At DuClaw, it's almost all about the beer

Brew-based menu has a few surprises, such pot stickers and decent desserts

Sunday Gourmet

September 19, 2004|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

Yes, you should go to the DuClaw Brewing Co. first for the beer M-y particularly if you like to experiment. This local microbrewery and pub chain offers a new seasonal beer every month, as well as six mainstays. But when a brew pub opens up in as great a location as DuClawM-Fs latest M-y Bond Street Wharf in Fells Point M-y it deserves consideration even if you have no interest in beer at all.

The 7,500 square feet of bar and restaurant at Bond and Thames streets overlooks historic rowhouses and cobblestone streets; but the decor is sleekly contemporary, about as far from a conventional brew pub as you can imagine. Even better is the patio with umbrella tables and big chunks of white marble for railings. (Or maybe IM-Fm just getting nostalgic about eating outside as summer slips away.) There isnM-Ft as much of a view of the water as I expected, but thatM-Fs the only downside.

The brew pubM-Fs menu, as you might expect, revolves around beer. It does that in two ways: dishes that go with beer, and dishes made with beer. There are a few items that exist for their own sake. The best example of this is the silky cream of crab soup, a house specialty, which, as far as I could tell, doesnM-Ft contain beer, just cream and crab. It isnM-Ft too thick and isnM-Ft too salty; IM-Fd put it on the must-have list.

DuClawM-Fs Mussels & Ale is another winner, although next time IM-Fd ask the waiter to ask the kitchen to go a little easier on the garlic. The fat mussels are steamed in the breweryM-Fs most popular beer, the smooth, medium- bodied, poetically named Bare Ass Blonde Ale. The mussels come with crisp toasts for dipping in the sauce.

Most of the appetizers are traditional pub grub like wings. DuClawM-Fs wings are marinated in Misfit Red, although it seems like something of a waste of good ale when you then slather the wings in a spicy barbecue sauce and serve them up with celery sticks and blue-cheese dressing.

The menu isnM-Ft all bar food. There are a few surprises, like pot stickers: fat, little, pan-fried dumplings filled with minced chicken and vegetables, served with a Thai-style dipping sauce (i.e., spicy) on the side.

For the most part, vegetables are an afterthought here, with most dishes made up of protein and carbs. (The exception is several entree salads.) Flaky white slabs of grouper are dipped in a thick beer batter M-y DuClawM-Fs Venom Ale, to be precise M-y deep fried and presented with french fries and a small cup of very good coleslaw.

The sandwich our waiter recommended (much of the menu is sandwiches), a turkey melt on a pretzel roll, followed the same protein-carb format, with a fat stack of turkey, bacon and melted cheddar on a roll that had some characteristics of a pretzel M-y a twisted design on top, a crunchy outside M-y but was soft inside.

DuClaw has several moderately priced pastas, including one for under $10 with marinara sauce, Italian sausage and mozzarella cheese over penne. This was actually better for what it was than the crab-cake platter at $21.99. There was plenty of crab meat involved in the crab cakes, but also too much mayonnaise, so they were a bit squishy.

One thing that separates brew pubs from restaurants is a dessert tray, or the lack of one. DuClawM-Fs tray puts it squarely in the restaurant category. It has lemon cake with lemon icing, a carrot cake, and something called a Vesuvius cake made with three kinds of chocolate mousse. ThereM-Fs a second chocolate cake, which the waiter will warm for you and add a scoop of ice cream.

As long as customers can eat outdoors on the patio, DuClaw is going to be a neighborhood restaurant as much as a raucous bar. IM-Fm not sure what will happen once you have to eat in the dining room; the noise level may be such that suddenly the clienteleM-Fs average age will skew down to the 20s and 30s. But, hey, we still have a few good evenings left before we have to move indoors.

DuClaw

Food: **1/2

Service: ***

Atmosphere: ***

Where: 901 S. Bond St., Fells Point

Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner

Prices: Appetizers, $4.99-$9.99; entrees, $9.99-$21.99

Call: 410-563-3400

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