At Lucy’s Irish Pub & Restaurant, the meal is not about Lucy’s. It’s about the customer. The service and food are as satisfying as the Guinness that flows from the taps. The dishes are generous, but not ostentatious. The wait staff is helpful, friendly, and nearly invisible, starting with warm rolls placed on the table shortly after you arrive and continuing with refilled water glasses and frequent visits throughout the meal.
You get to determine the pace, whether you’re there for a leisurely meal or trying to catch a play at the Hippodrome across the street. Tell the staff, and your appetizers and entrées will arrive in a stately procession, unhurried. Yet, you will miraculously get your check by 7:45, giving you plenty of time to see the curtain rise at 8.
The Eutaw Street restaurant, which opened as Maggie Moore’s in 2005, changed its name to Lucy’s in March when the two couples who owned the restaurant parted ways and one couple bought out the other couple. It doesn’t blast music, expose the ductwork, or do all the other things that are supposed to make restaurants cool these days. This is an establishment that is comfortable being itself in a truly remarkable building. The structure, which started life in 1847 as the Eutaw Savings Bank and housed the Baltimore Equitable Society for many years, has three floors of dining space, with former bank vaults and offices transformed into cozy semi-private alcoves, and a mezzanine-level balcony that overlooks the main floor.
The original bank counter is now the bar, and several heavy black safes are still on display, including one that gallantly guards the front door. Custom-made stained glass sits behind the booths to separate the main dining area from the bar, and also glows from the tall windows.
The entire space is painted in warm mustard and cinnamon colors, decorated with maps and charts that once belonged to the Fire Museum of the Baltimore Equitable Society. We really like the way the high, stamped-tin ceiling; multilevels; and many small rooms create a private and uncrowded sensibility, even when the restaurant is buzzing.
Speaking of buzzing, there was quite a stir there in July, when Lucy’s hosted a wrap party for Renée Zellweger and 200 members of the cast and crew who were in town to film My One and Only. It was a buffet-style meal, according to general manager Colm Kirwan. The über-thin star sipped champagne and nibbled on cheeses, while others loaded up on finger foods like chicken skewers, bacon-wrapped scallops, and crudités.
Since the restaurant changed its name (it kept the management and kitchen staff from Maggie’s), the menu has expanded by about 25 items. It moved beyond the Irish fare it was known for to include dishes like a spicy-creamy Cajun pasta with blackened chicken and tasso ham mixed with orecchiette pasta. Big, colorful salads get more play now too.
The new menu, though, is somewhat confusing, separating the many choices into various categories, including Irish favorites, chef’s specials, salad and sandwiches, and a la carte items. But we liked the power-to-the-people thrill of the a la carte option—ordering main courses and then choosing from sides like garlic spinach, Parmesan asparagus, or mashed potatoes. We were particularly happy with a perfectly grilled mahi mahi drizzled with a zingy pico de gallo that we could pair with savory roasted carrots and turnips.
Though mussels were on the old menu, a new formulation combines them with a just-spicy-enough red-curry sauce that creates an ideal foil for the sweetness of the plump morsels of seafood. Sadly, the best appetizer will be gone for the season by the time you read this—simple, superb tomatoes with a sprinkle of salt, a drizzle of oil and vinegar, and slices of fresh mozzarella. Definitely keep this in mind for next summer.
An excellent cold-weather treat is the warm, intense crab dip, served with gently toasted slices of baguette. But a decadent goat-cheese tart was almost too much—the interior was insanely rich, and the crisp outer shell carried a hint of sweetness that pushed it over the flavor edge. A little more spice, even the crunch and freshness of a vegetable, would have been welcome here.
In general, Lucy’s kitchen does not seem enamored with veggies in their many guises. A gigantic balsamic salmon salad was little more than a big mound of mesclun greens, dotted with golden raisins, pine nuts, and goat cheese, and topped with a deck-of-cards-size piece of grilled salmon. We would have appreciated a greater variety of vegetables. The salmon, though, was moist, fresh tasting, and delish.
With Lucy’s Irish pedigree, you can’t go wrong with classic dishes like fish and chips and lamb stew. The fish was a snow-white cod, fried in beer batter to create a worthy dish, though some green on the plate would have been a plus. While the fish was good, we preferred the lamb stew, a simple, rosemary-infused concoction with plenty of carrots, potatoes, and cubes of tender, flavorful meat.
Lucy’s dessert choices are not particularly imaginative. We scanned a list that included apple tart and mixed fresh berries, and settled on a peanut-butter mousse pie with a chocolate-cookie crust and ganache topping—a heavy combination saved slightly by a swirl of raspberry purée on the plate. We also sampled a dense but unremarkable slab of chocolate lava cake. But we’d definitely go back again to sample the variety of offerings in such a welcoming place.