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Garden of Eatin’

New Highlandtown spot melds fine cuisine and neighborhood charm

Photo: Sam Holden, License: N/A

Sam Holden

Adam’s Eve

3326 Foster Ave., [410] 327-6984,

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Adam’s Eve may not have had the most hyped restaurant launch this year, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Amid the late-summer buzz of new eateries, the neighborhood bistro, a block or two off the beaten path in Highlandtown, opened with a quiet midsummer murmur, perhaps in respect for its namesake, the young son of the owner’s partner, tragically lost at too young an age.

There’s nothing flashy going on here. The dusk blue-painted formstone building has three entrances—one along Highland Avenue leads to a tiny vestibule that divides bar and restaurant. Entering through the front door on Foster Avenue feels like going in the back. You’re greeted by the edge of the large horseshoe bar with a view of the cluttered inner workings of the bar area and the dining room beyond. It may take more than a moment or two to be noticed once you’ve settled into a tall seat.

The walls are Prussian blue and bright yellow, like an iteration of the Swedish flag, punctuated by an occasional swath of exposed brick. There’s a smattering of vintage bar decor, including a lighted Budweiser Clydesdales team sign—that may or may not be intended as ironic—as well as an impressive collection of authentic posters from long-ago concerts (Jim Morrison, 1967; Jethro Tull, 1982) that is decidedly not.

In fact, the posters may be a clue to the owner’s intentions. While Adam’s Eve is in no way a retro throwback, it certainly doesn’t trumpet anything outré and trendy. It’s more neighborhood-casual than heels-and-attitude. It’s a refuge for those escaping the noisy demographic of nearby Canton or Annabel Lee, the place around the corner where the chef was once employed.

Chef/owner Mark Littleton was on hand to open Annabel Lee in 2008 and moved on to Bistro Rx, on Patterson Park. The man in charge makes the occasional appearance in the dining room of Adam’s Eve, but not in a meet-and-greet kind of way. You get the feeling that Littleton is toiling hard in the kitchen, that this is a one-guy show.

And though Adam’s Eve considers itself a gastropub, that overused designation would add unnecessary pressure to a menu that is mostly composed of the basics: a burger, a salmon entree, a handful of salads, as well as a few homey twists on comfort food. There’s the sprouts and rags ($9.50), for example, the kind of dish an inventive mom might whip up on a busy night: Brussels sprouts tossed in a tangy tomato broth, then mixed with chewy lasagna noodles—simple, fresh ingredients, nothing too fancy, filling without guilt.

The pub fare on offer is reliable but not predictable. A burger made with Roseda beef ($12.50) has the juicy goodness of the local, grass-fed herd, and it’s heaped with other stuff as well: oozing Muenster cheese, bacon, pickles, even rippled potato chips—worthy of a kid’s pig-out at a family cookout. A potato skins special, stuffed with salty and rich duck confit and topped with melted cheddar, bordered on gluttony.

There’s an extensive beer list with plenty of artisanal options and a nice selection of reasonably priced bottles of wine. Happy hour prices are listed on the menu along with regular prices, and daily drink specials range from the straightforward gin and tonic to a pricey maple manhattan ($12) garnished with a slice of smoked Applewood bacon and a luscious sour cherry.

Along with the burger, sandwich options include a fish gyro, a mozzarella panini, and a quesadilla filled with roasted butternut squash and melted jack.

There are some fancy entrees, maple-smoked salmon cooked on a cured cedar plank, a strip steak with bacon-horseradish butter, even veal osso buco. A special one night was a hot roast beef sandwich, served on a tower of bread (three slabs, each nearly two inches thick) layered with shaved beef and rich gravy.

Dessert offerings are hit-or-miss: on both nights we visited, the choice was a bread pudding or flourless chocolate cake ($7), the latter was dense and creamy, dotted with blueberries and squirts of airy whipped cream, with a swirl of chocolate sauce that tasted suspiciously like Hershey’s.

Adam’s Eve seems to be a labor of love, helmed by a chef who’s bounced around some and may just relish going it alone. Above the arch between the dining room and bar, the aphorism, “The best things in life aren’t things,” seems to express much more. The seriousness of intent here is one you want badly to honor, in the same way the restaurant honors its eponym. Whether that detracts from the exuberance of the place remains to be seen. For now, it’s a welcome addition to the neighborhood, an easy place to stop in for an affordable nosh or a three-course meal, a quiet, unassuming spot where you can have a conversation with your dining companion or chat with folks from the ’hood sitting at the bar.

Adam’s Eve serves dinner wednesday through monday, closed tuesday.

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