Nosferatofu, the Kraken and Phantom'let sound more like superheroes — or villains — than they do edible masterpieces, but at Julian's Restaurant, nothing is quite as it appears.
Located on Broadway, Federal Hill's quieter sister street, Julian's offers a slew of classic American dishes that are skillfully, and oftentimes playfully, re-imagined by chefs who resemble rock musicians strumming over sound systems more than they do Emeril Lagasse or Tom Colicchio.
This paradigm carries over to the wait staff, which is polite and helpful in selecting dishes off the extensive brunch menu while still exuding that heavy metal edge that permeates through the restaurant. Walking into Julian's is like walking into a concert already in progress. Entering through the wrought iron door, you step into a slightly cramped, industrial-looking eatery, with exposed pipes and red brick walls. The bar overlooks the open kitchen, allowing visitors a glimpse into the cooking process — a fast-paced affair whose sizzling and clanging provide the perfect back-beat to the alternative tunes.
Local, eclectic artwork provides splashes of color that contribute to the mismatched vibe of the interior. No single table is alike — the one where we were seated was inlaid with old stamps. Even the restroom proved entertaining, complete with a television airing cult classic movies.
While the decor certainly sets the tone of Julian's, the food amplifies and defines it. The wait time alone is a testament to its success — people choose to wait up to an hour for a seat in the cozy dining area.
The first thing guests are treated to when opening the menu is the drink offerings. Traditional options like Irish coffee and mimosas intermingle with quirky originals like the I <3 To Party (my new favorite way to drink iced coffee, served black and mixed with Kahlua and Malibu) and Argog's Grog (a warm or cold apple cider with apple jack and St. Elizabeth's allspice dram). Julian's also offers a large variety of craft beers.
From there, the real fun begins. The brunch menu offers a variety of egg dishes, hashes, salads, sandwiches and more. I chose the Kraken — a sumptuous take on eggs benedict, served with slow roasted pork belly, caramelized leek-parmesan grits, citrus-grilled asparagus and "cracklin" hollandaise. In other words, perfection on a plate. Separately, each component was delicious. Together, they created a symphony of flavors so deliciously mouth-watering, I am hungry just thinking about it.
The pork belly was tender and when paired with the runny yolk of the eggs benedict, it melted in my mouth. The grits were a mind-boggling mix of flavors — peppercorn and parmesan were apparent right away, but an underlying floral taste intrigued the senses and turned out to be coriander. The asparagus provided the only lightness to the otherwise rich dish, which was also accompanied by a side of home fries. Nevertheless, I do not regret a single penny or calorie. A half order cost $9 and kept me full late into the night.
My compatriots in cuisine ordered Thee Weeping Toreador — an omelet balanced nicely with avocado, tomato, black beans and pepper jack cheese — and Granola Goodness, a healthy dish of homemade granola, unsweetened yogurt and fresh fruit. I am, as apparent from my choice of meal, not a health nut, but Julian's converted me. The granola was delicious, sweet and fruity with apple undertones, and when paired with a dollop of light-as-air yogurt and a crisp bite of pear or grape, quickly addictive — not much of a problem since it only costs $5.
The omelet was well-balanced, but having sampled others here before, I know the power of other options like Tha Jedi Mind Trick — a classic combination of spinach, mushroom, grilled onion and Swiss cheese — and the Phantom'let, in which hot and sweet sausage combine with brussels sprouts, a crispy garlic gremolata and brie in a delicious pan-fried omelet.
Julian's also caters well to vegetarians and vegans, offering such dishes as the Nosferatofu, a tofu scramble with cashews, pickled onions, baby carrots and mustard greens, and vegan apple cider pancakes.
Overall, the fresh ingredients and the creative use of them in each dish, combined with a distinct rock-band flare, make Julian's an entertainingly delicious and affordable stop for every student.