Bolton Hill’s dining scene has long been on the sleepier side, but with new development popping up, there are changes afoot. The Tilted Row, which opened earlier this year, is an exciting part of that progress.
The Tilted Row is located on the ground floor of the Jordan, a new apartment building at the corner of McMechen and Eutaw streets, right in the heart of the neighborhood. It’s billed as a gastropub and does have a roomy bar and a sizable drinks list, with an emphasis on whiskies. But from our vantage point, seated on a comfortable blue banquette at a semi-private, walnut-topped table facing oversized windows looking out over a leafy green space, The Tilted Row felt more “gastro” than “pub.”
The restaurant is a worthy addition to the city’s serious restaurant list, rather than a place that churns out bar food to soak up cocktails. The food is creative but not overly whimsical. And the experience is elevated in many small ways.
We started our visit with a likable pilsner from DC Brau and a lavender and lemonade cocktail, a nicely balanced vodka concoction that was tart, frothy and appropriately summery (and also very pretty).
As is the current custom on restaurant menus, The Tilted Row’s food options include snacks, small plates, large plates, mains and sides.
I’m not sure exactly why some dishes ended up in, say, large plates versus mains. Then again, I’m not sure it matters. We mentally lumped the smalls with the snacks and the larges with the mains and everything worked out just fine.
The restaurant’s owner also owns Café Fili in Mount Vernon, and the Mediterranean/Middle Eastern influence that characterizes the menu there also subtly winds its way into dishes at The Tilted Row. That was especially true of our first two choices: zucchini fritters (a snack) and charred octopus (a small plate).
Both were creative and well-executed. The fritters weren’t the prettiest appetizer I’ve ever seen, but they were tasty. Well-seasoned and nicely cooked, the fried balls of zucchini, feta and herbs were crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle and steaming hot. They arrived over a smear of dill aioli that offered a tangy counterpoint to each savory bite.
The octopus was more visually arresting; placed over a smashed potato and pool of orange-red harissa oil, and adorned with pretty rounds of pimento-stuffed green olives, it was an alluring dish.
The flavor and texture combinations worked, too. The potato provided a soft, neutral base for harissa’s heat and olive’s brine, and the octopus itself was tender and springy, with just the right amount of char.
Entrees were also successful.
Wide pappardelle noodles, tossed with chunks of braised lamb shoulder and tomatoes and seasoned with the Moroccan spice blend ras el hanout, was a lovely take on meaty pasta.
The classic meat-and-noodle combination was familiar and comforting, but the heady seasoning, which combines pepper and cayenne with spices like clove and ginger, gave it a slightly unexpected and quite appealing flavor profile.
The dish had an autumnal edge–pasta with lamb always does–but thick chunks of tomato gave it summertime credibility. It’s something that could stick around on the menu through the seasons.
The duck fried rice entrée surprised us. We expected a bowl of shredded duck mixed with fried rice; instead, the wild mushroom-studded rice was topped with thick slides of gorgeous duck breast, grilled to medium rare, plus a beautiful fried egg. It was a nice surprise all around.
We loved the flavors on the plate; the heartiness of the mushrooms played well with the duck, and the fried rice provided a great base for both. We did have one quibble, though: the egg was overcooked. The dish as a whole was very hot when it arrived at our table and by the time we cut into the egg’s yolk, it had cooked all the way through. We wished it was just a little runny.
The menu also includes a “blue plate special” available Sunday through Thursday. It includes a $20 entrée and dessert combo. Each night is a different dish, but all have a comfort food vibe.
We visited on a Thursday, when the special is shepherd’s pie. Like the lamb pasta, this wasn’t an obvious summertime choice, but we tried it anyway and were happy we did.
Built in the traditional Irish way, the “pie” was a thick stew of meat and vegetables topped with a piped crust of mashed potato. Both elements lived up to their comforting promise. They were seasoned nicely and the dish, served in its own casserole, satisfied.
During our visit, red wine choices included four at $35, four at $45 and four at $55 and every wine listed was also available by the glass. I wish more restaurants would take that sort of straightforward approach to wine list organization; it was one of the most approachable and easy-to-navigate wine lists I’ve seen.
We opted for a bottle of Rio Madre Rioja Graciano, a dark, fruity red from Spain that stood up to bites of all three entrees.
The blue plate special comes with a “chef’s choice” dessert. During our visit, it was a honey graham sundae topped with warm caramel, which our waitress poured out of a small copper cup. We also received a surprise dessert on the house: strawberry shortcake served on a biscuit.
Both were sweet and thoughtfully executed; we especially appreciated that the waitress left the cup of extra caramel for us to dole out as we liked (we even gave the shortcake a drizzle).
Overall, The Tilted Row does a good job with elements that elevate a dining experience to something special–like that extra copper cup of sauce. Throughout dinner, we noticed small details that the restaurant just got right, from substantial, heavy silverware to pretty tables and a layout that offers privacy for some and a spotlight on others.
Staff training appears to be another management strength. Everyone who interacted with us, from the hostess to the young men who refilled our water glasses, was extremely polite and prompt, and both the hostess and our server were well-versed in the food and drink menus.
The staff’s friendly professionalism, combined with management’s thoughtful attention to detail and, of course, the very good food, created an experience that’s just about everything you could ask for in a local gastropub. The Tilted Row has what it takes to be a huge hit as a neighborhood restaurant–and to give people from outside the area a great excuse to head to Bolton Hill.
The Tilted Row. 305 McMechen St., Baltimore, (443) 438-4846, thetiltedrow.com
Final Grade: A-
Bottom Line: Friendly, well-trained staff paired with creative, well-executed food make The Tilted Row a go-to dining destination in an otherwise quiet neighborhood for restaurants.