If you were to go grub-hopping in Federal Hill, you might find it hard to keep all the establishments straight (especially if you imbibe liberally as you hop). But if these places seem interchangeable in terms of culinary offerings, they do reveal little distinctions. At 101 Baltimore that means milkshakes — they’re terrific.
OK, I hear you. You need much more than a mere milkshake to make an impression in the crowded Federal Hill field. But, hey, you gotta hand it to a pub that demonstrates such care making something as basic and old-fashioned as a vanilla milkshake. Created with stellar Taharka ice cream and finished with lush whipped cream, it put a smile on my face that lasted all the way home.
But, as a hungry bunch of us discovered one quiet weeknight, 101 Baltimore (originally called 101 Deli Bar when it opened last year) is hardly a one-treat pony. It’s serious about food and drink.
That seriousness could be detected as we dug into the menu. A glance at the imaginative (and pricey) selection of wines by the bottle also underlined the intention to get beyond the basics.
Speaking of imaginative, a house cocktail saucily dubbed “Netflix n Chill” (gin, elderflower liqueur, mint, hibiscus, lime) found favor with the sweet-drink-fanciers in our party. The bar turned out satisfying martinis and mules, too.
To get our meal started, we chose from the tempting charcuterie options. A nicely presented board included house-cured pork salami and salumi that, if a little on the fatty side, delivered remarkably vibrant flavor. The meats were matched by a likewise dynamic, mustard seed-packed red dragon cheese from the United Kingdom. Completing the board were elegant dollops of apple butter and fig jam.
We weren’t bowled over by the fries, but they got the job done. And we liked the idea of being given a choice of dipping sauces; the creamy malt vinegar aioli proved the favorite at our table. Fried pickles delivered good flavor (they would have been easier to navigate if cut into something more bite-sized).
Going over particularly well was a bowl of buffalo cauliflower. Although the veggies could have used a crisper fry, they yielded zesty character from the buffalo sauce and blue cheese crumbles.
For a perfect marriage of crispiness and buffalo seasoning, there was a fried chicken thigh sandwich with cheddar, lettuce, tomato, sweet pickles, onions and a touch of ranch dressing. It added up to a potent package of texture and flavor.
The cheese-steak sub with sauteed onions and peppers, provolone and habanero pepper jelly yielded abundant character.
From the menu’s list of medium plates, we sampled the cast iron meatballs. Thick, robust and practically filler-free, they were surrounded by a decent marinara sauce and ricotta cheese, flanked by crostini.
The kitchen was out of steaks the night we were there, so we tried a hamburger and found it respectable, perked up with cheddar and bacon. (A happy hour special included a free beer with the burger; the Crispin blackberry-pear cider proved quite a refresher.)
An entree of cajun shrimp and cheddar biscuits wasn’t just a welcome variant on the ubiquitous pairing of shrimp and grits, but a pert combination in its own right.
For dessert, there was darn good bread pudding, as ample in portion as in richness (chocolate sauce and ice cream, not to mention whipped cream, really gilded this lily). But the milkshake proved hard to beat.
1118 S. Charles St., Federal Hill
Prices: Appetizers $6 to $10; medium plates and sandwiches $10 to $16; entrees $20 to $30.
Ambience: The sleek decor gains warmth by subtle lighting; the vibe is enlivened by a good mix of current and recent hits on the sound system.
Service: Our server was a model of amiability and efficiency.
Parking: Street, garage.
Special diets: They can be accommodated.
Wheelchair accessible: Yes.