Category Archives: Hamilton/Lauraville

K is for Koco’s Pub

I liked Koco’s Pub, but I think I went during the wrong time of year. Awash in beachy kitsch, this Hamilton mainstay seems like a careworn cliché in mid-July. In winter it probably feels like a tropical resort, with its palm-leaf murals and friendly service. I’m happy to go back and give it a go at some later, chillier date. With all its nods towards points south, Koco’s is a quintessential neighborhood spot.

Koco’s is a meandering, lemon yellow building with a be-parroted sign, looking not entirely unlike a cruise ship run aground on the side of Harford Road. The main entrance is on the side, on Overland Avneue, and when I ducked in on a sunny day, my eyes to a minute to adjust to Koco’s dim lighting. When my pupils sorted themselves out, I saw a clutch of families having dinner, complete with kids playing on the floor. I saw regulars lining the long bar at the far end of the restaurant. I saw the aforementioned beachy kitsch. Ugh.

I’m leery of all things beach-themed (restaurants, parties, weddings, etc), which are often an attempted cheap short cut to fun. Beach = AWESOME, right? There’s a picture of surfboard on this menu and the club sandwich is called a Jammin’ Jamacian, so I must be HAVING A BLAST!!! But really, only the beach truly feels like the beach. Whenever I’m standing in someone’s scrubby back yard next to a tiki torch drinking a melting mai tai, it’s like watching a bad drag queen with five o’clock shadow. C’mon, who are you kidding here?

Anyhoodle, beach-themed places work to do to win me over. Koco’s does the work, with bar food at extremely reasonable prices and happy hour drink specials. (Said happy hour only runs from 3-6, though, so nip out of work early to catch them. There aren’t any food specials, but when fries are $4 a basket that’s not really an issue.) My friend Ellie and I got a few domestic draft beers for $2, served in chilled pint glasses. For our second round, we got new glasses, straight from the freezer – very nice touch. The bartenders were the best I’ve encountered in a long time, attentive but not pushy. Ellie and I opted not to order food – not even Koco’s famous crabcake, which looked like a delectable softball of crabby, flaky goodness – and the staff was no less interested in making sure we were happy.

The bartender even gave us (and everyone else at the bar) an oft-refilled basket of snack mix. I fall for free-salty-snacks-trick every single time a bar places a thirst-inducing treat in front of me, like the rube at the street fair who’s sure he can beat the carnie’s shell game. But really, any place with free snackes is A-OK in my book and the incredible service evoked a four-star Carribbean hotel far more than Parrothead-y décor did. I didn’t feel whisked away to a tropical island, but I did feel right at home.

Note: Koco’s is closed on Sunday and Monday.


H is for Hamilton Tavern

Hamilton Tavern like walking into a Dorothea Lange photo, only everyone’s skinny because they’re Lauraville hipsters instead of starving Dust Bowlers. The walls are strewn with artfully arranged saws and farm equipment that allude to the tavern’s commitment to locally sourced and seasonal foods. You won’t find tomatoes on the burgers, because tomatoes in May are worthless. You won’t find stout on tap until autumn, because the summer is better suited to Resurrection and IPAs. While the Ham Tav is a haul from my hood, it’s a carefully designed restaurant with a clear idea behind it, one that I can respect and admire. It’s a nice marriage a modern concept with an antiqued decor.

Hamilton Tavern has a limited menu — about eight appetizers and six sandwiches. The kitchen has wisely limited itself to things it does well. This week’s dip of the week was spicy black bean; I do wish I’d had the chance to try the smoked salmon dip from some weeks past. Mmm, smoked salmon. (Note: if anyone has any local smoked salmon dishes to recommend, please put them in the comments!)

Genny and I ordered fried pickles, which were the best I’ve ever had, although I think fried pickles are a contradiction in terms. While I love pickles and I love fried things, pickles are just too soggy to really achieve the crispness that defines fried food. (I feel the same way about Black Velvets. I adore champagne and Guinness, but can’t imagine them mingling.) Hamilton Tavern’s goat cheese side sauce is a tasty addition to the fried cukes. I still preferred the buffalo tofu — the creamy dullness of the tofu compliments the spicy of the buffalo sauce well.

In any case, Genny was pleased with the vegetarian options. There were some meatier things that I would have tried if we’d been there for a full-on dinner (namely the pulled duck BBQ sandwich, since I’ve had duck on the brain lately). Service was serviceable, but not special. Kudos goes to the designer, though. The farm equipment, pressed tin ceiling and fairy lights on the railing give an unearned patina to a very new restaurant. The ladies room is neatly papered in torn pages from authors like Edith Wharton and Kate Chopin. As an affirmed bookworm, I WILL do this to my powder room some day, even though I often come home from work so exhausted by words I want revert to pictograms and smoke signals.l

Restaurant owners would likely weep on a review that ends with a praise of the bathroom decor, and the Hamilton Tavern deserves better than that. I’ll have to go back sometime soon, and try that duck sandwich and check out the intriguing but as-yet-neglected-by-me wine list.

Incidentally, the people have spoken in regard to the Hamilton Tavern — it edged Heninger’s for AAH honors. Apparently no one has any love for Hull Street Blues in Locust Point. I have my I spot (iSpot?) all picked out, but start thinking about J places. Thanks.