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Free Range

Of Love and Regret

All the right ingredients don’t add up for Canton pub

Photo: Sam Holden, License: N/A

Sam Holden


Of Love and Regret

1028 S. Conkling St., [410] 327-0760, ofloveandregret.com

More at weekly.citypaper.com

An inaugural visit to Of Love and Regret feels a little like a first date with someone you’ve met online: All signs signal a great match and expectations run high. And why not? The pub promises quirky genius based on its partnership between Brian Strumke, the Baltimore-based “gypsy brewer” of Stillwater Artisanal Ales, and Ted Stelzenmuller, chef and co-owner of Jack’s Bistro, home of chocolate mac’n’cheese and sous vide cooking. The space reads classic Baltimore rowhouse pub—a sliver of a bar/dining room, plump with tables, de rigueur exposed brick, and a chalkboard full of 20-plus draft options, many of them from Stillwater. And though turned up far too high, Of Love and Regret’s soundtrack (LCD Soundsystem, Phoenix, Lykke Li, and the xx) is pitched just right for patrons whose indie leanings fall on the side of electronic dance pop. But call it lack of chemistry (or perhaps pub fatigue): At the end of an evening of burgers and brews, the inclination is to just be friends with this establishment rather than jumping into a serious, long-term relationship.

It’s hard to put a finger on exactly why like trumps love in the emotional reaction to Of Love and Regret.

It might be the noise levels that all but discount the chance for any low-level conversation. Or the service that, while seemingly knowledgeable, already feels a little weary of answering questions or being asked to wait a few minutes while a party makes up its mind. (The insistence to clear the table before diners are finished with dishes doesn’t win any points either.) Or the way the spectacular selection of rotating drafts—including Strumke’s top notch Stillwater Ales like Existent and Bronze Age, a collaboration with Belgian farmhouse brewery Hof Ten Dormaal, to imports like Koff Porter and Liefmans Goudenband—feels challenging instead of inviting, due to the terse message at the bottom of the beer menu that forbids any tasting. (Instead patrons can order half glasses of beer that range in price from $6 to $9 for 6 to 16 ounces.)

Of Love and Regret’s food menu poses fewer dilemmas. Although there are touches of the exotic—crispy pig ears ($10), a bowl of tiny duck tongues ($9.25) that arrive with a savory dipping sauce and instructions for eating (your choice whether to pull a tongue between your teeth to remove the meat or just chew the bits, cartilage and all)—most of the food is fairly straightforward. More duck shows up in a simple plate of sliced baguette, capers, pickled onions and a slightly duck-ish crock of butter ($8.75). A Korean pancake ($8) is traditional in its light texture, but steps into fusion territory with the addition of a dollop of pulled pork.

Sandwiches pull you back into pub grounds. There’s a page of burgers, including French style, with brie and brandied pears; a Moroccan-spiced Berber burger; and the Stillwater burger, with beer-cheese sauce, all served in plastic baskets with the kitchen’s excellent thick-cut potato wedges. You can even have your burger bathed in gold (and not just during the Olympics). Though it does nothing to affect the flavor, the golden burger ($11) shines like a sought-after medal but tastes more like a gourmet takeoff on your favorite fast-food memory, with its grilled onions, cheddar, and barbecue sauce. Also admirable is the Cuban burger ($13), which takes the elements of the grilled sandwich, including more of the smoked pulled pork, and piles it on an 8-ounce burger that begs to be shared.

There’s also a lot going on in the hot dog wrap ($13)—too much, according to some at our table. Admittedly, I’ve never had a hot dog, mashed potatoes, and shrimp salad all in one sandwich, and while I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat this combination again, it somehow worked in an odd savory, salty, cool, crunchy way—at least for a few bites. Other diners must agree, because the sandwich was a special that became so popular it was added to the regular menu, according to a server.

I can’t imagine the same will happen to the Hianese Chicken and Rice ($19). Everything about this bland dish felt ill-conceived, from the plastic cafeteria tray on which it’s served to the monotone paleness of cold poached chicken breast and white rice. A crabcake ($18.25) served on spoonbread in a cast-iron skillet felt similarly underwhelming and unaccompanied (a veg wouldn’t have been out of place here). As one diner pointed out, with the exception of two salads (arugula and cucumber) there’s not a lot of green on the menu, though perhaps that’s par for the course in a pub setting.

Desserts are made in house, and a room-temperature waffle drenched in beer-infused chocolate sauce topped with a fluff of whipped cream ($9) feels like it’s missing something (a scoop of ice cream, maybe?). A little warmth would boost that dessert as well as the cold poached pear with toffee-studded ice cream ($8).

I left Of Love and Regret feeling puzzled and not quite as in love as I had expected to be, though I’m not ready to discount the possibility of a more serious relationship in the future. In their other ventures, Strumke and Stelzenmuller are clearly aces at what they do. We’ll see what a second date holds.

Of Love and Regret serves dinner seven days and brunch Fri-Sun.

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