Rec Pier Chop House pays homage to Baltimore at every turn—it is, after all, in the building that once welcomed immigrants seeking the American dream.
The soaring entry hall later hosted pickup youth basketball and social dances, and finally the iconic 1914 building played a police station on TV in “Homicide: Life on the Streets.” The sloped hall leading to the restaurant and lounge is adorned with bas relief images of Baltimore symbols: Poe, the Ravens’ mascot, a crab, a racehorse. The whiskey bar features a miniature canon—likely dating to “Star Spangled Banner” days and unearthed during hotel construction—displayed beneath a sheet of safety glass on the floor.
But even with all this local history, the new restaurant in the stunningly refurbished building (with interiors by local designer Patrick Sutton) possesses a level of chic rarely encountered in Charm City. The back terrace, partially covered, the rest open-air, is scattered with soft seating and raised beds of greenery. A hulking bronze Botero horse, a nod to Pendry developer Kevin Plank’s horse farm, stands in the center. At the tip of the pier, an infinity pool meets the harbor, with a casual eatery to one side. (Snacks and drinks are available to the public, though, alas, the pool is reserved for hotel guests.)
Décor. The 136-seat dining room, with capacious round leather tufted booths, dark wood tables and brass light fixtures (one design resembles an upside down cast-iron washtub) has a masculine feel that influenced the menu, says chef Andrew Carmellini of NoHo Hospitality Group. “They were quite along in the design when we came on board,” Carmellini says. “It felt to me like a beef-centric restaurant; it’s kind of handsome and I wanted to tailor the experience around that.”
Chef. The Italian Carmellini—whose New York restaurants include Locanda Verde in Robert De Niro’s Greenwich Hotel, Lafayette in Noho and the Public Theater’s Library and Joe’s Pub—appreciates the building’s immigrant connection. “A lot of Italians came across that pier,” he points out, mindful of Baltimore’s hometown pride. “I grew up in Cleveland. It’s not so dissimilar from Baltimore. I didn’t want to be the New York guy coming in and doing New York,” he says. “I tell the staff, being friendly is the most important thing, no matter how much we paid for the tile in the bathroom.”
Food. While Carmellini was frequently on-site during the opening weeks, the day-to-day kitchen is run by Timonium-bred John Paidas, who previously worked at Le Bernardin, Charlie Bird and Contrada, all in Manhattan. True to Carmellini’s vision, the menu is a hybrid Italian chop house, with flavorful pasta dishes (rigatoni with lamb, light ricotta and mint; linguine with spicy blue crab); grass-fed Virginia beef portioned for one or two; and seafood, including local rockfish and an extravagant double-stuffed Maine lobster. A tableside Caesar preparation befits Rec Pier’s old-world clubby-ness, and the “Fantasia” antipasti platter, ordered for the table, is loaded with interesting cheeses, cured meats and vegetables. All, of course, come at a price, but you certainly get what you pay for.
Drink. While the lush cocktails—a biscotti Old-Fashioned with rye and chocolate bitters, the Negroni Sbagliato with Campari and prosecco—have Italian élan, they also highlight the Under Armour CEO’s other side biz, Sagamore Spirits. Cocktails give way to a nicely edited wine list, with bottles from the new world and old, expertly recommended and decanted by sommelier April Bloom.
Dessert. Monica Amtower-Kollig, who worked at Aggio and Cinghiale before shuffling to Buffalo for a spell, is back, and Baltimore is that much sweeter for her presence. Please don’t miss the bomboloni, sugary fried donuts piped with pistachio cream and smothered in warm chocolate sauce, or the Neapolitan sundae, with three scoops of intensely rich gelato and pistachio brittle, topped with dark sweet cherry compote.
Coming Soon. Rec Pier is the first of two restaurants the Noho Group will open in partnership with Sagamore. Look for an American-themed spot with a seasonally driven menu and a whiskey-forward bar coming to Port Covington this fall.
Final Verdict. Chef Andrew Carmellini’s thoughtful new restaurant in Fells Point enfolds Baltimore history while elevating the city’s dining scene.
Rec Pier Chop House
1715 Thames St.