Wednesday, March 31, 2010
[South Baltimore] Bluegrass
As Americans, we appreciate risks. We appreciate people and businesses taking risks; we get excited, anxious, and nervous about risks. In many ways, risk is really the cornerstone of capitalism.
In the microcosm of South Baltimore, there are risks to be taken. The low-risk idea if you are an entrepreneur involves $2 BMC Specials (as a recently-baptised homebrewer, I have learned some new lingo: "BMC" is the perjorative term for "Bud-Miller-Coors" and refers to the swill that many people spend their free time imbibing...myself included sometimes), mediocre wings, $5 "bomb" specials, and essentially catering to hoardes of BSSC players and recently-inaugurated yuppies looking to pretend they are back in College Park for a weekend.
Don't get me wrong, I do have respect for anyone willing to put their chips on the table and open doors as a new bar. As a CONSUMER, however, I believe that in donating close to 20% of my post-college-after-tax earnings to fun-rental in these establishments, that I have earned the right to discriminate in my patronage. The newly-opened Bluegrass appeals both to my appreciation of risks and to my somewhat-refined tastes as a food and beverage patron.
Most SB/FH residents have been dying for this place to open for close to 2 years. After a few changes/dilutions of ownership, a rotten foundation, a new plan to throw the whole old building that housed "Vine" bar in the dumpster and start from scratch, and a gift from Baltimore City's 'renovation' of the water pipes in the form of a flooded foundation that set back construction timetables, the place is finally open for business. During the timeframe while it was under construction, one was able to get some "Federal Hill Guy/Gal" cachet by having the latest scoop on the progress of the place.
Having sat @ a high-top on opening night, this is yet another risk. The kitchen is likely going to be behind, service will be slow, but so it is. I was dying to check it out, so I did. Aside from some slow service for food, which I accepted, this place was phenomenal.
The bartender was incredibly knowledgable, friendly, and professional. I ordered up one of their Sazeracs, made with a micro-distillery Rye (I can't recall the name), one of several house cocktails. My dining mate, The Jerz, is the most knowledgable oenophile I know, as a brand manager for wine and spirits (and diner @ French Laundry), and even he was impressed with the wine list, assembled by former Corks sommelier Chris Coker. Above the bar, they have about 10 bottles of micro/craft brews they serve, including Anchor Steam, Abita, Arrogant Bastard, and enough variety to appease any brewphile.
Despite being slammed, the bartender mixed up my cocktail and a glass of vino for The Jerz and returned quickly and with a smile. If you are looking for cheap Miller Lites and a Jagerbomb, Bluegrass may not be your bag. If you are looking for solid innovative, yet classic house cocktails, tasty brews, and non-supermarket present wines, check it out @ your earliest opportunity.
Now on to the food. As an avid fan of wild game, I couldn't back away from the frenched-bone-in antelope loin. Jerz ordered the bison chops. Both were cooked perfectly as ordered, seasoned simply but beautifully, and were plain delicious. The side dishes, however, were really where chef Patrick Morrow went bananas with creativity. Included was truffle spoonbread, which I had not had before but now ranks highly on my list of 'foods I would not mind submersing myself in a bath tub full of' category. We also had some sea island peas, which almost taste like al dente black beans, and beer-braised brussel sprouts, all of which were superb. The veal sweetbread tots were appealing on the menu, and presented well, but when it came to taste, they were a little too much "tot" and not quite enough "sweetbread", maybe a tad too long in the deep fryer. As a bonus, each table is treated to a fresh batch of cornbread, served in a warm (hot) cast-iron skillet. This place is clearly 'about the food', and it is executed as such.
The main bar room is well-designed and feels quite warm and inviting. Two flat-panel TV's allowed me to watch some college hoops, but do not dominate the space as in some bars, as they are recessed into the wall and integrated into the bar shelves, surrounded by eccentric liquors (as well as the standard liquors). I thought the main bar room was warm until I saw the back dining room with a 5-foot stone fireplace. As a good friend of mine says, show me a bar with a fireplace, and I will show you a patron. There is also a cozy upstairs bar and about 10 tables. The lighting is great, not too light, not too dark. The music is great, both in terms of content and volume, unlike some places (witness The Reserve who will serve you a sherry-braised duck thigh while blasting Livin' On A Prayer at Magerk's-like volume).
All-in-all, this place was well-worth the wait. I am impressed and frankly ecstatic that they took so many risks in terms of menu and beverages. They set out to set themselves apart from the status-quo in the neighborhood, and, at least after one visit (there will be more on my end), they executed. A place like this has been on the tip of Sobo's tongue for a long time, and the owners of Bluegrass brought it to reality.
If the operators are reading this, two suggestions: Facebook Page to announce specials/happy hours, FB will connect you will 90% of those in the neighborhood whose tucases you want in your seats!...
Posted by Frankie at 9:25 AM