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Martha Thomas’ excellent review reproduced in its entirety below!
There’s a gentle sense of harmony to Clementine’s new outpost at the Creative Alliance. That isn’t to say it’s a calm place. The crowds and noise at any eatery under the same roof as a performance space fluctuate according to curtain time. If there’s an event going on in the theater, the dark rectangular room, outfitted with 10 or so tables and dominated by a marble-topped bar, is relaxing and convivial. Pre-show, the place can be busy: Some dine from the nicely edited menu; others sample seasonal cocktails, infused with herbs and fruit elixirs, or beer from a list that ranges from Schlitz and Colt 45 to craft brews, like the dense and dark Mocha Porter from Oregon’s Rogue Ales or a lager from nearby Heavy Seas.
The concord here isn’t so much the space itself or even the friendly servers, overseen by Cristin Dadant, known to many as co-owner of the original Clementine with her husband, Winston Blick.
The café—occupying a space that had been a storage room since the Creative Alliance took over the Patterson Theater in 2003—was part of the original vision of the arts venue, but was a long time coming. That may just work in its favor. Ten years ago, the trend may have been lattes and scones or cosmos and fusion; farmers’ markets were elite urban oddities; and to many, local implied unsophisticated.
In the last decade, a segment of Baltimore’s restaurant scene—with Blick at the fore—has evolved to embrace a kind of DIY passion that aligns with the mission of the Creative Alliance. The synergy of Clementine and the art space is what makes Baltimore both quirky and stylish: It’s an earnest city that cranks out plenty of great art and food, but generally doesn’t really give a shit about what’s trendy or posh.
Jeremy Price, the former sous chef from the Harford Road restaurant, has done a good job of importing Blick’s style while still making it his own. As at pater Clementine’s, the menu here emphasizes local and seasonal foods in familiar dishes with a twist. Late summer fare showcases cantaloupe, fried green tomatoes, corn chowder. The twist on the chowder ($5) may be a pretty garnish of pickled carrots in the shape of a starfish or a smattering of crabmeat to stir into the sweet soup ($2).
An appetizer portion of seared scallops ($11) is nicely charred, served on a patty of sticky rice, with a sweet heap of kimchi; the plate is decorated with swirls of pureed red beet and chili oil. The sopa verde ($24) is a meal-sized cioppino packed with shellfish, shrimp, and lumps of crab in a green-hued Mexican broth with a slight chili kick, defused by sopping up the liquid with slices of grilled baguette.
Duck confit ($11), also infused with a bit of heat, is piled on a crisp corn tostada, dappled with queso fresco, and presented on a square plate framed in lime wedges and dollops of sour cream.
The menu isn’t extensive, with only a revolving handful of appetizers and small plates, three or four entrees, and two sandwiches. The scale makes sense for a place only open three evenings and one brunch per week, and the emphasis on small plates is an implicit invitation to graze. The small plates, ranging in price from $7 to $11, can also be combined in a tasting of three for $20.
Sandwiches—for now limited to the straightforward corned beef reuben ($8) and a patty melt ($10), both served on housemade rye bread—are impressive, thanks to the use of local beef from the Genuine Food Company. The beef, even when cooked through, is naturally juicy and preseasoned by the grass and forage-fed cattle. Genuine Food, a collaboration of Blick and a couple of farming partners, also supplies the charcuterie found on the Clementine menu and at Blick’s new Hamilton food shop, the Green Onion, near the Harford Road restaurant.
The Creative Alliance opened 17 years ago in a sequestered space above a small restaurant on Fell Street called Margaret’s Café Open (the name was a lack of name, really—a sign in the window just took hold). Owner Margaret Footner wanted a place to hold poetry readings, show works by local artists, and stage small-scale performances.
The idea grew and eventually moved east to the Patterson Theater. The symmetry of the new restaurant at the Patterson doesn’t end with the creative victuals. The white marble on the bar is an homage to the neighborhood’s once ubiquitous front steps; the restaurant’s steel doors a reference to the now-shuttered Bethlehem Steel; the rough wood on the back wall was reclaimed from old Baltimore rowhouses. Even the revolving art on the walls is supplied locally—by the resident artists at the Creative Alliance. And the spirited mural above the bar, a series of expansive bird wings in expressive orange and red hues, was painted by a one-time Creative Alliance resident, Lauren Boilini. Creative is clearly the operative word.
Clementine at the Creative Alliance is open for dinner Thursday through Saturday and for brunch Sunday.