Fells Point ven­ture is way over­hyped

New­est At­las spot, The Chop­tank, dis­ap­point­ing

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - LIFE & TRAVEL - By Christina Tkacik

Ear­lier this year, The Bal­ti­more Sun urged read­ers to mark their cal­en­dars for the open­ing of The Chop­tank restau­rant. With its new­est ven­ture, the At­las Restau­rant Group, known for the city’s buzzier spots like Ouzo Bay and The By­gone, promised to trans­form the south shed of Fells Point’s Broad­way Mar­ket into a cel­e­bra­tion of our re­gion’s rich culi­nary her­itage.

Af­ter some de­lays, The Chop­tank opened in Septem­ber. And from the looks of it, things are all right. Con­trac­tors have left in­tact touches like his­toric bead­board ceil­ings and the ca­st­iron col­umns. On the walls, archival pho­tos de­pict the steam­boats along Bal­ti­more’s In­ner Har­bor. An invit­ing out­door pa­tio, a for­mer park­ing lot made into a court­yard, of­fers pool ta­bles, a full bar and, oddly, Porta Johns.

But the menu con­sists largely of bad takes on clas­sic Mary­land foods.

A too-salty or­der of cala­mari was over­breaded on both vis­its, like a mouth­ful of sand. There is such a thing as too much Old Bay, it turns out.

A martini was drowned in ver­mouth. Crab and av­o­cado toast was over­whelmed by onion un­til it re­sem­bled tuna salad. Dur­ing one visit, shucked oys­ters ar­rived with shards of shell that needed to be spit out.

The of­fenses con­tinue in the en­trees. The $38 crab cake plat­ter was mas­sively over­sea­soned one visit, fishy and bland the next. On both vis­its, the ac­com­pa­ny­ing french fries were dry and card­board-stiff, as if they’d been sit­ting out since the day be­fore. Bad french fries would be a prob­lem at any restau­rant, but at The Chop­tank, where they’re served with nearly half the dishes, in­clud­ing a $39 New York strip, it feels like a par­tic­u­larly egre­gious blun­der.

More ed­i­ble was the juicy East­ern Shore chicken, served with a greasy bis­cuit and a pasta salad you’d ex­pect at a cookout. We also en­joyed a Roseda pit beef sand­wich on brioche, topped with horse­rad­ish slaw.

Pre­pare to see peo­ple in Zegna suits pick­ing crabs. What was that a shard that just went fly­ing at your neck? Why, it’s shrap­nel of crab claw, let loose by a neigh­bor­ing ta­ble ham­mer­ing away at a pile of crus­taceans, and lend­ing the air the tell­tale crab aroma that em­beds it­self in your clothes. (Crab lovers should call ahead to make sure crabs are in stock. Af­ter plac­ing an or­der for a half dozen one evening, our server in­formed us that they didn’t have any.)

A rub­bery Berger cookie bread pud­ding bore no re­sem­blance to Bal­ti­more’s fa­vorite dessert — a culi­nary crime if there ever was one. We pre­ferred the sliver of cheese­cake.

The menu of­fers sev­eral items for dogs, but only one vegetarian-friendly op­tion, the Cae­sar salad.

Our one-star re­view might be lower were it not for the warmth and pro­fes­sion­al­ism of the wait­staff. Servers checked in reg­u­larly with­out be­ing in­tru­sive. Dishes were bused at ap­pro­pri­ate in­ter­vals.

But good ser­vice isn’t the rule. On our first visit, we were turned away from the door, de­spite hav­ing a reser­va­tion; the restau­rant was closed for a pri­vate event. “So why were we able to make the reser­va­tion, and then a day later con­firm the reser­va­tion?” we asked. Shrugs. A host said they had tried to call us.

On a sec­ond trip, the valet at­ten­dant eyed us and our nearly 20-year-old Toy­ota war­ily. “Is this the valet?” we asked. We were di­rected to move our car into a park­ing space and wait. Mean­while, a newlook­ing Volvo SUV pulled up, and the suited driver was tended to right away.

Dur­ing that visit, we were seated in the midst of a po­lit­i­cal fundraiser for an as­pir­ing mem­ber of city coun­cil. Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young has been a guest, and re­cip­i­ent of do­na­tions from At­las Restau­rant Group owner Alex Smith. He has spo­ken highly of the restau­ra­teur, de­fend­ing him against ac­cu­sa­tions of racism in the restau­rant’s dress code, which was later re­vised.

Cit­ing The Sun’s cov­er­age of the dress code con­tro­versy, a spokesman for the restau­rant group de­clined to al­low one of the Sun’s trained pho­tog­ra­phers in to take pic­tures of the food. That’s why you are see­ing my iPhone shots of the restau­rant’s crab cakes.

The Chop­tank has only been open a few months. For the sake of Bal­ti­more, it would be nice if this restau­rant, which oc­cu­pies such a huge space in the cen­ter of Fells Point, could turn things around. To start: Ease up on the Old Bay. Re­think that bread pud­ding. And for the love of god, do some­thing about those french fries.

CHRISTINA TKACIK

Crab cakes at The Chop­tank, a new restau­rant in the for­mer south shed of Fells Point’s Broad­way Mar­ket.

ULYSSES MUÑOZ

The Chop­tank, a new restau­rant at the Broad­way Mar­ket in Fells Point.

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