There’s new energy brewing at Alewife, the beer pub set in a beautifully renovated bank building on the city’s West Side. After opening the restaurant three years ago, its original chef Chad Wells moved on to another opportunity earlier this year. His absence was noticeable. Then, kismet happened. Wells wasn’t happy at the Annapolis eatery where he landed. And Alewife’s owner was interested in his return. Soon enough, Wells came back to the restaurant in early July and hasn’t looked back. “I’m going home,” he recalls thinking. “I’ve loved this place since the day it opened.”
Now, he’s tweaking the menu. He’s working on staff development. And he’s following his passion for fishing and hunting by presenting a menu with a selection of game meats and local seafood.
“I do things I like to eat,” Wells says. “It’s natural, local, and done the right way, no matter how long it takes.”
There’s no denying that beer is also king here. On any given day, there are 40 beers from around the world being poured with a rotating draft list that changes daily. On a recent visit, there were 95 bottles on the menu.
No worries if you have other drink preferences. Wine, artisanal ciders from Millstone Cellars, and specialty cocktails are also available.
Like many brewpubs, beer is used as a component in several dishes at Alewife. For instance, Full Tilt Pale Ale flavors barbecue and onion rings; an IPA laces a mustard sauce.
One thing you should know up front is that the restaurant’s amazing smoke burger—which has won several “best” awards—is still available in all its carnivorous glory. A rotund 11 ounces, the patty makes a statement on arrival with a steak knife plunged into its bursting brioche bun. Acting as a giant toothpick, the sharp utensil keeps the stack of local beef blend, smoked Gouda, Gruyère, applewood-smoked bacon, caramelized onion, and chipotle aioli from toppling. The accompanying duck-fat fries should be overkill. They’re not. The hand-cut potatoes, salty and crunchy with soft interiors, deserve their own praise.
Wells’s commitment to local foods is particularly evident in his crabmeat—all from Maryland crabs. He’s a participant in the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’s “True Blue” program, a state initiative that supports the use of local crustaceans by area restaurants. “It gives us a better way to connect with our ecosystem,” Wells says. “People care about the Chesapeake Bay.”
His crab-cake platter is a testament to freshness and flavor. The two crab cakes, about five-to-six ounces each, were delicate mounds of delicious Maryland crabmeat. The presentation was beautiful, too, with buttered-corn cream, fried green tomato, asparagus, a micro salad, and the aforementioned IPA mustard vinaigrette. But you pay for that genuineness. The market price was $34.
On Wells’s light-fare list, the oyster Chesapeake is another seafood winner. The fried oysters are tucked into their shells and topped with smoked-bacon cream, crab (Maryland, natch), Parmesan, spinach, and buttered-corn cream.
Alewife is a good place to nosh. While the appointments—like dark woods and stained-glass windows—are formally handsome, the atmosphere is casual at the bare-wood tables. Reservations are especially recommended when there are shows at the nearby Hippodrome Theatre and Everyman Theatre.
One evening, we munched on a roasted-peach quesadilla, which didn’t have much evidence of the fruit but was successful with FireFly Farms goat cheese, caramelized onions, and an arugula salad tossed lightly with a chili-lime dressing. The flower garnish was a nice touch.
The Caprese salad was also impressive with yellow and red tomato slices sharing space with thick wheels of buffalo mozzarella. If you’re in the mood for pub grub, the Thai peanut wings are sticky, meaty, and zesty with pickled carrots and Sriracha aioli.
A disappointment was the wild-boar sliders, which were dry, sad morsels. But there are plenty of other options among the entrees, including a Full Tilt short-rib barbecue with cheddar cornbread, Full Tilt-battered onion rings, and sautéed asparagus.
We were surprised to find out there were no desserts. Nada, nothing! That will change eventually. “We are trying to give people the full spectrum,” Wells says. “As we grow, we have to grow on every level.”
With Wells in charge of the kitchen again, Alewife is positioned to be an important part of the neighborhood’s long-term redevelopment plans.