** Update 10/06/2020: Growler USA in Hampden has completely closed due to COVID. **
Does anyone remember what the Rotunda looked like before it had a make over? I have distinct memories from my college days going specifically to the movie theater because a) tickets were cheap AF and b) it was a hidden gem. It wasn’t the prettiest place though. Seats were cramped, each movie room was small, paint was chipping off the walls, the carpet smelled and needed to have a good wash… doesn’t sound like a pleasant place, but it had its charm and I have my nostalgia.
Fast forward to 2019–god damn the Rotunda has changed! There’s a green area to relax and have your dogs run around, there’s a gym, you can get groceries at MOMs, you got your basic Starbucks with a nail salon next to it (that’s honestly a pretty solid combo especially if you try to get your nails done first thing in the morning lolol), and get this… there’s still a movie theater, CineBistro to be exact, but it’s fancy shmancy. Dinner with a movie? Hell yeah. Let’s add some wine to that.
The Rotunda has been evolving and it still is! As more people move into their apartments, more businesses have been opening up. One of these places is Growler USA. It’s a casual restaurant bar that started in Colorado and has finally made its way over to good ole’ Baltimore. And if you live at the Rotunda, now you have a bar that’s only a one minute walk for you!
The first thing you will notice when you walk in is their beer on tap. They have not only have a huge selection, but a wide array of beer to choose from—my mistake, it’s not just beer. You can also get on tap whatever Wild Kombucha flavor they have and mead from Charm City Meadworks!!! For my flight tasting, I opted for Baltimore based breweries: Monument City, Union Craft, Peabody Heights, Manor Hill, Charm City Meadworks, and Wild Kombucha.
As they bartender got my flight ready, I chatted up one of the owners named Jessica. She told her story how she and her husband, Jay, decided to open up a Growler USA in Baltimore. Their love for beer started off on their very first date. Jessica already loved craft beer but Jay? Not so much. Jessica stated that if they were to keep dating Jay needed to step up his beer game. Ever since then, Jay’s love for craft beer has increased to the point where Jessica calls him a snob lolol (in the most loving and funny way people)! One night, with a couple of drinks in them, they realized they wanted to run a restaurant with tons of beer, and that’s how Growler USA came to the Rotunda! Side note: if you go into Growler, etched upon the counter near the door is a quote that was said on Jessica and Jay’s first date <3 I don’t remember what it says so you’ll have to go and convey that info to me!
I got to sample some of their dishes too! An array of their most popular apps, sandwiches, burgers, and entrees were provided. To me, it was familiar American bar food that you could normally expect at a casual American bar. Nothing wrong with that!
One of my first bites was the Growler Nachos. Although the nachos above had no chicken or carnitas, you can definitely add those meats upon request. One of the things I would be wary of before you order these is the guacamole that comes with it. The guacamole is just one of the toppings (a cherry on top if you will) but if guac is going to get served, it needs to taste like it has garlic, lime, salt, cilantro– your basic ingredients that make guacamole. If those ingredients were present, my tastebuds didn’t pick up on them. Also, some of the chips were a bit too hard for my liking. However, if you get past all of this, they are adequate nachos to accompany your beer.
Out of all the apps, I really enjoyed the fried pickles. They were fried perfectly all around. The pickle itself held that crisp dill pickle vinegar flavor and each bite was crunchy both from the fried part and the pickle itself. It was good with and without the ranch dressing.
Now onto the burgers and sandwiches!
All the burgers and sandwiches come with your choice of sidewinder fries or tots. If none of those work with you, feel free to substitute with a side salad, zippin’ brussels sprouts, or fried pickles. Because I had the fried pickles as an app, I chose the fries to go at the side. I’m normally not a steak fries type person due to those fries being too potatoey and starchy (example Red Robbin’s steak fries), but these sidewinder fries were bomb. They were crispy (I love crispy fries) and had the right amount of potato in them… and they looked cool!
For the sake of the picture above, I chose three different types of tacos. FYI, you can’t mix and match them in real life. Other than the types I listed for the description, you can also choose veggie tacos.
Bet you’ve never seen fried chicken paired with french toast before or you’ve rarely since it done. Well, look no further–Growler USA has it! When I was eating this dish, I was kind of thrown off that they served chicken tenders with the french toast. Don’t get me wrong; the savoriness from the chicken and the sweetness from the french toast had a good flavor combination profile. However, if I’m going to pair off my waffles, pancakes, or french toast with chicken, it’s going to be with greasy, fried chicken thighs. Growler USA later informed me that they start off with their chicken breast and then cut it down into tender portions, which is what chicken tenders are essentially. I did like how crunchy the chicken was and how it paired well against the softness of the french toast. Coming from a plating and visual perspective though, in order for this french toast and fried chicken combo to capture the spirit of its southern roots, i felt like it needed to have a whole fried chicken breast or a fried chicken thigh on top.
I also got to sample some dessert. The chef just whipped out some funnel fries for me to try. They come with raspberry sauce, powdered sugar, and chocolate sauce on top! They were so tasty with all the toppings!
Jessica and her team stated that although they have creative ideas to perk up the dishes, they cannot modify the main menu items due to Growler USA being a franchise. However, they are allowed to make their own Baltimore menu as long as they still keep the Growler USA menu items. They hope to add more Baltimore staple dishes to the menu such as crab cakes, soft shell sandwiches, etc. But until then, enjoy your beer with any of the entrees or apps on their current menu!
I know that they throw a couple of events at Growler USA too. Jessica mentioned to me they have trivia every Wednesday night that gets crazy packed. If you’re craving a beer or some grub only though, it might be best to go during other times! This spot is also great to watch your favorite sport team beat whoever. So many tvs galore!
If you live at the Rotunda or anywhere near it, make sure to stop by Growler USA for a beer or two. I think the beers, the excellent staff, and the ambiance is what makes the place shine. Everyone is warm and friendly and the environment is great for cheering on your favorite sport team. I just think that some of the dishes need to be modified both in flavor and in presentation. However, since Jessica and her team can’t modify those main menu items, I strongly believe in the Baltimore menu they want to release! I do want to try Growler USA again when that menu comes out, but until then, I’ll be patiently sipping my beers.