Baltimore Pho - Hollins Market area (long)
- aussiewonder Feb 21, 2008 11:27 AM
I wanted to report on my meal @ Baltimore Pho (1114-16 Hollins St, Balto 21223. Tel# 410 752-4746). Open Mon-Sat for lunch and dinner - bar stays open until...
Baltimore Pho is right opposite Hollins Market on the other side from Zella's Pizza.
The Short: Friend and I went for lunch today and thoroughly enjoyed our meal, so much so....we will MOST DEFINITELY be back!
In the space that was the Cultured Pearl, they've done a nice job with the renovations. I know that many restaurant owners feel the pressure from investors to open ASAP and IMHO many open far too early, and sadly the kinks or the little fixes can be glaring and detrimental to encouraging repeat business. We've all been watching this space for BP to open and I'm glad that they took their time. If you've read my posts in the past you'll know that i've griped about ethnic places in Baltimore that are less than hip or swank: the tired bamboo/fake plants/ethnic-dress same same that seems to permeate these dining rooms. But no more! Lots of light, lots of face brick, strong bold colours and plates that work/fit the table - this was a major issue @ RA last night (we could barely fit the three plates on the table w/ our drinks and sushi accessories comfortably). The lighting is subdued and the decor is tasteful and whilst 'ethnic' - reflective of the cuisine - artistic and subtle. There are two rooms - bar and dining. The bar runs along the left side of the room and looked to have a decent selection of wines and liquor (including top shelf), on tap: Miller Lite, BlueMoon, Yuengling and...can't remember the others. The dining room on the right had 10-15 tables. It's not big.
Our server brought us a bowl of keropok to start (prawn crackers) - which was a big hit w/ me. A childhood favourite they were served with house-made fish sauce; very tasty and sizzling and cracking when dipped into the sauce. Not a dieters delight - prawn flavoured flour crackers deep fried. YUM!
We started off w/ the Vietnamese Summer/Rice Paper Rolls, Fish cakes and Chicken Satay (app's ~$6)
The summer rolls were deelightful, two in an order they were compactly rolled and the ingredients weren't diced up or shredded too thinly. Left long they had a very artistic look to them and were quite tasty, served w/ dipping sauce. Chicken satay was pretty good - grilled chicken served w/ house made cucumber and peanut sauces. But the real start was the fish cakes. Simply the BEST fish cakes i've had in a while, they tasted homemade with outstanding chilli, green onion and fish flavour. These are NOT coddies or remotely similar in consistency, so if that's what you're expecting then you'll be disappointed. Fish cakes have a rubbery texture, but these weren't chewy or tasteless. Three in a portion they are cut into strips and served w/ dipping chilli sauce - i could eat these alone as a snack.
We shared a bowl of Pho ($8) - Rare. Served w/ the usual accompaniments it was pretty good, but not the best. The broth lacked depth, although once we loaded it up w/ the house fish sauce, fresh chilli's and hoisin, it was much better. Still, I would go back again and order the Pho - it certainly beats the drive to Columbia and overall is far superior to the Saigon Remembered in Govens.
Overall the menu is a lot smaller than other Vietnamese places around, the mains center on Pho - WD, Rare, Meatball, Combo (pork, chicken, fish cakes - i'm trying this one next time), Chicken and Vegetarian. A selection of Bun dishes - sort of like Pho, minus the broth but w/ the side dish of accompaniments and beef stew.
We finished off w/ Vietnamese Coffee ($3) bc we couldn't fit dessert in, but we were tempted - fried icecream - another childhood fav.
I checked out the dinner menu and it's pretty similar w/ a couple of added extra's plus they have a family style meal with three apps and four entrees (i think that was it), with rice for $33 pp, minimum 2 person order.
I also want to mention the service - it was great. Attentive enough that we got water refills and beer refills and plates taken away as they were demolished but not intrusive. The staff were all extremely nice and friendly. They've had a great response on the weekends so lets hope it continues. Whilst we were there two other tables came and went, granted we were also on the later side of lunch.
