We were smitten from the beginning when a server brought warm mini-cornbread muffins with a dish of jalapeño butter “from the chef.” The kitchen was sharing a complimentary amuse-bouche. Soon, we were sharing, too.
Bond Street Social takes the “social” part of its name seriously. The polished, hip Fells Point restaurant wants—actually, encourages—its customers to bond over giant pitchers of cocktails (80 ounces!) and a profusion of small plates in an open space made intimate by two friendly bars (there’s a third bar in a private party room), leather seating, and glowing fireplaces.
In no time at all, you are socialized. When you order, the staff doesn’t mention the tired word “tapas,” but they make sure you understand that you should order two to three dishes each and that the plates will be set in the middle of the table and arrive in no particular order. The pace isn’t frantic, though. There’s plenty of time to savor the intricacies of chef Neill Howell’s global-fusion comfort food.
His interpretations are fascinating. Take the chicken Caesar bites, for instance. These tiny morsels are adorable. They’re stacked with the well-known salad’s key ingredients—a quarter-sized grano crisp is topped with a creamy chicken mix, shreds of romaine, and a pouf of Parmesan cheese. A drizzle of tangy dressing is the finishing touch.
We couldn’t wait to see what the chef did with the foie gras PB&J. The weird combo could easily have been a disaster. It wasn’t. Again, think petite. Each round showcased a barely-there layer of peanut brittle, shaved pear, blackberry jam, and a juicy square of crispy foie gras. The flavors revealed intriguing sweet-and-salty taste sensations and more. Mom would never have come up with this sandwich.
On a simpler note, the crunchy artichoke fritters were great for dipping into roasted garlic aioli, and the fish tacos were half-moon soft shells stuffed with black beans, pico de gallo, and pieces of tempura-like shrimp.
The wait staff was attentive throughout the meal, filling water glasses, refreshing drinks, clearing plates. While there is a main server, there are several “runners”—staff members bringing plates from the kitchen. The team works well together.
While Amy Winehouse and assorted rap music play overhead, conversation is easy, and the bare wood tables are placed discreetly in the dining rooms, allowing privacy while still keeping the restaurant’s fun vibe. The remodeled space is very different from the previous more casual occupant, DuClaw Brewing Co., which closed that location in late 2009.
Sleek horizontal wood panels add a contemporary look along with glass-enclosed fireplaces and smooth gray stones tucked here and there. One dining area with an open fire pit is as cozy as a ski chalet.
On my first visit, my tablemates and I sunk our teeth into several of the slightly larger portions from the “Fork and Knife” section of the menu. The smoky baby-back ribs were messy and addictive with fall-off-the-bone meat doused with a tingly chipotle barbecue sauce. Several fat onion rings hung around temptingly on the plate, too.
The Social fish and chips displayed their own personality with lightly-battered pieces of lean cod set atop Old Bay tater tots and served with a vinegar cabbage slaw. We also tried a side of the house-cut fries with a pleasantly sweet house-made ketchup for dipping.
The flavor power punches continued with an excellent miso-glazed salmon presented in generous hunks over sautéed spinach with shiitake mushrooms.
Unfortunately, on our next visit, we found the restaurant’s Achilles’ heel—chicken and biscuits. The buttermilk-fried free-range meat was sadly overdone. Even the cheddar biscuits and citrus slaw didn’t save the dish.
But all was not lost. The crab-cake sliders were wonderful plump patties with celeriac remoulade encased in small shiny brioche rolls. And who can resist house-made barbecue potato chips on the side?
Desserts should not be skipped. These miniature delights adhere to the popular trend of mini-sized treats. It’s worth making a trip to the restaurant just to socialize over the sweets. Add a chocolate martini or amaretto to cap off a special evening.
The chocolate brownie is like a fancy petit four with a tiny brownie layered with chocolate ganache and salted caramel mousse, all ready to be popped into your mouth in one bite and savored.
The deconstructed cheesecake arrives in small white soufflé cups and intrigues the palate with its elusive combo. We liked it a lot, but what was the creamy part? Our waitress came to the rescue: butternut squash. (We later learned that this ingredient changes.) The mashed vegetable was paired with pear over crumbles of spicy gingersnap—an inspired blend for the late-fall season.
The most captivating dessert was perhaps the simplest: wafer-size ice-cream sandwiches. Dainty sugar cookies partnered well with a filling of zesty cinnamon ice cream.
While management at DuClaw said the building’s location on the outskirts of bar-hopping Fells Point and swanky Harbor East didn’t draw enough business, we think Bond Street Social will give diners lots of reasons to visit that address. After all, we fell in love at first bite.