After all the powerful flavors, a simply baked blondie with nuts ($2.50) hit the spot. With the right balance between chips and nuts, the cookie bar was just right. The blondies, unfortunately, aren't a regular feature — making us wish we'd snapped up a few more before they disappeared.
Service The Verandah's format is casual. Diners order and pay at the counter and, when the food is ready, someone delivers it to the table. Though we arrived just as the restaurant opened, as soon as we walked in the door, the staff was smiling and ready to go.
The woman behind the counter steered us in the right direction, recommending the tikki chaat, and everyone, from the her to the man who emerged from the kitchen to deliver our meals, was exceedingly friendly. Our food arrived quickly, too — an especially important feature for a lunch spot.
In fact, from service to food, The Verandah seems to be right on top of everything that makes a good lunch spot. Just about the only thing that could make it better is if they started to serve dinner.
Nearby reviews: Dish Baltimore - Hampden/Woodberry