Bigger and better than expected

Ropewalk pays attention to its food


August 15, 2002|By Robin Tunnicliff Reid | Robin Tunnicliff Reid,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Taverns typically are not airy, spacious places. But those attributes are what distinguishes Ropewalk from the passel of other watering holes in Federal Hill.

The lion's share of dining space in the South Charles Street establishment is in a lofty, 19th-century warehouse, with plank floors and exposed brick walls. The room is large enough to absorb any smoke from the series of adjoining rooms. (And because Ropewalk has established a reputation as a cigar-friendly bar, there's plenty of smoke.)

Given the emphasis on cigars, beer (more than 150 kinds) and single-malt Scotch (about 55 to pour), it would be easy for Ropewalk to give food short shrift. Indeed, most of the patrons there on the night we went had come mainly to drink, shoot pool, watch sports on wide-screen TVs and talk over the loud music.

Yet, the food was better than we expected in a place where chugging contests were in progress. The menu, while limited, offered a decent mix of seafood, burgers and salads.

Steak salad may now be a pretty standard nouvelle-cuisine thing in a restaurant, but not in many pubs that this columnist has tried lately. Ropewalk's version, named Patrick Henry in keeping with the Colonial aura the owners believe the warehouse conveys, included several thick, rectangular slices of lean grilled steak, cooked without a lot of fuss. That meant the meat tasted like meat instead of spices or marinades. The meat was laid across a generous mound of crisp mixed field greens and large balls of creamy, mild mozzarella.

The Patrick Henry did not need much to succeed. The house salad, however, could have used something more. The greens, cherry tomatoes and onions were fresh enough and attractively displayed on a plate (heavy plastic, unfortunately). A scant amount of house dressing - a thick, golden peppery concoction with smoky undertones - was delicious. But the salad came without croutons, though they were listed on the menu. A little crunch would have gone a long way.

Ropewalk's fried calamari melted in our mouths, whether we dipped the little rings in sides of chunky marinara or in a lemony aioli. We used some of the latter to improve a very overdone slab of tuna in a blackened tuna sandwich. (Our server did not ask us how we wanted the fish cooked, and we sure wish she had.)

On the other hand, a hamburger the size of a boxer's glove came as requested. (That's what happens when you speak up.) It was pink on the inside and black on the outside. Loads of pungent blue cheese covered the burger, which also was topped with well-cooked bacon and onions that had been sauteed just enough to maintain some sweetness. Fries on the side were serviceable.

Other than an occasional pie, Ropewalk does not carry desserts. There was nothing on the night we visited, so we finished our meal with Blue Moon on draft, a golden, slightly floral beer from Belgium. It was not the average nightcap, but its light sweetness did the trick.

Ropewalk Tavern

Where: 1209 S. Charles St.

Open: For dinner Monday through Friday, and for lunch and dinner Saturday and Sunday

Prices: Appetizers $3.50 to $7.50; entrees $5.50 to 10.50

Credit cards: Major credit cards

Call: 410-727-1298

Food: **1/2

Service: ***

Atmosphere: **1/2

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