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Anchoring the West Side Renaissance at Alewife

Alewife Executive Chef Chad Wells - Arianne Teeple
Alewife Executive Chef Chad Wells - Arianne Teeple
In September 2010, Alewife Baltimore opened its doors on the corner of Eutaw and West Fayette Streets. The concerns were palpable for a bar and restaurant to open in a neighborhood with a reputation for quickly shuttering businesses. Noting the two previous -- and now defunct -- Irish pubs, Maggie Moore’s and Lucy’s, locals hoped that Alewife could break the pattern west of Charles Street. Just don’t mention that so-called curse to co-owner Bryan Palombo.

“I don't believe in curses,” Palombo says. “Don’t underestimate the power of negativity. I always find it better to be positive.”

Point taken -- and proven. One year later, Alewife is seeing a constant crowd ranging from cultural patrons at the Hippodrome, tourists venturing from the Inner Harbor, and neighborhood barflys. The kitchen is anchored by Chef Chad Wells, a devout Marylander who was discovered on a scouting trip to Baltimore.

Chef Wells and his culinary team are pushing the envelope on tavern fare at Alewife, serving classics like seared crab cakes and calamari, as well as the less-than-usual offerings, like snakehead. Yes, snakehead, the frightening-looking Asian fish invading Maryland’s waterways, is a staple on Alewife’s menu.

Steve Vilnit of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources was contacting chefs, asking them to consider adding snakehead to their menus, and Chef Wells stepped up to the challenge. Aside from its less-than-desirable appearance, snakehead actually have a very similar flavor to other fish. And because they’re firm, they grill well, unlike most flaky fish.

In August, Wells partnered with Vilnit and Chefs Joe Edwardsen of Joe Squared and Dave Newman of Brewer’s Art to create a four-course snakehead menu. The dinner received so much attention that Alewife had to create a lottery for tickets. The menu included passed hors d’ouevres of invasive specias and dinner pairings from Stillwater Artisnal Ales.

“The snakehead dinner was awesome,” Palombo affirms. “We’ll continue beer dinners as Chef Wells helps eradicate the snakeheads from Maryland waters.”

The snakehead isn’t the only dish bringing attention to Alewife. Google the restaurant and every other article, Foursquare check-in, tweet, and Facebook post mentions its renowned smoke burger, a $15 mouth-watering concoction of ground ribeye, brisket, bacon, cheeses, onion, and aioli, served with duck fat fries.

Event coordinator Caitlin T. frequents Alewife and confirms the smoke burger’s rave reviews.

“I had to try the smoke burger based solely on reviews,” she says. “It’s one of the best burgers that I’ve ever had - hands down.”

As a Seton Hill resident, Caitlin is excited to see Alewife’s success in her neighborhood.

“I actually worked there when it was Lucy's Irish Pub and I think Alewife has done a good job building on their offering as a fun place to try unique craft beers and really good, affordable food,” she continues.

“Alewife has an awesome beer selection and has attracted a core beer-lover crowd,” technology entrepreneur Dave Troy notes. “They're having a solid impact on the neighborhood.”

While Maggie Moore’s and Lucy’s catered toward the Hippodrome patrons, Alewife’s team understood that they couldn’t succeed on a crowd from a location that is open less than 100 days each year.

“What we do is try to have the best beer in the world, coupled with the best food,” Palombo says. Alewife has been considered as a solid contribution to the “West Side revival,” the city’s effort to revive the area between Charles Street and University of Maryland. Palombo feels that Alewife is well connected, noting that it is within walking distance of downtown attractions, including the Inner Harbor and Camden Yards.

“I think Alewife is a good starting point for the revival of this neighborhood,” Caitlin says. “Alewife as a gem in an area to which, unfortunately, some people are unwilling to venture.”

Alewife’s team isn’t stopping with just the Baltimore location. They created a successful venture, Lord Hobo in Cambridge, outside of Boston (Alewife is a subway station at the end of Boston’s red line), and have decide to open a second Alewife in Long Island City this month. Alewife’s Baltimore location plans to  celebrate both the opening as well as its one-year anniversary.

Alewife’s team focuses on doing a few things very well. High praise for the quality, upscale tavern fare and vast selection of drafts has rolled in from Food Republic and Food & Wine Magazine. Paired with a sense of adventure, Alewife moves into their sophomore year of business with the confidence of a far more established place -- and no whispers of a curse.

“We believe that we are on the tip of the sword on this side of town. There are so many great buildings here, and if the city brings in more businesses, it could be great,” Palombo says.

Renee Libby Beck is a freelance writer and public relations coordinator for Medifast, Inc. Renee serves as the Baltimore Food Examiner for Examiner.com and writes for other local blogs and publications.

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Photos by Bmore Media Managing Photographer Arianne Teeple
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