I'm not gonna lie. It's been a while since something new has come to O'Donnell Square that has piqued my interest. But with the addition of Jokers 'n Thieves (3000 O'Donnell St.,  675-4029, jokersnthievesbaltimore.com), where Jesse Sandlin (previously from Oliver Speck's and Vino Rosina) is leading the kitchen, I had to stop by for brunch to see if there's more to the square than wings, burgers, and endlessly cheap pitchers of Miller Lite.
I rolled in just in time on a recent Sunday (Brunch is served Friday-Sunday 10 a.m.-3 p.m., although my server told me it may stop doing brunch on Friday soon) to a moderate but lively crowd in the modern-cocktail-bar-meets-whiskey-saloon space. Seating options range from an upstairs dining room, two comfy downstairs bars, and a central (darker) dining room, or—what I opted for—tables in the front that boasted the perfect afternoon sun-drenched light.
As I perused the menu, my servers, who were wonderful throughout the visit, quickly delivered our table's large order of drinks (as tends to happen at brunch). Strong coffee was poured in elegant cups—with prevalent refills, a must for any hangover helper—and three spicy, house-made bloodys ($8) were presented with vinegar-y olives, a strong hit of black pepper, and a balanced jolt of Tito's Handemade Vodka. I later switched to beer—it should be noted that Jokers has a pretty solid selection.
For appetizer recommendations, my server didn't dawdle in suggesting the wings ($10). And while that was probably the last thing I thought to order at brunch, upon hearing that they're brined for 24 hours, smoked, and then tossed with a buffalo jerk rub, my Midwestern roots couldn't say no. And boy, did they deliver. Only available during brunch, they were fall-off-the-bone tender, with a hint of smoke, and coated with a sauce-to-rub ratio that was perfectly balanced between the vinegar from the buffalo sauce and the spicy kick from the black pepper heavy jerk rub. I would come back just for those alone.
The brisket and eggs ($14) were equally wow-inducing. Four thick slices of smoky beef were laid upon a triangular fried grit cake, all of it topped with two expertly poached eggs. I wasn't sure how it would work with runny yolks on another protein, but with the juicy fat from the brisket, soft center of the grit cake, and vinegary-hot kick thanks to a pool of jalapeno hot sauce sitting on the bottom of the dish, each bite was a good-god-what-have-they-done moment. My only nitpick was that some of the brisket was just the slightest bit dry, but not enough to notice after digging in.
Not faring as well was the pumpkin and green tomato hash ($10) my vegetarian friend ordered. The dish itself, a bowl filled with chopped and sauteed green tomatoes, potatoes, red onion, and pumpkin, topped with a runny egg, was cooked well but lacked enough pumpkin to offset the acidity of the green tomatoes. Plus, the dish lacked the seasoning to bring it all together.
The crawfish roll ($12) was spot on, though. A buttered and griddled split brioche hot-dog-style bun was stuffed with tender-but-chewy poached crawfish tails that had been tossed in a light mixture of Old Bay, mayo, and celery. It was part lobster roll, part shrimp salad, and all killer. The side order of roasted Brussel sprouts ($2 up-charge) I opted for were a lesson on how to properly cook sprouts: tender without being mushy, and crispy along the entire edges of the cut sides.
As I let the meal soak in and my server topped off the coffees, I couldn't help but look through the items on the menu that I didn't fit into the meal. Ham and cheddar waffles, fried chicken benedicts, biscuits and gravy, and hush puppies with honey butter? Good lord. If brunch hadn't already ended, I may have stayed around for round two.