Last weekend, I had the immense pleasure and privilege of eating at Chef Andrew Carmellini’s Rec Pier Chop House in Fells Point (thanks, Mom and Dad!). Driving up, I was struck first by the beauty of the surrounding area. The restaurant faces the heart of Fells Point, complete with cobblestone streets and adorable boutiques, and the water stretches out behind it. It is a beautiful side of Baltimore that I rarely get to experience, since I live in Charles Village. It felt like a pristine end to the summer, standing there as the sun began to set and a warm breeze tumbled off the water.
The building itself is stunning as well. Rec Pier Chop House is located inside the Sagamore Pendry, a hotel housed within the historic Beaux Arts building. The structure is broad and impressive, constructed of clean brick and tall columns. The entire thing is lit from below, which gives it an otherworldly glow and a magnetism. The building was originally built as a warehouse to store port cargo in 1914 and has served many functions since. It was a landing point for thousands of new immigrants as they passed across the Patapsco River and later became a meeting point for 20th century Baltimore immigrants. At another point it was a radio station and later a parking garage. It was renovated and reopened as the Sagamore Pendry in 2017. I was impressed by the renovation, which left the building’s exterior almost completely unchanged. It stands as a beautiful ode to Baltimore’s past, present and future.
The Chop House’s dining room is cozy, with dim lights, warm wood floors and tables, plush booths and friendly staff. The exposed, original brick walls give the space a feeling of authenticity and history. Just being there was a treat in its own right.
Of course, the real treat was the food. Andrew Carmellini is an American chef, but he has strong Italian roots. These two aspects of his background come together beautifully at Rec Pier Chop House, a restaurant that is both emphatically Italian and emphatically American. We started with the crispy truffle fries, the sheep’s milk ricotta and the shrimp cocktail — a killer combination if I do say so myself. The fries are prepared alla fiorentina — in traditional Italian fashion. It’s hard to go wrong with something so simple and delicious.
They were served with some kind of tangy sauce that perfectly offset the saltiness of the fries. All in all, no complaints. The sheep’s milk ricotta is one of Carmellini’s signature dishes, and I can see why. The cheese is smooth, rich and creamy, and only becomes more so when blended with the pool of olive oil poured over it. The shrimp was cool and fresh and countered the warmth and richness of our other two starters. They were delicious, served on a bed of ice with lemon and cocktail sauce and seasoned with Old Bay. I was struck by the inclusion of Old Bay, not only because it is a great addition to any seafood, but also because it is such an iconic symbol of Baltimore. Carmellini is not a Baltimore native — in fact he is quite a cosmopolitan chef currently living in New York, so I appreciated that when he decided to open a restaurant in Baltimore, he took the time and made the effort to put something iconically Baltimore on his menu.
For my main course, I had the petit filet mignon. Beef is something Carmellini seems to take seriously, and it shows. As written on their menu, all their prime beef is 28-day dry-aged and sourced from ranches in Virginia and Nebraska. I always appreciate knowing where my food is coming from and knowing that a restaurant cares about where their food comes from. The steak was delicious, cooked to a perfect medium-rare with a nice sear on all sides. It was served with roasted tomatoes and mushrooms, which complimented the meat without overwhelming it. The dish really allowed the steak to shine.
I left Rec Pier Chop House beyond satisfied. There are few pleasures in life better than a good meal in a beautiful place with people you love. If your parents are coming to town soon, make a reservation. You won’t regret it.
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