Serengeti Steakhouse is a kosher restaurant that doesn't feel or act like one.

With an eclectic menu of steakhouse favorites, Southern-influenced and African-inspired fare, and a polished, serene atmosphere, Serengeti should be an appealing and inviting option for all diners. But for kosher diners, it's a godsend.


Kosher restaurants in Baltimore have always tended to be Chinese joints, pizza shops and casual grills, but every 10 years or so, someone will try something a little fancier. These places don't usually last long, and who can say why? It could be because Baltimore's orthodox Jewish community is more family-oriented, not so interested in fancy dining. Or maybe those attempts were ahead of their time, or just not that good.

Serengeti Steakhouse looks to be the right upscale kosher restaurant at the right time in Baltimore. The restaurant was full and lively on a recent Thursday night. Our fellow diners were sipping wine and lingering at their table over dessert and coffee.

Serengeti was opened in June at the Greenspring Shopping Center by Lara and Larry Franks, who also operate two other eateries there — a family-style kosher grill named Accents, as well as a coffee shop named Cocoaccino's.

Lara Frank, who like her husband is originally from South Africa, told me that her customers at Accents and Cocoaccino's had been clamoring for the couple to open an upscale place, the kind of restaurant where they could celebrate special occasions or do some business entertaining.

"There was nothing offered here," she said. "Also, Baltimore's Orthodox Jewish community has evolved. There are more up-and-coming young people, with young families, many of whom have relocated to Baltimore from New York and New Jersey, where they expect to have more dining options at all levels."

The Franks decided the time was right for adult-oriented Serengeti, which they created out of a former nail salon in the mall's atrium. Serengeti's main rectangular dining space is decorated pleasantly in neutral colors, and the wooden tables are set simply and attractively with textured place mats and linen napkins.

The menu, as I mentioned, is eclectic. In addition to steaks, there is African-inspired fare —an entree of olive-marinated Tunisian chicken served over couscous, an East African dish of slow-braised chicken with African spices and yellow rice, and the popular South African skewered meat dish known as "sosaties."

There are also dishes like fried green tomatoes and bourbon-braised short ribs that would be right at home at a Southern-influenced American restaurant.

We were a little concerned. Sometimes too much eclecticism can spell trouble for diners with a knack for choosing the wrong thing. This is where good service can step in, and the service we had at Serengeti was on point and considerate. We wanted advice on ordering and got good counsel and some reassurance.

We enjoyed many things from all over the menu, starting with two well-considered and vibrant appetizers — fried green tomatoes, pan-fried to a nice crisp, and served with a fresh salsa and tomatillo sauce, and a refreshing tuna ceviche tower, layered with thin crispy corn tortillas and avocado cream.

The steak was a winner. The 12-ounce honey-chipotle marinated rib-eye steak —it's also available in a 16-ounce cut — was grilled to a beautiful medium rare and was full of marbled flavor.

A lentil shepherd's pie was one of the heartiest, most interesting vegan entrees I've had in a restaurant this year, with a layer of fluffy whipped potatoes over a bed of hot and spicy green lentils.

The East African chicken was wonderful. It's always nice to see restaurants serve chicken still on the bone, where it keeps its moistness and flavor. In the way it adds richness to dishes, a well-made curry can do the culinary work that most recipes depend on butter for, and Serengeti's curry-based dishes are velvety and satisfying.

Serengeti doesn't use butter or any dairy items, and the only time it disappoints is when it tries to simulate the flavor and texture in cream with a nondairy substance. (For practical reasons, a kosher restaurant, with rare exceptions, will serve either an entirely meat-based or an entirely dairy-based menu.) So you're better off ordering a side of potatoes or fried onions than the creamed spinach, which tasted exactly like someone didn't use cream.


And dessert, partly because of the dairy injunction, was disappointing. Bread pudding made without butter is not so wonderful. Fondue is a better idea, but the fondue Serengeti served was lukewarm, and the selections provided for dipping were a strange assortment of cut fruit and pastries.

I felt very welcome at Serengeti, and what I liked best about this unique restaurant is how nicely and subtly Serengeti accommodates all of its guests.* Serengeti is a very good restaurant that happens to be kosher.

*An earlier version of this dining review included a sentence that did not meet our editorial standards, and it has been removed. The reviewer believes Serengeti Steakhouse provides a welcoming environment for all diners.