The Sandlot, Baltimore’s new beachside restaurant, gleams with potential right off the bat.
The harbor hotspot — the latest concept from Baltimore Foodshed Restaurant Group (Woodberry Kitchen, etc.) — has everything going for it. The location is perfect, the temperature by the water is cooler than anywhere else in the city, and the chef behind the menu, Spike Gjerde, is experienced and celebrated.
There is no fee to enter, and no obligation to purchase a thing. The area is open to the public, and set along an existing pedestrian walkway along the water. You can bring the kids and even the dog, and for those driving, there is $4 parking in an adjacent lot. There is nowhere like it in the city, and at 7 p.m. on a Thursday night, with a slight breeze off the harbor water, it was the most pleasant place I can remember sitting outside during a Baltimore summer.
Built to be purposely temporary, on land in harbor point that will eventually be turned into a public green space, the outdoor dining locale sits on the edge of the Patapsco River with views of Federal Hill, the Inner Harbor and Tide Point. The space is designed with simple materials, to be modular and easily moveable in 5-7 years.
It features a variety of cool, comfortable seating from hammocks to couches and beach chairs, along with some more traditional picnic tables and an amphitheater structure made of wooden pallets, for those ordering food. In addition to dining areas, there are dedicated volleyball and bocce ball courts, which were filled with YMCA social leagues on opening night. There is a climbing structure for kids, a lawn area scattered with yard games and a sandy “beach” area with umbrellaed lounge chairs (in case you’re confused about the Baltimore harbor’s water quality, I will pause here to urge you to leave your swimsuit at home).
Purchasing anything at the Sandlot is less relaxing than just sitting and enjoying. We stood in a long line (about an hour) to order food and drinks, then were guided through a system of blue wristbands and lots of pointing before being sent back into the crowds to sit and wait for delivery. The food and drinks were being delivered by an overwhelmed-looking staff of very good sports, navigating the sea of tables calling out “Janelle?” “Sarah?” “Sarah?” Our blue wristbands were never inspected, but were fun to play with while waiting.
The menu is an ode to summer, reading like a gourmet Fourth of July picnic: meat-heavy, with plentiful options for vegetarians and mid-range pricing — snacks for under $10, meals for under $20. Cocktails were around $10. Portions are enough to share with friends, so try a few things.
As with most of the Baltimore Foodshed restaurants, ingredients are sustainability-focused and locally sourced — respectable rarities, especially for beach food. A green wall borders one side of the area, spilling with fresh herbs, and entire chickens can be seen spit roasting on the upper balcony overlooking the water and, further on, Baltimore’s iconic Domino Sugar sign.
The downfall of a place like the Sandlot is that it’s so appealing and unique that it attracts too many of us, and without a plan for large crowds, that throws some legitimate wrinkles into an otherwise near-perfect concept. The delivery system needs work, but judging by the humbleness of the Sandlot’s Instagram account — which was quick to apologize late Thursday night, owning up to a hectic start and thanking everyone profusely for their patience and patronage — wrinkles are being quickly and frantically ironed out.
By the second night of business, a new beer garden had been erected to speed things up, and the restaurant changed to more minimal hours for the rest of the week so they could work out other kinks. The Sandlot is also working on an app that would allow customers to order online from their phones, rather than waiting in line and enjoy lounging or sporting instead.
They will get everything perfect, and I can’t wait. Despite the chaos of opening night, I’ll be back. There’s now a beach 10 minutes from my house, and I don’t have to pack a picnic. See you there, Baltimore.
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