Patrick and Katie Russell, owners of the popular Kooper's Tavern, have expanded their presence on the Fells Point restaurant scene.
In September, they opened Slainte - pronounced sal-AN-cha and meaning "to your health" in Gaelic - next door to Kooper's. For good measure, they added a rooftop rum bar, called Woody's Love Shack, which is open only in nice weather - though it may be enclosed in the future.
While Kooper's serves straight-ahead Maryland fare such as crab cakes and burgers, Slainte has an Irish theme, with a menu of fish and chips, bangers and mash, corned beef and cabbage, etc. The televisions over the bar might show a Notre Dame game or, better yet, rugby or hurling broadcast from Ireland. (Hurling has nothing to do with the aftereffects of a Guinness-soaked evening but is a traditional Irish game similar to field hockey.)
The Russells traveled to Ireland to purchase Slainte's furniture, returning with handsome red-upholstered bar stools and sumptuous dark-leather and wood booths. The remodeled interior has exposed brick walls, a wood floor and a stamped-tin ceiling. And the location can't be beat, on quaint, cobblestoned Thames Street with a view of the harbor and Locust Point.
Yet Patrick Russell is the first to point out that location isn't everything. The food has to be good, the service prompt, the bathrooms clean, he says. Happily, he has met all these requirements at Slainte, and he made it look easy.
Slainte's menu - just a few entrees, sandwiches, salads and soups - offers, for the most part, straightforward Irish pub fare with few surprises.
The satisfying lamb stew is an example of what Slainte does best, a warming, uncomplicated mix of tender cubes of lamb, carrots, onions and peas. Shepherd's pie, an Irish restaurant staple, is interpreted with a rich base of ground beef, lightened with an occasional pea or carrot cube and topped with a creamy swirl of mashed potatoes.
Befitting its waterside location, Slainte offers plenty of seafood, including steamed clams, oysters and mussels, a seared salmon and of course fish and chips. I particularly liked the oyster po-boy, one of the few non-Irish items on the menu, with its crisp battered oysters in a sturdy roll, livened with lettuce, red onion and a squiggle of creamy pink remoulade, as well as the fish and chips, a square of tender white fish coated in a crunchy batter made with McHenry beer.
Irish breakfast, served all day, is perhaps the heartiest entree. It includes rashers (similar to Canadian bacon), black and white pudding (sorry, not chocolate and vanilla, but more like scrapple), eggs, sausages, tomatoes and beans.
Our friendly and unobtrusively efficient server made a point of suggesting the Slainte Pub Dip, a gooey artichoke and spinach concoction flavored with Irish spirits, saying she eats it every night for dinner. Topped with melted cheddar and served with slices of French bread, it has a fresh cream-cheesy taste. I just wonder how she stays so svelte eating that every night.
We would have been fine with just our salads to start because they were unusually fresh, attractive and flavorful. I particularly liked the tart, gingery Asian vinaigrette on my side salad, but the Caesar salad, with plenty of crunchy romaine, had just the right amounts of garlic and parmesan.
At dessert time, the Irish theme is abandoned altogether, and the choices are limited to the tried and true - carrot cake, cheesecake or ice cream. Like the entrees at Slainte, they are attractively presented and entirely enjoyable.
Slainte has a great location, attractive interior, experienced owners and a tasty menu. It is a welcome addition to Fells Point.
Where: 1700 Thames St., Fells Point
Open: Lunch and dinner daily
Credit cards: All major
Prices: Appetizers $4.75-$9, entrees $6.25-$18