“Baltimore doesn’t brunch,” my boyfriend said to me matter-of-factly in the car. We were on our way to a mid-Sunday-morning meal in south Baltimore that included bottomless mimosas and benedicts. But it wasn’t brunch, of course. Not in Baltimore.
The restaurant was Little Havana, a Cuban inspired joint right on the water in Federal Hill. It looks like a warehouse from the outside, which is fitting, as the place used to be an old car garage, according to my man, who hails from these parts.
Inside, there’s not much effort to displace that first impression. There’s lots of metal and iron work, haphazardly placed tables, and faded Cuban-postcard-style (and slightly phallic) paintings on the walls. The outdoor deck overlooks the water through a chain-link fence. The whole place has an open warehouse feel, but there’s a dining room in the back made for big tables.
No reservations necessary here. It’s laid back, like Baltimore, and I liked it. The place is built for mingling and socializing: everything is centered around a big bar in the middle, which was cranking out pitchers of mimosas and Marys. Oh, and there’s a shuffleboard table, which we played until there was sand under our fingernails.
Let me say this: Only in Baltimore can men make mimosas look manly. I think it’s because they serve them in plastic cups and load the pitchers with ice. Yes, ice. In my mimosas. It seems a crime to me, but it actually made them go down faster. After a few hours, I was sidling up to the bar with two empty pitchers, asking for refills for the poor men I was crushing in shuffleboard.
The bartenders weren’t stingy, either. They were quick and efficient, zipping around their busy bar taking orders. And your food comes out fast. Clearly the kitchen is cranking out the brunch dishes one after the other in anticipation for the next big order. Speaking of which, let me tell you what a deal this was: $16 for bottomless mimosas or Marys and an entrée. We stayed the entire time, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. It was an impromptu brunch party.
All the egg entrees come with bacon, cuban toast and a fresh muffin. I had the Huevos Habana, Havana-style baked eggs topped with sofrito (which is basically peppers and onions stewed in a spicy tomato sauce). Totally satisfying. My boyfriend had the crab omelet, or the Tortilla de Cangrejo, which is eggs with crabmeat and sofrito. That was promptly polished off.
But the entrée selection is great: You can get Spanish-style eggs, Cuban scrambled eggs, huevos mixtos, huevos fritos a la Cubana, or even just an egg omelet. There’s tortilla de huevos y queso, and avocado omelet, huevos rancheros, or simply French toast or buttermilk pancakes.
Or if you don’t feel like breakfast, go for the Cuban sandwich, made with ham, pulled pork, dill pickle, swiss cheese and mustard on Cuban bread with potatoes. Definitely not Tampa-style, but worth a shot. There’s also boring things like hamburgers or chicken sandwiches, for those less adventurous.
Then there’s a selection of desserts, which goes above and beyond the $16 deal, but after a few pitchers you might be tempted. Try the Friturtas de Plantano, plantain fritters dusted with powdered sugar, or the Sopapillas, sweet pastry dough drizzled with chocolate and berry sauces and served with vanilla ice cream. Or just go for the Flan.
The music was loud, the brunching crowd was loud, and so that rowdy bar atmosphere inevitably called for dirty bathrooms. And dirty they were, though after hours of bottomless pitchers you hardly care.
I don’t care what my boyfriend says: No matter what Baltimore residents call it, they’re brunching. And they’re brunching right. I think they’re all just in brunch denial.
The Bitches say: B for Baltimore. A great time and a great deal, even if the food isn’t absolutely amazing and the bathrooms not spik-and-span.
1325 Key Highway
Baltimore, MD 21230