Ale Mary’s, 1939 Fleet Street, 410-276-2044. The restaurant’s irreverence toward religious paraphernalia (a holy-water font doubles as a mint dish, for example) doesn’t transcend to the kitchen, which turns out inventive fare like crazy-good tater tots (the crabby tots, dappled with thick crab dip, are a favorite) and the incredible “Krispy Kreme” bread pudding. You’ll also find a steak deal: two fist-sized, black Angus USDA choice filet mignons with garlic mashed potatoes, fresh veggies (sautéed squash one night), and a giant Caesar salad for $22.95. If you want a fat steak for less, consider the strip-steak sandwich ($10.95). The 10-ounce oval of beef sits atop two canoes of garlic bread with lettuce, tomato, and horseradish aioli. We’re pretty sure Mother Superior would approve of the indulgence.
Bare Bones Grill and Brewery, 9150-22 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City, 410-461-0770. This casual neighborhood restaurant is known for its barbecued baby-back ribs and sandwiches stuffed with barbecued chicken or pork. The menu also includes strip steak, prime rib, and rib-eye. The prime rib ($19.99 for 12 ounces) is cooked to order and succulent, but the sirloin steak ($16.79) can be overpowering with a distracting combo of ingredients, including melted Jack cheese, bits of onion rings, and slices of mushrooms. Appetizers like chicken wings, potato skins, and crab pretzels are better than most. Desserts include a decent brownie sundae and Key lime pie. The delicious surprise is that the sides are so good, including the slightly tart, crunchy coleslaw, and the plump slow-baked beans.
Kooper’s Tavern, 1702 Thames Street, 410-563-5243. Kooper’s is rapidly becoming a destination for carnivores on a budget, especially with the introduction of its mobile burger wagon. Burgers do abound at Kooper’s, but one shouldn’t overlook the steak frites. A bargain at $18.95, this is a satisfying tenderloin tip, buried in fries and smothered in truffled Gorgonzola cheese. Okay, maybe we could use a little less cheese, but only because the tenderloin tip doesn’t need the help. Pair it with a craft beer or glass of wine, and it becomes a delicious bourgeois break from stuffy white tablecloths. Kooper’s take on upscale pub grub makes an effort to use local ingredients and also includes fresh pizza and seafood selections, like the mouthwatering ahi-tuna sandwich with a piquant wasabi aioli.
Maisy’s, 313 N. Charles Street, 443-220-0150. The black Angus New York strip steak is dense and pleasantly chewy, with a succulent sliver of fat along the side. It’s a bargain at $17.95 most days, and on Sundays-Wednesdays, when the price drops to $12.95, you can’t go wrong—especially if you pair your beef with a bottle of wine (order with abandon; bottles are $20 all the time). We also really like Maisy’s house salad, a complex mix of roasted pears, cubes of ricotta salata, and mesclun greens tossed in a smooth sesame vinaigrette. This neighborhood spot, with an inviting bar and brick pizza oven, strives to offer something for everyone. And, for the most part, it succeeds.
Marie Louise Bistro, 904 N. Charles Street, 410-385-9946. You expect a bistro to serve steak frites—and Marie Louise does just that. Dubbed “Le Steak Maison” ($17.95), the dish is perfectly simple and straightforward—a bed of crisp, well-salted fries, thin but just shy of being shoestring, supporting a 10-ounce strip steak, cross-hatched neatly with grill marks and topped with a disk of fresh-tasting herb butter. A petite portion of beef receives a more involved treatment in the “Bartered Tenderloin” ($18.95), which is wrapped in excellent bacon, served over cheesy dauphine potatoes, and coated in a dark, smoky fig glaze. Ease into your beef with a giant beet-and-cheese salad. Its addictive combination of dried fruit, almonds, crisp greens, musky beets, and cheese will ensure its total destruction long before entrees arrive.
Mother’s Federal Hill Grille, 1113 S. Charles Street, 410-244-8686. At the ripe age of 13, Mother’s has grown into its name—unwavering in its formula of reliable bar food that keeps the Fry-o-lator busy. With its scuffed floors, tin ceiling, and raucous game days (visit the famed Purple Patio when the Ravens are on the tube), it is, indeed, the mother of all Federal Hill watering holes. But the menu stretches way beyond wings and onion rings. A New York strip ($15.99) is pleasantly charred and seasoned for a salty finish—and, on Thursdays, can be had for $10. There’s also a tenderloin that comes two ways: grilled with “juz,” a house marinade, or grilled with “juz” and a crust of blue cheese. We’re suckers for the garlic mashed potatoes with nooks and crannies to hold the melted butter.
The Reef Grille, 22 W. Padonia Road, Timonium, 410-560-0906. Eating here is a lot like eating at a family-friendly chain restaurant. There’s not much personality in the décor—patterned carpet, dated red-and-yellow-walls, and wood tables—and the service can be haphazard. But the Reef is the place to head for mouthwatering steaks. The six-ounce filet mignon ($16.80) is one of the best we found on our steak hunt (yes, including the big-deal steakhouses), and the restaurant’s signature prime rib ($19.90) is a slab to happily reckon with. Both dishes come with a potato and vegetable: The mashed potatoes are Thanksgiving good; the roasted red potatoes are moist inside and oven crisp; and the spears of broccoli are cooked al dente, just the way we like.