Old is new again in Fells Point. The Admiral's Cup (1647 Thames St.,  534-5555, theadmiralscup.com), which reopened in October 2012, has begun to serve food again, thus bringing the place fully back after renovations that started in 2010. Gone is the saltiness of the legendary watering hole which closed in 2007; in its place is a nautically themed sports bar that was bought and rehabbed by the Kali's Restaurant Group (owners of Kali's Court, Mezze, and Tapas Adela). There is a generic feel about the bar that seems to be at odds with the kitchen, which is starting to give the impression that the place might be cooking up its own personality.
At first, chef Steve Hardison's small menu (two pages, including booze) looks like an afterthought-a ploy to keep patrons in the bar, paying for overpriced beer. It isn't until you're eating that you realize a good chef can make even the most ordinary of menus memorable through attention to detail and proper cooking.
We started with the Maryland tasting ($10). Eight local craft beers are presented in 3-ounce pours to let diners sample a variety of microbrews without committing to 16 ounces of a beer they might not like. In theory, it's a great way to promote the local brews on tap, but if the waitstaff doesn't know what they're serving or what beer goes where on the randomly labeled mat, then the process can become a bit frustrating (which was the case for us). The solution is to organize the beers from light to dark in case the servers are unfamiliar with the product. You should drink the beers that way, regardless, so the stronger drinks don't blow away the lighter libations. The beers worked well with our food, which also got heavier as the meal went along.
The gaucho shrimp ($10) was made up of four shrimp cooked in an Argentinian chimichurri sauce. The wonderfully acidic chimichurri sauce helped to highlight the perfectly cooked shrimp. A small loaf of crusty bread was there to sop up the garlic, parsley, and chili pepper-flecked sauce. As good as the dish was, we could have used a couple extra shrimp. The trio of lamb sliders ($12) was overcooked but saved by a clove-y sauce and a deliciously diminutive toasty roll. The sliders were nestled on a tiny bed of caramelized onions that lent sweetness to the piquant sauce and moisture to the overdone burgers. Had the Katahdin lamb burgers (which come from Shore Nuff Farm on the Eastern Shore) been cooked medium, they would have been a huge hit.
Normally we do not order chicken sandwiches as a general rule of thumb, given the propensity for said sandwich to be dry and lifeless, but the farmer's chicken ($13) sounded too good to pass up. It lived up to our expectations and more. It is a simple sandwich-chicken breast with bacon, cheddar, honey mustard, lettuce, and tomato on a toasted burger roll-but the execution of the chicken and roll pushed it over the top. The chicken was moist and seasoned well, while the bun was toasted on both sides and pillowy inside. A better chicken sandwich you would have a hard time finding. The pork ribs ($19.95) were toothsome, bordering on chewy. The barbecue sauce was sweet and mellow with a slight spice bite, and it made up for the lack of smoke flavor in the ribs. They weren't bad, but they weren't great, and at that price point, for a half-rack of ribs, they should be great. The side of cornbread with it, on the other hand, was fantastic. It was solid and thick yet light and came out hot, fresh, and sweet. The side of coleslaw was bland and needed salt.
The meal ended on a high note with the lemon bar ($6). Served with blueberries and whipped cream, the bar was dense and lemony, with a sweet crust. Even though it was not a light dessert, it came off that way because of the brightness of the lemon and blueberries. The whipped cream rounded out the dessert and offset the citrus' bite.
The Admiral's Cup is at a crossroads in its development as a restaurant. It could go one way and be a total tourist trap or it could continue on the path it is on now and give itself an identity like the old version had. They've only been serving food for a month, so hopefully chef Hardison can steer this vessel in the right direction.