Serving a Modern Twist on Irish-inspired Comfort Food

The Canton Local, an Irish pub, occupies the former Quarterhouse Tavern space. | Photography by David Stuck

Annaliese Long prefers to eat out on the weekends and has an affinity for bar food. When the civil engineer moved to Canton with her roommates in June, she was on a mission to find the best bars and restaurants in the area. They were intrigued to learn that a new Irish pub was opening down the alley from their house and quickly made plans to try it.

The Canton Local, located on Decker Avenue, joined a collection of restaurants, bars and retail shops in the heart of the neighborhood in December 2020. Now less than six months into its opening, the establishment has already started to set itself apart—and not just because of the eye-catching orange and green paint on the door.

The new bar offers options inspired by classic Irish comfort food, such as fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, shareable egg rolls filled with crispy rockfish and Velveeta cheese or mashed potatoes and sauerkraut. At the bar, customers will find traditional favorites such as Guinness and Jameson Irish Whiskey.

Long spent the week before the opening anticipating her order. When opening day finally came, she didn’t hesitate. “I was like, ‘Oh, I’m so excited to get Canton Local for dinner tonight,’” she recalls.

Co-owners Ryan Cooper and Brandon Phaneuf opened The Canton Local in December 2020. | Photography by David Stuck

She ordered the fish and chips sandwich, along with the crispy rockfish served with lettuce, American cheese and Chesapeake remoulade. Long finished it minutes after returning home.

The self-proclaimed “Canton local” fits the bill of exactly the type of customers that co-owners Ryan Cooper and co-owner Brandon Phaneuf had in mind when they decided to open the bar. The locals came in droves to order.

“The very first night we opened, we quadrupled our expectations,” Cooper says. The popularity came as a surprise to the owners, who opened the restaurant the day after Christmas. “We got overwhelming support—way more than I ever could have hoped for.”

Cooper had his reservations about opening a business in the middle of a pandemic. At the time, indoor dining had been temporarily banned in Baltimore City to curb the spread of COVID-19. He worried that the food wouldn’t deliver as well since it was only available to go.

“Food never travels as well to go as it does when you’re eating it at a restaurant,” he says.

As a preventive measure, he placed a handwritten note with his contact information in every order and asked customers to reach out to him if they had any concerns about the food.

“We were able to fix some of our issues because I did that, and I think that helped with everything,” Cooper says. “If people did have an issue, they felt good about it knowing that they could help fix it.”

Bartender Katie Conner prepares a drink at
The Canton Local. | Photography by David Stuck

The timing to launch the business also had much to do with employees. Cooper says that because of the pandemic, he wasn’t working as much, and he wanted to be able to pay his staff who were previously unemployed.

“That was really what made me finally pull the trigger and say, ‘Let’s open,’” he says, “so that people could start making money.”

Chef John White was one of these people. White was looking for a new job and met with Cooper in January after hearing about the open position from his fiancée. White arrived on the team and encountered a partially made menu, which allowed him to add some of his own influences. For example, he used his background in Italian cooking to influence some of the dishes. “It’s trying to give it a different take,” White says. “It’s taking different kinds of cuisine and mixing it together.”

The goal is to reintroduce Irish-inspired comfort food to the Canton area but with a modern twist.

During the warmer months, Cooper is looking forward to outside dining options to accommodate more customers. In turn, White hopes to partner with local farmers to introduce a variety of salads, lettuce wraps and a cold soup to the menu. The Tagliata and Bo Brooks alum says that’s the advantage of a smaller pub such as The Canton Local: the flexibility to try new things that
get customers excited to return.

Clockwise from top left: Fish & chips, Irish poutine, chicken tenders, braised Guinness beef pasties and bangers & mash | Photography by David Stuck

“It’s more (about) trying to create value for the customers so they can come back and be like, ‘I went to this really small place and got the best food I’ve ever had in a while,’” White says.
The fish and chips sandwich remains Long’s go-to item on the menu. In fact, she visits the pub so frequently that she’s on a first-name basis with Cooper and some of the staff. “They seem like part of the community here,” she says, “and it’s awesome to find that.”

The Canton Local
801 S. Decker Ave., Baltimore

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