After a flurry of publicity upon opening, in particular for offering a $21 version of the Baltimore lunch mainstay “chicken box,” Square Meal, the ground-level casual eatery in the recently opened Revival hotel, appears to have tightly pulled back the reins. The menu has been condensed to a short list of fairly straightforward breakfast offerings and salads and sandwiches for lunch, and guests now order at the counter before taking a seat. What hasn’t changed is the fact that the food, although seemingly mundane, is coming from a legit, chef-driven kitchen.
A few clues can be found on the breakfast menu. Take, for instance, the biscuits and gravy—the biscuits are freshly made, tender, and fluffy, while the gravy has a beautiful rusty hue and surprising complexity, thanks to the addition of Merguez sausage and goat cheese. A seasonal frittata is loaded with roasted vegetables and dressed in creamy Chihuahua cheese, a bright tomatillo salsa, and cooling lime-scented crema. Even the trusty breakfast sandwich gets treated to house-made sausage, making its $6 price tag a decent deal. (This is a hotel, after all).
The lunch menu is about as terse as it gets, with several salads and a few matter-of-factly named sandwiches (“Ham and Swiss,” for example) all served on ciabatta, along with some sides such as chips and potato salad. The kale salad has anchovies and Parmesan listed in the description, which is the only indicator that it’s a Caesar. But then it arrives, and the kale is carefully cut with nary a stem in the pile, the high-quality anchovies are of the tart, marinated white variety, the croutons are at once crunchy and chewy, and the dressing is perfectly balanced.
The cryptic “Spicy Chicken” is actually a deep-fried breast served on that aforementioned ciabatta, complete with dill pickles. Despite its heft, the sandwich remains juicy while staying crisp and flavorful all the way through—no doubt owing to a thorough brining. The veggie burger here is also something special, as it is eggplant-based with peppers, carrots, onions, and oats added in. This makes for a nicely browned surface encasing a soft, moist interior with sweetness and smoke from the eggplant and satisfying textural variation and background savory notes from the other ingredients.
To complete the cafe experience, Square Meal delivers excellent coffee drinks, although, to be fair, using beans from local roaster Ceremony Coffee makes the job that much easier. Along with espresso, lattes, and permutations like the flat white and long black, nitro cold brew is on the menu, as is a small selection of seasonal drink specials with ingredients such as red wine or coconut simple syrup and toasted pumpkin seeds. Even the coffee has a chef’s touch. With its new pricing structure that’s easier on the wallet, Square Meal proves that you don’t have to pay a lot for good food—the infamous chicken box was a mere bump in the road.
Square Meal 612 Cathedral St., 410-727-7101. HOURS Daily: Breakfast 7-10:30 a.m.; lunch 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. PRICES $4-14. AMBIANCE Clubby.