A few years ago, I interviewed Karin Tiffany, the co-owner of Peter’s Inn, for a feature on restaurant personalities, and we got to talking about what’s important to her as a restaurateur.
She said she never takes her customers for granted, that she and her husband/business partner, Bud Tiffany, recognize that going out to eat is expensive and they take it seriously that people are willing to spend their money on their food, at their restaurant.
“Some things on my menu might cost what people make in an hour. That’s your hard-earned money. It’s a big responsibility.”
That stuck with me, and I thought of it again last year, just after Christmas, when the Fells Point restaurant caught fire. The damage was severe enough that Peter’s Inn, which had at that point been open for over 20 years, was forced to close for nine months to make all the necessary repairs.
During that time, it was clear that the affection and respect the Tiffanys have for their customers is a mutual thing. The community rallied around the restaurant, contributing to the restaurant’s long rebuilding process via a GoFundMe page and by attending fundraising dinners.
When the restaurant reopened in October, after a longer than expected and arduous renovation, customers flocked there.
My dining partner and I finally made our way back to Peter’s Inn on a frosty Thursday night in early December. We showed up sans reservations, since prior to the fire, the restaurant didn’t take them.
As it turns out, they do take them now, but only on a limited basis and somewhat reluctantly (“It’s new and we’re not 100 percent embracing it,” Bud Tiffany told me.) They’re committed to staying available for walk-ins, though, so they keep most seats open.
The new Peter’s Inn is designed to be “as much like the old place as possible,” said Bud Tiffany. That makes sense; it had been a popular, but not trendy place for years and Baltimore diners often have an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude.
But the Tiffanys did take the opportunity to tweak a few things. In addition to the new-and-possibly-improved reservation policy, the layout of the bar area has been slightly adjusted to make it easier for people who are waiting to hang out.
Since our lack of reservation meant a 20-minute wait by the bar, we appreciated that newfound space as we sipped on an apple cider old fashioned that was a careful balance of apple and bourbon.
Thanks to the fire, Peter’s Inn also got a new bar and a pressed-tin ceiling that is both startingly shiny and very cool. That the ceiling is a new addition is no secret, but it fits so well with the rest of the look–dark wood, quirky art–that you might think it’s been there forever.
The vibe and the crowd–diverse, a little artsy, noticeably friendly and enthusiastic–are appealing enough that the food could be an afterthought. But it’s not.
The menu, handwritten on sheets of white paper, changes on a regular basis–just like it did before. Like the restaurant overall, it manages to feel fresh, but not trendy, and classic, but not stale. Maintaining that balance is impressive.
The menu isn’t divided into categories, but it’s easy enough to figure out what’s intended as a starter and what’s an entrée or a side dish. We began our meal with a pair of showstoppers: bluefish pâté served with pumpernickel bread and burrata with pumpkin seed pesto and cranberry walnut bread.
The words “bluefish pâté” might scare off some diners, and rightly so. In the wrong hands, it’s a dip that could be unpleasantly fishy and oily. In this one, the flavor of the fish came through in a pleasant, savory way, and the silky consistency was five-star. Topped with a single, juicy blackberry, it almost looked like a breakfast dish of yogurt. Sturdy pumpernickel, with its hint of sweetness, is the right vehicle for the pâté, too.
It’s hard to go wrong with burrata, the ball of mozzarella with a creamy surprise inside; my only complaint is that sometimes it’s so milky, it’s a little boring. Not so in this case.
Here, the cheese was an effective counterpoint to herbaceous pesto and bread, which was both tasty and texturally interesting, thanks to the cranberries and walnuts.
One of the few missteps of the evening was the pacing: our appetizers took a few minutes too long and entrees arrived right on their heels, before we’d had a chance to make too much of a dent in either.
It’s tough to stay mad about timing, though, when the waiter acknowledges and apologizes for the screw-up. Anyway, we made up for it by lingering over our entrees with glasses of Perrin Nature Côtes du Rhône.
Peter’s isn’t a steakhouse, but it does have a reputation for having good steaks, so we were confident that the New York strip (14 ounces) would be a good choice. It was.
The steak was tender and seasoned properly and–most importantly–cooked exactly to medium rare, as requested. Served with buttery carrots and mashed potatoes (also buttery), piped onto the plate in pretty squiggles, the entrée had a timeless quality. It would’ve fit on a menu in 1958 as well as it did in 2018.
Braised beef short rib Bourguignon arrived with mushrooms and the same gussied up potatoes; they made a good base for the dish’s wine-based sauce. Here, the meat was a cliché in the best way; it literally fell off the bone.
The meat offerings were winners, but our favorite entrée was a plate of scallops in blood orange butter sauce, served over black lentils, with a handful of green beans tossed in. The scallops themselves were gorgeous: seasoned well, cooked until springy and an excellent match for the citrusy sauce.
The lentils underneath made us wonder why we don’t see them on more menus. Not only were they good on their own–just a little earthy and not too soft–they added heft to the dish as a whole. Plus, they looked great underneath the scallops.
We relied on our waiter’s recommendation for dessert and we were more than happy with the Belgian chocolate pot du crème. The dark chocolate, sweet and a tiny bit bitter, was topped with raspberries and a curl of chocolate. A separate dish held a scoop of ice cream that cut the chocolate’s richness.
The meal ended on a slight down note. We ordered a couple macarons with the pot du crème and they never materialized. Everything worked out, though: We were more than satisfied with the single dessert and the macarons didn’t appear on the bill, so we didn’t need to have an awkward conversation about whether we still wanted them.
It’s a rare restaurant where even when something goes (a little) haywire, it ends up feeling just fine. Peter’s Inn had that magic pre-fire and, happily, it still does.
Peter’s Inn. 504 S. Ann St., Baltimore, 410-675-7313 www.petersinn.com
Final Grade: A-
Bottom Line: This longtime Baltimore favorite has come roaring back following its devastating 2017 fire. And it’s just as lovable as it ever was.
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