Hangover Helper: Wine Market Bistro is one of the city's hidden brunch gems

Wine Market Bistro (921 E. Fort Ave., [410] 244-6166, winemarketbistro.com) may not be the first brunch option that comes to mind after you wake up a bit groggy and need some sustenance ASAP, but it should be. Tucked into a rehabbed foundry off Fort Avenue in the gray zone between Federal Hill and Locust Point, Wine Market Bistro is a solid happy hour and dinner spot. But, frankly, we didn't even know they served brunch until we Googled it. We're glad we did, because what we got was one of the better meals we've had on a weekend afternoon in some time.

After a Saturday of ill-advised late-night karaoke, we rolled into their parking lot (bonus point No. 1) a bit late, with hopes they were still serving, and were happy to discover they serve brunch until 4 p.m. on Sundays (bonus point No. 2). There were only two other tables being served when we walked into the industrial-meets-modern dining room (there's also an outdoor patio—bonus point No. 3) so we plopped ourselves down at the long, sleek white marble bar, where our bartender/server assured us that it's much busier earlier in the day. 

We can see why. Upon perusing the menu we discovered they have a $19 prix fixe brunch menu that includes a choice of a starter and entree and your first mimosa or bloody mary—a great deal once you consider the quality of food and the service we got throughout our meal. Especially when, after ordering, we were surprisingly greeted with a complimentary plate of fresh-out-of-the-fryer lemon ricotta beignets with a side of hazelnut chocolate sauce for dipping—a brunch amuse-bouche that was wonderfully light, hangover-absorbing, and, the best part, free to every customer (bonus point No. 4).

The bloody mary ($7) and mimosa ($6) were solid versions of the standards, with the former using a good and spicy in-house mix and the latter upping the ante with the use of Dibon Cava champagne and fresh orange juice. But if you want something out of the ordinary, go for the grapefruit-limoncello bellini ($7), which we found to be a uniquely refreshing take on breakfast booze. There's also the mama's shandy ($8), a blend of Shiner's ruby redbird beer and grapefruit juice, served with a lemon-mint rim—something we'll definitely be trying next time. 

Our starters came out as we enjoyed our drinks, and although the strawberry gazpacho ($5 cup) was pureed into a perfectly smooth and silky consistency and topped with a nice and salty slice of cured mangalica ham, we found it to be just a bit too sweet from the strawberry—one of the few nitpicks we had during our brunch. The spring salad ($9), on the other hand, was a lesson in how fresh ingredients prepared and executed with care and attention to detail can become something much more. A simple mix of mini asparagus, snap peas, shaved radish, and goat feta mixed with greens and dressed with a tarragon-basil vinaigrette, the salad was the epitome of spring on a plate, with the vinaigrette's simple balance of acid and herbs leaving quite a mark on us.

The main dishes were an equally impressive example of good ingredients prepared simply and with care. The eggs benedict ($14) was delivered with two perfectly puffy white eggs laid atop two slices of spongy rosemary focaccia—a refreshing substitute for English muffins—and topped with a light hollandaise and fried pieces of prosciutto. The benedict was good enough with the eggs and bread alone, but the fried prosciutto, which we initially mistook for bacon, was so satisfyingly salty and crunchy that we were left to wonder why more places haven't replaced bacon with the Italian ham (we know, blasphemy, but trust us on this one). Oh yeah, did we mention that snuggled up next to the benedicts were five plump cornmeal-fried oysters that we happily used to mop up the mix of hollandaise and egg yolk that ran out onto the plate? Yes, that benedict was on point. 

Breakfast burritos tend to be a messy and coma-inducing slurry of eggs and indistinguishable Mexican fixings, but Wine Market Bistro's bacon breakfast burrito ($9) was a reminder of just how good they can be when done correctly. A large flour tortilla was wrapped around layers of fluffy scrambled eggs, salty chunks of crispy bacon, creamy slices of avocado, cranberry beans (similar to a pinto bean), and cheddar cheese that, when eaten together with the spicy aioli that was sneaking around in the middle, made for some "oh God, good lord" moments. The fact that the tortilla itself was hot and crispy all the way around and served alongside a side of fried potato slices that had the holy grail of fried edges—or at least that's what we called them—only upped the ante on the burrito.

Feeling full but unable to hold back after seeing the pork shoulder hash (leftovers could be wrapped up for an afternoon snack, we told ourselves), we quickly ordered the dish ($14) before our brains could speak any logic to us. A tower of breakfast presented itself in the form of a base of those crispy potatoes, a middle layer of thick pieces of pulled pork, and a sunny-side egg on top shining like a savory beacon of light. It was a solid dish, with the pork really coming through, but compared to the previous entrees, it could have used a bit more seasoning or acid to really take it to another level. We still happily finished it despite our server asking if we wanted a carry-out container. 

We finished the meal with a small French-press coffee ($3.50) as we happily talked about how much we'd be letting our friends in on this jewel of a brunch spot, thinking that next time we'll ride our bikes and just make it into one big Locust Point bar crawl.

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