All in all, we spent $46 before tip and that included 3 draft beers. Money well spent. I hope that they get the support and do well - be nice if something along these lines could open up in Fells/Canton - why oh why don't we have a noodle joint closer to home????
Thanks so much for this great review. If we're not iced in, a fellow 'hound and I planned to check it out for lunch tomorrow. Now, I'm actually excited.
And, indeed, why couldn't they open in the SE...but, hey, if it's good, I'll take it! Now, on to twist someone's arm to get a banh mi place!
oh I know, a Banh Mi place would be so sweet but truthfully, i spent a three hour lunch last Sunday @ Kopitiam in DC (yes, hounders i know you don't all love it but..) and would be happy w/ just a basic noodle/roti/rice shack. Is that sooooo much to ask for???? I'm looking forward to hearing your reports!
Braving the non-ice storm, two 'hounds and I made it to Baltimore Pho this afternoon. I think my two dining companions will chime in later.
Before beginning, I should first point out the I was the most negative of the three about the food. I also initially derided the book length section of the menu (which we were asked to read) regarding the restaurant's origin. I thought everything was just too sunshiny and a bit self-congratulatory. It was much more about neighborhood revitalization then about food. While I give them major props for opening a business to help out the neighborhood, no one's really going to be a repeat visitor if the food isn't any good.
Like aussiewonder, I really liked the decor and the vibe of the place, although unlike AW, I'm one of those people incredibly fond of very cheesy ethnic places. But, it's nice to have an alternative.
Anyway, on to the food. The prawn crackers were highly addictive, but I felt as though I've had them before. It turns out that they are bought as little disks, and then fried. They are fried very well, but if you're not making them from scratch, it would be great if they could give them to diners warm, where they could really melt in your mouth.
We also had the fish cake. Very fishy. I didn't love it, didn't hate it, but it would be doubtful that I would order it again.
We then had the summer rolls. These were excellent, and could easily hold their own against anyone else's.
I had the chicken pho. It was highly disappointing. The broth was close to flavorless and needed to be seriously doctored with sauces. The chicken was relatively tasteless chicken breast, which didn't help inspire. I also didn't think they gave quite enough of the veggies to go in, and all and all, it could have used a bit more herbs.
I tried my companion's pho tai (rare beef) and thought the broth could best be described as watery. I think there were great, pho-like underlying flavors, but it was thin and very weak.
My other companion had the pork bun, which he loved.
We finished up with some banana bread pudding with ice cream. The texture was pretty off, and the bananas seemed to taste like baby food. I also had the Vietnamese coffee, which, well, just wasn't. Like the pho, it was far too watery, and I'm used to cafe sua being very syrupy.
Despite all these negatives, I was really sad to leave. The staff was so nice--there was more staff than patrons--and were so eager to please that I hated to go and leave them with nothing to do. They were sometimes a bit TOO helpful, i.e., pointing out the veggies that went in the pho. These are bean sprouts. This is lime. This is sriracha sauce, etc. I think that a good strategy would be to ask if there are any questions about the food, or how to eat it, and leave it at that.
I don't think that they are that far off in being able to be a real asset to the Baltimore restaurant scene. Their heart is definitely in the right place, now, they just need to put their food there, too.
"I'm one of those people incredibly fond of very cheesy ethic places". Jeez, Ellen I would have thought you had higher moral standards than that! ;) I was the hound who had the beef pho, and I found the broth to be good. I wouldn't call it watery but it wasn't the heartiest broth I've ever had. On the other hand, I'm no pho expert. I found the fish cakes fishy in a good way as they often seem too bland to me. I found the flavor of the banana bread pudding (made with little red bananas) excellent but the texture was gluey. The other hound present suggested that heating it in an oven rather than the microwave might have solved this.
Wow! Even though I went with BaltoEllen, it appears we were at different restaurants:
first, the prawn crackers. If you have made them, you know that within two minutes of coming out of the oil they cooked in, they cool down.
then to my entree: what is known in Vietnamese restaurants as bun (with an accent) is an assortment of vegetables in a large bowl with a flavored protein. I chose the barbecued pork, which was a meltingly tender and very porky cut, with a Viet sweet sour sauce for me to pour over it. I also added cilantro and sliced jalapeno. Great flavors and a variety of textures. I tasted the beef pho, which, while mild, had a real flavor base, and a choice of several fresh condiments to add to it. Of our three entrees, the weakest was the chicken one, I agree. With a cuisine that is mild, chicken breast may not be the best choice.
