I was walking towards 21 North Eutaw Street with my friend Jon, our destination an unbecoming but well-loved hole in the wall pub named Alewife. Known for its unique atmosphere, wide beer selection, and one of the best burgers in Baltimore, it had been recommended to me by a UMBC graduate friend. While Yelp! reviews warn of possible crowding and the benefits of a reservation, we walked in and waited only a short time at the hostess stand. We were seated in a back room akin to a cathedral, stained glass windows replaced with long abstract murals.
The first thing to notice about the menu is that, aside from the first two pages listing what is being served for that day’s (menus are printed fresh each day) lunch and dinner, the rest of the about-six-pages is filled with cocktails, beers, and wines. Names like “Bacon Bloody Bry(i)am” (bacon infused vodka, smoked bloody mary mix, maple syrup, bacon dust rim, and a candied bacon garnish) and “The Great Gatzke”(vodka, pomegranate juice, ginger snap liqueur, sparking brut) headlined the cocktails menu. Not feeling quite so adventurous as to brave the salty sweet alcoholic menagerie of bacon and maple syrup, Jon settled for a dark and stormy while I ordered a limited availability 9% ABV Dogfish Head ale named “Theobroma”. Though the dark and stormy was very strong, the Theobroma had no trace of a bitter taste, a rarity in my experience for beers that aren’t mostly water.
With a drink in our bellies, we looked over the dinner entree menu. I had heard about the signature “Smoke Burger” before coming, and overheard a waitress telling another table that if they had never had it, it was absolutely amazing. Yelp! reviews agreed, with many posters saying it was one of, if not the, best burger they had ever had. Yet, even with a bias towards an 11oz patty, smoked gouda, gruyere, applewood smoked bacon, caramelized onions, chipotle aioli, brioche bun, and duck fat fries, the other available entrees provided stiff competition to my interest. As Alewife tailors itself to be a “foodie” haven, everything is fresh and of extremely high quality. It provides a massive variety of dishes with preparation a notch above most restaurants, and miles above most pubs. From salmon to a half rack of ribs, fried chicken (with biscuits AND chipotle gravy) and roasted vegetable ragout, the diversity is striking. Of course, all of this quality comes at a price. While offering many options, I was at first taken aback by the seemingly small number of choices, 10 fully different entrees and one special. The price was also steep. The smoke burger is only $15, the cheapest entree being $12, the most expensive was $27. Four out of ten entree items came in right at or above the $20 mark. When our waitress returned, we both ordered a medium-rare smoke burger.
Since my beer was finished, I ordered a cocktail called the “Re-Root”, made from root beer liqueur, whipped cream vodka, and Baileys, to accompany my burger. Obviously, I’m not a very knowledgeable food-drink pairer, but the contrast between the two in no way detracted from one another. The smoke burger was better than any expectation I could have possibly had. Medium-rare was medium-rare, the bun not at all soggy from blood or grease, the toppings melt-in-your-mouth, the bacon thick slabs, tasting more of Easter ham than grizzled Sunday breakfast.
With our burgers almost done, we ordered another couple of beers (two “Arrogant Bastards”) and planned what we’d do after we left. Like I said, the place is a little pricey, for about three drinks and an entree each, our total was in the $70’s. Money well spent. We left, giving a generous tip, onto the concrete to walk to the Inner Harbor so our buzz could wear off. It was sunset, so the streets weren’t crowded with Oriole’s shirts as they had been when we arrived. We felt a breeze at our backs, and the knowledge that one day, we would return.