Bryan Voltaggio’s newest Baltimore project, Family Meal, named for the staff meal eaten before or after a restaurant shift, manages to be in the heart of the Inner Harbor tourism district while remaining invisible from Pratt Street. The fourth of the former Top Chef contestant’s Family Meal restaurants, it’s a choice spot exuding a palpably relaxed vibe, with floor-to-ceiling windows facing the harbor, Pier 5, and the Aquarium just across the plaza.
The menu is similarly approachable, with familiar home-style dishes, shareable sides, straightforward desserts, and stick-to-your ribs breakfasts. Voltaggio’s concept is “modern diner,” and it’s the details of the dishes that exhibit the thoughtfulness and creativity one would expect from a celeb chef. A seemingly simple Maryland catfish sandwich ($13) becomes a lesson in textural interplay, with a tender fillet encased in ephemeral and crisp tempura-like batter, and thin-sliced fried okra lending a slightly different stripe of crunchiness.
Grilled oysters are topped with bacon jam and “cheddar glacage” ($10), a sort of foamy meringue toasted on top and resembling a marshmallow, which renders the bivalves almost candy-like to satisfying effect.
Other standbys—including burgers, meatloaf, smoked brisket, and fried chicken—are less ambitious, but well-executed. The green-bean casserole ($3.99) is actually perfectly blanched haricots verts with an intensely oniony béchamel and shiitakes. Even the humble deviled eggs ($4.99) are prepared with an exquisitely light yolk filling. While not always on the menu, the smoked beet “pastrami” sandwich ($10.99) is another standout.
This sort of culinary rigor is present in Family Meal’s cocktail program as well, where house-made oils, syrups, and spirit infusions (somewhat confusingly referred to as “sous vide”), make for an expansive set of ingredients. “Le Jardinier” ($12) is a particularly good example of balance and nuance—mellow carrot-infused gin with the slightest bite of ginger and citrus, perfumed with a few drops of basil-infused almond oil to finish.
Service is notably hospitable across the board, though not necessarily completely expert in expounding on the menu’s complexities. That aside, locals who rarely venture to this more touristy part of town now have a good reason to visit.
›› Family Meal, 621 E. Pratt St., 410-601-3242. Hours: Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Prices: appetizers: $4.99-9.99; entrees: $10-23.99