Update (June 14): The Sandlot pushed back its opening again until 4 p.m. Thursday, per a publicist for the Foodshed restaurant group. It was originally scheduled to open on June 3 and then June 12, but was delayed due to rain slowing down construction.
Standing on a three-and-a-half-foot wooden deck still in the noisy process of construction this week, Spike Gjerde and Corey Polyoka — partners of Baltimore's Foodshed restaurant group — stared out to the Inner Harbor, envisioning the colorful fireworks that will fill the sky later this summer.
"There's water pretty much surrounding us, 270 degrees, so it kind of has its own city-island feel," Polyoka said. "Fourth of July should be great out here."
They're not just taking in the views around Harbor Point, the 27-acre mixed-use development led by the Beatty Development Group. They're putting the finishing touches on the Sandlot — the newest addition to Foodshed's portfolio of restaurants that includes Woodberry Kitchen, Parts & Labor, Artifact Coffee and others. In the works for about a year, the Sandlot will open to the public at 5 p.m. June 3. The family-friendly, al fresco gathering space on the water is Foodshed's most ambitious project to date, in both size and concept.
"Spike was saying he thinks this is the hardest project we'll have done yet," Polyoka said of the 30,000-square-foot space. "The other ones, we got to set our own rules and then work with our guests over time to get everyone used to it. But here it's much a different thing."
The food and bar programs will reflect the approach that's made Woodberry Kitchen an influential culinary destination, but the vision for the Sandlot goes beyond dining and drinking.
In creating the design, Polyoka wanted the Sandlot to appeal to the masses with a focus on young families and millennials. So he's filling the large, open space — seemingly a blank outdoor canvas — with activities like six sand volleyball courts, three bocce courts and "kids zones" with climbing apparatuses, along with various seating options.
"It's going to have the feeling of a 1960s funky national park," Polyoka said.
Nachos, skewers, sandwiches and appetizers (under the heading "You're Killing Me 'Smalls,'" a nod to the baseball movie "The Sandlot") comprise the not-taking-itself-too-seriously menu. Most items will cost less than $15, with the most expensive being a $28 whole spit-fired chicken.
Desserts like ice cream, milkshakes and ice-cream sandwiches (made with Woodberry Kitchen cookies and ice cream from the Charmery in Hampden) will also be available.
Gjerde created the menu with the Sandlot's chef de cuisine, Patrick Morrow.
"We're having fun with it," Gjerde said. "It shouldn't read as self-serious or mission-focused. It's about coming out here, sitting in this amazing environment, watching the sun go down over the city and having some great food and drink."
The bar program will also reflect the Sandlot's overall breezy attitude. Along with local beer, there will be highballs made with house-made sodas and sparkling juices, smoothies, alcoholic slushies and "boat drinks" inspired by tiki drinks of yore (think pina coladas and Bushwackers). There's also a section called Summer Feet, a selection of frothy cold drinks similar to Bermuda's rum swizzle. No cocktail will cost more than $12.
Perhaps most interesting about the Sandlot is its undefined future, which was baked into the concept from the beginning. Intentionally, the Sandlot is a temporary project with a five- to seven-year lifespan, Polyoka said. Its purpose, aside from serving drinks and food, is to introduce locals to Harbor Point as it emerges as a finished project.
"It's meant to activate the site while it's being developed, and to get people used to coming out here," Polyoka said. "We don't know what we're going to do with it in seven years."
Embracing the impermanence, much of the Sandlot — which is free to the public — is mobile. The kitchen and bar are 8-foot-by-20-foot Baltimore shipping containers with walk-up service counters. A 1968 Airstream trailer they bought sight unseen from Florida will handle the blended alcohol drinks and ice-cream bar. The deck features a large cutout space the containers and Airstream will snugly fit inside, Polyoka said.
Foodshed wants to take advantage of the project's scope — including seating for nearly 300, capacity for more than 1,000 and a 1,100-space parking garage — by hosting food festivals and other events, according to Polyoka.
As a whole, the Sandlot is an ambitious project unlike anything Gjerde and his restaurant group has taken on before. The joy for Gjerde comes in applying the ethos his original restaurant, Woodberry Kitchen, has become known for — local farm-focused sourcing, sustainable practices — to such a large concept.
The Sandlot reflects the current state of mind for Gjerde and Foodshed. Bluntly, Gjerde declared the "farm-to-table" restaurant concept — a label that's often attributed to his properties — dead. The industry's over-reliance of the catchall phrase has rendered it a cliché, he said, leaving Gjerde and Polyoka more focused on a future yet to be defined.
"I just think going into a restaurant that announces its farm-to-table intentions with a pitchfork in the corner, deviled eggs on the menu and a list of farms they may or may not be sourcing from is kind of over," Gjerde said. "Taking that sourcing and creating something like this is what it's about now."
If you go
The Sandlot opens 5 p.m. June 12 at 1000 Wills St., Harbor Point (enter underneath the shipping containers). Operating hours will be 4 p.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. For more information, go to instagram.com/sandlotbaltimore.
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