The dessert used the fruity pink bananas, that gave it a very present taste, compensating for the rather gummy texture.
If you have tasted the real thing, in Vietnam, this restaurant may be a disappointment. But if, like me, your comparison is with the half dozen other Vietnames restaurants in Balimore, Baltimore Pho is a fun and better addition to the bunch.
Just wait until we have our chow outing at Pho #1...you'll see that you can get good pho inside the beltway, too....No need to compare to the pho at the source.
<The dessert used the fruity pink bananas, that gave it a very present taste,>
I think I caught ko1's disease of looking at typos, but I assume you meant "pleasant." Or, is present a new way to describe food, as opposed to, say, food that's been hanging around for a while? ;-)
Also, I would never describe Vietnamese cuisine as "mild."
>But if, like me, your comparison is with the half dozen other Vietnames restaurants in Balimore, Baltimore Pho is a fun and better addition to the bunch.>
Well, perhaps an adjective besides "mild" would not be used if your familiarity with the cuisine extended beyond a few mediocre places in the Baltimore area.
My wife and I went Friday night, and had a mixed experience. First, I was surprised at the upscale decor and the attempt at "sophistication" i.e. - taking our coats, uniforms and ties on the waitstaff. This is Sowebo for christ sakes and we were dressed very casually, as were the other diners. Once we sat down the waitstaff was eager and freindly, but maybe too attentive - I barely had time to read the menu, let alone the story about the restaurant, etc. before 2 servers were asking if we were ready to order.
So, we both ordered the rare beef pho, paper rolls and crispy spring rolls. We really liked both rolls - fresh ingredients, lettuce, mint, pickled carrots and apple to roll the spring rolls in; hoisin sauce and nuoc cham sauce were good. And We both liked the prawn crackers.
Now on to the pho - We both agreed, the broth was weak. Sort of watery and flavorless. It would be much better if it had some more fat and a healthy dose of fish sauce. Not a hard thing to remedy but it is certainly important. The condiments and veggies were fresh and tasty, but I had to dump anything I could, plus the nuoc cham sauce in it to get some flavor. I had the vietnamese coffee for dessert, which I enjoyed - I did not find it watery. Overall, we were disappointed, as we were hoping for some good pho in the city limits. I think I would come back, but not order the pho. They had alot of other interesting dishes on the menu, and the prices are reasonable. .....One good thing - its better than Saigon Remembered!!
Me and a couple of my classmates and regular pho-buddies went here last Thursday. We were very surprised by the ambience -- it was really nicely decorated, and the white linen tablecloths, coat check, and uniformed waiters was not what we were expecting in a pho place.
Unfortunately, the pho was disappointing. It's been described here as "watery", and I would echo that, with a strangely sweet flavor that really shouldn't be in pho broth. There was a lack of "beefiness" and soul in the broth. The beef selection in the pho was also limited to "rare" and "well-done" beef, no tendon or brisket. The serving size was also quite small (important to those of us on a student budget!).
On the plus side, the fried spring roll was among the best I've had here, with good accompaniments of lettuce, picked vegetables, mint, and apple (!) to wrap it up with. The herbs accompanying the rolls and pho were impeccably fresh, including a sawtooth herb (don't know what it's called) that I've rarely seen in pho places in the US. The fish cakes were good, but not much better than the fish cakes I get frozen from H-Mart.
We were hopeful that we could find a reasonable pho shop closer to Baltimore City than Catonsville, but based on our experience, Baltimore Pho isn't it.
My colleague and I went last Friday for a working lunch and the staff were very accommodating. We had a 4-top table, spread out and stayed for hours.
Food-wise... I am a vegetarian and was just so thrilled to be able to 'pho' with the rest of the world. The only veggie-friendly pho I've ever had was in Rockville years ago.
