STYLE: Casual, welcoming vibe.
CUISINE: Above-par pub fare made with top-notch ingredients.
YOU’LL FIND: A neighborhood establishment offering a variety of wine, spirits, and beer, including The Brewer’s Art’s Resurrection Ale.
When you walk into Hamilton Tavern, you feel like you’re entering an early 20th-century farmhouse. Not only do you have to pull on a wooden scythe (minus the blade, of course) to open the door, but the interior has dark wood, high ceilings, and agricultural tools adorning the walls. Welcome to one of Hamilton’s newest additions to its ever-growing list of hip hot spots (think Clementine, Zeke’s Coffee, and Chameleon Café).
The building’s owner is Tom Creegan, co-owner of The Brewer’s Art in Mt. Vernon. The Brewer’s alum so far have a pretty good track record for restaurants: Former manager Kurt X. Bragunier opened the successful Edgar Allan Poe-themed bar Annabel Lee in Canton last year (we gave it “Best New Bar” in August). Like Annabel Lee, Hamilton Tavern features popular Brewer’s Art microbrews, including Resurrection Ale. It also boasts a plethora of bottle and draft beers, an extensive wine list, and reasonably priced mixed drinks.
Though Hamilton Tavern is mainly a bar, the split-level space provides many dining tables with mood-setting candles. There are other elements that calm down the place, too, including a lack of televisions at the bar and a sign that reads, “Please do not discuss religion or politics here.” (Good luck!) Still, the bar noise can echo quite a bit, due to the tin ceiling and open space, but we went on one of the slower nights. (Generally after a Ravens loss, it’s less crowded, our waiter said while handing us our menus.)
At first glance, the offerings seem limited—just one page of appetizers, sandwiches, salads, and entrées. But when you read the descriptions, you discover the kitchen’s creativity. The onion rings are battered with Natty Boh. The cheeseburger is made with Monkton-based Roseda beef. Multiple vegetarian options are also available. There is thought behind these selections, making them more interesting than typical bar fare.
For starters, we decided to go with the “Boh Battered O’s.” The onion rings were some of the best we’ve had in a long time, thickly breaded and accompanied by a tangy dipping sauce made with tomatoes and garlic. We also liked the steamed clams, presented in a delicious wine broth with hearty tomatoes to boot. We tried the fried dill pickle chips (out of sheer curiosity). They were pretty much what you’d expect, except they were paired with a zippy goat-cheese sauce, balancing out the bold sour-pickle flavor.
Our main courses included the restaurant’s most popular item, the cheeseburger, with added bacon. The burger was juicy and full of flavor. Horseradish cheddar cheese and a thin tomato gave it an extra boost on a fairly standard sesame-seed bun. The burger was served with homemade potato chips, which would have benefited from more seasoning.
For a bit of contrast, we also tried the roasted-root vegetable salad with rutabaga, parsnips, sweet potatoes, pecans, butternut squash, and blue-cheese crumbles, all on a bed of seasonal greens. The presentation was colorful and impressive, and the taste was a great mixture of texture and flavors.
And who can resist a classic, open-face hot turkey sandwich? Layers of turkey and stuffing were piled on a slice of white bread and smothered with dark gravy. Fluffy mashed potatoes on the side added to the home-cooked feeling. We also sampled the smoked tuna salad. Though it was no ahi, the thick chunks of tuna, yellow beets, fennel, and romaine lettuce were topped with a light vinaigrette to add a refreshing accent to the dish. Two desserts were available the night we were there: apple cake and strawberry ice cream. The cake was dry and a bit crumbly, but the ice cream was absolutely delicious, topped with thick whipped cream, chocolate sauce, a flaky pine-nut brittle, and mint for garnish.
It must be noted that every item on the menu is under $13—an excellent deal for high-quality, bistro-style food. While you can order a couple of snacks with drinks (they have a rotating chips and salsa appetizer, which changes weekly) for lighter fare, it is also possible to indulge in a full meal with a group of friends without breaking the bank.
Not every dining review warrants a mention of the restrooms, but we can’t resist in this case. Their décor adds to the tavern’s charm. Adorning the walls are pages of manuscripts, sheet music, poetry, and novels—by women writers in the ladies’ room and male authors in the men’s. Think Wuthering Heights versus All Quiet on the Western Front. These literary tributes were the brainchild of Creegan’s wife, local jazz singer and restaurant co-owner, Felicia Carter.
The pens we were given to sign our dinner check speak volumes about Hamilton Tavern’s vibe and congeniality: They were from Annabel Lee. It’s nice to see former co-workers supporting one another in their new ventures. That sense of sharing is very much alive in the down-to-earth, welcoming atmosphere at Hamilton’s newest neighborhood establishment.
Hamilton Tavern, 5517 Harford Road, 410-426-1930. Hours: 4:30 p.m.-midnight Sun, Mon, Wed, Thurs, 4:30 p.m.-2 a.m. Fri-Sat, Closed Tues. Appetizers, $4-8; entrées, $7-13; desserts, $4-5.