We are not ones to usually start our dinner with a bowl full of sweetness. But on a recent visit to Bar Liquorice (801 E. Fort Ave,  708-1675, barliquorice.com), when owner Jeffrey Cahill learned that it was our first time at the bar, he insisted that our party of four all pick up a spoon and check out his Nutella bread pudding.
It was a good indicator of the friendly service you’ll get at Bar Liquorice, a new restaurant that is serving approachable food composed with finesse. In a corner bar on Fort Avenue that has been home to some of the diviest of Baltimore’s bars, Bar Liquorice is now a revitalized space owned and managed by Cahill (Tom Looney and Ed Scherer were co-owners, but they recently parted ways), who used to be associated with John Stevens.
We reluctantly put down our spoons to turn away from the sweet bread pudding and check out the savory menu. Each section of the menu—appetizers, sandwiches, and salads—is succinct. Efficiency is clear, with food items repeating themselves throughout, but in functional ways. Pulled pork, ham, pâté, and slaw, for example, are featured in several dishes, but in unique ways throughout.
Charcuterie ($13) and bruschetta du jour ($11) proved to be perfect as starters, but could equally be bar noshes. For the bruschetta, instead of the usual small bread slices dotted with seasoned diced tomatoes, basil, and a spot of cheese, we were treated to large crunchy biased-cut baguette slices topped with a blend of rich pesto, salty capers, toothsome chickpeas, tart artichoke, diced tomato, an artful drizzle of a balsamic and fig reduction, and carefully shaved fresh parmesan. As aesthetically pleasing as it was texturally varied, the dish possessed an unparallelled depth of layered flavor.
As for the charcuterie, five meats, including some pâté that none of us could stop snacking on, cornichons, and fruit graced the plate. With meat choices of various textures and tastes, there was an obvious level of thought imparted on the dish. Bonus: There is always a cheese that is included.
For mains, Bar Liquorice sticks to pressed sandwiches ($9-$10) or salads ($5-$10). From the seven options of sandwiches we chose the banh mi, croque monsieur, cubano, and Hot Tony. Also on the menu: a caprese, reuben, and pulled pork.
Each pressed panini-style sandwich features bread (often ciabatta) toasted to perfection and is cut on the bias, and presents a perfect bite throughout. Each bite of banh mi has the saltiness of pâté that meets the pork, slaw, and sriracha; the croque monsieur has the gooey cheese that melts into the thick-cut ham; and the cubano includes Bar Liquorice’s deeply flavored pulled pork which mellows the salty ham. The Hot Tony is a cold cut turned hot, and we can’t help but love that.
And since “Bar” is the the name of the game, Bar Liquorice’s cocktail program is as impressive as its food. Shaun Stewart, the lead bartender and a recent transplant from Philadelphia, holds an art degree, practices photography, and sees cocktails as an art form all their own.
With a cocktail list ranging from “Bar Light” to “Bar Dark,” the bar features drinks from any end of the liquor spectrum. We particularly enjoyed the Downton Abbey (Scotch, freshly grated ginger, honey syrup) and the Warsaw Mule (Belvedere vodka, ginger beer, fresh lime) before our meals, and the apple cider and whiskey was a perfect warm ending to the night. But ask Shaun for a craft-made beverage, or his recommendation from their 15-20 bottles of whiskey that compose their burgeoning whiskey program, and you won’t be disappointed.
Not to be forgotten is the overall comfort of Bar Liquorice. Just as the food is a marriage of casual fare with elevated simple ingredients, the ambiance has its own surprisingly pleasant dichotomy, with a chic, long and narrow black bar punctuated by a cozy earth-toned lounge area with a few comfy couches and a table or two. Big mirrors, a faux fireplace, and flowy curtains accentuate the space, adding a touch of grandeur that makes it feel larger than it is, but as cozy as it should be.
Bar Liquorice is open Monday-Saturday 4 p.m.-1 a.m.