We split the vegetarian summer rolls which were fresh, tasty and well stuffed.
My friend got the well done beef pho and I think she liked it although she pronounced it very 'un-Vietnamese' in flavor. She spent several months in Vietnam last year so the taste is fresh in her memory. So I think it was more of a soup experience for her.
I found it took some pretty major srircha (sp?) sauce to get my broth to the point where I like it. However, they were very kind about bringing us a lot of extra 'stuff' – they also kept our green teapots hot throughout.
Went back and had the bo kho, their half Vietnamese/ half French beef stew: tender beef with star anise, garlic and I think 5 spice flavored sauce, with carrots. Not excellent, but very good. A much smaller portion than the Pho: it would leave room for a fried chicken thigh from the Hollins market, opposite.
I live around Hollins Market and it's about time someone did something about that area. I was recommended by a neighbor to check out this place; I went with 4 fellow foodies for dinner and we ordered tons of food...fried calamari, vege spring roll, garden roll, pomelo salad, fish cake, satay, beef pho, lemon grass fish, garlic beef cubes, coconut shrimp soup, caramelized pork in clay pot and I had their special lycee martini. for dessert I ordered a vanilla-raspberry creme brulee and tasted the poached pear in vanilla sauce too.
I do agree that their pho wasn't the best but everything else was good!! I have a chance to speak to the owner about the pho and he mentioned that they did not use MSG to enhance the flavor...everything was cooked the natural way. I was really happy to hear that. I hate people who use MSG! It just so wrong!
the fried calamari and the pomelo salad are my favorites. I will definitely recommend this. and the poach pear were magnificent. my creme brulee is exquisite with very smooth texture. and I love the lychee martini. and the Chardonnay that the host was recommending was really good.
I think comparing the ethnic vietnamese food here in US with the ones in Vietnam is silly. First off, can you get blackened shrimp paste in US? can you get belachan here? can you get salted fish here? most of the time, the chef will need to find substitute that's not available here as compared to Vietnam. I remembered I had pho in Ho Chi Minh from the street hawker in Le Loi..it's really good but do you really want to know what they put in those pot?? I don't think so. Have anyone tried Quan An Ngon in HCM? You can't duplicate that here!!
I think BP got it right. the service was really good. we have 4 servers attending to us. I didn't read the story about the restaurant coz I don't really have the time but overall I gave a 5 stars out of 5. they deserve it!!! We left a huge tips to the servers and I shall bring more of my friends there next time.
read the post by ktracy. she mentioned "My friend got the well done beef pho and I think she liked it although she pronounced it very 'un-Vietnamese' in flavor. She spent several months in Vietnam last year so the taste is fresh in her memory. So I think it was more of a soup experience for her."
I went last night with a friend and we LOVED it.
We started with the vegetarian rice paper rolls. The rice paper had a good thickness and chew to it, and all of the vegetables inside tasted really fresh. There was a good amount of mint in it, but not so much that it overpowered. The dipping sauce was a thick spicy peanut-y concoction that went wonderfully with the rolls.
My friend then got the combination pho. He said the broth was really flavorful – based on the reviews on here, I was afraid it wouldn’t be. He loved the whole dish – he ate every last bite of it and slurped up every last drop of the broth! I really loved all the accompaniments that it came with – I used a lot of them in my dish.
I wanted to get the vegetable pho but was disappointed to learn that the broth is chicken stock (I just sent the restaurant an email suggesting that they use vegetable stock so that vegetarians can finally eat pho!). Instead, I got the eggplant and tofu clay pot and it was wonderful. The eggplant were soft and tender and the tofu was cooked just right. They were swimming in a thick sauce that tasted of tamarind, cilantro, soy sauce, lemongrass and it was served with a little bowl of rice – the perfect thing to soak up all of that delicious sauce. It definitely made up for the fact that I couldn’t get pho.
We got the banana bread pudding for dessert. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. It also wasn’t really banana bread pudding – it was a slice of some sort of banana bread that was tinted green (WEIRD) and served with a small bowl of dipping sauce that tasted of bananas, caramel, and cinnamon –it tasted and smelled like a Yankee Candle but was a good accompaniment to the bread, nonetheless. I wouldn’t order it again, but it wasn’t terrible.
