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North Ave. Market mixes burgers and video games into a powerful combo | REVIEW

Palm sweating on joystick, I dodged cars and trucks zipping left and hitched a ride on logs whizzing right, barely evading death. I was hooked.

I came about my new appreciation for Frogger, a pixelated arcade game that was popular decades ago, during an evening at North Ave. Market. The spot was previously occupied by Red Emma’s, the radical bookstore and coffee house that departed for Mid-Town Belvedere. Where Red Emma’s aims to spark revolution, the North Ave. Market Co. inspires regression. Get in touch with your inner child at the Big Kid fantasy come to life.

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The new concept is a partnership with Baltimore’s Secret Sauce Co., which uses the kitchen as its laboratory, says co-owner Matthew Steinberg. He runs the business with chef Vaughn Weitzman of the Farm to Charm food truck. The duo also run the shared kitchen Greenmount Collective.

First impressions: North Ave. Market immerses you in a carnival-like world that doesn’t feel over caffeinated. A dimly lit bar gets a fanciful pop from custom made light installations by local artist Scott Pennington, while a vast assortment of retro arcade games lines the space. Keep your quarters; the games are free to play.

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Must tries: The core menu, heavy on fried foods and milkshakes, seems designed with your inner teen in mind. I was satisfied by a juicy $15 farm burger, topped with bacon and cheese on a buttery brioche, though my dining companion complained that his more spartan diner burger was small for the $12 price.

All burgers come with crispy french fries, which can be ordered with an array of indulgent toppings or simply used as a vehicle for the company’s various sauces. Of note: Check out the garlicky “vampire slayer” and “a-ha honey mustard” as well as barbecue and vegan sauces in development. For adults, the drink menu offers $10 cocktails like disco lemonade, made with vodka, elderflower and rosemary. (Expect to hear disco heavy on the bar’s evening rotation, with classic rock during the day.)

Special touches: The kitchen offers a rotating roster of seasonal specials; they’re still in the trial and error phase. During one visit we sampled a charred artichoke heart that was burned to a crisp; the next trip it was savory brisket atop latkes with a rubbery texture. Tastier were the crispy tater tots topped with bacon during one visit, and charred broccoli with fiery shishito peppers the next.

Pro tip: Games are free, but management will ensure that you order at least a soda. Two teenagers playing Mortal Kombat next to me were escorted out for failing to do so. “It’s just been a learning curve,” said Steinberg, who points out that spending a few bucks for a soda is still far cheaper than shelling out coins at the arcade.

Bottom line: Centrally located, cheerfully decorated and spacious, North Ave. Market offers a gathering place with plenty of welcome distractions, making it ideal for a group outing or as a place to bring your rowdy niece and nephew. For parents, it’s likely to be a godsend.

And there could be more to come; The Baltimore Sun reported on plans to double the space and possibly reopen a bowling alley on the second floor.

I plan to come back, but it’s not just the promise of french fries sprinkled with truffle oil and parm that will draw me in. It’s my George Costanza-like need to get to the next level of Frogger.

30 W. North Ave., Station North. 443-574-5638. northavemarket.com. Open daily: 11 a.m. til 11 p.m.; closes at 2 a.m. on weekends.

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