This unassuming corner building in Locust Point has been a neighborhood tavern for as long as anyone can remember, even if its name has changed. Its legacy continues with its recent rechristening as the Port Public House, formerly known as JR's Bar & Grill.
Its new moniker reflects a connection to the nearby port of Baltimore, but the tavern also wanted to appeal to a new generation. On our visit, longshoreman, millennials and families were sharing the first-level dining area.
On the second floor, there are additional dining tables, two pool tables, dartboards and Skeeball. John Chenery, who owns the tavern with his daughter, Alisha, is aiming for a sports theme on that level to attract the growing number of younger residents in the neighborhood, he said.
The third floor serves as a meeting space.
Chef Sebastien Trossbach, who previously was the executive chef at Sullivan's Steakhouse, oversees a casual menu that excels in flavors and ingredients. When my steak fajitas were delivered to the table, the aroma and sizzling plate were so enticing that other patrons ordered the dish, too.
The restaurant is planning to add some Mexican dishes to its repertoire, John Chenery said. Customers will also find more salads and wraps than in the past. Breakfast is served on weekends.
As we were leaving the pub, a gaggle of young girls and their parents were greeting each other enthusiastically at the front door. Their bonhomie was contagious.
As we headed toward our car, we were full of good will and food. It's that kind of place.
SCENE AND DECOR: We sat in the lower level, which has a front wood bar and a small dining area in the back. The restaurant went through a facelift, owner John Chenery told us. But he kept a pub vibe on the first floor with a nod to the neighborhood. Photos of the port of Baltimore hang on the walls, and modern pendant lights mix with Tiffany-style lamps.
APPETIZERS: The soft pretzel nuggets ($7) were great for dipping into the mild beer cheese. The Maryland crab soup (cup, $4.25; bowl, $8) tasted more like a terrific tomato-based vegetable soup, but we appreciated the mound of fresh crab meat on top.
ENTREES: The shrimp quesadilla ($13) was great with big chunks of shrimp in the mix. Cut into eight triangles, the stuffed tortilla came with sour cream, jalapeno pepper slices and guacamole. I've been looking for Port Public House's steak fajitas ($12) all my life. Well, not exactly, but this dish was a wonderful rendition of the Tex-Mex creation, served with succulent steak strips sharing space with sauteed red and green peppers and onions. The accompaniments were fresh and delicious: sour cream, guacamole, shredded lettuce, jalapeno pepper slices, beans, rice and fresh tomato salsa.
DRINKS: Specialty cocktails, wine, whiskeys and regular and rotating draft beers are available. We were there on Wine Wednesday, when select bottles are $15.