Our waiter was excited as he described the soup of the day: a creamy elixir with portobellos and springtime ramps. The chef, he explained, likes to get creative with the local produce that arrives in his kitchen. But executive chef Matt Seeber doesn’t just stop at the specials. His whole menu revolves around a masterful interpretation of ingredients that has taken the pub fare at Heavy Seas Alehouse to an elevated culinary level.
Whether it’s a lush risotto made with the grain farro, fat sliders stuffed with Pilsener-laced Roma sausages, or addictive onion rings in a Dijon and Loose Cannon beer batter, Seeber makes sure your taste buds appreciate the full force of the cooking skills he honed as executive chef at Tom Colicchio’s Craftsteak in Las Vegas and at New York City’s Gramercy Tavern, among other locations.
Seeber is just what this formerly cursed restaurant space needs.
Before the Alehouse, restaurants Tsunami and Diablita tried to make a go of the outpost on the cusp of Little Italy and Harbor East—to no avail. In a short time, the Alehouse has managed to establish itself as a food-and-drink destination.
The current owners have kept much of Diablita’s attractive décor, a wise move, with its dark wood, trendy brick, and sleek booths and tables. A skull and cross bones may be the restaurant’s logo, but any reference to pirates, or “pyrates” as they say, is understated. In general, the bar and dining rooms present a minimalist, comfortable setting in which to lift a pint or a fork.
Heavy Seas beer, brewed by Clipper City Brewing Company, is featured in many of the restaurant’s dishes. While the Alehouse may be capitalizing on the nation’s current love of craft brews, it’s the excellent food that will bring people back. The cornbread, for instance, is simply amazing. This is not your typical Southern staple. The moist wedge of bread, in a small cast-iron skillet, has a golden mantle of rarebit—a cheese sauce made with Heavy Seas Pale Ale—and a scattering of jalapeños and bacon on the top.
The Prince Edward Island mussels were also terrific in a broth of roasted garlic butter, tomato, fennel, and Gold Ale, as was the braised fresh pork belly, tempura fried and laced on skewers. The decadent fatty meat squares were perfectly suited to the tangy/sweet tomato-maple dipping sauce.
The carefully edited entree section appeals to a variety of palates. The roasted free-range chicken benefits from the braised kale (raised by Big City Greens in South Baltimore), fat white beans, and tomatoes. It’s described as a “casserole,” but it’s not in the traditional sense. It’s a blend of flavors, complete with Heavy Seas Märzen jus. It makes sense that the beer recommendation with the dish would be the toasty malt Märzen. Most dishes are paired with a suggested beer.
The pan-roasted Atlantic salmon with spring artichokes, herbs, and tomatoes is also coupled with the Märzen, showing this brew’s range. And the really, really tender 24-hour beef short rib is partnered with a Peg Leg Imperial Stout, playing off the meat’s Peg Leg glaze. The hefty 16-ounce, bone-in cut also gets credit for its pickled red-onion garnish and fingerling potatoes.
On another visit, we focused on the Alehouse’s lunch menu. Some say the restaurant has the best burger in town. There are a lot of worthy competitors, but we have to agree this eight-ounce, rotund patty of Creekstone Farms Angus beef is a winner. The meat is layered with sweet onions caramelized in Peg Leg stout and Stilton cheese and piled onto a spent-grain roll. The chef, in keeping with the au courant philosophy of not wasting leftovers, sends the processed beer remains to nearby Piedigrotta bakery, which turns them into hearty rolls and other products.
The grilled vegetable Dagwood was also a hit with zucchini, red peppers, eggplant, red onions, and smoked Mozzarella slathered with basil mayo. A side salad featured crisp organic lettuce from Big City Greens, gently dressed in a white balsamic vinaigrette. We also sampled the fresh-made potato chips that had a subtle, delicious undertone we couldn’t place. Clever chef Seeber adds a surprising sprinkle of dried green mango powder.
We’re still thinking about the desserts, too. We liked the ginger stout cake garnished with kumquat slices and a thick mound of heady Peg Leg whipped cream. The Earl Grey crème brûlée with spice cookies was a nice finish, too. But if we had to pick one to return for, it would be the decadent Pimlico pie, a 2-inch-high beauty of gooey pecans, chocolate, and brown sugar complemented by a scoop of black cardamom gelato made by Pitango Gelato. All the spoons and forks at the table were soon directed at this slice.
We also appreciated the thoughtful sendoff—small spent-grain raisin cookies that came with the check. Just another reminder of the chef’s attention to detail.