For Baltimoreans of a certain age, the name "Admiral's Cup" conjures up images of boozy Fells Point nights and dirty bathrooms.
The legendary dive bar closed in 2007, reopening last fall under the ownership of Kali's Restaurant Group, the company that oversees Fells Point neighbors Mezze and Kali's Court.
Old fans looking to relive their youths at the bar might be disappointed; thanks to a face lift, Admiral's Cup has lost its gritty edge. With a focus on local beer and capable takes on bar-friendly food made with local ingredients, the restaurant feels fresh and current.
Before visiting, we heard a few grumblings about Admiral's Cup's new incarnation — namely, that it lacked personality. We don't agree. And we liked the place in the old days.
Inside, Admiral's Cup still feels like a Fells Point bar, with large windows, lovely warm blue walls and subtle nautical decor. The main room is dominated by a large rectangular bar. On a recent Friday night around 7:00 the bar was moderately full, but not packed, and we were only the second table to sit in the small dining room at the back of the building.
Since Admiral's Cup's heyday, Fells Point has undergone something of a renaissance in the dining world; the restaurants you'll find there today are a lot better than most places were a decade or so ago. In an effort to fit in with the neighbors, Chef Steve Hardison made some smart choices. The menu is fairly brief, focusing on beer-friendly fare, and made with locally sourced ingredients when possible.
We started with shrimp ceviche ($10): chopped shrimp mixed with a chunky gazpacho and served in a martini glass with crispy charred flatbread for scooping.
The gazpacho was billed as "spicy," but we thought it needed a touch more heat, as well as a heftier sprinkle of cilantro. Still, it had a pleasant, fresh flavor and we enjoyed the crossover between ceviche (raw seafood "cooked" in acid) and the traditional spicy tomato flavors of shrimp cocktail.
A couple of sauces appear in multiple dishes on the menu, including the southern "simmer" sauce. We skipped the ribs (though we spied someone at the bar eating them and they looked great) but tried the sauce on the braised pork sandwich ($12). Chunks of pork, cooked until tender, had nice flavor on their own. But the simmer sauce — a tomato-based barbecue sauce with well-balanced sweet and spicy elements — made the sandwich.
Though it was served on the side, we used the accompanying cole slaw as a condiment, adding crunch and tang to each bite.
Admiral's Cup has a handful of local beers on tap and the restaurant makes beer pairing recommendations for most entrees. With the pulled pork, they recommend Evolution's Primal Pale Ale. However, by the time we ordered, we were already sipping a Flying Dog Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout ($6.50). We discovered that was also a good match for the sandwich, as the stout's roasted coffee and chocolate undertones complemented the sauce and meat.
The crab stack ($19.95) was a summery salad of crab mixed with light honey mustard dressing served over tomatoes, corn, avocado and greens. The combination is a familiar one, but the incorporation of honey mustard, instead of the more traditional mayonnaise, added zip.
Admittedly, the salad would be better in high summer; the corn was sweet and avocado ripe, but the tomatoes were on the anemic side. We'll look forward to trying it later in the season.
With the salad, we drank a refreshing Charles and Charles rose ($7). Admiral's Cup is about beer not wine, but their wine list, though brief, is serviceable and approachable.
The small dining room steadily filled during our dinner. We watched, impressed, as our waiter capably juggled a half dozen tables of different sizes. An enthusiastic man with deep knowledge of the menu, he made recommendations and refilled drinks with aplomb.
During our visit, Admiral's Cup offered two desserts, both made in-house. Our choice, the lemon bar ($6), was a sweet-tart square of lemon topped with syrupy blueberries — a fine way to end a meal on a pretty spring night.
Was this the Admiral's Cup from the days of yore? No, but that's not a bad thing. Fells Point's food scene has changed, too, as the expectations of the average Baltimore diner have risen. The restaurant is a good fit for its neighborhood.
With its pretty blue walls, knowledgeable service and capable hands in the kitchen, there are plenty of reasons to head to Fells to make new Admiral's Cup memories.