It's been perhaps one of the longest waits for a new restaurant in recent memory, but now Miss Irene's (1738 Thames St., 410-558-0033, missirenesbaltimore.com) has finally opened in Fells Point. Before it closed four years ago, Miss Irene's was a scruffy dive bar, and its rebirth as a Mediterranean bistro has been pointed to as an example of the neighborhood's gentrification.
Only until now Miss Irene's never reopened.
The reasons it took so long were the usual, says Benjamin Greene, an owner and the breakfast chef, including problems getting permits, construction delays and, of course, money.
Three buildings have been merged into one, he tells me, to create the new bistro/gastropub. Kenneth Plante, the executive chef at the Waterfront Hotel, which Greene also owns, oversees the kitchen at Miss Irene's as well.
"The Waterfront is more live music," says Greene, explaining the difference between the dining rooms of his two places. "There, you don't have a salad fork as well as a dinner fork."
The menu at Miss Irene's focuses on French and Italian food, with dishes such as oysters mignonette for $8; house-made pasta with walnuts, dried fruit, Humboldt Fog cheese and lobster for $26; and moules frites in brown butter and brandy with house-cut fries for $18.
The place also serves lunch, including what Greene calls "Baltimore's best reason to blow off your 9-to-5 job": Miss Irene's three-martini lunch for $10. Breakfast service should have started by the time you read this, and brunch is served both Saturday and Sunday.
The look of the place is as much of a hybrid as the menu, with both contemporary and traditional elements. The original wood planks were kept in the main dining room, and original brick salvaged during the renovation now forms the floor of the interior courtyard/patio. Provencal yellow and dark mahogany-stained paneling set off the black-and-white photographs on the walls.
Miss Irene's kitchen is open for breakfast 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., for lunch 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and for dinner 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, until 11 p.m. on Friday. On Saturday, Sunday and holiday Mondays, brunch starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m. Dinner is served until 11 p.m. Saturday and 10 p.m. Sunday.
Fixing things up With so many places closing permanently when they are at first simply "closed for renovations," it's good to hear some more upbeat news. Carole Brasso, co-owner and chef of Patrick's, a longtime favorite in Cockeysville, tells me renovations started this Monday on her restaurant, which had been badly damaged by fire.
"We are looking at the end of January 2009" to be finished, she says. "I guess a job well done takes time. Please send holiday wishes to the locals and [tell them] that we are coming back ASAP."
Brasso also says she understands that Fazzini's Italian Kitchen, in the same shopping center, will be reopening soon under the old management. I wasn't, however, able to reach anyone to confirm it.
"But," she adds, "no one knows what happened to the Ugly Muffin," the muffin shop there that closed unexpectedly.
Christmas dining People are starting to ask me about places that will be open on Christmas Day. As usual, your best options may be hotel dining rooms or Chinese restaurants. For a reasonably priced holiday meal, you might try the Hyatt's Bistro 300, which will have a Christmas buffet this year from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. for $25 plus tax.
Some other nonhotel and non-Chinese restaurants that will be open include Jimmy's Famous Seafood on Holabird Avenue, Sotto Sopra in Mount Vernon and McCormick & Schmick's in the Inner Harbor. For more suggestions, please visit my blog, Dining@Large (baltimoresun.com/diningatlarge).
And if you're looking for a special place for a holiday lunch, try calling your favorite restaurant even if it's usually open only for dinner. For instance, Aldo's in Little Italy, normally closed at lunchtime, is offering a three-course, fixed-price lunch for $35 now through Dec. 24. Compared to celebrating there at dinnertime, that's actually something of a bargain.
Deal of the Week Cinghiale in Harbor East has a Tuesday "Wine Cellar Raid." Customers get 50 percent off bottles of wine between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. in the Enoteca, the Italian restaurant's wine bar.