Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Restaurant Review: Peter's Inn, Baltimore, MD

For years I had seen this place listed as one of the 50 best restaurants in Baltimore by Baltimore Magazine. Then a friend of mine dined here one night and raved it about. It's constantly described as a hole in the wall, with exceptional food. I always find this sort of dichotomy in a restaurant very compelling. I love a place that keeps that neighborhood feel and unpretentious attitude, but still understands the importance of serving interesting, good quality grub. So after my husband and I had our weekly date night dance lesson, we set out to find this proverbial hole in the wall. Peter's Inn is located on Ann Street in the Fells Point area. If you blink, you'll miss it. A small doorway beckons customers inside. There is a painted red sign outside with large white block letters that reads Peter's. Not to be a snob, but it's not a place that I would normally pick out of a lineup. It just looks like a dingy, dark bar with a few tables.
The minute you walk in, especially if it's between 6 and 8 in the evening, you notice its cramped quarters. THere is a small aisle between the bar stools and tables - most of which are packed or occupied. The menu is one of the first things that will catch your eye. It's at the end of the first room on a large chalkboard on the wall. Written in green, pink, blue, white and yellow chalk are the day's selections. There are usually two to three appetizers, four entrees, a few sides (cheese and garlic grits - yum!), and a couple desserts. Peter's definitely goes by the motto - do a few things and do them well.
We sidled up to the bar and were able to grab two stools. There is an eclectic mix of paraphenalia decorating the dark wooden bar. A dingy Batlimore Colts penant, old brass door knockers, a Spanish-style guitar, an airplane mobile, a huge whisk, bull horns, a cowbell and even a beer bottle line-up. A huge marlin decorated with Christmas lights shares the back wall with a mishmash of local artwork. And, as a woman, it can't go without saying, the bathroom is stocked with feminine products if ya know what I mean. Which is always a nice bonus just in case you find yourself without something when in need. On the downside, there is a scale in the bathroom - which seems counterintuitive in a place where you're selling corn and shrimp bisque and rack of lamb with Yukon gold mashed potatoes. Hopefully you ordered before you went into the bathroom.
Which leads me to the food, which is no less colorful than the decor. For starters, you can choose from grilled scallops "BLT" with garlic aioli, steamed clams and mussels with kale, chorizo and chopped tomatoes or the corn and shrimp bisque. Tonight, we opted for the clams and mussels along with the salad of local Maryland tomatoes topped with roaring 40s blue cheese and a basil-balsamic glaze. The yellow and red tomatoes are arranged beautifully on the platter - their bright colors complemented well with the green basil. The tomatoes were juicy and sweet and there was just enough blue cheese to have a crumble with every bite. I could have used a bit more balsamic, but really no complaints.
The clams and mussels were some of the best I've ever had. They paired beautifully with the spicy, salty chorizo. In addition, the dish was served with a huge hunk of chewy, airy bread to dip in the buttery, winey broth below the mullosks. Sheer briny heaven. And it's also worth a mention that each mussel was plump and cooked perfectly - and for $14.50 there were enough there to feed four people as an appetizer.
Finally, we ended the meal with their veal scallopine. Tender filets of veal were lightly breaded and topped with crisp prosciutto, melted mozzarella and a lemon buerre blanc sauce. Each piece of veal, three to be exact, were placed on top of a small pile of sauteed spinach. It was the perfect amount of food to fill you up but not make you overly full.
On a second visit to Peter's, we enjoyed the ahi tuna with seaweed and the grilled steak salad. Both were equally as impressive and stunningly fresh. For a casual, neighborhood meal with a bit of panache, Peter's is definitely the place to be. Just go early if you don't want to wait, and go on a weeknight if you know what's good for you. Otherwise, get your waiting shoes on because it'll be a long one. But I promise, it'll be well worth it.
RATING: Food - A, Service - B+, Atmosphere - B+

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