Contrary to popular belief, Alewife’s handsome building never was a bank! It was built in 1847 for the Baltimore Equitable Society (founded in 1794 to provide fire insurance and put out house fires for its members). The Society moved out in 2005 to bigger offices on Pratt Street (between then and when Alewife opened, two other restaurants have opened and closed at this location). Alewife retains much of the original architectural detail (including a vault where the Society’s insurance contracts were stored!). The striking interior has 20+ foot tall ceilings, large windows with views of the nearby Hippodrome Theater, handsome woodwork and an attractive bar. Alewife (also curiously the name of a fish that invaded the great lakes!) has a limited, pricey dinner menu including two soups ($6), 6 appetizers ($10-$15), an entrée salad with steak ($18), five sandwiches ($11 to $15 including a Kobe hot dog for $12 and a 11 oz cheese burger for $15) and five entrees ($19-$26). Many Alewife fans are more impressed by availability of over a hundred beers ($6 to $45). Visiting with a couple of friends for a light dinner, Marty decided to try the Black Bean burger ($11), John and our friend Paul ordered the Cubano sandwich ($12) and Tom opted for the Catfish Tacos ($12) with a side of Fennel Tempura Frites ($6).
Marty’s bean burger and heap of French fries got his attention. While he liked the salty fries, the bean burger had a “mushy” texture that he didn’t like. (John tried some and thought it was tasty but the texture reminded him of eating refried beans). The really large Cubano sandwich arrived with a side spinach salad with “warm bacon dressing”. While Paul enjoyed it, John was disappointed – inside the large hunk of bread, he found a a few slices of “cold cut” ham and pork topped by not much melted cheese and some generic yellow mustard; the spinach was limp (but the dressing was neither warm nor had any obvious pieces of bacon in it). Tom’s three tacos looked and tasted interesting and he enjoyed them; but it was hard to spot any catfish amidst bits of chimichurri, corn salsa, and slaw topped by a few decorative “shoestring” fries. Just when we had concluded that our waiter had forgotten the “Fennel Tempura”, it showed up 20+ minutes after our entrees arrived without any apology or explanation. (What would the service be like when way more crowded before a show at Hippodrome?) The light licorice flavor of the fennel was overwhelmed by the heavy fried tempura coating (we enjoyed the fennel more after we started stripping off its greasy, tasteless shell encasing it).
Sigh! If only Alewife’s food and service were as impressive and memorable as its handsome building , its long list of available beers or its convenient location across from the Hippodrome…
FACTS: Alewife (Downtown); 21 N. Eutaw St.; 410-545-5112; www.alewifebaltimore.com; Open 7 days/week; lunch& dinner from 11 am to 1 am; Full Bar w/ huge list of beers; limited menu with some veggie options. (DiningOUT visit: 2012/July)