Dining That Is Fine: Twist in Fells Point does casual American well but should avoid "fine" dining

Look, I need to be blunt about this: Twist Fells Point (723 S. Broadway, [410] 522-4000, twistfellspoint.com) has the tagline of "Fine Food + Drink" and says it's a Mediterranean restaurant. Twist is none of those things. It doesn't yet have a liquor license, so it's BYOB. There's far more casual fare than fine dining on the menu. And while it advertises that it's a Mediterranean restaurant with "international cuisine," the Mediterranean selections are mostly limited to a "mezze" appetizer and a Greek salad. Talk about an identity crisis.

That said, Twist would succeed quite nicely if it focused its efforts on the food it's best at: casual American fare. That's the cuisine that already dominates the menu—there's a long list of sandwiches, a few salad and burger options, and a whole page of all-day breakfast options (!), including multiple omelets, huevos rancheros ($11), and more. The Greek burger ($11), one of the few Greek-identified items on the menu, came topped with grilled tomatoes and feta cheese and served on brioche bread. "I haven't had a hamburger this good for a while," my mom, who accompanied me on one visit, said. One of the few other Mediterranean items on the menu, the mezze ($8), was also quite good: Baba ghanouj, tabbouleh, hummus, feta cheese, and olive tapenade were all served with warm, soft wedges of pita bread, and while the tabbouleh was a bit plain and could have benefited from more mint or citrus, the rest of the spreads were tasty—my party of four practically licked the plate clean.

Off the sandwiches section of the menu, the 34th Street prosciutto panini ($10) was delightful: The arugula, tomatoes, and garlic and caramelized onion spread provided a lovely balance of sweet and salty to go with the prosciutto, all between soft, light bread (not a baguette, as the menu said). And the turkey chipotle panini ($11) had a nice kick to it from the chipotle mayonnaise, with an aromatic complement from the rosemary in the warm bread.

But there were odd inconsistencies here, in the same vein of Twist's seeming identity crisis. Neither of the paninis were actually paninis—while the bread on the turkey chipotle panini was warm, neither sandwich had been toasted on a panini press. For the sandwiches, the menu clearly says, "All of our sandwiches are served à la carte, so feel free to choose an additional tasty side," but we received sides with both of them on different visits. During the first visit, the waitress asked if hash browns were OK to bring out with the prosciutto panini, while on the next visit I received fries with the turkey chipotle panini. The sides didn't show up separately on either check, so they presumably were, in fact, included as a meal with the sandwich. I was happy to get the sides with the sandwiches, though, especially the hash browns, which had a satisfyingly crispy exterior. Another weird quirk of the menu: Under the burgers were two lists of dairy topping possibilities for your burgers, "cheese" (American, Swiss, provolone, aged white cheddar, Monterey jack) and "fromage" (mozzarella, bleu, Gruyère, feta, and smoked gouda). I guess the foreign and the domestic dairy products didn't want to co-mingle.

The fancier Twist tried to get with its dishes, the less satisfying the food was. The Amish pan-grilled chicken ($16), off the entrees section of the menu, was thin and not particularly noteworthy. The green pepper corn sauce accompanying it was also nondescript, but creamy, though the garlic mashed potatoes that came with the dish were impressively smooth with a drizzle of balsamic reduction glaze as an added touch. And then there was the ultimate disappointment, the cheese and crackers ($6) appetizer. I wasn't setting my expectations particularly high, but the plate that the waitress set down on our table was almost comical: The crackers were Ritz crackers, two of which were merely halves of crackers in some poor attempt at fancy presentation. The cheese consisted of two small slices of brie, two small rectangles of an unidentifiable white mild cheese, and two triangles of what, at first inspection, appeared to be American Kraft singles. Thankfully it wasn't quite that bad—they tasted like a mild cheddar cheese, though one that had been freshly peeled from a plastic sleeve. Garnishing the center of the plate was a chutney that actually wasn't bad, and two strawberries, but these accoutrements couldn't make up for the sad, sad state of the cheese and crackers.

But despite this, despite the weird inconsistencies and incoherencies of the menu and the marketing, I like Twist. The atmosphere is cozy, with wood-and-metal tables and a semi-open kitchen in the front room (though the white tablecloths in a second narrow room in the back feel like a bit much). The waitress that served us on both visits was personable and polite—she apologized to us on the first visit when our entrees took a little while (though not that long) to come out, saying our order was behind that of a large party and that she was trying her best to get us our meals, which was kind of her. And despite the occasional confusion of the menu, the more-casual fare here really is quite good—and I still have that whole page of all-day breakfast items to dig into. Just stay away from the cheese and crackers.

Twist is open Sunday-Thursday 7 a.m.-11 p.m. and Friday-Saturday 7 p.m.-2 a.m.

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