The Vegetarian Option: Abbey Burger Bistro has options, but avoid anything from the fryer

Nestled at the end of a little alley near Cross Street Market in Federal Hill, Abbey Burger Bistro (1041 Marshall St, [443] 453-9698) is pretty charming, especially for a sports bar. There are large flat-screen televisions in every direction, but it still manages a homey "old world" pub feel. Its menu showcases, as you might guess from the name, an impressively diverse selection of meats on a build-a-burger checklist—bison, lamb, duck, kangaroo, Kobe beef, and of course regular beef.

This meat action on the menu is so serious that I was a little surprised by the relative diversity in their vegetarian "burgers" as well. In fact, they were even listed right there on the menu in their own little area: "Vegetarian Options." This diversity did not extend to the rest of the menu—only one appetizer and one salad were meat-free.

I had to order the fried pickles ($6). I can't go somewhere and not order fried pickles. Unfortunately, this time it bit me in the ass. The batter was pancake-like, and very thickly coated on those thin and floppy generic food-service pickle slices. In some bites, the pickle flavor was barely perceptible—they just tasted like hush puppies. To make it worse, they also tasted strongly of fish. I'm not strict enough to ask or care about shared fryers with fried chicken and the like—that would surely prevent me from getting fries more often than I'd prefer, so I just don't think about it. But when your fried pickles taste like the briny deep, the suspension of disbelief is shattered. And let's be real, even if you do eat meat, that's kinda gross.

The unfortunate fried-pickle experience steered me away from my initial sandwich choice, the fried green tomato burger ($9). The other vegetarian sandwiches were easy to choose from. The grilled cheese ($6) and shroom burger ($9.50) were nice to have as options, but when was the last time a non-vegetarian restaurant made a better grilled portabella that was better than one you made yourself? A house-made veggie burger ($10), on the other hand, was something I could definitely get behind.

You can use the checklist to build your own with various toppings and condiments, but I decided to get the chef's choice for impartiality's sake. The veggie burger was "topped with gran queso cheese, chili pepper mayo, lettuce, sprouts, avocado, herb yogurt, and a roasted pepper aioli."

The patty itself contained a smorgasbord of vegetables—squash, corn, zucchini, carrots. I thought I detected some chickpeas, but when I asked what exactly was in there, the staff wasn't sure—they said they "didn't think it was bean-based." The mishmash of vegetables meant it had an incredibly common veggie-burger problem: it was mushy. That said, it was very well-seasoned, with an almost aggressive cumin and hot pepper flavor to it, which I appreciated. I've eaten far too many bland veggie burgers, but this was not one of them.

The toppings were a mixed bag—I love a slice of avocado on anything, and this one was perfectly ripe. The gran queso was deliciously salty and crumbly, a semi-hard cheese reminiscent of Manchego—if anything, I wish it had a bit more on there. But the mayo, yogurt, and aioli? It tasted fine, but I couldn't really pick anything out—perhaps it doesn't need all three, chef. The lettuce was standard bar fare chopped iceberg, which is always a little bit disappointing because we live in a world where romaine exists.

I also got a side of fries ($3). They, unsurprisingly, tasted like fish. Salt-cured fish. Seriously, they were salted like soft pretzels. Pass.

Overall, Abbey Burger Bistro gets a few points for intent—most burger joints will just have the shittiest Boca patty on the menu, if anything. Having four different options is commendable. But the execution could use some work, and the oil definitely needs to be changed more frequently.

If you absolutely need to go there to watch a sport thing, rest easy with the knowledge that you'll be able to eat something OK. Get the veggie burger, choose your own toppings, it won't be the most disappointing veggie burger you've ever had by a long shot. But, uh, avoid anything from the deep fryer.

 The Vegetarian Option tells you all you need to know about going meatless in Baltimore in the places you'd least expect it.

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