After walking by the place and seeing the trials they've gone through to get it open in the spot vacated by Vespa, I was very interested to see what was going on with this restaurant. Having read that they were going to open this week, I walked the two blocks to it with the intention of having dinner at the bar.
The short review: if you were a fan of Vespa (and I was), then you'll find much to like about Junior's. The menu is very similar, but the space has changed dramatically.
For one thing, it's MUCH larger. There was a bakery taking up the space where Junior's is now, so instead of dead ending a few feet into the restaurant, the space stretches back to occupy over twice the room that Vespa had. Tile floors have replaced the concrete, and there's a small sitting area with a couch and chairs where the old kitchen was. The whole place looks great.
I sat at the bar and ordered a glass of cabernet. I am not a huge wine nut -- give me a decent cab and I'm happy. It was quite good, and only $6 a glass, As a first course I ordered a salad of Bibb lettuce with feta. It was also good, but not fantastic. Plenty of cheese and a decent vinagrettte.
Since I'd had a salad, I skipped the larger entrees and stuck to the pizza. I had a duck pizza that looked to be roughly 10". After polishing off my salad, I waited for my pizza. And waited. And waited. It took forever -- over a half hour. In fairness to the staff, I was sitting at the bar and saw the bartender enter my order, so it was obviously a computer problem and not service trouble. The owner came by and chatted with me briefly and apologized for the delay, and comped my third glass of wine. He also said that I was probably the first customer that they had that was not friends or family, so I'm more than willing to forgive the glitch.
That said, when the pizza finally arrived, it was delicious. Perfect crispy crust and plenty of toppings. Easily the best pizza in Federal Hill (sorry, Dog Bar, I still love you).
Vespa filled a real need -- a perfect first date/everyday neighborhood spot. Classy and good food, but priced reasonably enough to not be intimidating. Junior's, who hired the same chef according to the owner, fills the same niche. There's not an entree on the menu that hits the $20 mark, and the wines are all very reasonably priced, with plenty of by-the-glass offerings in the $6-8 range.
Junior's is a brand new restaurant, and obviously has some issues to work through with the ordering system. If you're looking for Baltimore's best dining experience, it's not in the running. But for quality/value, it's way near the top. If you liked Vespa, I recommend it without reservation. I'll have to do some more experimenting with the menu, but based on my meal tonight, Junior's is a much needed addition to the city and Federal Hill.
I'll be back. Repeatedly.