The staff at West Baltimore’s Alewife knows that they’re shilling a good thing.
“This is a gastropub,” our server, Josh, told us after we’d made it known that it was our first time in the restaurant. “Gastropubs take their food options very seriously, so everything that we have on our menu will be good. A lot of people think we’re just about the burger, but that’s just one piece of an extensive menu we stand by top-to-bottom.”
Still, we were there for the burger.
Since opening across from the Hippodrome last year in the desperately-trying-to-gentrify part of town just west of Oriole Park, Alewife chef Chad Wells has turned heads with his Smoke Burger, a $15 feat of gastronomical creativity that earned Best Burger honors from The Baltimore Sun in its first year. The 11-ounce burger is made from a combination of four beefs — ground ribeye, brisket, skirt, and filet — and is topped with smoked gouda and gruyère cheeses, applewood smoked bacon, caramelized cipollini onion, and chipotle aioli. It all goes into a brioche bun, and as the disclaimer says under the item on the menu, “takes a bit longer than an average burger to prepare. Your patience is appreciated and shall be rewarded.”
(Quick aside: You see that jab they take? “Average” burgers?)
The plate arrived 15 minutes after our orders. In the middle of each burger rested a hearty steak knife standing fully erect, a crystal-clear indication that you’ll want to cut this thing in half. So I did, and let me tell you, a Smoke Burger’s cross section is pure beauty. It’s how medium-rare burgers should always look: slightly off-pink in the middle, with a balanced fade into charred edges.
You pick the burger up like you’re setting out to tame a true beast, but the first bite proves quite manageable. The second is where you really notice the many tastes and their perfect blend. The third you savor.
The whole experience is over too quickly, a fault you can blame partly on the durable brioche bun that keeps everything in its right place and allows you to attack each bite with no distribution management needed. But the Smoke is one of those rare burgers where you cherish every bite, finish it off, and think you could eat another.
Alewife has a supply of ketchup for the burger’s accompanying duck fries. Nobody at our table even considered using it on the Smoke. Why mess with perfection?