We went to Patterson Public House expecting good wings and probably a solid burger. As it turns out, our expectations were too low.
The restaurant, which opened during the summer in the former home of Bistro Rx, is turning out genuinely sophisticated food–and not just pub fare, either. Plus, the service is five-star stuff. The Patterson Public House team is simply doing things right, all the way around.
That team includes owners Scott Lanphear and Tanya Gralto, and Chef Scott Bacon; all three are industry veterans, and their experience shows.
During our visit on a pleasant Wednesday night in mid-September, Patterson Public House was hopping. The narrow bar was packed with what looked like a post-work crowd, so instead of trying to snag a table downstairs, we followed a friendly host to the second-floor dining room.
It’s simply decorated and quieter than the bar, but still busy throughout the night. We never felt left out of the action, either: The space overlooks the bar through arched windows, offering diners a view of what’s happening on the floor below.
Patterson Public House was on our radar thanks to Mark Levy, the chef at Magdalena, the tony restaurant inside the Ivy Hotel; he said the wings were some of the best he’d had anywhere.
As promised, the wings were terrific. Our batch was dunked in Fresno chili glaze, which was sweet to start and spicy at the finish (and sticky on our fingers). Underneath the glaze, the skin was crunchy and the wings themselves were plump and juicy. We loved the glaze, but even without any sauce, the wings would’ve been top-notch.
They came with house-made blue cheese and a pile of sliced seasonal vegetables that were a lot more exciting than the limp celery that’s standard issue at most wing joints. Our plate included a couple crisp carrots, radishes and cucumber.
Beyond the wings, Chef Bacon’s kitchen continued to impress us.
The late summer salad was a study in seasonality and texture–one of the most intriguing salads I’ve ever tried. Local greens were tossed with smoked green beans, thin slices of poached radish, gooseberries, grilled pickled onions, peanuts and benne seed, dressed with chili vinaigrette and served over a smear of celery root puree.
If that sounds like a lot, it was. Any dish with that many components can easily go awry. In this case, though, every ingredient played a key role, either in terms of flavor or texture. The salad was a little bit of everything: tart, smoky, spicy, sweet, smooth and crunchy. Fabulous.
Patterson Public House’s menu is brief and includes just four entrees; during our visit, the choices were steak, chicken, fish or vegetarian.
We opted for the fish: Cape May sea bass, served over a jumble of black-eyed peas, mushrooms, summer squash, barbecue carrots and crispy anchovies, all sprinkled with chili oil and placed on top of a creamy sauce of corn “milk.”
The fish was cooked beautifully, with crispy skin and flaky meat, and as with the salad, the mix of ingredients melded to create something interesting and tasty–for the most part.
Our only criticism of the meal came during this course. One of my first bites included a mouthful of anchovy. I’m a fan of the tiny fish, but this particular bite was out of balance: the anchovy flavor overpowered everything else and lingered a few minutes too long.
That’s a risk you take with complex dishes like the ones Chef Bacon creates. Unless you spoon-feed your guests, some bites might not be perfect, even if as a whole, the dish works. In this case, the pros outweighed the cons, though: I’d take a chance on that dish again.
One of the impressive elements of the menu, especially given its brevity, is how seriously it takes meat-free dishes.
The vegetable torta, a multi-veg sandwich, was the best thing we ate. I could eat it again and again without getting bored, and I say that as a committed carnivore.
The sandwich layered mushroom paté and chipotle romesco with charred chayote squash, house-made mozzarella, pickled onions and mustard greens on firm, crusty bread. Because the ingredients were spread in layers, the torta avoided the problem that came with the fish: every bite included a little bit of everything. And that combination was masterful, with just enough heat from the romesco and acid from the onions to balance the earthy, sweet and savory flavors of the squash, cheese and paté.
Patterson Public House has a strong bar program, too; the cocktails we tried were creative and quite tasty.
The Schleppertini, a concoction of Bluecoat gin, grapefruit juice and hibiscus water, came in a martini glass, garnished with a scattering of marigold petals. The flavor was delicate, but not overly so; the citrus and bitterness from the juice and gin worked as a counterpoint to the floral water.
On the other end of the flavor spectrum, the Maintenance Man packed a salty, spicy punch. Tequila, plus orange liqueur and agave nectar were jump-started by charred poblano and a rim of sea salt and Aleppo pepper.
Patterson Public House’s draft beer list is short, but smart; we enjoyed the Monument City Penchant Pils. The wine list includes three dozen bottles and about a half-dozen wines by the glass. The bottles were diverse in terms of region and varietal and affordable overall.
We tried the Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc/Viognier blend; its clean, bright profile was a good match for the kitchen’s complex flavors. It also provided a nice segue into dessert. One of the two sweet offerings was a pear almond frangipane tart; the pears used in the dessert were poached in the wine.
The tart was lovely, all delicate pastry and subtle flavors. The other dessert, a rectangle of rich chocolate and banana, sprinkled with peanuts, was more forthright in terms of flavor, and equally enjoyable.
At a neighborhood restaurant with a strong bar business, dessert could be an afterthought, but we appreciated that it wasn’t. Both options would be worthy of the dessert menu at any restaurant in the city.
As good as our food was–and in case it was even slightly unclear, it was very good–the service was even better. Our waitress was one of the best I’ve had in years.
We got started on the right foot, when she talked us through the menu clearly and persuasively. Even though some menu items change frequently, she was able to answer every question we had, and her familiarity with the dishes showed.
Dishes were timed properly from the kitchen: first the wings, then the salad, then the torta and fish. During the meal, she checked on us occasionally (as did a couple other staff members), making sure our glasses were filled and we had everything we needed.
She wasn’t overbearing, though. A couple times, as she passed our table, I spied her glancing at us out of the corner of her eye. Great servers have a sixth sense about when to stop at a table and when to keep on going; she had it and she used it.
Even with its elegance, Patterson Public House retains the quality that’s most appealing in a neighborhood corner bar/restaurant: It’s fun and never stuffy. The staff is so personable that you’ll be tempted to just stick around to hang out, swapping travel stories and chatting about the city’s dining scene.
We did just that–and we weren’t the only ones. By the time we left, the dining room and bar were both full and everyone seemed to be having a great time. Just like we did.
Patterson Public House. 2901 E. Baltimore St., (443) 388-9887, pattersonpublichouse.com
Final Grade: A
Bottom Line: Go for the wings–stay for the sophisticated, seasonal dishes and the service, which rivals any five-star dining room in the city.
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