We know, we know, everyone has already been to Brewer’s Art. And everyone who has been to Brewer’s loves it and tells their friends that when they go, they have to get the beer and steak frites. It’s the best in Baltimore. As foodies with fairly similar tastes, we find that when we disagree on a dish (in this case the steak frites), someone must be right and someone must be wrong. So, we figured on this cold, winter’s night, why not settle the long standing debate? And at the beginning of restaurant week with a $30 prix fixe when steak alone costs $28 on the regular menu, why not?!
We trekked through the snow storm (ok, we hopped on the JHMI shuttle and walked two blocks while it was snowing outside) to the intimate restaurant located in a townhouse. We were seated in the upstairs library dining room. We skipped the drink menu because we didn’t want our tastebuds distracted by any of their famous house beers or classy cocktails (which are always reliably good).
Our round and sassy waiter (stay tuned for an explanation) brought us bread and butter, and soon after, we ordered our appetizers and entrées: spinach salad with toasted pumpkin seeds, moody blue cheese, dried strawberries and banyuls vinaigrette and Caesar salad with romaine, Parmesan crisp, white anchovies and Parmesan dressing. And, of course, drumroll please... two steak frites (one medium rare and the other medium, just to be different).
Typically, we don’t like to waste valuable stomach room on bread and butter, but Brewer’s butter is something to be written about. Our waiter called it “Resurrection Butter,” which we assume has something to do with their Resurrection house beer. It is a part of the restaurant’s regular line-up, and served in a decadent chalice, it’s definitely worth a try. Resurrection is made with five types of barley and lots of sugar — no surprise that adding it to butter made the schmear positively addicting.
With the bread basket nearly empty (not because the service was slow, but because the butter was so darn good), our salads arrived. Before even tasting them, we noticed that they were both drenched in dressing almost as if our salads had been scooped out of a vat. In the Caesar’s case, over-dressing was the main issue. The spinach salad, however, had a panoply of issues, the first being the saltiness. This salad was not just a little on the salty side. It tasted as if an entire bowl of salt was accidentally — we hope — spilled into the banyuls vinaigrette. (FYI: banyuls is a wine vinegar.)
And now that we’re on the topic of vinaigrette, it really shouldn’t count as a vinaigrette. It was thick and creamy and more closely resembled a bleu cheese dressing. The soggy leaves were also sprinkled with Old Bay, which, although we always appreciate Baltimore flair, did not help the salt issue. We know we should move on to the steak frites, but one last thing about the salad: The dried strawberries were stale! Maybe not stale, but they would be better off in a trail mix than a soupy salad. Okay, we’re done.
After our bad salad start, we ate some more bread and butter to cleanse our palates. Luckily for us, the steak frites came just as the salt taste left our mouths.
The famous (and infamous) plates were placed in front of us, and — to cut to the chase — we still disagree. For everyone’s sake, we’ll stay anonymous about the steak regarding who likes it and who doesn’t. Basically, one of us feels that the piece of meat (a hanger cut) is too chewy to chew/swallow/eat let alone enjoy. And the other feels that although the steak was on the chewier side, the red wine shallot sauce and crispy exterior made up for its texture in spades. Both of us agree that the sauce and general flavor of the meat was good, but the debate on texture will be eternally unresolved. To each her own!
As anyone knows, a proper meal is followed by something sweet. We were looking forward to part three in our three-course endeavor, but we certainly needed a breather after mopping up all that steak sauce with rosemary fries. We decided to leisurely contemplate our dessert menus while kicking back in our seats for a moment. (We were in a stately library after all, and why not play the part?) Our waiter — you remember him from before, right? — dropped by our table soon after delivering the menus. We definitely needed more time, and he obliged (how kind of him). But soon thereafter, he flurried by our table for dessert order take two.
We’d looked by this point but were debating the finer points of our dessert decision. He seemed miffed. He brusquely noted that, “The kitchen is closing up, and well, you’re my last table.” We looked around — it was true, the remaining diners were all onto coffee by now — but it was 9:30 on a Monday night, and we didn’t really feel like we were breaking any unspoken restauranting rule. He spun away with a cloth tossed over his shoulder before we even had the chance to agree to place our orders. We flagged him as he zipped past our table in the other direction and he couldn’t have cared less that we were giving into his cockamamie request. Whatever, we’re over it. Here’s what we ate:
The Chocolate Torte was just as you’d imagine: thick, fudgy and really, really chocolatey. It is definitely a solid choice if you’re in the mood for a hearty end to your meal. The Buckwheat Waffle, which was topped with ginger ice cream and placed over a swirl of cranberry-vanilla “pudding” (it was just a puree), was the favorite of the two, though. The fluffiness of the waffle mixed with the refreshing ginger flavor and sweet confiture proved tasty enough for us to end our meal on a happy note.
Feeling quite full, we were ready to head back out into the snowpocalypse (at least an inch had accumulated since we arrived for our feast). Before leaving Brewer’s, we came to the consensus that next time we venture into this cozy townhouse, we will bypass the dining room and head straight to the bar for house beer and burgers! Pröst!