The service throughout our time there was excellent. We were warmly greeted by the manager and our waiter was very attentive (although a little too attentive – he kept trying to take our plates when we weren’t finished, but I think he was just trying to do a good job). The owner came by during our meal to ask how things were (great!) and the manager chatted with us a bit before we left.
The real fun came when we called a cab to take us home. We called one company and the cab didn’t show after 15 minutes, so we called them back again and it was still a no-show. So we called again. The manager saw us waiting and called a cab for us, it didn’t show, so he called again. After a half hour wait, the manager offered us free glasses of wine, but right when he did, our original cab showed up.
Cab drama aside, we absolutely loved this place and we are definitely going back.
Both my friend and I commented that if this place were in a different neighborhood, they would be packed all the time. I really hope that more people make the trip out there because, aside from the Cindy Wolf places, this is probably one of the best restaurants I’ve eaten at in Baltimore.
I went to Baltimore Pho last night, and though the service was excellent, their Pho was not. I had the beef Pho and it was extremely bland and there was a ton of black pepper and oil on the top...is that normal? No it wasn't fat, it was oil. I tried to doctor up the soup, but it was a no go. There was just zero flavor in the dish.
I am not sure how any of these restaurants prepare their Pho, but I will go against the grain here and say Saigon Remembered's Pho has way more flavor than Bmore Pho's.
I also didn't like the menu. It was a little to "suburban" I guess you could say.
I went with a friend for the first time today at lunch. The decor is amazing, and we were seated in a sunfilled window at the front. The service was great with one exception. I ordered rare beef, and my friend ordered pho with meatballs and a cup of coffee. The prawn crackers, which I had never had before, were absolutely delicious. When the pho came, it was quite a small bowl compared to Pho #1 and Saigon remembered. The waiter pointed out the condiments and accessories and we went to town. My friend was disappointed as the "meatballs" were pieces of not very tasty sausage. She questioned the waiter at the end and was told that is what meatballs are in Vietnam. I don't have a clue whether he was right or wrong. I tasted one and found the flavor ok. My rare beef had maybe 3 large slices in it...some with gristle. The broth was ok, but no where near as good as #1...or even, dare I say it, as Saigon Remembered! However, the combination of the sauces, bean sprouts and basil made it an ok meal. The broth was a tad watery, but rather tasty...but the strange thing was it didn't seem to stay hot til the end, as the broth in the other two places does...strange. The only service misstep of the entire meal was the waiter who brought my friend a Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk. She said she could not drink it and asked for plain coffee...he said he would have to ask...didn't think they had any! They did, and brought her a cup,
All in all, I plan to go back but try things other than the Pho...I will save that tasty treat for #1! But the bill for 2 came to $23.00, with one Thai beer and one coffee, and the place was so beautiful and the service so speedy, that I will go back again.
I went recently for a dinner where they gave 10% of their profits that night to a group I'm involved with. I think they do something like that every Wednesday, which is pretty cool.
So it was totally packed - but even with that the service was pretty good, certainly not over-attentive. We'd been before and didn't like the pho, so we didn't order that. We ordered the crispy spring rolls to start, which are delicious. And the caramelized pork and something called chicken in a pot or something similar, both are really really tasty. I ordered a glass of rose and it came out warm, which I don't really like, but other than that everything was really good.
Update: We went for the first time last week. Having read all of these reviews before I went, I liked the pho more than I thought I would. I found it a little weird that the decor was so nice as I'm much more used to dive-y pho houses. And I had to ask for a chinese spoon (b/c really, you can't eat pho with a western-style spoon). Also a little disconcerting as the front-of-house staff is not Asian, nor are the ones in the kitchen we could see through the little kitchen windows... but again, that's just for comparison vs the standard pho houses.
The summer rolls were very nice -- really loved the fresh ingredients and the meats were still warm. There was sufficient mint in there to really get the nice flavor. I think there might have been a little julienned apple in there mixed in with cucumber.
