Beer wars: Are they brewing in Baltimore?
The Wharf Rat in Camden Yards opened its exhibition brewery several weeks ago, becoming the newest competitor in the world of local ales. The Oliver family, which owns the pub and another in Fells Point, hopes customers will choose its beer over others served by the more established guys: Sisson's Restaurant and the South Baltimore Brewing Company in Federal Hill and the Baltimore Brewing Company in Little Italy.
To introduce their six varieties, the Olivers are holding a party at the Wharf Rat in Camden Yards from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. today. They've planned a complimentary tasting with hors d'oeuvres, including Stilton cheese and beer dip and sausages in ale. So far, the Irish Strong, a ruby-colored ale, has been the early favorite with customers.
"We're the alternative to Sisson's. We want people to head north instead of south," says Jill Oliver, who tried her first sip of beer at age 8.
And how does Sisson's, the local veteran, feel about the new kid brewing on the block?
"It's up to the consumer to decide," says Bill Aydlett, chef and partner. "The novelty's still going to be there until there's a microbrewery on every corner. Then I'll start getting worried."
Fans of Donna's Coffee Bar needn't worry if they think they're seeing double in May.
That's when Donna's Restaurant is scheduled to open around the corner from the Mount Vernon cafe. After just four months in business, partners Donna Crivello and Alan Hirsch have decided to take over the former BOP restaurant at 802 N. Charles St., which closed two weeks ago. (The Fells Point BOP is still open.)
The restaurant will offer more substantial fare than the cafe, making use of the woodburning stove and Ms. Crivello's culinary talents. The confines of the kitchen at Donna's have limited her to salads, sandwiches, pastas and desserts.
"I feel like I want to do more cooking; there's just so much I can do here," she says.
A peek at the working menu reveals ambitious fare: grilled salmon and leeks with a tarragon tapenade, oven-roasted lamb with roasted garlic and six kinds of brick-oven pizza.
While the food sounds sophisticated, the prices will be moderate, with entrees ranging from $7.95 to $13.95.
"It's going to be practical. We're not going to create a theater for food. We're going to try to put out great food as basically as we can," says Mr. Hirsch.
Some may see the two ventures as competing with each other, but he says that's not the case.
"We're hoping one will feed the other," he said. "That's a little restaurant humor."
Say what you will about red meat and clogged arteries, the people of Annapolis aren't listening.
At least they don't seem to be from the two-hour waits at the Outback Steakhouse, which opened at 2207 Forest Drive two weeks ago.
This is the second Maryland outpost for the Tampa-based restaurant chain. The first is in Germantown. Next week, the company plans to open in Bethesda. And Frederick will have its own Outback Steakhouse by spring.
The restaurant is Australian in theme only. While there are stuffed koala bears hanging from the lamps and desserts like "Chocolate Thunder From Down Under" on the menu, the underlying philosophy is purely American: Keep the portions large, the prices low and the service fast.
It's a family-oriented place with a children's menu and servers who time orders so food arrives within 12 minutes.
But don't look for the chummy wait staff to sit next to you while taking that order. The company tried that technique, so popular in chain restaurants now, with mixed results.
"Some people loved it; others were offended by it," says Vicky Staples, the administrative assistant for the Annapolis restaurant.
There's been only one real glitch since the steakhouse opened, she says. Poor lighting in the parking lot initially caused some drivers to jump the curb and cruise dangerously close to the front door.
They thought the restaurant had a drive-through window, perhaps?
Have news about local restaurants, chefs or clubs? Call (410) 332-6156 or write the Real Dish, The Baltimore Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278.