By Caryn Coyle
There were no concentrated food pellets being offered at Rocket to Venus, 3360 Chestnut Avenue in Hampden. It was Wednesday night, half-priced bottled wine night. Mondays are burgers and beer for $7 nights, and Tuesdays are 50 cent wings and $6 pitchers of Yuengling and Natty Boh, or $8 for Stella. In the rocket that was launched in Hampden in 1928, for which the restaurant is named, there were only food pellets and water.
Co-owners Brian Carey and Geoffrey Danek call their restaurant, Rocket to Venus because Danek lives in the house on Morling Avenue where the original rocket to Venus was built. Actually, the rocket was built in the garage that was rented by brothers Harry and Sterling Uhler and Robert Condit. Condit was the one who entered the angle iron and sailcloth rocket, but it never left the ground. After eight months creating what was described as a 24-foot bullet, it was set on the sidewalk of Morling Avenue and flames and smoke were launched, but not the rocket.
“Geoff saw a rocket at a yard sale in Annapolis and the idea for the restaurant’s name just clicked,” said Carey. The yard sale rocket is attached to the roof, on the southeast corner of the restaurant, above the sky blue sign, “Rocket to Venus.”
I ordered something I have never tried before, chicken and waffles for $12. The chicken was pulled and had a slight maple flavor though a bottle of warm syrup is served with the waffle. I was reluctant to try it, but my server, Brie Hayes, enthusiastically recommended the syrup. So I sliced a portion of the waffle with a big chuck of chicken in gravy and dribbled a little maple syrup on it. When I let the flavors blend together, I was truly surprised at how good it tasted. I sliced another piece off the waffle and ate another piece.
Rocket to Venus “represents the local neighborhood melting pot of personalities,” explained Carey. “All types of people come here and mix well. The artists and the workers, the young and the old, it truly reflects Hampden and Baltimore.”
Carey grew up in Crofton and attended Towson State University. He plays drums for the local band, Arbouretum and opened Rocket to Venus with Danek in December 2006.
I ordered the spring rolls for $4, which were made of cabbage, carrot & crystal noodles and served on spinach leaves with sweet chili sriracha. The rolls were crispy, hot and flavorful. I also had one of the Rocket’s specialty drinks, the cucumber chiller with gin for $7. The drink is made with fresh muddled cucumber, fresh limeade and a splash of Sprite. It was light, refreshing and slightly sour, but good.
Carey allows local artists to display their work and he does not take any commission on their sales. Katrina Ford was the current artist and I snapped a photo of her “Wings,” a large, graceful spread of white feathers, before I realized they were not part of the Rocket’s permanent décor. In a corner of the Rocket to Venus is a custom-made jukebox.
Carey added, “We let local musicians submit their CDs and we give them a try.”
For dessert, I ordered the Baltimore Bomb pie for $5. It was described as a melted Berger cookie and Baltimoreans know what that means. The pie did taste exactly like the cookie, chocolate and custard, served warm with whipped cream and Reese’s pieces. Absolutely mouth-watering.
Rocket to Venus has a nostalgic, early space age feel to it, the windows are round and resemble portholes. The floor is early 20th century tile. There was a nice mingling area of space just beyond my booth and I watched young, old, tattooed and dress shirted patrons gather. Conversations hummed and for a weeknight, the place was hopping.
Rocket to Venus
3360 Chestnut Ave.
Baltimore, Md. 21211
Hours: Monday to Saturday, 5 p.m.-2 a.m.; Sunday, noon-2 a.m.
Caryn Coyle lives in Baltimore. Her fiction and non-fiction have been published in more than a dozen literary journals and the anthology City Sages: Baltimore (2010) from City Lit Press.