Cultured pairs cocktails and charcuterie

One of the most striking transformations to witness at Mount Vernon Marketplace since it opened in October has been the development of Cultured (520 Park Ave., [410] 409-7924, baltimorecultured.com), a charcuterie bar from chef Andrew Cole, formerly of The Other Corner Charcuterie Bar in Hampden. When Mount Vernon Marketplace had its grand opening, Cultured's bar had been built and there were paper menus for passersby to grab, but nothing was stocked yet and the dark wood of the empty bar stood out among the already-crowded vendors in the jam-packed market. But Cultured has quickly filled up its space and is now one of the coziest places in the market, with a fully stocked and decorated bar, a friendly staff, and a bar program and menu that encourage you to settle in and linger.

Given Cole's previous gig, the charcuterie program here is an obvious draw. There are plenty of cured meats and a huge variety of cheeses—goat, cow, sheep, mild, stinky, hard, soft. If you're overwhelmed by the list of 40-plus cheeses, I suggest you tell the bartenders, who also serve as the wait staff, for some guidance on the charcuterie plate (one selection for $6, three for $15, six for $25, or 10 for $45), let them know of any preferences you might have, and let the staff craft a plate for you. A little while later, one of the chefs will bring you a board of cheese and/or meat plus a basket of bread and crostini. They'll explain their selections and the house-made accoutrements they've thoughtfully paired with the charcuterie: Pickled pineapple (which pleasantly mellows out the sweetness of the fruit), marinated mushrooms, brandy-soaked cherries, shallots confit, and house-made apple butter are just some of the selections that might adorn your plate to complement the main event. It's clear from the thought that goes into these pairings—sweet fruits with a goat cheese, or a sharp Dijon mustard with salami—that the staff here is highly knowledgeable about the comestibles they're combining.

And it's not just about pairing food with food: On one visit, Cultured was having a "John Wayne" special, where you would get a glass of whiskey with a meat for $10 total. I picked a glass of Wigle Whiskey and told the bartender to pick a meat. She delivered a porchetta, explaining that she'd picked it because its sweetness matched the Wigle—which, as I nibbled at the thin slices of porchetta piled high on a small plate and took sips of the whiskey, I realized was spot on.

A plate of three charcuterie items can probably serve as dinner for one, but if you're looking for something that feels more substantial, Cultured also has an impressively long list of sandwiches and salads, many of which naturally feature meats and cheeses from the charcuterie list and reflect the same thoughtful approach to combining flavors and ingredients as the charcuterie boards. Take the smoking fin ($10), a sandwich with smoked trout, crispy speck, capers, shallot confit, and horseradish sour cream served on toasted raisin walnut bread. The capers and horseradish sour cream sat on the plate alongside the sandwich, which at first seemed odd to me, until I realized that this presentation allowed me to control the brininess of the sandwich by dipping it as much as I liked into the sour cream with each bite. The raisin walnut bread added a surprisingly welcome touch of sweetness that took a bit of the edge off the savory and briny flavors of the rest of the sandwich. The funky mushroom sandwich ($11) also paired savory and sweet flavors, with peppered honey and Sottocenere and taleggio cheeses complementing the earthiness of marinated mushrooms and garlic butter. Figs and a small pile of arugula topped with fresh ground pepper accompanied the sandwich, with the pepper providing a sharp counterpoint to the sandwich. And while I'm not usually a fan of salads, I was impressed by the presentation and combination of flavors in the ashed beet salad ($10).

There really doesn't seem to be a bad option on the menu. It makes me want to go back to Cultured again and again to work my way through all the sandwich offerings—an urge that's only reinforced by the high caliber of the cocktails and the bartenders' down-to-earth friendliness. Visit Cultured, and there's a good chance that you'll join the other locals that have already become regulars at Mount Vernon Marketplace.

Cultured is open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. every day.

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