Food & Drink
Review: AJ’s on Hanover Fills a Void in South Baltimore
The corner spot maintains its feel as a neighborhood gathering place, while offering a menu that is a bit elevated.
Once upon a time, the area south of Federal Hill but north of the Hanover Street Bridge was basically a no-man’s-land for those seeking fine food and drink. Sure, there were odd corner bars here and there (which we love), but to get an expertly mixed cocktail or a beer other than a Boh, you’d have to go elsewhere.
In 2018, Andrew Carter and his business partner, Jesse Selke, recognized that void, and wanted to fill it. AJ’s on Hanover was born.
“At the time there wasn’t really a push for food in the neighborhood,” Carter says. “We decided to capture the niche market with an
upscale tavern—not the experience if you went to a Cindy Wolf or an Atlas Group restaurant, but not stuff that’s dropped out of a bag.”
Four years later, AJ’s has become a popular spot, maintaining its feel as a neighborhood gathering place while offering a menu that is a bit elevated.
When we stopped in on a cold Tuesday night in November, it was hopping. Trivia, no doubt, was a big draw, but so were the crushes and crunch wraps that make AJ’s unique.
First, the drinks. Crushes are a Maryland favorite, and thus almost every bar feels compelled to offer them. However, only a handful of places do them right, and AJ’s is among them. The key is the ice.
“We have a special crusher that takes it down to almost snowball consistency,” Carter says. “It’s just a little thicker.”
There are several interesting varieties, including Key lime pie and a seasonal apple cider version, but the most popular is the SoBo lemon stick crush. Made with Deep Eddy Lemon vodka, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, and soda water, it’s served with a peppermint stick. Crushes are often associated with summertime, but this one has a comforting sweetness that makes it feel like a great drink for the winter holidays, too.
Also perfect for cold weather is the Cool Bean, made with Jameson Cold Brew, Kahlua, hazelnut liqueur, brown sugar simple syrup, and cold brew coffee. It’s tasty even for a non-coffee drinker, but fair warning: If you consume one at night, your bedtime could be affected.
After the pandemic, Carter and Selke wanted to change AJ’s approach to food. With the help of a consultant, they came up with an idea we find inspiring. Along with the requisite burger and four varieties of decadent mac and cheeses (the bacon broccoli one is excellent), they added crunch wraps to the menu. If that term sounds familiar, it should.
“I love them, I get them from Taco Bell all the time,” Carter says. Now, many of his customers get them from AJ’s.
Essentially a sandwich stuffed into a tortilla, the crunch comes from a fried tortilla strip in the middle. The salmon version we tried also had bacon, which provided even more crunch. It’s a fun riff on fast food, taken to the next level.
Carter estimates that about 75 percent of AJ’s customers live within walking distance of the bar. If they were thirsty or hungry back in the day, they’d have to hoof it a lot farther.