Monday, September 24, 2007

Brewer's Art


Brewer's Art
1106 N. Charles St.
Mt. Vernon, Baltimore
American (new)
www.belgianbeer.com
410-547-6925
Cost: $$$
Reservations: Varies
Date of meal: Sunday September 23, 2007 (8pm)
National Price-Quality Frontier: Inside It
Baltimore Price-Quality Frontier: Inside It

Brewer's Art is very hard to categorize and for a few reasons. One is that for price-point purposes it is really two restaurants: a bar and a restaurant

  • Bar: In the front, they have a lounge and bar that serves pub fare. The bar has "light fare" like burgers, sandwiches and pizza ($8-$11). Note that there are lounge tables here, so you don't have to stand or sit at the bar.
  • Restaurant: In the back, they have a restaurant that serves more substantial entrees. The entrees are rather pricey ($17-$27, where only the vegetarian pasta and one chicken dish are below $22). Note that the restaurant runs a special to get people in on Sunday and Monday nights: a half-dozen $15 bottles of wine. These are entirely drinkable and constitute a great deal; they are also a loss-leader to get you in the door to order the very expensive entrees.
  • Both Bar and Restaurant: Both share in common the salads and appetizers ($7-$12). Desserts (which I assume you can get in the bar) are in the $7 range.
The upshot of this is that you could plausibly put Brewer's Art into three price-points (see my cost key for the price ranges they imply):
  • $$: If you aren't committed to sitting down in the restaurant and ordering entrees, Brewer's Art is moderately priced.
  • $$$: If you eat in the restaurant on a Sunday or Monday with the express purpose of ordering a $15 bottle of wine, Brewer's Art is a bit pricey but not unreasonable (I'll say the wine deal is really an entree subsidy so I'll include it in the $$$).
  • $$$$: If you eat in the restaurant and order meat or fish entrees, Brewer's Art is quite (and in my view, too) expensive.
While I haven't eaten in in the bar/lounge, I suspect this is the better deal. This is confirmed by the fact that it was full on a Sunday night while the restaurant was nearly empty. I plan to come back to try the lounge. Note that you may have trouble getting a table in the lounge during peak times (and I suspect you can't make a reservation for the lounge).

The other reason that it is hard to categorize is that it is very upscale to be a Belgian brew pub.

I liked the decor a lot. The dining room is decorated like an old-world library in a private home in the 19th century. This works better than when I've seen it tried elsewhere, as in The Barclay Prime steakhouse in Philadelphia which adds modernist elements that make it look like they are trying too hard. Brewer's Art reminds me a bit (but only a bit) like the room in The Matrix where Neo is asked to choose between the "blue pill" and the "red pill", but not nearly as run-down. Brewer's Art does look a bit run-down but in a good way, like the building has been around forever and the furniture is nice but old.

With a name like Brewer's Art, you know (or at least suspect) that they take beer seriously. Please note that their website is www.belgianbeer.com; how this wasn't taken is beyond me. They have several beers they brew themselves (and lots of other beers also), so if you like Belgian beer and/or microbrews you probably want to come here. I do like these and didn't get a chance to try these, so I'm looking forward to returning to sit in the lounge and try their pub food and Belgian beers.

Our dining experience had some problems that I'll detail, but I want to lead with the fact that a) some problems in the restaurant were probably idiosyncratic (aka, our bad luck and unlikely to be repeated) and b) this doesn't really reflect badly on the bar/lounge which is very different and I can't wait to try.

We ordered:
  • wine ($15, see above) : petite syrah (entirely drinkable, excellent at that price, I'm guessing it is a $10 bottle in a wine store)
  • appetizer ($7): pork belly with peaches. At this price-point, I thought this wasn't bad. However, the beaches were cold which was definitely not the way to go and the pork belly , while cooked properly, arrived insufficiently warm. Sauce was nice.
  • pasta entree ($17): gnocchi with caramelized shallots and chanterelle mushrooms. This was very good.
  • steak frites ($26): fries were too salty. Steak was solid but not amazing. Wine-shallot sauce was a bit heavy for my taste. Frites were too salty but had lots of great herbs (rosemary?) that made the NaCl-fest tolerable.
  • chocolate torte ($7): pretty good, but the chocolate lacked the rich intensity you want in a torte
According to our server, the chef "accidentally turned the oven off" which led to a 40 minute gap between our ordering and the arrival of the appetizer. I could imagine this being a serious problem if you were even a bit pressed for time. The other off-putting thing about the meal was that my spouse discovered a (rather small and cute) cockroach on the wood wall's wood paneling. This is an old building and such things are probably inevitable and I have no reason to believe the restaurant is in any way unhygienic. The fact that I'm looking forward to going back to the lounge shows I don't think this is a big deal. Still, I could imagine that some people would find this a serious problem also.

Our server was excellent. She was straight with us about which of the inexpensive wines to choose and had a helpful, straightforward, and unstuffy manner that I found appealing given the slightly stuffy decor in the restaurant. One thing she did I really liked was pour both of us a taste of the wine (instead of just the man in the group, which I've always thought was a bit sexist).

In sum, I would return to the lounge for Belgian beer and pub food, but I found the restaurant too expensive for the quality.

6 comments:

Bill Mill said...

My experience in the dining room was the same as yours, minus the cockroach and slow service. The lounge is OK, but it is nearly always difficult to find seating there; and since parking is a pain around there, it's difficult to know you can go and have a good time.

But the lounge food *is* good. The little pizzas are like $10 and delicious, the Rosemary fries are $4 and good, and the cheese plate is solid if a bit overpriced at $10. The atmosphere, if you do manage to get a couch, which usually takes 15 minutes of waiting with your eyes open, is pretty friendly and nice.

If you want the good beer without the hassle, you can try Mahaffey's pub at 2706 Dillon St (extremely basic food service, but they get exotic beers *on tap*) or Max's on Broadway, which has many different beers in bottles but fairly standard beers on tap. I've never had food there.

Cara said...

It seems like you didn't notice that there's a whole downstairs where you can also order the lounge food? It also gets crowded (and super smoky - I can't wait til that's gone!), but I've never had a problem finding a place to eat and drink downstairs if the upstairs lounge area is full.

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