Hot Plate: NiHao and Hungry Like the Wolfe open, Ekiben and Johnny Spero collab, and more

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Produce boxes and other goods, like cheese, sausage and wine, are available for pickup and delivery from Tablefield Grocery, which partners with Maryland Food Bank to support the food bank’s efforts to feed locals in need.

Despite the uncertainty of coronavirus, the Baltimore restaurant scene continues to stay busy, with openings and additions, events and collaborations. Here’s a look at what’s happened recently and what we can look forward to over the next few weeks:

The usual disclaimer
The restaurant industry remains in a state of flux, with individual businesses opting for different approaches to opening and closing, and constantly evolving city and county regulations regarding what restaurants can and cannot do.

Many restaurants have limited hours or menus, and some have specific, new policies regarding reservations. They continue to stay flexible and cautious; some have closed briefly to clean and test employees following news that someone at the restaurant has been exposed to COVID-19.

Before making firm plans to meet at a restaurant, check in with the restaurant to make sure it is open and verify its guidelines.

And while dining out, be patient with both the kitchen and wait staff. Their jobs are tougher than ever these days and a little understanding goes a long way.

Openings and announcements
There’s no question that these are tough times for the restaurant business, but there are still some signs of optimism–including the introduction of a couple new spots.

Red Star in Fells Point has transformed into Hungry Like the Wolfe, an outdoor and carryout restaurant helmed by chefs Adam Scanlon and Cyrus Keefer. The menu is short and sweet, with a handful of snacks, soups and salads, burgers and sandwiches, and a few supper options. It all sounds excellent.

Earlier this year, the well-respected D.C.-area chef Peter Chang generated tons of buzz when he announced he would be opening a Baltimore restaurant. COVID-19 threw a wrench in those plans but his Canton spot, NiHao, has recently opened for carryout only.

Unfortunately, the past few weeks have brought sad news, too, as several beloved local restaurants announced they are shutting their doors for good.

Pen & Quill, the Karzai family spot that brought the space formerly occupied by The Chesapeake back to life, closed on Friday, July 3.

Ciao Bella, the longtime Little Italy restaurant that last year partnered with Ray Lewis and Deb Poquette to become Lew Gambino’s, also closed in early July.

Another Little Italy spot, Osteria Da Amedeo, has closed, as its owner transitions into a career in real estate. The wine bar is currently for sale.

The Urban Oyster announced early this month that Sunday, July 26 will be its last day open at McHenry Row. The good news for fans, though, is that The Urban Oyster will continue to hold pop ups around town.

On July 22, Chez Hugo Bistro announced its closure and that it will not reopen “in its current form.”

New spaces
Restaurants continue to expand their al fresco dining options. A couple new outdoor spaces have opened recently.

Roads in Fells Point will be closed to accommodate expanded outdoor dining through Sept. 7.

In Fells, The Black Olive has tented an area outside its building, creating a space that’s both safe and very pretty.

Sobo Café’s outdoor “parklet” dining space is also tented and gorgeous, thanks to an abundance of greenery.

The Manor Tavern has opened the Garden Grill outside on a two-acre space next to the restaurant;s vegetable gardens. The grill is a pretty patio with safely spaced wooden picnic tables (and umbrellas). The grill’s menu includes summertime classics like pit beef and burgers, plus a full bar.

New offerings
Local spots are also taking this opportunity to pivot in terms of menu items and other offerings.

Sotto Sopra has a new concept, Ciao Pizza, offering pizzas and subs for delivery or takeout.

Café Gia has also expanded its menu with gorgeous pizzas.

At Pierpoint Restaurant, Chef Nancy Longo and her team are selling boxes of ingredients and prepared food–a new combination each week. The boxes tend to sell out, so order early.

The Corner Pantry is selling pies by the slice or by the pie–a different type each week. This week’s pie is nectarine and blueberry. For flavors, check The Corner Pantry’s website or social media.

Jinji Chocolate Collective has put together a subscription service. Members will receive weekly boxes including old favorites and new treats.

Noona’s had suspended its late night happy hour deals – but they’re back! Friday and Saturday nights, starting at 8 p.m., the menu includes fun “late night bites.”

Groceries for good
Tablefield Catering has created a new delivery and pickup grocery option, Tablefield Grocery, featuring boxes of produce, beer and wine, dry goods, bread and other items like cheese, eggs, sausage and olive oil. Boxes are available for pickup at set locations around the city or home delivery.

Part of the hook is even better: Tablefield partners with the Maryland Food Bank. Every purchase benefits the food bank, which helps distribute food to Marylanders in need and is an absolutely essential organization during these challenging times.

One of the more exciting recent developments for home cooks is the ability to buy ingredients directly from restaurants.

At Woodberry Kitchen, the new Here For Us Market offers prepared foods, pantry items and produce from local makers and growers. The market is open daily from noon to 6 p.m.

Every Sunday from 8-11 a.m., the parking lot outside Johnny’s transforms into a pop-up market.

La Cuchara’s market, which opened earlier in the spring, is still going strong, selling everything from meat and bread to prepared foods and cocktails to go. Shop online and pick up orders between 3-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Restaurant Week
Baltimore City’s Restaurant Week–always one of the highlights of the summer–is back this year from July 24 through Aug. 2. Though the recent prohibition of indoor dining in the city has changed some restaurants’ plans for the week, many local spots are participating, offering prix fixe options and special deals. Some, like Petit Louis, Cinghiale, Johnny’s and Bar Vasquez, are even offering their Restaurant Week menus for takeaway.

Menus are available online on the Restaurant Week website. Overall, they sound terrific, with options like Petit Louis’ duck breast with local cherries and Chioggia beets, and La Calle’s pozole with chicken and traditional chile relleno.

Boordy happenings
Boordy Vineyards is a fun place to visit anytime of year but it’s especially beautiful in the summer. Events at the vineyard are modified this year–for one thing, all visitors must be 21 or older–but they’re just as festive as always.

The vineyard’s Good Life Farmer’s Market takes place every Thursday from 3-7 p.m., and on the weekends, Boordy hosts music and features food from local restaurants. On Saturday, July 25, Lib’s Grill will provide the food and on Sunday the 26th, the food is from Pairings Bistro.

Johnny Spero and Ekiben
On Monday, July 27, “The Last Table” star Chef Johnny Spero will pop up at Ekiben in Fells Point. The menu features burgers and the collab starts at 11 a.m.–get there early.

Opening Day bagels
Orioles’ Opening Day will look a little different this year–and it’s happening a whole lot later than usual–but as always, it’s a day to celebrate. To honor the birds, THB is creating a special black and orange bagel that will be available on Opening Day only (Wednesday, July 29).

Movies on the water
Also on Wednesday, Ampersea will host a movie night. The downtown restaurant will offer a late night brunch menu and drinks specials to pair with a screening of “The Breakfast Club.”

Peach & Blackberry Festival
Weber’s Cider Mill Farm’s 6th annual Peach & Blackberry Festival is on for Aug. 8 and 9. The festival will still be in person, though with a few new guidelines to ensure the safety of guests. In addition to the in-person festival, the farm will host drive-through festivals, with curbside pickup of treats like peach slush and donuts, the weekends of Aug. 1 and 2 and 15 and 16.

Planning for the future
Mark your calendars for these upcoming events:
Sept. 12: Manor Hill Farm Fest 
Sept. 19: Baltimore Seafood Festival (new date!) 
Oct. 3: Trifecta Food Truck & Music Festival 

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