Hot Plate: Restaurants are coming back, but it’s far from business as usual

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We are looking forward to seeing empty tables – like the ones at Chez Hugo Bistro (above) – safely filled with diners enjoying great meals.

It’s been nearly three months since the last installment of this column. While Baltimore restaurants as a whole never went completely dark during that time, and many restaurant owners and employees are working harder than ever, for restaurant guests, it’s been a quiet time at home.

For the restaurant industry, things are still far from business as usual and are changing rapidly, but glimmers of normality are starting to emerge: announcements of future openings, collaborations between chefs, new dates for postponed events and, of course, the upcoming return to indoor dining, albeit at reduced capacity.

So with that, Hot Plate is back! The column will run only every few weeks to start but hopefully sooner rather than later, both the restaurant industry and the column will be back to their regular schedules.

The good news is that already, there’s a lot to look forward to in the Baltimore restaurant world. Here’s a look at what’s happening:

Latest and greatest
With regulations and recommendations changing on a regular basis, it’s next to impossible to keep up with who is open and how–and between the time this column is written and the moment it’s published, it’s likely that something will have changed.

Some restaurants have been offering curbside pickup and/or delivery. Some have opened for outside dining. Some are opening for limited capacity indoor dining. Keep in mind that just because a certain level of dining is permitted, that doesn’t mean restaurants have to open.

In addition, some are requiring reservations, while others are not accepting reservations.

For the time being, dining out or ordering carryout will continue to be an activity that requires a bit of research. We’ll be back to spontaneous dinners out one day. But for now, before heading out, check on restaurants’ guidelines. Social media and good old fashioned phone calls are quick ways to check on current status. Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot’s office is also keeping track of openings across the state, compiling the information in a lengthy document kept online.

And don’t forget to consider restaurants that were just getting started before COVID-19 forced them to close. Places like Peerce’s Plantation, Boiler Room and The Verandah Kitchen were just getting their feet wet early this year but they have recently reopened. Raw & Refined and Ouzo Beach had yet to open for the season, but are now welcoming guests to their outdoor area.

Openings and announcements
Despite all the uncertainty of the past few months, a number of restaurants and food businesses have opened their doors or announced upcoming openings.

Whitehall Market, located in Whitehall Mill, opened its doors to the public earlier in June. Market stalls include companies like Gundalow Gourmet, Wight Tea Company and FireFly–and there are more vendors that will be opening soon. Whitehall Mill is also the location of True Chesapeake Oyster House, which is now open for carryout and outdoor dining.

Heritage Smokehouse, the hotly anticipated north Baltimore BBQ spot from former Parts & Labor superstar George Marsh, was approved for a seven-day liquor license in early June. During COVID-19, Heritage has whet appetites with weekly carryout options, with pickup outside Grand Cru in Belvedere Square.

The Gypsy Queen crew has opened a new location, this one in Harbor East. It’s part of the Forum Food Hall at the new Whole Foods Market, which will open at Liberty Harbor East on June 17.

In late May, Good Neighbor, a coffee shop (with some food) and housewares/furniture store, opened on Falls Road.

Mr. NiceGuy Cocktails has emerged as a go-to carryout cocktail maker over the past few months (and aren’t to-go cocktails one of the best silver linings of this whole time?). The Canton cocktail bar has opened for brunch, and you can still get drinks to go.

Canton has another couple new openings to celebrate, as well: Shipyard Pub and Fuisine. Shipyard is open for carryout cocktails–including a new lineup of crushes–and has pop-up food options and Fuisine’s menu (which looks fantastic) is available for curbside pickup.

City Weeds’ Farmer Dominic Nell will open Be More Green, a healthy food store, at the corner of N. Pulaski Street and W. North Avenue, hopefully later this summer.

The Corner Pantry has made good use of the past few months, updating their space to make it safer and more user-friendly. The restaurant is reopening for brunch on Saturday, June 13, so everyone will have a chance to check out what’s new.

The Charmery has kept on truckin’ during the pandemic, sharing smiles and ice cream with the city. The shop’s reach is expanding, too, with a Federal Hill location opening at 3 p.m. on Friday, June 12. 

The G&M Restaurant crew will open a new restaurant, called Plaka Tavern, in the Greektown space that formerly housed Acropolis.

The Locust Point spot formerly occupied by Wine Market Bistro and Ludlow Market will get a new restaurant, called The Copper Shark. The BBJ reports that the owners hope to open later this summer but, of course, those plans are not set in stone.

Unfortunately, a few restaurants have already announced they will not reopen. Sadly, The Alexander Brown Restaurant, Maisy’s and City Café have served their last meals in the city.

What the public thinks
Dylan’s Oyster Cellar conducted an interesting survey last month, collecting data to understand how Baltimoreans feel about going back to restaurants and what they would like to see. The Hampden restaurant has made the results available online here.

Changes at the helm
In late May, Chef Brigitte Bledsoe left Miss Shirley’s, where she’d led the kitchen since its opening, to take over as executive chef and operations director at Towson Tavern.

