Highlandtown's Snake Hill adds a twist to sausage and beer

Baltimore's new sausage and craft beer spot, Snake Hill (418 S. Clinton St., [410] 469-9003,snakehillbaltimore.com), which the owners of Johnny Rad's opened just a few months ago, is housed in the quiet corner Highlandtown spot previously occupied by the longstanding Irish Pub, and boasts the tagline: Sausage, Beer, Community.

On the Wednesday when we visited, patrons were sparse, so we settled in at one of the large communal tables and hustled to the bar for both food and drinks: If you're going to indulge—and let's face it, if you're at a sausage bar, what else would you do?—you're going to need the space. Along with having plenty of room, you also get a full view of the behind-the-bar "kitchen," where the cook inserts thermometers into the sausages to ensure they've reached the right temperature and assembles the accouterments for each sausage.

Most of the appetizers are served in half or full-sized portions, and the fries ($3 half/$5 full) were the best. Long and thick, they weren't like steak fries that can become a bit like biting into a big chunk of baked potato, nor were they tiny swizzles of carbs that taste like nothing. The rectangular chunks were golden, crispy and firm, yet not too crunchy, and well-seasoned. The onion rings ($3/$5) had just the right crispness on the batter and the proper firmness of the round ring of sweet onion. The hush puppies ($4/$7) were a fair rendition, though a bit doughy. I enjoyed the bit of confectioner's sugar on top of the crispy exterior, and the accompanying sweet honey butter was delectable enough I would eat it on its own by the spoonful—in private, at least.

Most sausages come in a brioche bun with a choice of up to two toppings, including sauerkraut, spicy pepper, sweet peppers, and grilled onions. There is also a small menu of signature sandwiches that offer more elaborate topping combinations, including the Mighty Duck ($8), a duck and bacon sausage with white wine-poached pear, caramelized onions, and balsamic reduction. The Mighty Duck sausage sported a somewhat gamey flavor that was both deepened and moistened by the bacon. A slight sweetness imparted from the pear and balsamic, as well as the caramelized onions, complemented and enhanced the meat. The Hot Louie ($5), a spicy pork sausage that we ordered without any toppings, was a classic example of a quality Italian-style hot sausage, with a smooth texture and a slow, but eventually heavy heat. As impressive with a more unusual meat was the alligator andouille ($9) which had a similar style of reserved heat, but also a slight sweetness.

Deriving its name from Zeke's own Snake Hill Reserve coffee, the Red Eye sausage ($6), pork-based with ancho chile, was spicy with an unexpected addition of earthy depth in flavor from the coffee. Meanwhile, the rabbit and rattlesnake sausage ($9) was mild but enveloped in a crispy exterior, our favorite of all the casings. It was also the best vehicle for toppings, so we were pleased to have taken the bartender's suggestion to top it with sauerkraut which was a pleasantly authentic version, with only a slight sweetness. The Lamb Merguez sausage ($8) was noticeably smaller than the rest, sported one of the best casings, and was texturally different in terms of chewiness and graininess. And we adored it.

In addition to some traditional styles and atypical meats like rabbit and rattlesnake, we chose to try pho-style and vegan takes on sausage. The Pho-Q's ($6) herbal and earthy flavor from fennel and Thai basil is easy to detect in the pork-based sausage, but its advertised Sriracha heat is harder to locate.

There are three vegan sausages on the menu, and we went with the Italian ($7). With a slight bit of spice to deliver just the right amount of heat, and underlying herbal flavor, the vegan sausage was as flavorful and texturally satisfying as any meat option on the table.

We also ordered a few additional sides—the macaroni and cheese ($4), coleslaw ($3), and the night's special, a BBQ macaroni and cheese ($7). The coleslaw was surprisingly satisfying. It was a mayonnaise and vinegar version that you might remember from childhood cookouts, and the ideal bite after some of the spicier sausages. The macaroni and cheese was less impressive. While we were enthusiastic to see the cook actually tossing the cavatappi in the pan from our table, knowing it was freshly made, the results were less exciting. Pasta was cooked al dente, and the sauce had the ideal consistency, but the cheese flavor was flat. The BBQ mac and cheese was slightly redeemed with the pork pieces and barbecue sauce flavors mingling with the rest of the dish, but we still wished for a sharper or more pronounced cheese flavor.

We washed down our sausages primarily with bottled and local craft beers, but the Benton's Old Fashioned ($10) with bacon-infused Four Rose's bourbon, maple syrup, and bitters was a smooth cocktail worth visiting the spot for all on its own.

Snake Hill is open Sunday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. (food served until 10 p.m.) and Friday and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. (food served until 11 p.m.).

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