Such is the service at Parkside, the nearly seven-month-old American bistro in Baltimore’s Patterson Park neighborhood. It’s overeager, and generally clueless. On a recent visit to Parkside’s bar, I overheard a bartender explaining Smithwick’s (the smooth pub ale) to a patron, “If you like Miller Lite, you’ll like this.” On a subsequent visit, the server handed us brunch menus, even though brunch had ended a half hour earlier. Nevertheless, the staff wants to be your best friend. “I’m not listening to your conversation,” said the weekend bartender, as I was catching up with my partner. “But let me tell you what I think...”
Visit Parkside often enough, and it starts to feel like the little sister that wants to grow up way too fast. It’s desperate for your attention and will do anything to make you think it’s cool. Two weeks after stopping in for lunch, I returned to find the menu revamped. There were no mention of two dishes that caught my eye earlier, a monkfish bouillabaisse and a vegetarian stirfry, sides were dropped entirely, and even the fries had been switched from a meaty, skins-on style to a generic, crispy version. These substitutions and last-minute changes are all too common of my Parkside experiences; the server brought toast when the menu specified pita, and offered mashed potatoes where the menu said fries. On one visit, my dining partner and I ordered separate dishes that listed accompaniments as “roasted peppers” and “fresh vegetables” respectively, only to be served the exact same peppers-and-eggplant sauté, with the same presentation.
Despite its best intentions, the food is uniformly bland. A margherita omelet is lined with delicate slices of fresh tomato, mozzarella, and basil leaves, but it cries out for salt, or maybe some balsamic vinegar. The elusive B’more Beef also lacks seasoning, and the meat is not flavorful enough to stand on its own under creamy Brie and grilled panini. Likewise, the build-your-own burger tastes as though it were tossed on a grill right out of the refrigerator. Even the garnishes--unnaturally lime-green pickles from a jar, or thinly sliced citrus fruits—are uninspired. A far safer bet is to take advantage of Parkside’s generous happy hour deals—2-for-1 beer every night but Saturday; $3 off appetizers after 5pm weekdays/3pm weekends—and sit at the bar with a pint and cheap bites. The garlicky white bean hummus, served with roasted veggies, goat cheese, and toasted bread with a bit of sugary balsamic sauce drizzled on top makes a simple lunch or light dinner for one. Just don’t share it, as the kitchen is stingy with the bread. Skip the soup of the day (canned ingredients) and the watery artichoke dip in undercooked phyllo, and unless you simply won’t drink beer, pass on the wine—it’s overpriced for its value.
While Parkside strives to be hip, it’s really a homey neighborhood bar for the younger set in an area populated with takeout pizza and subs, and get-drunk spots full of elderly locals drinking tinny beer. It’s worth noting that Parkside’s site is owned by the Patterson Park Community Development Center, a pro-gentrification organization whose unstated goal seems to be making every building in the neighborhood virtually identical, which explains why Parkside shares the popular exposed-brick-and-pipes décor of many of the Park’s refurbished homes. The restaurant courts the PPCDC’s clientele—new Baltimore transplants ranging in age from about mid-twenties to mid-forties who care less about the Os and Boh, and more about art shows and pinot. For the moment, this is their only place to congregate. But Parkside must step up its cooking if it wants to compete in the Patterson boom sure to come.
2901 E Baltimore (Linwood cross street), Baltimore, MD
Hours: Closed Monday; Tues-Thurs 5pm-10pm; Fri-Sat 11:30am-10:30pm; Sun 11:30am-9pm
Prices: Lunch $6.95-$11.95; Dinner $8.95-$24.95
Best for: nursing a beer; hanging out with friends or making new ones
Skip it if: you want to read or work quietly; you’re having a private conversation