The search for the city's tastiest mojito started simply enough.
My girlfriend Amie and I were camped at the bar of the M&S; Grill in the Inner Harbor during happy hour, pre-O's game. On a whim, she decided to order a mojito -- the mixed drink made with fresh spearmint, lime, rum, club soda, ice and sugar. Made well, it can help you combat sweaty summer days.
Unfortunately, that mojito from M&S; Grill was not made well. The bartender added too much sugar, which made the drink sickly sweet. But it got us wondering: Who does it best?
We started with Babalu Grill (32 Market Place in Power Plant Live, 410-234-9898), the Latin restaurant that has a club/lounge vibe after dark. Few people were sitting at the outside tables when we arrived about 10:30 p.m. on a Saturday night. Amie got in for free, I paid the $10 cover charge, and we walked inside.
Top-40 pop and hip-hop was pumping through the speakers by the bar area. We grabbed two barstools near a handful of men who looked to be in their early 40s but probably refused to admit it. I'm no fashion expert, but you can't dress the same way you did 15 to 20 years ago and expect to pick up women half your age.
Even though the bar was packed, a bartender got to us pretty quickly. We ordered one regular mojito and one of Babalu's mango mojitos. Both cost $7, but neither impressed us. The regular mojito was too watery, and the mango mojito just tasted sour. Bummed, we headed for Little Havana (1325 Key Highway, 410-837-9903).
In the past, I've had some sluggish servers at Little Havana. But the night we went was the exception. Most of the patrons were sitting on the outdoor patio, which looks out on the harbor, freeing up the bartenders to help us.
The bartender put sugar and mint leaves into the bottom of a glass, and mashed them together with a wooden plunger. This helped release the mint into the rest of the drink. The only downside: it also ground up the mint leaves, which were small enough to accidentally get sucked up the straw.
Tiny mint chunks or not, at $8, it was the most expensive mojito of the bunch, but also the most delicious. Plus, the atmosphere couldn't have been better. After paying for the drinks, we grabbed a table outdoors -- where mojitos are best sipped.
A few days later, I stopped by Holy Frijoles in Hampden (908 W. 36th St., 410-235-2326) to sample its take on the drink, called a Frijole-jito. To be fair, it was dinnertime and the bar was packed, but the service was also pretty lax.
After waiting for a while, the bartender started making my Frijole-jito. He used a brown sugar syrup, and topped it off with Barritt's Bermuda Stone Ginger Beer. Though not traditional, I really liked Holy Frijoles' version. It was heavier and had more bite than what I was used to. If you're willing to try something different, give it a shot. It cost $7.35.
A couple of readers of the LIVE blog (baltimoresun.com/midnightsun) suggested I try Mama's on the Half Shell (2901 O'Donnell St., 410-276-3160) in Canton Square. They were right on.
At Mama's, a bartender put half a lime in a press and squeezed it right in front of us. The result was a crisp, $7 mojito. It could have used a little more sugar, but had a solid combination of mint, rum and citrus. The service was pretty quick there, too.