Langermann's Fed Hill offspring does the family proud

The new Langermann's on Light (1542 Light St.,, the offspring of the Canton original, is still intertwined with its parent. At this point, it's hard to figure out how to make a reservation at the Fed Hill spot, for example, or to check what's on offer before heading out for Sunday brunch. Has Langermann's the elder even allowed the wee one to get a phone of its own?

These issues are easily resolved, of course, once the parent snips the apron strings, creates clear website headings and links, and, of course, publishes a phone number.

Neal Langermann's original is located in a spacious, two-tiered, glass-fronted spot in the Can Company, with generous outdoor seating; its spin-off is in a corner tavern on Light Street, most recently 1542 Gastropub, before that, the Reserve, a place that seemed to peter out after a strong opening in a space that had long been a neighborhood dive. The new Langermann's is a classic, neighborhood-style joint with a busy bar area, small wooden tables on the floor, and an open kitchen in the back. In fact, the decor hasn't altered much since the Reserve days, other than reconfiguration of tables and loss of the bar-style high-top tables.

Whether or not parental neglect will have long-term developmental implications remains to be seen. For now, the offspring is doing a pretty good job emulating the old man.

It's logical to start with the grits-heirloom grains sourced in Georgia and stone-ground-which, if you think about it, could easily be a staple food (as I'm sure they are in parts of the South). Maybe even one of the four food groups. It's hard to imagine tiring of these creamy, buttery grains, slightly toothsome but as comforting as slow-cooked oats on a snow day. And why not pile on some fat, partially shelled shrimp and slightly spicy slices of Andouille sausage, along with a smattering of tomato to sweeten it up and lend some color? Served in a cereal bowl, the shrimp and grits ($19.95) is definitely the dish you will return for.

Less crave-worthy is the short rib ($22.95), a substantial hunk of beef artfully placed on a mountain of mashed potatoes, spears of asparagus draped on the side like treefall. The beef had a nice slow-braised flavor but was on the dry side, the result of being slightly overcooked and-horrors-a bit too lean. (This is Southern cooking, after all.) The sweet Bordelaise sauce drizzled across the plate was nice compensation, as were the perfect mashed potatoes-light and airy, though mashed, not whipped, and infused with just the right proportion of butter and milk.

Mashed potatoes also come with Langermann's fried chicken ($15.95), a simple treat battered in buttermilk and fried in a vat of vegetable and olive oils. The coating is crunchy and not at all greasy, holding in succulent and steamy white meat. The side of khaki-hued green beans had a hammy flavor and was strewn with bits of bacon. We were happy to note that fried chicken (at least as a regular menu item) seems to be unique to the Light Street spot. Go young'uns!

On a lighter side, the cedar-plank salmon, crisscrossed with grill marks, comes just warm enough on its bed of salad greens ($15.95) to soften the goat cheese underneath into a creamy dressing. The salad, tossed in a sweet maple-mustard vinaigrette, is loaded with red leaf, bright chopped green beans, diced tomatoes, and kernels of corn.

The question remains: why did Langermann's decide it needed to open a spin-off? And even more to the point, does Federal Hill really need another gastropub with Southern leanings? The answer has as much to do with real estate as market savvy, though on a Friday night, the place was filled with actual diners ordering multiple courses, lingering at tables with friends-not just small-plate nibblers crowding the bar.

We ordered a half-price bottle of wine before the happy-hour window slammed shut and then settled in for a pleasant evening. For starters, we couldn't resist the crab-and-tuna tartare ($11.95), an oversized hockey puck of cool fish served on a bed of sesame seaweed salad centered on a ginormous plate. The sweet crab and mildly fishy sushi-grade tuna were evenly mixed with a few stray chunks of mango, seasoned with cilantro, and topped with a spicy dressing and a section of grapefruit.

If the tartare was the yin, our other starter dish, the "Shake Shack" buffalo shrimp ($8.95) was decidedly yang. Salty, fried in batter, and sprinkled with a chili tang, the addictive little creatures came with a ramekin of mild bleu-cheese dipping sauce and a few celery sticks. We pressed our waitress for some background on the shake-shack designation, but all she could come up with was a description of baby shrimp shaken in a paper bag filled with coating. That's fine. Nobody in these parts cares much about trendy burger stands in cities more metropolitan than ours.

Desserts reach beyond the usual suspects, with Southern classics like cobbler, bread pudding, and pecan pie sharing a menu with more fussy concoctions like a double-chocolate mousse served atop Heath Bar crunch, and creme brulee with orange zest crunch. The prosaic-sounding rice pudding came in a martini glass, seasoned with cinnamon and garnished with strawberries. And the apple cobbler had the odd addition of a pastry-crust top, as if the chef couldn't make up his or her mind.

No matter. Langermann's the younger is a delightful addition to Federal Hill. We're confident it can stand on its own, especially with such strong shoulders to stand on.

Langermann's on Light is open 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

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