The shifting plates of the restaurant biz Opening: Hamilton's brings Milton Inn's signature dishes, with updated flair, to spot held by Savannah.

November 14, 1997|By Tamara Ikenberg and Linell Smith | Tamara Ikenberg and Linell Smith,SUN STAFF Sun restaurant critic Elizabeth Large contributed to this report.

What's a Baltimore foodie to do?

If you went looking for Savannah, the popular nouvelle Southern restaurant in Fells Point yesterday, you were too late. Savannah is no more. Instead, you'd have found in its place Hamilton's, a new establishment featuring New American cuisine that is a direct descendant of the much admired but recently expired Milton Inn.

Not that the Milton Inn is completely gone, of course. And for that matter, neither is Savannah, really. The former is being remodeled and could reopen later this month, while the chef of the latter is launching the new restaurant Charleston at Inner Harbor East next month.

Everybody still with us?

The latest stop on this restaurant roulette wheel was the opening yesterday evening of Hamilton's, the new restaurant at the Admiral Fell Inn in Fells Point. It features the former cooking staff from the revered Milton Inn, located in the blueblood north of Baltimore County. They've emigrated south to the trendy harbor neighborhood -- and left their historically high prices behind.

Hamilton's -- which plans a formal opening in December -- is named after Federalist statesman Alexander Hamilton, a historic figure well suited to the Federal architectural traditions of Fells Point, says restaurant manager Lynn Patrick.

Patrick acknowledged that restaurant patrons might be slightly confused until they figure out which restaurant is where, but was confident they would.

Kathy Velis, 48, a Charles Village woman who was a Savannah fan, was at Hamilton's opening night. "They still have the peach tea, so I don't really care" about the change, she said. "Savannah was excellent and hopefully the food here will be just as good."

Along with a new carpet and paint job, the restaurant has a new menu, with such regional and seasonal accents as rockfish and cornmeal cakes to appeal to the more eclectic and adventurous palates of downtown Baltimore, says chef Robert Taylor.

One of his favorite dishes is a sesame crusted grouper with fennel and wheatberry pilaf, Swiss chard and sugar snap pea juice for $19, an entree that would have felt out of place at the Milton Inn.

"In the past, we would have accompanied the fish with a traditional lemon butter sauce," Taylor notes. "I think you have a wider variety of people downtown and some of them are more interested in seeing new things."

But Hamilton's retains some Milton Inn stand-bys, such as the grilled sweetbreads, otherwise known as the thymus glands of calves.

"It's an acquired taste," the chef explains. "I've kept it very similar to what I did at the Milton Inn [it's served with roasted potatoes, sliced mushrooms, leeks and Dijon cream]. Someone who had sweetbreads at the Milton Inn can feel very comfortable coming here. ... They should taste the same."

However, they will cost almost $10 less.

The Milton Inn staff left Sparks because they could not keep pace with the overhead of running a business in the historic, high-repair property. In Sparks, all of the entrees were $28. In Fells Point, they range from $16 to $24.

"Hamilton's is not the old Milton Inn," Taylor points out. "It's a brand new restaurant."

The old Milton Inn, meanwhile, has a new group of owners who say they hope to reopen it by Thanksgiving.

To further confuse foodies, another restaurant with a Milton Inn connection, the Oregon Grill, recently opened in the Oregon General Store, a 19th-century landmark at the entrance to the Oregon Ridge Park. Its chef is Mark Henry, who was the Milton Inn's executive chef during the time it gained a national reputation, and a table there is already one of the toughest tickets in town.

And fans of Savannah? Never fear. Chef Cindy Wolf, renowned for her nouvelle Southern cooking, will open her new restaurant, Charleston, just blocks away from her old Fells Point spot next month.

But you might call ahead. The lure of Wolf's innovative cuisine has already led many former customers to make advance reservations, says Tony Foreman, Wolf's husband and restaurant manager.

Pub Date: 11/14/97

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