Cowboys and Rednecks Pub
1117 S. Charles St.,  223-2269
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No one would expect a place called Cowboys and Rednecks Pub to be urbane. With the deer head on the wall, Montgomery Gentry on the sound system, and a Hungry Hog porkburger on the menu, it’s a real challenge to remember that not long ago Vespa and Taverna Corvino occupied this same space. In the dining area, promotions for Maker’s Mark and Jack Daniel’s share the wall with a gigantic screen showing college basketball (some nights there are movies) that dwarfs the many other televisions behind the bars—all tuned to sports, including a surreal rerun of 1980s-era Battle of the Network Stars.
But though the restaurant’s Facebook page touts College Night (Thursdays) and Burger-Buds-Bombs night (Tuesdays) and promotes bar dancing à la Coyote Ugly, the reality on this evening is much more civilized: a few folks chatting at each of the restaurant’s two bars, several couples and a pair of friends still in business shirts and ties taking advantage of the evening’s half-price steaks and bottles of wine. The music could be louder, but thankfully isn’t. The food could be better, but it’s not half bad.
C&R refers to itself as both a pub and a country steakhouse, and while several cuts of steak (plus a steak sandwich and a steak salad) are on the menu, “pub” is the better descriptor for both the food and overall feel of the place. The grub is mostly pub familiar—chicken wings, calamari, Caesar salad—coupled with C&R’s takes on steakhouse classics, such as shrimp cocktail, chopped salad, and a bistro filet interspersed among the chili dog, pork butt on a bun, three-alarm chicken wrap, and gumbo. The effect is slightly schizophrenic, and you have to wonder how many 32-ounce cowboy “tomahawk” bone-in rib eyes or 18-ounce T-bones are sold on nights other than Steak Night Mondays. I’d also be curious to know the ratio of, say, fire-roasted whole fish to drive-in burgers sold on any given night.
Still, that burger ($9.95) is a keeper. At 8 ounces it’s hefty enough to forgo appetizers, though if you did you’d miss out on the treat of some seriously spicy mac ‘n’ cheese ($5.95 for fiery style), its creaminess punctuated by a scattering of crispy onions. The burger itself is no-frills, Angus beef cooked nicely to order with toppings that nod to the nostalgic revival of Gino’s and other early fast-food burger joints: a smear of special sauce and the trinity of lettuce/tomato/pickle.
Other offerings feel more generic and a little bland. Rowdy shrimp ($8.95), an appetizer, won’t raise many hackles; they’re perfectly fine fried shrimp, but lacking any kick from the “creamy chili sauce” the menu says they’re tossed in. Pork butt on a bun ($9.95) is also devoid of fire. The shredded meat provides a good building block, but the Carolina-style barbecue sauce offers sweetness rather than tang.
C&R is generous with its nightly and happy hour specials, and $11 and change for an 8-ounce filet (regularly $22.95) and $12 and change for a 12-ounce rib eye (regularly $24.95) is more than reasonable. The beef has a Kansas City pedigree, according to the server, but you won’t mistake it for prime beef whether you order it plain or with garlic butter or a port wine reduction. Lukewarm mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli play the roles of starch and seasonal vegetable here.
On this evening, a decent cake-like bread pudding ($5) drizzled with thick chocolate sauce was the only dessert available to order, but this might be a wise move considering the number of specialty drinks, many of them sweet, patrons can order instead.
C&R offers a short list of familiar New World wines, and a well-priced draft list that includes Fat Tire and Heavy Seas along with Guinness and Bud. Service is casual to a fault (if you like it when your server sits down at your table to take your order, this is your place), yet still manages to be very polite and attentive. This may be harder to maintain on a busier night, but I get the impression that the staff is 100 percent behind the endeavor. This is important. While it’s hard to predict how the country bar gimmick will fare in Federal Hill, it won’t be through lack of trying. Cheers, y’all.
Cowboys and Rednecks Pub is open seven days for lunch, dinner, and late-night dining. Yeehaw