The New Chesapeake

A beloved dining institution returns with a modern take on food and décor.

By Suzanne Loudermilk - September 2013

The New Chesapeake

A beloved dining institution returns with a modern take on food and décor.

By Suzanne Loudermilk - September 2013

Chef Jordan Miller -Photography by Ryan Lavine

Before you’re even finished digesting your meal, chef Jordan Miller is already devising clever twists to the main ingredient for your next visit to The Chesapeake. The New York strip, for instance, may have been ethereal with bourbon, bacon, chicken liver, and spring-onion marmalade at one sitting. But just wait ’til you’ve had the steak with chanterelle mushrooms, purple potatoes, and an herb chimichurri. Likewise, the gnocchi may have been a delight with ricotta, shaved asparagus, fava beans, and trumpet-mushroom “bacon.” Another time, the small dumplings are transformed with baby tomatoes, zucchini, wild mushrooms, and corn, grown courtesy of local Five Seeds Farm & Apiary. Both renditions are a hit.

There’s no doubt that the menu offerings, focusing on Mid-Atlantic cuisine, are standing up to all the buzz of perhaps the biggest restaurant opening in Baltimore this year. In its heyday, the original Chesapeake was the go-to place for thick slabs of beef and creamy crab imperial from the 1930s, when F.D.R. ruled the country, to the 1970s, when Nixon, Ford, and Jimmy Carter faced a turbulent decade. But, the restaurant at North Charles and Lanvale Streets also fell on hard times, eventually closing in 1989.

When the new restaurant—owned by the Milk & Honey Restaurant Group—opened in the historic corner building in the Station North Arts and Entertainment District in June, Miller tweeted: “After 24 years, your table is ready.”

And, indeed, the high-top, bare-wood tables and comfy banquettes are at your service, a testament to a modern trend in an architecturally beautiful structure. The main dining room, anchored by a gorgeous marble bar with a tempting raw bar, is a far cry from your grandparents’ special-occasion restaurant.

Our friendly server—wearing a gray shirt and jeans in keeping with the casual vibe—told us that some former patrons are surprised when they enter the white-tiled foyer, housing a coffee bar for the morning trade. They are expecting the grand days of yesteryear, she said. If the noisy, bustling dining room is too overwhelming, they can sit in a smaller, quieter space off the foyer, she added.

We like the hubbub, so we were happy to perch in the updated space with exposed beams and a colorful seafaring mural, capturing our Maryland heritage. We indulged in six plump oysters from local waters and a charcuterie platter. This is a nosh you don’t want to miss.

The chef packed the plate with thin slices of sopressata, prosciutto, salami, chicken-liver pâté, pickled leeks, and more.

We also feasted on a tender, double-cut Berkshire pork chop, green garlic farrotto, and a mess of braised greens.

Another time, we started our meal with summer crostini—toasted baguette slices smothered with warm caponata (a tangy mix of eggplant, olives, and other ingredients) and dollops of house-made ricotta.

We also enjoyed the aforementioned New York strip (a perfect medium-rare) with mushrooms and sections of a Maryland roasted chicken with heirloom carrots and black-eyed peas. The dish made its way around our table several times. It was that good.

We also tucked into the fat, juicy Chesapeake burger piled high with pickled red onions, pickles, lettuce, tomato, and your choice of cheese (for us, blue cheese, please) and the Chesapeake Caesar, boasting a generous mound of chilled romaine with boccarones (white anchovies from Spain) and Parmesan chips.

Miller has wisely constructed a thoughtful list of farm-to-table cuisine to suit most moods, whether you’re coming (or going) to a film at the nearby Charles Theater, hailing from Penn Station or the light-rail stop, or venturing to the restaurant as a destination.

The Chesapeake offers dinner specials on Mondays-Thursdays and Sundays. We especially liked the “Throwback Thursday” we attended, when one of the menu items and classic cocktails from the original restaurant were featured. That evening, we lucked out with oysters Rockefeller: six mouthwatering bivalves on the half shell topped with a rich butter sauce, nestled on a bed of rock salt.

And while the menu reflects today’s sensibilities, one of the old dessert items has earned an honored spot—the popular “snowball.” In its reincarnation, a two-layer coconut cake is lathered with chocolate ganache and toasted coconut and served with cocoa sorbet.

Pastry chef Janae Aiken is turning out other amazing desserts, too, from a changing lineup. We just hope she continues to make the Balti-s’more: a square of flourless chocolate cake wearing an airy pouf of house-made vanilla marshmallow escorted by salted-caramel ice cream.

From the menu to the décor, a new era has dawned at The Chesapeake, breathing vibrancy into a once derelict building and into an area deemed one of the state’s designated arts districts. The future bodes well for both.

>> THE CHESAPEAKE 1701 N. Charles St., 410-547-2760. HOURS 5 p.m.-12 a.m. Mon.-Wed., 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Thurs., 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun. CUISINE Modern American, focusing on locally sourced products. PRICE Appetizers: $4-21; entrees: $17-34; sandwiches: $14-18; desserts: $9. ATMOSPHERE Casual bistro with high-tops and banquettes in the main dining room, surrounding a marble bar.

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