May 05, 2010, 06:08AM

Baltimore's New McCabe's

About a year later, and the classic Hampden bar reopens.

I never saw the appeal of McCabe's before it closed around this time last year. My mother was fond of it, and if she wanted to take me out and buy me an $11 burger, fine. Once or twice I met an iffy blind date there because the food was decent enough and I knew I wouldn't run into anyone I knew. McCabe's reopened quietly in the same space at 3845 Falls Road last Friday, and when Ryan told me he'd already been there three times since, my response was,
"Really? Why?"
He loves it, and not just because it's a stumbly-drunk friendly three blocks from his home. The food was really good, he said, the owner was friendly and it's a great place to hang out.
"Well then, I suppose we'll have to go. You can show me what the fuss is about."
Dan McIntosh was standing at the door when I walked in last Saturday night. I've known Dan since he opened the Talking Head in the old Ottobar space on Davis St., and he helped me get into more trouble in the early 2000s than I'd like to admit, or he'd like me to recount. I don't see him very much now—he's busy with his family and with running Sonar, and I’m not the party animal I was half a dozen years ago, but I remain fond of Dan and his wife.
"Dan! What are you doing here? Do you work here?"
"I own here!" he said.
"No kidding! God, I am so out of the loop." I sat at the bar and ordered an Anchor Steam Liberty Ale from the small beer list while he filled me in. While we were chatting the bartender, Judy, quietly provided me with a dish of popcorn and three jars with stuff to sprinkle over it. There was a pepper mix and kosher salt, but I went for the chili lime, and it was lovely.
Dan bought McCabe's with chef Patrick Ito, formerly of Ze Mean Bean and Costra. They've made few changes, but what Ryan called the "squeeziness" of the bar has been alleviated somewhat by punching out more openings between the bar area and the dining room. They used the original menu as a jumping off point, but made many improvements. There’s still the $11 burger, for instance, but the beef (and a portion of their produce) is now sourced from Springfield Farm and all the bread comes from Stonemill.
Ryan and I had both eaten, but we split the crab spinach dip and the bread pudding anyway. What I liked best about both dishes was the restraint. The dip was full of crab and spinach, with just enough cream cheesy goo to hold it all together. I love bread pudding, but it can get treacly real fast. Ito's bread pudding had just enough sweet sauce to put it in the dessert category, and there was a nice gingery punch to it.
The thoughtful preparation gives me optimism about the rest of the food. The lunch and dinner menus both looked pretty good, with small but varied selections of salads and sandwiches and entrees. Right now, the vegetarian options are slim but Ito plans on expanding the menu and offering more vegetarian specials throughout the summer. "It's a priority," he said. In the meantime, says bartender Ivan, the eggplant, (easily made vegan by requesting it without goat cheese) is one of the best things to get. On Fridays and Saturdays the kitchen stays open until 11, but after that there is a bar menu with all items under $10.
New McCabe's kicks old McCabe's ass.


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