Rocket to Venus set to lift off soon

TABLE TALK

December 13, 2006|By SLOANE BROWN

Think Hampden is Baltimore's heart of funky charm? Then just the name of the newest eatery scheduled to open there soon - Rocket to Venus - will only burnish that reputation.

Co-owner Brian Carey says it's based on a story, which appeared in a 1969 issue of The Sun's magazine, about three local men who constructed a rocket in a Hampden garage in 1928. Carey says that according to the story and other accounts he's heard, the men spent about $5,000 on a 24-foot-tall gasoline-powered rocket, which was made of iron and covered in varnished sailcloth.

It was supposed to carry one of them to Venus. However, when they dragged it out on the sidewalk to test it, they couldn't get it off the ground. They decided they needed a booster rocket, which would cost an additional $10,000. That's when the wives of two of the men put their collective foot down. So the third man loaded his rocket onto the back of the truck, headed for Florida and was never heard from again.

A few years ago, Carey's partner - Holy Frijoles owner Geoffrey Danek - found out he lives on the property where that rocket was built. And the idea for a new restaurant had liftoff.

Rocket to Venus is not located there, but in a Chestnut Avenue building that has housed several bars and restaurants. The latest was Showalter's, which closed last spring.

Carey and Danek have renovated the interior, giving it a retro sci-fi look. Carey says that when you walk in, you'll see a row of horseshoe-shaped booths lining the right wall. Above each is an oval window like a rocket porthole. On one side is a large "master booth" that can seat as many as 24 people, or the tables inside can be pulled apart to accommodate several smaller parties. There is another large booth that can seat 12.

Carey says the bar is a large "J" shape in the center of the room, with seating along it. The bar top is made of rows of copper tubing, covered with resin. In fact, the copper tubing is used as a decorative element throughout Rocket, as are aluminum and black Naugahyde accents. There's a retro-looking white tile floor, and a retro-looking black tile ceiling. The main color? A 1950s sci-fi-ish "greenish blue."

Chef David Carleton (formerly of Friends, the Wine Market and Joy America Cafe) says the menu is based on smaller plates and pub fare. "We wanted just comfortable food that's done really well."

Along those smaller plate lines, you'll find items like five pierogi (potato dumplings) with caramelized onion, roasted red pepper and Asiago cheese fried Polish style ($4); tempura vegetables - broccoli raab, zucchini and sweet potato - with teriyaki ginger dipping sauce ($4) and five shrimp scampi broiled in garlic and lemon butter with fried plantains ($8).

Pub fare includes grilled Swiss, aged sharp cheddar and pepperjack cheeses with tomato on focaccia ($5); four 2-ounce burgers with fried onions, ketchup and American cheese ($7); and a shrimp-salad sandwich ($9).

Carleton says there are four entrees on the menu: pan-seared salmon served with fresh tomato and onion salad, polenta and chimichurri sauce ($15); steak frites: 10-ounce pub steak and fries served with a choice of chimichurri sauce, red-eye gravy, bearnaise sauce or papaya demiglace ($16); walnut-and-sage pesto with sauteed shiitake mushrooms and broccoli raab over linguine ($14); and a jerk half-chicken served with papaya slaw, side salad and buttermilk biscuits ($14). Once Rocket to Venus is successfully in orbit, Carleton plans to offer weekly specials.

The owners of Rocket to Venus, 410-235-7887, are hoping to open it by the end of this week at 3360 Chestnut Ave. Its hours will be 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday.

If you have information regarding a local restaurant's opening, closing or major changes, please e-mail that information to sloane@sloanebrown.com or fax it to 410-675-3451.

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