There has been a shake-up at Ida B’s Table, as well, with the departure of husband-and-wife team Chef David Thomas and general manager Tonya Thomas. The Thomases have a few new projects in the works, including a book proposal, a fascinating Instagram Live series, and some additional upcoming surprises that are too early to announce just yet.

In April, The Greene Turtle in Towson closed its doors but reopened, nearly immediately afterward, as Barley’s Backyard Uptown. The Fells Point location of the Turtle has also announced it will close at the end of June.

Feet on the Street
Over the past few weeks, local restaurateurs have called on government leaders to expand outdoor dining options by closing certain streets to traffic.

In Towson, this effort lead to Seats on the Street. Starting June 13 and lasting through June (at least), the block of Pennsylvania Avene between York Road and Washington Avenue will be closed to cars and open for dining from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on weekends.

The tables on the block will be reserved for patrons dining at Charles Village Pub & Patio, Nacho Mama’s, The Point, Slice and C&R Pub.

Over the past few months, many restaurants have celebrated anniversaries. A couple local favorites have birthdays this June: The Food Market turned eight on June 8 and Clavel quietly turned five on June 5. Congratulations to both! They have certainly made the Baltimore food scene a better place. We’re lucky to have them.

Save Charm City Eats
In an effort to support restaurants during the pandemic, a group of food lovers and restaurateurs banded together to create Save Charm City Eats, a website featuring cool experiences and offers provided by local restaurants.

Through the website, you can purchase things like a four-course Sunday meal for 10, prepared alongside the crew from Peter’s Inn, and take advantage of deals like 10 percent off orders over $100 from Copper Kitchen.

Foraging class
Chef Chris Amendola’s popular foraging classes are back! The Foraged Eatery chef will host a class the morning of June 13. Class size is limited, so grab a spot quickly.

Big Softy pop-up at Dutch Courage
Big Softy–makers of some of the best crab cake and soft shell sammies in town–will pop up at Dutch Courage in Old Goucher on Saturday, June 13 from 4-8 p.m. Pre-orders are available (and recommended), and while you’re there, you can also grab some cocktails to go from Dutch Courage’s excellent lineup.

Take-out Cookout with Dooby’s and Taharka Bros.
Also on June 13, Dooby’s is pairing up with the Taharka Bros. ice cream truck for a takeaway cookout in the parking lot of 810 N. Charles St. The event, which is carryout only (no tables), will feature grilled burgers (vegan, too), honey-butter fried chicken sandwiches, ice cream, and to-go cocktails from Sugarvale.

Proceeds go to Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle and Baltimore Action Legal Team.

Charm City Night Market Online
One of the more fun elements of the past few months has been the increase in virtual food and beverage-related events, including cooking and mixology classes.

One of those, also coming up on June 13, is an interactive online class offered by Charm City Night Market chefs Steve Chu and Ephrem Abebe of Ekiben. The pair will teach those watching how to cook the southeast Asian noodle dish khao soi. La Cuchara is offering a package of all the ingredients for the recipes for $18.

Baltimore Bake Sale
A number of local restaurants are banding together on Sunday, June 14 for the Baltimore Bake Sale at Peabody Heights Brewery. Proceeds benefit Black Yield Institute and Baltimore Action Legal Team.

Bakers Against Racism
Station North’s Orto is participating in a huge international event, Bakers Against Racism, which was organized by Washington, D.C. pastry chef Paola Velez. Orto’s contribution to the sale will be an Italian cookie plate, which you can order via their website starting on Monday, June 15. The plate will be available for carryout and patio dining during the week of June 15-21. A majority of the proceeds will go to charity.

Father’s Day
Orto also has some Father’s Day takeaway packages in the works, including piles of meat, sides and even instructions for preparation on the grill.

La Cuchara, which shifted gears and has been operating as a market in recent months–to great acclaim–also has Father’s Day grill packs available. Chez Hugo Bistro has a similar plan with a Butcher Shop menu including everything from confit duck legs to charcuterie.

Happening at THB
Before coronavirus hit, Towson Hot Bagel had a lot on its plate, including upcoming expansion plans. Over the past few months, the local chain has kept busy, feeding the community and first responders. Right now, they have a couple fun items on the menu, including a take-home Build a Bagel Kit to help you learn how to make bagels at home, and a festive lineup of rainbow-colored bagels, available Friday through Sunday through June, to coincide with Pride month.

Sip n’ Shuck
Another fun virtual event, Oyster Recovery Partnership’s Sip n’ Shuck, is back for another installment on Thursday, June 25. During the happy hour class, attendees will learn all about oysters, including how to shuck them and what wines pair best with them.

Planning for the future
Mark your calendars for these upcoming events:
July 10: Maryland Food Truck Week kicks off 
Aug. 8: Peach Festival at Harford Winery 
Sept. 19: Baltimore Seafood Festival (new date!) 

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