As a single 20-something, Steve Roop worked with investor partners to open his dream bar in Canton. Portside Tavern, which opened in 2002 is, according to Roop, the neighborhood’s version of Cheers. “I’d be shocked if I didn’t know everyone in here,” he says. Now 41, with a kid at home (yes, he met his wife, Erin, a Hopkins ER nurse, at Portside), he’s launched Cask & Grain, a farm-to-table right next door, hoping to attract a new crowd. “If I don’t know everyone in here, that’s a good thing,” he says. Meaning the diners may be older, and may hail from other parts of the city—like Harbor East or Roland Park—or the county.
Location. “It was time to do something new,” says Roop, who played lacrosse at UMBC, eventually graduating from George Mason before getting into the D.C. restaurant business. Canton, like the restaurant’s owner, is growing up. “These days I’m changing diapers at 2 in the morning, not stumbling out of bars,” he says. And he’s betting that he’s not alone. As for parking, “it isn’t an issue,” Roop assures. “Ten years ago, it was an issue. But now, between Harbor East, the renaissance in Fells Point, and Hampden, people are spread throughout the city.” Cask & Grain, in what was once a hair salon, shares a wall with Portside Tavern; Roop knocked out a wall upstairs to create a large shared kitchen. (And yes, this signals a gastro-style upgrade to Portside’s pub grub.)
Décor. The soothing interior is a mix of salvaged wood, wallpaper in a robin’s egg blue damask print and mid-century inspired basket-weave light fixtures in the upstairs dining room—with the overall effect a mod-rustic farmhouse. Roop found some cool lights online, but didn’t like the price, so made his own from block and tackle pulleys (the kind you might use to haul a bale of hay into the loft) to hang above the downstairs bar.
Chef. Paul Hajewsky, the co-owner and chef who most recently worked at the Inn at Brookville Farm in Montgomery County, has roots in the ’hood. His grandfather, a butcher, owned Pete’s Grocery and Butcher Shop near Patterson Park. No surprise, “I’m a huge meat guy,” he says. “I’m a Polish boy at heart.” He also likes to work with produce sourced from local farms and mushrooms delivered by foragers. “Before we opened, I took off for four or five months to research farms,” he says. “A lot of the food is sourced from small companies who bring stuff to us.” Along with its substantial meat dishes, like pork collar and short ribs, and seafood from black bass to mussels, the menu has thoughtful vegetarian options like woodland mushroom cavatelli and sweet potato pierogi. While the menu may seem rich, Hajewsky disabuses first impressions. “It’s health-conscious, without a lot of butter and cream,” he says. “I like to use good fats, like olive and avocado oils.”
Drinks. The U.S.-centric wine list has a range of prices and offerings, from a Sonoma Cakebread Cabernet to Paso Robles Merlot. Cocktails make use of housemade syrups made from honey and seasonal fruits; beer drinkers can choose from a nice selection of artisanal suds from taps, bottles and cans.
Sweets. While there was no pastry chef on staff at press time, Hajewsky promises to keep three options on the menu: a seasonal fruit dessert, something chocolate and a flan. “Nothing too far-fetched, but with a creative twist,” he says. Sounds like a good way to end a meal.
Final Verdict. Grown-ups looking for a grown-up meal need not overlook Canton.
Cask & Grain
2823 O’Donnell St.