In an effort to raise awareness of their tableware and the restaurants where it’s being used, Fortessa Tableware is hosting an influencer campaign Eat Good, Do Good. I was asked to visit one of the participating chefs, Cyrus Keefer of 13.5% Wine Bar in Hampden.
This visit to 13.5% was my second since Cyrus took over from Chef Kate Erwin, who recently relocated from Baltimore to Cape Cod. I got to know Cyrus when he was at Fork & Wrench in Canton, where I’ve had some really beautiful food. After his pop-up-turned-restaurant project in Hampden, Pique, fell though earlier this year, I was so, so bummed. Here’s a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve, is completely passionate and insanely talented…with no place to cook. Then, when Kate moved on from 13.5% and the door was open. In he went.
At the time that Cyrus was taking over the kitchen, owner Wayne Laing was in the midst of renovating the space. He expanded seating, installed a retractable facade for al fresco dining and added a raised platform to accommodate live music on the weekends. Keefer’s culinary style combines local, regional and international cuisines, and while the offer great cocktails and craft beers, they are most known for their wine selection. It includes over 40 by the glass.
In addition to completely changing the menu, Keefer is gearing up to cook at the James Beard House in NYC for the third time. On August 5, he’ll cook at the famed Beard House with Winston Blick and Matt Singer from Clementine and Ben Simpkins from Richardson Farms – they’re billing it as the Baltimore Farm Dinner. Here is the menu, which will also include paired wines:
Maryland Crab Hush Puppies with Corn Pudding
Pit Bacon Spiedini with Pickled Hot Peppers and Horseradish Creme
Watermelon–Cucumber Terrine with Prosciutto Tulle
Crab Deviled Eggs with Heirloom Tomatoes
Eastern Shore Pizzas with Oil-Poached Calamari and Old Bay Mozzarella
Richardson Farms Tomato Textures
Bay Shrimp Bun with Roman Egg Drop Broth
Pickled Oyster Salad with Sweet Corn, Radishes, Arugula, Tarragon, and Citrus Vinaigrette
Chicken Crépinette with Spinach Mousse, Red Quinoa, Fire-Roasted Corn and Corn Silk, and Sweety Drop Peppers
Octopus Cacciatore with Smoked Polenta, Zucchini, and Grilled Mortadella
Maryland-Style Stuffed Pork Loin with Spicy Braising Green Stuffing and Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes
Dessert Panache with Assorted Confections
For our dinner with Fortessa at 13.5%, my guest and I started with a glass of Albariño and a really lovely cheese plate. Then the kitchen sent out our five other shared selections at an intended leisurely pace. We sat in the front and were able to visit, people watch and enjoy the evening. Our server was excellent, guiding us along the way. I chose dishes that I thought would highlight Cyrus’ skills nicely…and it made me happy when he said I’d chosen the best dishes of the menu that night. Unfortunately, we did not have room for dessert, but since I was not driving I had one more splash of rosé to close the meal.
We enjoyed all of the dishes we chose, but honesty for me, the seared tuna was a stand out. It was cooked perfectly and had great texture combinations with the crunch of both croutons and peanuts. My friend’s favorite dish was the octopus. I have to say yes, that was fabulous, with really creamy, delicious polenta. I would order that again for sure. The menu will change often, so I can’t wait to go back to see what Cyrus does with what’s in season locally. He’s so talented. I joked with Cyrus that the only thing I don’t like about 13.5% is the seating at the bar – those barstools are completely awkward and uncomfortable. So many of my friends and neighbors in Hampden have told me they feel the same way. Maybe Cyrus can change those…then I can enjoy dinner at the bar, my favorite way to eat!
And, guess what? You can now make reservations on Open Table and soon? Valet parking on the weekends!
Through the Finding Fortessa Eat Good, Do Good campaign, chefs are raising money for a charity that is special to them – and for Cyrus (same for Chad Gauss and The Food Market), it’s The Maryland Food Bank. Through the end of July, each time someone uses the hashtag #FindingFortessa, Fortessa Tableware will donate $5.00 to the Maryland Food Bank. GOOD STUFF, so please share it. Go to my Instagram (@charmcitycook) and repost my seared tuna photo if you want. Or even better, take your own food photo at 13.5% and share using that hashtag, #FindingFortessa.
Thank you, Cyrus, Jon, Sam and Morgaine for the creative and beautiful food. Really lovely.
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