When The Wine Market Bistro opened in 2004, the chic warehouse space, which serves modern American fare inside the historic Foundry on Fort complex, was a novelty. The concept: Buy a bottle of Bordeaux at the attached wine shop boasting 800 bottles and get 15 percent off your purchase if you dine next door. At the time, the gimmick was cute, even catchy.
For many years, The Wine Market was a great gathering spot and one of the hottest reservations in town. But all good things must come to an end, and, by March 2018, after more than 13 years of business, the fickle crowds had moved on. But rather than call it quits, several months later, Wine Market restaurateur Christopher Spann reopened the space with a new name—Ludlow Market, Bar & Bottle Shop—as well as a new look and a new chef in the form of Christopher Audia, formerly of Tail Up Goat in Washington, D.C. Thankfully, there’s still a wine shop next door with the same discount offer.
I was a fan of the original restaurant, so I was eager to return, though, upon entering the space, with the exception of small tweaks—added splashes of color with red aluminum chairs and a colorful glass wall—I couldn’t discern the difference between the new and old spot.
My visit to Ludlow Market was perfectly pleasant, but the fact that our party of four was dining in a nearly empty restaurant didn’t feel good. And here’s my dining diagnosis: Sadly, a small neighborhood restaurant with an eclectic New American menu (shareable plates, classic sandwiches, more substantial mains) doesn’t necessarily spell success anymore now that so many new spots have sprung up in the city.
Food-wise, there’s a lot to like here—a dish boasting multicolored heirloom roasted carrots and cipollini offered a rush of pleasure with its sweet-and-sour notes. A painterly plate of plump, pan-seared scallops with watercress remoulade was good enough to get again and again. A Sukiyaki beef sub with mirin-marinated beef, Gochujang mayo, and stir-fry veggies was a fun cheesesteak riff for this Philly girl. Along with the hits, though, there were misses. A seafood risotto special with curry had us hunting for the advertised shrimp and sea bass, and a pan-seared salmon with blue crab butter and Calabrian chili served over wax beans tasted a bit like an institutional diet platter.
In the service realm we had no complaints. Our server was attentive and made great suggestions throughout the night, bringing extra rounds of baguette for our cheese plate and pacing out our courses in a way that made sense and never felt rushed.
Baltimore’s dining scene is at a crossroads these days, and this city of neighborhoods needs to make room for smaller spots. But which ones not only survive, but thrive, depends on the will and whims of the people. We suspect that if old Wine Market fans give this place a chance, they’ll find much to enjoy.
Ludlow Market, Bar & Bottle Shop 921 E. Fort Ave., 410-244-6166.
HOURS Tues.-Thurs. 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; 5-10 p.m.; Fri. 11:30-3 p.m., 5-11 p.m.; Sat. 5-11 p.m. PRICES Starters, small plates: $6-17; entrees: $18-48. AMBIANCE Minimalist warehouse.