Top 10 Winter Restaurants
I don't care if by the end of the week it reaches 60 degrees. Today it's still winter. Brrr.
In honor of that fact, I've made up a list of places where you can stay warm, get cozy and be comforted by homey dishes. Some are high-end; others are little more than a bar.
Nobody I talked to could quite define "winter restaurant," but we all agreed it involves more than just a fireplace. (See Red Maple.)
Your list may be different, and feel free to tell us what you would add or subtract, but here are my 10: ...
* I want a bowl of pho right now, so I'm going to include Baltimore Pho in the Hollins Street Market area. Maybe it's just the remnants of the Mother of All Colds talking, but the idea of hot beef broth and soothing flat rice noodles, spiced up with a few Asian green chiles to clear the sinuses, sounds mighty fine.
* Midnight Sun Sam's description of Bertha's hot buttered rum makes the Fells Point pub a must-include on this list, not to mention the afternoon tea and cozy booths. To make the drink, they put a lump of butter rolled in brown sugar at the bottom of the mug, fill it with rum and hot water, and stir it with a cinnamon stick.
* I just learned that Brewer's Art in Mount Vernon has a working fireplace, the one in the lounge. I hadn't realized that, which made up my mind for me. (When I ate there last I had a good meal, but it was a bit drafty.) The haute comfort cuisine and the heavier artisan beers make it a natural for this list.
* I wanted to include one Lauraville/Hamilton restaurant because they tend to specialize in comfort food. I settled on Clementine because of the charcuterie. That's the gourmet side of a winter restaurant. The downside is the Fabulous Gut Buster: chili over mac 'n' cheese ($10). I know, I shouldn't knock it till I try it.
* A friend here at the Sun joked that the Elkridge Furnace Inn in Elkridge should be on the list because of the name, but it's actually a good choice. The prix fixe winter menu has a sausage trio (duck, venison, and boar sausages) and braised veal risotto, among other hearty dishes. The historic setting is another plus.
* If winter makes you think of Old World restaurants and German cuisine, consider Josef's Country Inn in Fallston. It's not a German restaurant, more Continental/fine dining Old World style, but there are three German entrees on the menu, and German dishes are often specials.
* When I did an informal survey, two out of the first three people I asked said the Milton Inn in Sparks when I asked them to name a winter restaurant. It was the first one that popped into my head, too. The Hearth Room (pictured) is certainly one reason, but dishes like apple and sauterne pork chop and grilled filet of beef don't hurt.
* Lively, noisy, crowded can be good things when it's cold outside. Petit Louis in Roland Park is all those things, and French bistro comfort food like onion soup and duck confit is very appealing this time of year.
* Best fireplace, budget edition, has to go to the Wharf Rat in Fells Point -- it has the biggest one around. Don't confuse this with the Wharf Rat on Pratt Street, which has a new owner and will soon have a new name. The food runs to burgers, meatloaf, fish and chips and roast chicken, all good winter fare.
* The fact that Ze Mean Bean in Fells Point has a fireplace isn't as important as the hearty Eastern European fare it serves. Sure there are more nouvelle dishes on the menu, but we're talking about Hungarian goulash and cabbage rolls stuffed with ground beef. The tiny dining room is cozy, too.