The pho itself, while could be described as a little watery, wasn't bland. The broth seemed a little more complex than has been described by others. Not the strongest broth I have had, but I've had far weaker (I'm looking at you, Saigon Remembered). I was impressed that they provided culantro (with a "u") on the herb/condiment plate as I've rarely seen that in Baltimore (cilantro-with-an-i was already in the broth). The combination pho only has tripe, no tendon in it, along with meatballs, well done flank, and rare beef.
My dining companion, who is sensitive to the layer of fat that often floats on top of many pho broths, pronounced this one less oily than usual. (I rarely notice the fat anyway so didn't really notice it here). He liked that there was an option for extra meat (+$3 extra).
Pho was $8 - a little more than I usually spend but probably worth it to not have to drive out to the Rt 40 pho houses. And it was a nice large bowl.
The strange thing was the front of house manager was unusually chatty with folks at the table next to us. They were first timers so he spent some time educating them on the offerings and describing pho and summer rolls. But then he mentioned that the restaurant was doing ok financially, "just in the black, but not by much" and that things were a little slow. More information than I'd have wanted shared with restaurant patrons (especially ones who might then post online!!) but interesting to hear. I don't want this place to fail as I appreciate what they are trying to do in Sowebo, and I really appreciate that they've made a nice effort to do it right.
Overall, it certainly wasn't bad, though not blow-me-away either.
Boo. Thought I would publish an update. Went back for lunch this afternoon, and I have to echo the inconsistency mentioned. The broth was indeed as "bland" and "watery" as described by others -- and so completely different than the broth we had 2 weeks ago. Very disappointing. I asked for fish sauce and put in more sriracha than usual to try to doctor up the broth to have more flavor, but it was a poor substitute for solid broth to begin with.
Guess when they're on, they can be pretty decent, but when they're off, it's pretty bad. Had it been this watery my first trip, I would not have been back a second time today. As it is -- it'll probably take unusual circumstances to bring me back, which is unfortunate, as I give them credit for trying to bring pho to the masses in Baltimore.
While I have not tried the Hollins Market Pho yet, I am thankful for the reviews. After several years of living in the District, we were disappointed at the lack of Pho in Baltimore. Searching discovered the Miss Pho (6901 Security Blvd). Located inside Security Mall (Seoul Plaza), upstairs. The atmosphere is not what you describe of Hollins Market, but the Pho is equivalent to what we have missed from NoVA. Happy eating.
What does that mean?
At least from my experience in this area, the "suburban" pho shops are better than anything in the city.
It's a shame to see that Baltimore Pho is still getting the same hot/cold responses it always had. I think it's one of those place that if you're inexperienced with pho, it's probably going to be pretty good. The lack of depth, body and complexity to the broth is probably easier for the inexperienced.
Unfortunately, if you're experienced with pho, I think you'll find BP to be quite a bit disappointing. I've been there twice and though the second time was a tremendous improvement in broth quality than the first, it still pales to the "suburban" pho joints - and saying that it's "better" than Saigon Remembered is almost an indictment.
And while I can respect the reasoning that they're delivering a style South of Saigon, it's not quite to my preference and I'd rather drive out to Columbia than risk another disappointing session in Hollins Market.
Hi Aussiewonder- we also LOVE Baltimore Pho. Service, owner, prices, menu and food are all wonderful! Neighborhood is a bit lacking...but there is always Zellas-
Off topic, have you been to the new Aussie bar in Fed Hill, Billabong?
Baltimore Pho has expanded their menu quite a bit recently. They now offer a lunch-sized pho and bun and they ADDED Banh Mi to their menu! Several new appetizers are available as well.
I had the medium vegetarian pho yesterday along with the lightly fried tofu tempura strips (about the size of mozzarella sticks) wrapped in lettuce leaves and top with shredded carrot, chopped cherry tomatoes and a thin peanut sauce.
I don't eat meat, so I can't speak to the authenticity of their pho. What I do like is supporting a city business and not having to drive to the burbs, while still enjoying a very tasty and inexpensive meal.