Not-So-Starving-Artists: The Hamilton Tavern’s Pub Fare is Consistently Delicious by Cara Ober
Hamilton Tavern, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love your dramatic entrance: a wooden scythe handle through a velvet curtain, keeping customers warm in winter and cool in summer. I love your dark walnut interior, mysterious but never musty. I love your old-school wooden bar with craft beers on tap. I love your weird farm tool decor and goofy bar art.
I love your servers who are often sarcastic, and never try to sell me anything I don’t want. I love your beautiful bathroom wallpaper, collaged from pages of classic literature, that makes me linger, reading, far longer than I intended, probably scaring the people waiting to come in after. And I love your price point. Good god, you are a bargain.
Most of all, I love your burgers.
I love your veggie burger, homemade and bursting with nutty, herby, mealy goodness. I love your fried chicken sandwich, served atop a warm, sweetish brioche bun with fried peppers and Swiss cheese. I love your Roseda-farm “Crosstown” all-beef burger, sometimes with a fried egg atop, always with sticky-sweet bacon and horseradish cheddar.
On a quiet Tuesday evening, I was shocked to be one of only three tables of diners. We were early, about six o’clock, but by seven the bar and restaurant was full, thought not uncomfortably so.
I started off my meal with an Allagash White Belgian Style Ale and was pleasantly surprised to find that my beer was free (!) during happy hour because I ordered a burger. For those who want to drink local beers, HamTav offers Union and Brewer’s Art beers, and a porter featuring Zeke’s coffee, as well as a selective survey of artfully crafted IPA’s, white ales, brown ales, pilsners, porters, and stouts.
Thanks for noticing the small Ewok figure next to my beer. I will consider myself busted.
I was dining with my husband and six-year-old son and, unlike some hipster bars in town, we were made to feel perfectly comfortable by our servers and fellow diners for having procreated. There was a baby in a carrier propped up on a table nearby, and I noticed one later up at the bar. I’m not telling you this to say that breeders have taken over the place, just to say that HamTav puts out an “Everyone is welcome here” vibe and it is appreciated.
We started out with their Boh-battered onion rings, which come with a side of semi-spicy remoulade sauce, and proceeded to chow all but one, which I saved to slide into my burger.
While some onion rings at other establishments fall apart and the slimy onion string slips out of its casing, this abomination has never happened to me at HamTav. Their onion rings are light and just greasy enough, uneven and more like tempura than the bready crunchiness that can overpower the savory delicateness of a Vidalia onion.
Although they don’t have an extensive kid’s menu, the HamTav makes an effort for little people and my son enjoyed his grilled cheese. I am a grilled cheese purist – white bread and cheddar, thank you – and the homemade potato chips were salty and crispy, with a touch of burnt bitterness. It all disappeared, even the pickles. And yes, that is a Boba Fett figure hiding behind the plate.
Now we have to talk about sides. The Hamilton Tavern does not skimp on sides and this decision, what to order alongside one’s burger, is paramount and might require coordination around your table if you want to taste and share.
If you want to feel healthy, you can choose their side salad, which is a decent sized portion of locally grown greens seasoned perfectly with a tangy garlic vinaigrette. If you want to feel almost as healthy, you can choose the broccoli salad, which is an upscale remix on grandma’s old-school mayonnaise and bacon number.
They’ve cut way back on the mayo, but offer just enough vinegar and creaminess to hold it together. The raw crunchy broccoli is seasoned with chopped red onions, bacon, and cheddar cheese and, again, the ratio of toppings to broccoli is key here. Too little and it’s bland. Too much and it’s fatty. The broccoli salad is perfection at the HamTav, which is why I always order it.
Other side options include homemade potato chips, hand-cut fries, and the onion rings, salad, and broccoli options cost an extra buck.
My husband went for the homemade veggie burger, but with a gooey fried egg and cheese on top, and the salad to go with it. He is obviously not a vegetarian, just trying to be healthy-ish, and his burger, full of lentils and herbs and I’m not sure what else, offered a satisfying texture that was nubbley yet creamy, with a crunchy fried outer crust.
Served on a sesame brioche bun with mayo, the veggie burger was bursting with a nutty, subtle flavor enhanced by the fat and the frying, almost like a giant and less grainy falafel. It was so moist it almost fell apart, but it held together.
According to me, my burger was the winner of the meal. I asked for it done medium, and it was pink in the middle. If this amount of raw flesh freaks you out, ask for well-done. No one will judge you.
The bun was warm with mayo and cheese oozing into the cracks of the burger. The brown sugar and salt-encrusted bacon melted into each bite, serving as a sweet top note for the savory and fresh meaty flavor. The lettuce was cool and velvety, offering a crispy contrast. And my onion ring tucked under the top bun was probably too much, but added some complexity in crunch and umami flavor.
This burger was giant, and I had to cut it in half, telling myself I’d save the second half for lunch the next day. But I couldn’t stop eating! Halfway through I said who needs lunch? And just went for it. This burger was delicious, the way you imagine a good bacon cheeseburger should taste. The HamTav burger is consistent; it has never let me down.
I mention consistency here because we all have a tendency to take things that are always good in our lives for granted, like NPR and moms. Now that the Hamilton Tavern is a well-established part of Baltimore’s bar food landscape, it’s easy to forget that it exists, easy to forget to support a great local restaurant that takes serious pride in its food.
Consider this your reminder: Get thee to the Hamilton Tavern! Go on burger night, when your beer is free. Go there any other night. Go early. Go late. Take your kid, your baby, your in-laws. Or go by yourself, set by the bar, and flirt with the bartenders.
This place is damn good and so very easy on the wallet. It’s almost too good to be true.
Author Cara Ober is Founding Editor at BmoreArt. She is a serious burger aficionado.