Neil Langermann holds the crabcake entree in the main dining… (Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore…)
Langermann's is the new restaurant in Canton's American Can Company space where the Kiss Café struggled for so many years. Extensive renovations have imposed some natural order on this former factory space, which has been softened considerably by a warmer, rust-colored palette. Civilizing touches have been installed throughout - for the irregularly shaped dining room, white tablecloths and wood floors; and for the snazzy-looking bar with bartenders dressed in white jacket and ties, serving classic cocktails.
The South-but-not-the-South design is in support of the "Southern-inspired" cooking of Neal Langermann, who made his Low Country bones as executive chef at Georgia Brown's, a successful Southern-style restaurant in Washington. For his compact menu here, Langermann often travels beyond the Southern genre staples into blurrier culinary regions, with Southern influences playing secondary roles as sides or garnishes - succotash for the crab cakes or creamed corn for the crispy sea bass. A few items with no detectable Southern accent, like wings with cilantro dipping sauce or a turkey pastrami Reuben, are offered. But even when Langermann returns the focus to the Carolinas and northern Georgia, he manages to kick up a lot of dust, taking a chance with a genre exemplar like shrimp and grits.
The early reception for Langermann's appears to be very warm. It's an accessible restaurant, in price and location, with convenient parking, as attractive a dining option for families with young children as it is for folks doing business over lunch. If you visit, you'll be aware of a balancing act, between keeping up the appearance of Southern languidness while putting customers through some high-volume paces.
The act works best at the bar, where the staff has more leisure to work in a little graciousness. It's rare in Baltimore to be greeted by a bartender with "Good evening" instead of "Can I get you something?" Extending that charm into the dining room is trickier, and I found the pace in there a little frenetic - courses come out too quickly, and empty plates are cleared a little peremptorily. On the whole, though, the staffers appear well-trained and in support of the menu, doing their best to keep Langermann's from feeling formulaic.
The kitchen is unpredictable, doing some things very well but slipping with just the things you'd expect it to flourish with. The winners show up in every course. A seared scallop appetizer came across, too, its creamy corn and tomato chutney accompaniment a promising example of what creative approach to this cuisine could look like. I think the Calvados pork chop here, with candied yams and spinach sides, is a model midprice entrée. It was cooked well and looked great. A nicely seasoned hash of wild mushrooms and sweet potatoes works in every way, too, especially as a fresh idea. A special dessert, a pots de crème trio of butterscotch, chocolate and vanilla, is commendable for its originality and its execution.
The problems are hard to fathom. Sometimes, it feels like execution is at fault. Good fried green tomatoes are sliced, coated and cooked to order. Langermann's version is mushy and sodden, and they taste as if they've been made earlier in the day, barely revived before getting topped with chow-chow (itself disagreeable, I thought) and brought to the table. The potato croquette accompanying a flavorful New York strip was undercooked, the crispy grits cake supporting a salmon fillet underseasoned. At lunch, a catfish fillet was barely seasoned, much less blackened, before being inserted into a blackened catfish sandwich.
With a few showpiece items, like the salmon with a Savannah-style mustard-based barbecue sauce and Langermann's version of shrimp and grits, when he is clearly taking some chances, the results are inconclusive. You're not entirely certain what you've been served is what he intended. With the salmon, which was cooked well, it was a case of a good, even authentic, sauce in the wrong place. You could see how it could have worked, though, if it had been adapted, honeyed up a little. The mustard just overpowered the fish. The shrimp and grits in clam broth are a major departure from the expected - brothy, even soupy. If this ultimately doesn't feel like an improvement, or even a viable alternative version, it has a lot to do with rubbery shrimp and too-thinly sliced andouille.
Other things feel half-hearted, curiously underseasoned or, at best, missed opportunities. Soupy and bland coleslaw and limp french fries here have a distressingly institutional look and flavor, for instance, and the house's dry bread pudding is surprisingly commonplace; a vanilla crème brulee is only marginally better.
As I look back, I think the fried green tomatoes might have caused some disproportionate damage. They made Langermann's romantic talk about slow food seem like just that - talk. And once planted, that idea spread like kudzu.
2400 Boston St.
Open: Open daily for lunch and dinner and for breakfast Monday-Friday
Credit Cards: MC, VISA, AMEX
Outstanding: Good: Fair or uneven: Poor: