Butchers Hill gets its name from the butchers and tanners who called it home in the 19th century. Fittingly, La Barrita, which opened in the neighborhood in January, is a steak lover’s fantasy.
At the heart of the menu are 16-ounce angus offerings served grilled, topped with Argentine chimichurri sauce and accompanied by greens and french fries.
Owner Sebastian Cardona says the food was inspired by family feasts in his native Mar del Plata, Argentina.
“It’s like a law that every single Sunday you have to go to grandma’s house and have brunch with your grandma,” he said. While the women cooked, the men mostly loafed. Except for Cardona, who spent the day in the kitchen. “They can never take me out of the kitchen,” he said.
First impressions: Cardona said he chose Butchers Hill because it reminded him of Brooklyn, N.Y., where he previously lived and owned a restaurant of the same name. After about six months in operation, La Barrita feels very much like a neighborhood fixture, with windows that open wide onto the sidewalk and parents dining with children.
Inside, decor is dark and modern, with leather seats and an Esquire Magazine vibe. One imagines that Hemingway would eat here. He would no doubt start off with a cocktail — perhaps the margarita superclasico ($12), prepared with mezcal and mole bitters, a sophisticated and not-too-sweet take.
During a recent visit just before sunset, well-dressed diners conversed in Argentine-accented Spanish while younger grad student-types socialized at the bar, the steady disco beats of Argentine club music beneath the chatter.
Must-tries: The homemade chorizo ($11), served with garlicky french fries, is a wonderfully seasoned appetizer that could work as a main course. But then you’d risk missing out on entrees like the sirloin flap platter ($36) or the fettuccine del bosque ($19), a rich and toothsome pasta served in a cream sauce with thick cuts of wild mushrooms.
Argentine food is heavily influenced by Italian cuisine following years of Italian migration. Fittingly, the pastas are all homemade by Cardona and his chef each day.
Special touches: Chimichurri sauce is the common thread throughout the menu, served with toast as a starter atop steaks and sausages from the grill. Made from parsley, garlic, olive oil, fresh red peppers and vinegar, La Barrita’s contains a secret ingredient that Cardona says has been in his family for 100 years. He’s not about to disclose it.
Pro tip: Portions are big; you may have a hard time finishing the pound of steak on your plate. But do try to save room for dessert. Treats like flan and panqueques (both $10) give a sugar rush with an accompaniment of homemade dulce de leche, a caramel-like sauce that Argentines devour day and night.
Dulce de leche is so prevalent in Argentina that a Buenos Aires-based friend tells me it’s referred to as “DDL,” and, along with ham and cheese, makes up one of the country’s unofficial food groups.
The bottom line: A neighborhood establishment that’s equal parts glamorous and approachable, La Barrita will have you thinking that Butchers Hill is the new Brooklyn — or even the new Buenos Aires.
32 North Chester St., Butchers Hill. 443-453-9716. Serving dinner nightly. Closed Tuesdays. Accepts reservations. facebook.com/labarritabaltimore.