Family-friendly yet stylish, with a large, varied menu of elevated comfort foods and a lively bar scene, State Fare in downtown Catonsville hits a sweet spot of being broadly pleasing without dumbing down its offerings.
True to its name, State Fare’s menu leans Maryland, with favorites like crab cakes ($26 for two), Old Bay chicken wings ($10) and roasted rockfish ($24).
Evan Brown, co-owner with chef Keith Holsey, says the lineup will change periodically, but patrons can count on finding food they already like, just stretched and tweaked a bit. Prices hover around $20 for entrees, and it’s possible to eat well for far less than that by focusing on appetizers, sandwiches and breakfast food, which is served all day.
The $12 chicken and waffles is a good example. The waffles, speckled with chives and Gouda, are more tangy than sweet. The chicken, marinated in buttermilk, is unusually moist. And the whole thing is drizzled with a subtly sweet-hot raspberry jalapeño jelly that’s worlds better than the usual syrup.
And there’s the $12 cobb salad, loaded with goodies such as blue cheese, avocado, hard-boiled eggs, roasted corn and chicken tenders. For two bucks more, a seafood version subs shrimp and fried oysters for the chicken and eggs.
The owners, Catonsville natives, are trying something different after their Italian restaurant, Portalli’s, was destroyed not once, but twice by flooding in historic Ellicott City. Portalli’s was a special-occasion restaurant, priced accordingly and attractive mainly to grown-ups.
This time around, Brown says, he and Holsey are throwing their doors wide open, welcoming every generation from 8 in the morning to 2 a.m. the next day, seven days a week.
The strategy seems to be working. During two recent visits, I saw something of an America in miniature: people of all ages, including families with young children, millennials watching basketball at the bar, and folks with a bit more life experience.
The space, blessed with large picture windows, gets a lot of its pizazz from colorful paintings of musicians like Freddie Mercury and Jimi Hendrix, who seem like they’re looking right at you, ready to start a conversation. Brown says he chose them because music appeals to people of all ages.
State Fare, open since January, gets the details right. The tables, without the fuss of tablecloths, are close enough to feel friendly but not crowded. A pleasant buzz of conversation doesn’t get super loud, even with a big basketball game on the televisions about the bar.
Appetizers are a big deal here. You can make a meal out of potato skins ($9) stuffed with Reuben ingredients (corned beef, kraut, Swiss, thousand island dressing), or stick with an old favorite like tender, peppery fried calamari ($10). Cleverly constructed sandwiches include a cheesesteak made with marinated Korean bulgogi ($13) or a club sandwich layered with shrimp salad and a crab cake ($18).
Seafood dominates the entrée section of the menu, but there are plenty of other choices too, like braised short ribs ($24) and a pasta with chicken carbonara ($16). Vegetarian choices include sauteed spaghetti squash topped with mushrooms, spinach and tomatoes ($15).
Local beers, including some from Union Craft Brewing, Key Brewing and the new Guinness factory in Halethorpe, are in bottles and on draft, and the owners are aiming to have one of the best bourbon and whiskey collections in the state.
My main criticism of State Fare is inconsistent service. On my first visit, it was just about perfect–swift, friendly, professional and unobtrusive. But a couple of weeks later, I had a different experience. Our water was warm, and when we asked for ice and lemon slices they were slow to arrive. Though our food came on time, we were so neglected toward the end of our meal that 45 minutes after our table was cleared, we had to flag someone down to get a check.
If State Fare gets that sorted out, it could be the rare restaurant that nearly everybody likes.
State Fare, 748 Frederick Road, Catonsville, (410) 788-3273, statefaremd.com.
Final Grade: B
Bottom Line: Family-friendly yet stylish, State Fare has a large menu of elevated comfort food and a lively bar scene.
A great addition. Reminds me of the pavilion at the real State Fair, the one with stands set up for each protein producer.
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