Spike Gjerde goes diner-style at Shoo-Fly in Belvedere Square

January 31, 2014|By Kit Waskom Pollard | For The Baltimore Sun

Spike Gjerde, the culinary powerhouse behind Woodberry Kitchen and Artifact Coffee, has a new feather in his cap. This time, he's gone diner-style.

Gjerde's Shoo-Fly Diner and Late Night Bar opened in Belvedere Square in October. Housed in the old Hess Shoes building (the former home of Crush restaurant), where generations of Baltimore kids got shoes -- and haircuts -- Shoo-Fly is laid-back with a rustic Americana vibe, kid-friendly, and very, very popular.

Shoo-Fly doesn't take reservations, but when we arrived at 5:45 on a Wednesday evening, we got a table right away. Ten minutes later, we wouldn't have been so lucky -- that's how crowded Shoo-Fly gets, and how early. Still, it's worth the wait.

If you don't get seated right away, find a spot near the long bar and start with a drink or two. Shoo-Fly, which houses the Gjerde empire canning operation, shares its ethos with Woodberry and Artifact: whole foods, carefully chosen and local whenever possible. This goes for the drinks, too.

We started with a slush cocktail ($10), a frozen concoction of bourbon, Distillery Lane apple cider and house-made bitters. The well-balanced drink, with its chilly temperature and bourbon aroma, was as much fun as a football tailgate.

A Baltimore Pale Ale ($7), brewed right in the center of the city at Full Tilt Brewing, was crisp and easy to drink.

A handful of oysters -- battered, deep-fried and tossed in spicy Buffalo sauce ($8) -- were served with creamy ranch dressing and thick-cut stalks of crunchy, bitter radish instead of the traditional celery. It was a tasty, maritime twist on wings.

Hush doggies ($6), a trio of midsize hot dogs dipped in hush-puppy batter and fried, were fun and approachable but, thanks to the intensely smoky flavor of the dogs, also more sophisticated than we expected.

The Scrappledelphia ($9), an open-faced sandwich of thinly sliced apples, sautéed onions, mustard and scrapple, topped with melted cheddar, all on thick, dark country bread, introduced us to a new way to enjoy our favorite local mystery meat. Gjerde's team members make the scrapple themselves -- it's fresh -- and the salty pork loaf pairs well with crisp apples and savory cheese.

Shoo-Fly's fried chicken platter ($24) is a house specialty: half a chicken, thickly battered and fried to a deep golden brown. Tender and moist inside with amazing crunch all around, the chicken was heavenly. Braised greens, slightly bitter and cooked until soft, and crumbly, sweet cornbread rounded out the meal in down-home style.

Ordering dessert should be mandatory at Shoo-Fly. A tall, square chocolate and peanut butter "bar" ($5) was a dense, rich slice of cake, and the restaurant's namesake molasses-based dessert, shoo-fly pie ($5), was sweet with just the slightest bitter edge. Both desserts were even better with a scoop of fresh, sweet ice cream ($2).

Our only quibble with Shoo-Fly was the service. It wasn't as polished or consistent as the service at Woodberry Kitchen -- admittedly a high standard, but one that Gjerde can obviously meet.

We sat for nearly 10 minutes before a busboy approached our table, looking alarmed that we hadn't ordered drinks. When our waitress did arrive, she wasn't overly friendly -- or terribly attentive for the rest of the meal. Of course, our service woes may have been an anomaly.

Even with imperfect service, dinner at Shoo-Fly was fun and — most important — delicious. As we walked out the door, a small crowd gathered in the bar, waiting for tables, as hostesses added names to a rapidly growing list. That fried chicken would be worth a wait, we thought. Even a long one.

The vibe: With reclaimed wood upstairs, diner counters downstairs and a giant American flag over the bar, Shoo-Fly mixes Americana metaphors for a space that feels comfortable and yet modern.

You'll fit in wearing: Jeans and sweaters or post-work suits and uptown preppy garb.

Don't miss: The fried chicken supper, complete with greens, cornbread and even a chicken foot.

Best for kids: Mac and cheese, or grilled peanut butter and jelly. Top it off with soft-serve ice cream and homemade desserts.

Reservations: Not accepted.

Price range: Snacks, salads, sandwiches and breakfast (all day) $4 to $16; large plates $13 to $24; all major credit cards accepted.

Parking: Metered parking in surrounding area; valet Thurs.-Sat.

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