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Restaurant review

Canton's Blue Hill Tavern should be back on your radar

For The Baltimore Sun
If you forgot about Blue Hill Tavern, now's the time to pay it a visit.

Blue Hill Tavern opened to great fanfare in 2009, hailed as a pioneer in the awakening Brewers Hill area. Then diners mostly forgot about it.

It's time to put the restaurant back on everybody's eating radar. The food is straightforward and remarkably good, with classic American offerings like roasted chicken, surf and turf, and brick-oven pizzas.

But it's not boring. Fried pickles with chipotle banana peppers or tuna tartar with yuzu-soy sauce get you started before you tuck into your main dishes. And how often do you see chateaubriand for two on a menu these days?

An a la carte section lets diners pick a protein like a veal chop or rack of lamb, a sauce and side dishes, including sauteed garlic butter spinach, grilled asparagus, and macaroni and cheese.

The dining rooms look the same as they did on opening day — and that's a good thing.

Blue is a dominant color in the sophisticated, two-level space highlighted by glass, wood and chrome with a cascading waterfall in the downstairs bar.

One change is the second-level open patio, which has been enclosed to create a private dining room with its own bar.

Another switch-up is in the kitchen. Sous chef Efrain Rivera is now leading the cooking brigade, while former chef Brett Lockard, one of the restaurant owners, joins business partner Mel Carter in the front of the house. Jimmy Stavrakis is another owner. (The restaurateurs are also involved in La Folie Steak Frites and Wine Bar and Shiso Tavern in Canton.)

At Blue Hill, they recently transitioned from a multipage menu to an easy-to-read, one-sheet format. Sometimes, little tweaks make a difference.

"It's a more modern approach," Carter said.

On the back of the menu, you'll find a thoughtful wine and beer selection, as well as frozen and specialty cocktails like an apple cider Manhattan and pear mule.

We kicked off our meal with duck empanadas, which were plated with a red-pepper aioli and a butternut squash and jicama slaw. But instead of the traditional pinched half-moons of dough, these mouthwatering, tubular bundles were set like little top hats on the plate.

The vegetable gnocchi was a soothing starter with butternut squash, parsnips and carrots in a deeply flavorful roasted vegetable demiglace with plumes of Grana Padano cheese on top.

We decided to split the Hawaiian brick-oven pizza as an appetizer. The pleasantly chewy crust was lathered with a tangy piquillo pepper barbecue sauce and interspersed with Monterey Jack cheese, bacon and hunks of fresh pineapple. It was a hit at our table.

The 6-ounce petit filet mignon is just the right size for those who don't need the whole cow on their plates. The meat was tender with mineral undertones, bolstered by a truffle-butter finish.

While the accompanying bearnaise sauce was too salty for us, we really enjoyed the red pepper-garlic broccolini that we picked as our vegetable.

We were reminded when we ordered the mushroom Wellington that it is a vegetarian dish. After tasting it, we didn't miss the meat in this rendition of a British classic.

A mound of shiitake and portobello mushrooms — ground and in chunks — mixed with feta cheese was crisscrossed with a web of crust, giving it the appearance of a cute turtle. Another diner even stopped at our table to ask what it was.

We thought it was great. We liked its creativity. Even the roasted carrot sticks were cut to look like french fries.

The sous-vide pork tenderloin was a delightful presentation with thick pads of rosy pork draped over caramelized Brussels sprouts and red potato wedges, enhanced with a coriander lemon honey sauce.

The scallops and shrimp risotto was beautifully composed and delicious. The earthy wild-mushroom risotto was plump with seafood and fat asparagus spears, and adorned with ribbons of Parmesan cheese.

The brioche bread pudding with sweet caramel and soft sous-vide apples was a terrific reminder of fall flavors. Vanilla ice cream made by local Taharka Brothers pooled into a silky elixir next to the warm cake.

The candy bar lived up to expectations with a pretzel crust and layers of caramel, peanut mousse and chocolate ganache. The sweet-salty treat sported a pretzel garnish and supported an excellent toasted marshmallow and vanilla ice cream.

Even if our waiter didn't look like a young George Clooney (he really did), we would have praised the service. The friendly server orchestrated our meal without a hitch.

In the seven years since Blue Hill Tavern's opening, many exciting new restaurants in the area have wooed diners with creative food and striking interiors. Enjoy them, but then come back and learn about Blue Hill's charms all over again.

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Blue Hill Tavern

Rating: 3 1/2 stars

Where: 938 S. Conkling St., Canton

Contact: 443-388-9363,

Open: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m.-9 p.m. Sunday

Prices: Appetizers $8-$14; entrees, $13-$32

Food: American

Noise/TVs: On a midweek evening, the sparsely populated downstairs dining room was quiet; two TVs at the bar.

Service: Our amiable waiter smiled sheepishly every time a diner told him he looked like George Clooney. But he didn't let the comments deter him from being a gracious and well-informed server.

Parking: Valet and street parking

Special diets: Can accommodate.

Reservation policy: Accepts reservations.

[Key: Superlative: 5 stars; Excellent: 4 stars; Very good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star.]