We celebrated a friend's birthday at Baltimore's Brewer's Art. It's got four distinct spaces, giving me the initial impression that it just didn't know what it wanted to be. Through the main entrance on Charles Street, it's a good-looking bar with cool woodwork and high ceilings. The bright space then succumbs to its living room beatnik spill-over where philosophizing seems encouraged while lounging in comfortable and deep upholstered chairs. That space meets up with the maitre d's stand which shields a gorgeously classic dining area where a jacket could have been required if we were still living in that kind of era. But before entering that space, you could veer down the stairs to the left and find yourself in a completely different kind of divey dungeon where pub fare rules and the bathrooms are painted black and graffitied. So can you blame me for wondering what was going on?
We found some cushy chairs in the lounge as we waited for the others in our party. Eric got the sampler tray of everything they had on tap. As I made my way around their lighter brews for the summer, I'm going to just say it straight out. Despite the cool names like Ozzy, Resurrection, and Sublimation, they were disappointing. I'm of the Ommegang and Chimay Blue ilk. And if that's what you also like, you and I both would not be enjoying a pint of ANY of these.
So I moved onto their extensive beer list to peruse their "Guest Beers." They break them out by country, and the Belgians are broken out even by whether it's really made by the monks or not. No doubt these guys know what they're talking about when it comes to beer. It's just unfortunate that I couldn't get into their drafts. But we shall revisit the discussion of "their beer" in just a moment.
I chose the satisfying Tripel Karmeliet with its golden color and refreshingly mild flavor.
We were seated in that adoringly classic dining room with modern touches, and there was a sense of tentative hopefulness. I've been skeptical about places that purport to have great beer AND great food. In my broad experience of eating out, very, very rarely do the two meet in quality. Either one or the other is the king of the owner's heart, and you can tell. So we were hoping for the best, knowing that if it didn't work out, we'd have to celebrate that same birthday another weekend.
Alas, the menu was creative and inspiring, driving much table discussion as to what would maximize gluttonous pleasure. The appetizers were all winners. The opulence of the Roasted Berkshire Pork Belly over cornbread and a rich sweet-savory Bourbon sauce, the freshness and vigor of the watermelon, feta and olive salad, but the knock-you-off-your-feet Ceviche was unfortunately, not mine. The two glasses it was served in was combined en platter, and I don't recall ever having a ceviche with such a well balanced flavor. Most times, it's way too acidic, but here, the flavor combination is impeccable, as is the generous portion of the seafood medley.
I dare say the appetizers may have upstaged the entrees. Steak Frites was center stage with 75% of the carnivorous table ordering the dish. We'd read much about how great the dish was and how the Rosemary Garlic Fries were out of this world. I ordered the Pan-Seared Cobia, a nice, flaky mild fish that I would not hesitate to order again, but I'll admit that I was more intrigued with the Corn and Spring Onion Risotto. Decadent, with a creamy mouthfeel, it did not disappoint. The Steak, however, was met with less enthusiasm. High expectations combined with the fact that we've got game with a steak cooked in our backyard, and this was a table of hard-to-please customers. The fries, though, were pretty bangin'.
But here was the ultimate finishing touch to the meal, and it gets back to the trade of the Brewer's Art, and then some. Over the course of the meal, we enjoyed two of their brews in their liter bottles, in the same fashion as we would two bottles of wine. Both were fantastic, but the Green Peppercorn Tripel took me to another space entirely. Even upon sniffing the beer, you could smell it. Then sipping it, it's such an unbelievably clear flavor of specifically green peppercorn, I just couldn't get over it. And it was a KNOCKOUT pairing with the food!
This meal changed my mind in a few different ways. First, it's now my go-to example of a place that knows how to do both beer AND food well. Second, I'm gamely and solidly a new Ambassador of Beer as the new Wine in fine dining.