Downtown favorite debuts its newly refreshed décor and exciting new menu.
By Alice Hudson and photos by Ashley Bailey Photography
Whether you’re grabbing a bite before a show at The Maryland Theatre, gathering with a large group for a birthday dinner, dining al fresco on a sunny afternoon, or renting out a whole floor for an event, 28 South has you covered. The restaurant, a long-time mainstay in Downtown Hagerstown was opened by Jay Zuspan more than 10 years ago.
Zuspan first started washing dishes at a smokehouse in Virgina when he was 14, working his way up to line cook and falling in love with the restaurant industry. “I just loved the long hours, the stress, the fast pace and continued to work my way up,” he says. After eventually opening a diner for the smokehouse, Zuspan decided to go to culinary school at the Baltimore International Culinary College.
After graduation, Zuspan worked for a few restaurants in Baltimore before taking a position at Gladchuck Brothers in Frederick. In 2012, he decided to take the leap to open his own eatery, 28 South.
Zuspan says they’ve grown and adapted in the years since they’ve been open, most notably when he sold the business to Bowman Hospitality in 2019. Since that acquisition, Zuspan serves as the Downtown Hospitality Consultant for both 28 South and its sister restaurant, Bulls and Bears, another Downtown Hagerstown staple. In this role, Zuspan does the menu development and oversees operations for both locations, front and back of the house.
“We change the menu seasonally, and try to do it at least twice a year to go with what’s trending,” he says.
“We just did an overhaul on the dining room; we painted walls, new tables, new upholstery in the booths and chairs,” says Zuspan. In order to separate 28 South from its sister restaurant, they decided to go for more of an Italian theme.
The current menu reflects the aesthetics of the refurbished interior. “You’ll find our menu here is a little more pasta-heavy for the entree side of things, but we’ve always tried to have an extensive appetizer or shareable type of thing, too. Like our pizzas, if you wanted to come in as a group, you could get a pizza and a couple of appetizers and beverages,” Zuspan explains. “We do classical dishes with our own twist on it.”
Almost everything is made in-house, from their pizza dough to their pasta sauces. “We try to do everything we can with quality in mind,” says Zuspan. The restaurant tries to source many of their products locally, using vendors such as Ventura Foods right across the PA border.
For a first course, the blue crab wontons served with a sweet chili sauce is a popular choice. Other appetizers include lamb lollipops, mussels, and fireball shrimp. Or start with a Maryland crab soup or grilled Romaine salad.
28 South’s pizzas feature interesting combinations of vegetables, meats, and cheeses atop their soft, chewy crust. The vegetarian Mediterranean is topped with mozzarella, spinach, roasted tomatoes, olives, pickled red onion, fire roasted artichokes, feta, and a balsamic drizzle. The Magothy is a white-sauce pie with shrimp, crab, and Parmesan.
Generous portions of pasta are served with a side salad and roll. 28 South’s pastas run the gamut from traditional (spaghetti pomodoro) to inventive (wild boar bolognaise atop campanelle noodles).
A popular entree is the Chesapeake risotto, with pan-seared chicken breast and crab cake topped with Old Bay gravy over a bacon-infused risotto. Seafood is featured prominently on the main courses, alongside pork, beef, and lamb dishes.
Both the lunch and dinner menus offer a selection of burgers, each served with a pile of perfectly crisp, thick house-sliced potato chips (for an upgrade, you can replace these for shoestring or hand-cut french fries). Alongside more standard offerings, venture out and try the Cajun Elvis burger, an unusual combination of a blackened beef patty, peanut butter, bacon, caramelized shallots, and American cheese. For vegetarian and vegan diners (or anyone really), take a stab at the uncannily “meaty” Impossible burger.
The lunch menu also features sandwiches like the classic Turkey Avocado punched up with roasted tomatoes and saffron aioli or 28 South specials, such as a Coco Curry Wrap with grilled chicken, arugula, roasted tomatoes, coconut shavings, and sweet chili peanut sauce all rolled into a flour tortilla.
Brunch is served Sundays from 11am-3pm, with heaping breakfast bowls (think home fries, scrambled eggs, onion straws, and gruyere cheese), hashes, pancakes, waffles, and sandwiches.
28 South runs weekend food specials, and new weekday specials, like buy one, get one half-off burgers all day Wednesdays or 20% off all pizzas on Thursdays. They also run daily beverage specials from the beautiful, curvy, dark wood bar that regularly has 28 different beers on draft.
The cavernous main dining area has a 116-seat capacity, spread across tables on ground-level, a raised section of booths along a side wall, and a 25-seat mezzanine section. Originally a hardware store, the restaurant still features its pressed tin tiles on the vaulted ceiling. On a nice day, snag one of the outdoor tables beneath a sunny yellow umbrella on their spacious sidewalk patio and people watch on Potomac Street.
On the third floor, the restaurant has a beautiful ballroom with exposed brick and huge floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Downtown. The ballroom is available to rent out for weddings and events, like the weekly Kiwanis meeting hosted there.
The family atmosphere is one thing Zuspan is particularly proud of. “While we have a lot of beer on tap, it’s not really a bar scene,” he says. “We’re a place where you can bring the whole family and everyone can find something on the menu to enjoy.”
In the 11 years they’ve been in business, Zuspan has seen a lot of changes in the Downtown Hagerstown scene. “I think Downtown has been like waves, I think is the best way to describe it. The stadium coming in and a lot of these buildings getting revitalized is going to put the walking wallets on the street that businesses need to survive down here. I will say, I don’t think I’ve ever been as positive as I am today.”