Hangover Helper: Slainte remains a great place for a hearty brunch

Several years ago, as an English Premiere League fan without cable, I spent my fair share of early Saturday and Sunday mornings at Slainte (1700 Thames St., [410] 563-6600, slaintepub.com) sipping bloodys with the rowdy crowds cheering for their respective teams. However, it had been ages since I'd made an early morning visit to Fells Point's most well-known Irish bar, and with the start of the EPL season on the horizon, it seemed the perfect time to return and see if the go-to spot for soccer is still a brunch-y dining destination too.

Not many make morning visits to Fells Point during the week--it is noticeably quiet and there's an abundance of parking that doesn't exist at other times. But when we popped into the Thames Street spot set on filling our belly after we had made the mistake of filling it with an uneven ratio of liquor to food the night before, we found a handful of diners digging in to breakfast or already imbibing.

It seems that nearly every brunch spot in Baltimore offers a "bottomless" deal on bloodys and mimosas, and Slainte is no different. However, at $10 for the bottomless option, Slainte is among the few that are still doing it affordably. We were unable to resist the siren song of the bloody mary that had been our soccer-watching sidekick for years, and it is just as good, if not better, than we remembered. Served in a pint glass garnished with lemon, lime, and three fat green olives, the drink is balanced, with a just-right not-too-thick consistency and plenty of visible spice in the glass that lends the drink its signature slow heat.

Slainte offers all the brunch standards like stacks of french toast or pancakes, a benedict (to which a crab cake can be added), and build-your-own omelets, but we were of the "when in an Irish pub, do as the Irish do" mindset, and went with the items that have a little more cultural inspiration.

The waterman's breakfast ($15) was a favorite, if for no other reason than its impressive size and capacity to fill any hungry stomach. But we also loved the interesting twist of adding shrimp to a sausage gravy dish. Four thick, buttery triangles of crispy toasted white bread were covered in a thin gravy that sported an abundance of perfectly-salty crumbled sausage and dozens of tiny pink shrimp. Topping the bread and gravy were two over-easy eggs, adding richness to the dish as their creamy yolks spilled out and combined with the sausage and shrimp. Several perfectly fried oysters also garnished the plate, with a crunchy exterior and a buttery texture within.

One of the most popular Irish-style breakfast items at Slainte is the breakfast boxty ($13). Two thin-but-large housemade potato pancakes, which appear to incorporate both shredded and mashed potatoes, mixed with green onions and an ample amount of salt, were evenly browned and slightly crispy on the outside and smooth within. For those with a meager appetite, the potato pancakes alone could serve as breakfast, but with them came the largest portion of scrambled eggs we've seen in a while. We're not always the hugest fans of scrambling as a method of cooking our eggs, but these were light and airy with no need for a salt shaker at the table thanks to the salt and spice imparted by the generous amount of mixed-in sausage and rashers (thin-cut bacon).

It should be mentioned that with this breakfast of potatoes and eggs we also got… even more potatoes. Thin crispy browned potato crescents mixed with onions and red and green peppers accompanied the boxty. They were absolutely delicious, and we couldn't stop picking at them (in the way we do when an egregious amount of fries comes with a burger), but this is definitely the most carb-heavy meal weve had in a long time.

We felt we'd be remiss if we didn't try the traditional Irish breakfast ($14), so we added yet another hearty meal to our list. Fluffy scrambled eggs like those in the boxty (without the meaty additions) graced the plate next to thick-cut buttery white toast. Bangers (sausages) maintained a crispy skin with a smooth inside, though we wished the pork had a touch more spice. Mushrooms, sauteed to the ideal tenderness, and bright grape tomatoes made us feel like we were being somewhat healthy, getting our veggies in at brunch. We could have taken or left the baked beans but appreciated the nod toward authenticity. And, of course, no Irish breakfast is complete without black and white puddings. Both had a pleasantly smooth texture and earthy flavor, with the black pudding possessing a slight spiciness while the white remained balanced and mellow.

I might have mentioned once or twice (or all the time) that there's never a brunch at which I'd turn down cheese grits, and this was no exception. Slainte's cheese grits ($4) are milky white in color, speckled with black pepper, and topped with melted shredded cheddar cheese and green onions. A simple but spot-on rendition, they are served in a large enough quantity to share between several hungry brunchers.

Nothing has changed in the years that have passed since I frequented Slainte. Some of the same friendly faces are behind the bar, it's still the top spot to catch a game in Fells Point, and the brunch is one of the heartiest ways to start the day (or fix the mistakes of the previous one).

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