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Red Star Bar & Grill in Fells Point has above-average food, but prices add up quickly

The Red Star Bar & Grill in Fells Point isn’t always on my radar, with so many other options in the neighborhood. But I stopped by recently and was glad to become reacquainted with its casual food and good cheer.

Even though it’s tucked away on a quiet side street, people don’t have any trouble finding it. On a Sunday evening, a number of patrons were sitting at the bar or at tables in the handsome wood-and-brick space.

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A mostly American menu focuses on appetizers, gourmet pizzas, sandwiches, burgers and a limited selection of entrees. I was happy to see an array of salads offered. But your bill can quickly add up if you’re not paying attention to the prices, like the wings for $14, a bison burger for $16.50 and crab cakes for $27.

This version of the Red Star opened in 2004. (The building housed other restaurants before that — including one also called Red Star.)

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In its earliest days, according to the restaurant’s website, the building was a place of solace for bedraggled sailors, who found their way by following painted red stars on the sidewalk. Hence, the restaurant’s name.

Today, you’ll find modern-day visitors instead of old salts. But the Red Star is still a beacon worth finding.

SCENE & DECOR: The striking, sophisticated tavern is a pleasant place to sit with its low lighting, brick walls, booths and communal tables. With its high ceilings, it can be noisy. We heard every word of a neighboring table’s one-sided conversation (by the end of our dinner, we were feeling sorry for the man’s poor date, who barely got a word in). There is seating on the quieter second floor on Fridays and Saturdays if an event isn’t booked.

APPETIZERS: The sweet chili mussels dish ($13) features the large, meaty green-lipped variety. Jalapenos and a zingy curry gave the buttery morsels a lot of personality. A beet salad ($15) was thoughtfully arranged with sliced beets, surprisingly good peach slices for the season, smoked pecans and goat cheese on a fluff of arugula. The flavors blended well, although I wish there had been more prosciutto than the paltry slivers hiding in the greens.

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ENTREES: We hadn’t finished our appetizers before our main dishes arrived, creating a jumble of plates on the table. A 10-inch mushroom pizza ($11.50) stood out, featuring caramelized mushrooms and onions, mozzarella and goat cheese on a thin, flatbread crust. A drizzle of balsamic gave it tang. The blackened salmon BLT sandwich ($17) took a classic and made it better with fish. Tater tots weren’t available, so we chose the vegetable of the day as a side. Our waitress told us it would be broccoli, but we were fine with the sautéed squash that showed up.

DRINKS: You can settle in with familiar wine choices, draft or bottled beer, and an assortment of martinis and classic cocktails. Kudos for non-alcoholic drinks like a sweet cucumber mint iced tea and a pomegranate lemonade spritzer.

SERVICE: Our waitress was pleasant and helpful.

DESSERT: If we had it to do all over again, we’d get one of the advertised drunken rum cakes, made by a Baltimore-based company. Instead, we tried the made-in-house gingersnap bread pudding ($7). The cake-like slices were barely warm, with some pieces outright cold, and there was no discernible ginger flavor. Pass on this one.

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