Food & Drink

A Chef Returns

At Alewife, go for the beer but be sure to stay for the food, too.

There’s new energy brewing at Alewife, the beer pub set in a
beautifully renovated bank building on the city’s West Side. After
opening the restaurant three years ago, its original chef Chad Wells
moved on to another opportunity earlier this year. His absence was
noticeable. Then, kismet happened. Wells wasn’t happy at the Annapolis
eatery where he landed. And Alewife’s owner was interested in his
return. Soon enough, Wells came back to the restaurant in early July and
hasn’t looked back. “I’m going home,” he recalls thinking. “I’ve loved
this place since the day it opened.”

Now, he’s tweaking the menu. He’s working on staff development. And
he’s following his passion for fishing and hunting by presenting a menu
with a selection of game meats and local seafood.

“I do things I like to eat,” Wells says. “It’s natural, local, and done the right way, no matter how long it takes.”

There’s no denying that beer is also king here. On any given day,
there are 40 beers from around the world being poured with a rotating
draft list that changes daily. On a recent visit, there were 95 bottles
on the menu.

No worries if you have other drink preferences. Wine, artisanal
ciders from Millstone Cellars, and specialty cocktails are also

Like many brewpubs, beer is used as a component in several dishes at
Alewife. For instance, Full Tilt Pale Ale flavors barbecue and onion
rings; an IPA laces a mustard sauce.

One thing you should know up front is that the restaurant’s amazing
smoke burger—which has won several “best” awards—is still available in
all its carnivorous glory. A rotund 11 ounces, the patty makes a
statement on arrival with a steak knife plunged into its bursting
brioche bun. Acting as a giant toothpick, the sharp utensil keeps the
stack of local beef blend, smoked Gouda, Gruyère, applewood-smoked
bacon, caramelized onion, and chipotle aioli from toppling. The
accompanying duck-fat fries should be overkill. They’re not. The
hand-cut potatoes, salty and crunchy with soft interiors, deserve their
own praise.

Wells’s commitment to local foods is particularly evident in his
crabmeat—all from Maryland crabs. He’s a participant in the Maryland
Department of Natural Resources’s “True Blue” program, a state
initiative that supports the use of local crustaceans by area
restaurants. “It gives us a better way to connect with our ecosystem,”
Wells says. “People care about the Chesapeake Bay.”

His crab-cake platter is a testament to freshness and flavor. The two
crab cakes, about five-to-six ounces each, were delicate mounds of
delicious Maryland crabmeat. The presentation was beautiful, too, with
buttered-corn cream, fried green tomato, asparagus, a micro salad, and
the aforementioned IPA mustard vinaigrette. But you pay for that
genuineness. The market price was $34.

On Wells’s light-fare list, the oyster Chesapeake is another seafood
winner. The fried oysters are tucked into their shells and topped with
smoked-bacon cream, crab (Maryland, natch), Parmesan, spinach, and
buttered-corn cream.
Alewife is a good place to nosh. While the
appointments—like dark woods and stained-glass windows—are formally
handsome, the atmosphere is casual at the bare-wood tables. Reservations
are especially recommended when there are shows at the nearby
Hippodrome Theatre and Everyman Theatre.

One evening, we munched on a roasted-peach quesadilla, which didn’t
have much evidence of the fruit but was successful with FireFly Farms
goat cheese, caramelized onions, and an arugula salad tossed lightly
with a chili-lime dressing. The flower garnish was a nice touch.

The Caprese salad was also impressive with yellow and red tomato
slices sharing space with thick wheels of buffalo mozzarella. If you’re
in the mood for pub grub, the Thai peanut wings are sticky, meaty, and
zesty with pickled carrots and Sriracha aioli.

A disappointment was the wild-boar sliders, which were dry, sad
morsels. But there are plenty of other options among the entrees,
including a Full Tilt short-rib barbecue with cheddar cornbread, Full
Tilt-battered onion rings, and sautéed asparagus.

We were surprised to find out there were no desserts. Nada, nothing!
That will change eventually. “We are trying to give people the full
spectrum,” Wells says. “As we grow, we have to grow on every level.”

With Wells in charge of the kitchen again, Alewife is positioned to
be an important part of the neighborhood’s long-term redevelopment