Power Plant Live! may be known more for its bars and late-night party scene than for its restaurants. But that’s changing as places like the upscale Tatu and well-regarded Joe Squared find niches in the Inner Harbor entertainment complex. And, of course, the swank Ruth’s Chris Steak House has been a staple in that stretch for years.
Now, Kettle Hill casts its fate there in the space once occupied by Babalu Grill. The restaurant, owned by Desmond Reilly and Kristopher Carr in partnership with O’s great Rick Dempsey, capitalizes on the swaggering legend of Teddy Roosevelt as both a Rough Rider in the Spanish-American War and an American sportsman.
Old-time sports photos line the walls; black-and-white game clips play silently on TVs; and the “Saddle Bar” ropes you in with an assortment of handcrafted cocktails and local draft brews. The dining rooms have a rugged, refined look with rough-hewn wood walls and manly leather banquettes.
But, all in all, the dining rooms are handsome, befitting the fine American grill fare that executive chef Brad Cleaver, formerly of Harryman House, is turning out in the kitchen. There were a few miscues, but we’ll get to those in a minute.
We got off to a good start with a great, complimentary amuse-bouche. This nibble was the restaurant’s version of a clams casino, adding a dollop of sweet crab meat to the traditional preparation.
The bread choices arrived in a timely fashion in a small bucket. The textured hunks of olive bread from Stone Mill Bakery were wonderful, but the mini habanero-corn muffins, made in-house, were as dry and heavy as dog biscuits. Even the bourbon honey butter didn’t help them.
The appetizers (or “social-dining small plates,” as they’re called here) soon erased the bread blip. The brandied-chicken-and-duck-liver mousse, sprinkled with toasted pistachios, was a worthy spread with dishes of grain mustard and sweet onion chutney, house-pickled vegetables (carrot sticks and cucumbers, in this case) in a small Mason jar, and crisp crostini to mix and match.
The Chesapeake crab gazpacho was cool and refreshing on a super-hot day. A generous mound of crabmeat sat atop the spicy vegetable soup like a proud fascinator hat. The summer-corn-and-tomato croquettes were deep-fried rounds paired with a carrot coulis dusted with micro basil.
The courses were nicely paced throughout dinner. The service, though, was spotty. We came to like our server, who was charming but not very knowledgeable about the menu or the restaurant’s name. When we inquired who the chef was, his response was, “Brad.” He couldn’t remember his last name and didn’t seem inclined to find out for us.
Brad—we later learned his last name was Cleaver—continued to impress us with his skills. The heads-on Gulf shrimp and Anson Mills corn grits with andouille sausage was an authentic version of the Southern dish. The goat-cheese-and-artichoke-filled ravioli was a simple, elegant dish that needed nothing more than its basic tomato sauce with garlic and basil.
But the go-to comfort food was the bison, beef, and apple-wood bacon meatloaf. The rich meat combo bests any diner food. Add the creamy buttermilk smash potatoes and grilled asparagus that were sweetly caramelized, and you just might have found a working-(wo)man’s nirvana.
The best thing to order for dessert is the local Taharka Bros. ice cream in several flavors. We were happy with our big scoop of the Key lime. The restaurant’s crème caramel was a bit too gelatinous, though the roasted peaches were a flavorful addition.
Hopefully, the kitchen has improved on the lemon tart. The citrus filling, enhanced with chantilly cream and studded with strawberries and blueberries, was spot on. It was the graham-cracker crust that confounded us. The hardened shell stuck to the serving bowl, causing us to stab at it unsuccessfully with a knife to dislodge it. We never did.
We weren’t inspired to order dessert when we went for lunch. But we had an impressive buttermilk-fried-chicken BLT, which was as decadent as it sounds. Our fried-green tomatoes, though, were too oil laden for our taste.
We weren’t discouraged. The restaurant is a great addition to Power Plant Live! and a fun place to hang out, whether for drinks, lunch, or dinner. The pluses greatly outweighed the few minuses.