Doppio Pasticceria Sicilian Bakery has been a high-energy two-person mobile operation for a little more than a year now, but Tuesday they’re ready to kick it up a notch and open up shop at R. House in Remington.
Residents may have spotted the bakery’s rustic tables decked out with baskets of old world Italian delicacies at the 32nd Street Farmers Market on a chilly Saturday morning, or on a balmy Tuesday afternoon at the Kenilworth Farmers Market in Towson, or amidst the bustling Sunday morning crowds at East Saratoga and Holiday streets.
They’ve already made many fans with their handmade sweet and savory Sicilian delights. Fried arancini balls, biscottis, cannolis, focaccia bread, lemon ricotta cookies, and an array of other treats are offered up with a warm smile and a touch of finesse. They even have fresh milled flour.
Starting Tuesday, the roving bakery will be taking up residence at R. House, offering folks in Remington a taste of Italy. Going forward they’ll be open Tuesday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the popular food hub. Their market stands will still continue business as usual with all the favorites folks have come to love.
The founders, 30-year-old Megan Cowman, hailing from Dundalk, and 31-year-old Baltimore native Luke Ilardo, find inspiration from family, tradition, world travel, fine dining, and even the deli around the corner.
The couple aren’t married, but Ilardo said being in business together is practically like tying the knot.
“Well we’re about to apply for a business loan, which is like getting married,” he said.
Cowman and Ilardo met in 2018 at The Full Moon bar in Carroll County, where Cowman was bartending. Ilardo described it as a biker bar with a Tiki Bar outside.
Born in Dundalk in Baltimore County, Cowman moved to Winfield in Carroll County when she was a young child. There, she was immersed in nature.
“I grew up in a really rural and isolated place in the foothills of the Frederick mountains and Appalachia,” she said. “I was always surrounded by agriculture. I remember it being a big deal when a neighbor’s cows were calving, and we’d have to walk up the road to go watch cow’s being birthed. Because of the isolation and the lack of neighborhoods, I spent a lot of time in the woods and the fields by myself, or with a couple of neighboring farm kids.”
Cowman spent a lot of time growing food and cooking with her maternal grandmother, who came from Lithuanian/Ashkenaz extraction. She grew up eating a lot of Northern European and Jewish fare from her mother’s background.
But Cowman also had strong culinary influences from her father’s side of the family back in Dundalk and Middle River, whom they visited almost every holiday. Her father’s family was half-Sicilian and half-Irish, but the Sicilian side usually won out.
“The Sicilian culture is so strong,” she said. “There’d be a lasagna, or some Geresbeck’s cannoli platter, or other store-bought southern Italian fare, but rarely was there an Irish platter of anything. So I grew up mostly identifying my father’s side with Sicilian fare. His Italian side, Serios, were from the town of Santo Stefano di Camastra.”
“There’d always been some store-bought platters of Southern-Italian food because my dad’s side was a bit removed from the old cooking ways,” Cowman continued, “and that’s when I really started to grow to appreciate that Italian-American strain of cuisine, while learning that it could be made so much better with things found in Maryland.”
Ilardo and Cowman both majored in journalism in college. But Cowman knew in her heart that she had another calling, one that would continually draw her back into the culinary world.
“I always knew I’d be in food,” she said.
After working in food chains and a pizza restaurant run by a Sicilian man as a teen, Cowman moved to Salem, Massachusetts, which she saw as “weird and pretty” and an opportunity to leave her “one-horse town” in Carroll County. Cowman worked at a fine Northern Italian restaurant called A Tavola in Winchester, and at a bakery on the sea in Swampscott.
After living in Salem from 2013 to 2015, Cowman yearned for the mid-Atlantic and moved to Baltimore. She worked at a bar, then a pastry chef at the original JBGB, and later as a personal chef for private clients while taking nutrition courses.
“In 2018 I finally made it to my great-grandmother’s town in Sicily, Santo Stefano di Camastra, and really learned what Sicilian food was,” she said. “I took some cooking classes while I was there, and I think I really started to dream about this concept then. In 2021, I left all of that for my trip down the Silk Road, an informal, self-led culinary education adventure that I knew would be the last big hurrah before inevitably returning home to start a business with Luke.”
Cowman traveled the middle section of the Silk Road, from the border of China and Kyrgyzstan, to the border of Europe. Between hostels and the occasional hotel, she’d stay with families to get an authentic taste of the cultures.
Back at R. House, curious customers peek into the window over tiny house plants which line the window sill. The couple brought them from their place to bring that feel of home. Over bubbling pans and wonderful aromas, Cowman continues to explain the reasons for her Silk Road adventure.
“I went on that journey for personal interest, the history of globalization, and the food spectrum,” she said. “My goal was to cook and eat as much as I could all the way across ’cause I figured I would take something away from how every one of these places does it, and I did. I feel very lucky to have had such a broad understanding of food and ingredients from the north of Europe, through the south Mediterranean, and from mountains and piedmont in Maryland to the Chesapeake.”
The inspiration of Cowman’s Silk Road journey can be seen in the many shades of baked goods festooning their market tables, like the warm Uzbekian-style tandoori bread with intricate designs in the middle made from stamps used in the baking process to add that extra layer of wow. It’s these little details which make the duo’s food stand out from the rest.
Cowman admits there was a learning curve at first. She recalls the awe-inspiring moment when she got to see the bread being made firsthand in Uzbekistan. She took notes, watching the bakers working hard to achieve the right consistency by pounding the bread into form, then braving the extreme heat of the traditional tandoor oven so as to slap the bread on the sides of the walls. “Those bakers put their whole arm inside a fire pit,” she said. “It was wild.”
A tall, bearded Ilardo takes a break from getting the food stall up to snuff. He leans against the metal counter and reminisces about his own food origins.
“I started working at my dad’s pizzeria when I was 12 in Pigtown at the Montgomery Ward building making $5 an hour under the table. My parents were like ‘You’re getting into a lot of trouble. You need to start working.’ So they threw me into the kitchen, which is not a good place for a 12-year-old trying to stay out of trouble. They told me: ‘You’re too young to be up front dealing with customers so you’re working in the back making pizza.’ I worked there for a while and eventually started working in other kitchens.”
Like many other people, Ilardo’s family’s business was impacted by the Great Recession of the late 2000s.
“In 2008, my dad’s business took a real big hit,” he said. “Then he and one of my older brothers worked up a new thing that they opened up in the Baltimore casino called Piezzetta Pizza Kitchen. They have one in Baltimore’s Horseshoe Casino and one in a casino in Reno, Nevada.”
After graduating highschool, Ilardo moved to New Orleans where he worked in kitchens while taking night classes at Tulane University studying journalism.
“I thought I was gonna get a degree in journalism and stay there, but they canceled the journalism program three years into it and told me maybe I should become a nurse,” he said.
“After New Orleans I moved to Colorado for a year which was hell,” Ilardo continues. “I didn’t like being in a landlocked state. I was three years into a journalism degree and lost a bunch of credits when I transferred so I ended up on class number three about how to write a thesis, and thought what the hell am I doing here?”
Ilardo dropped out of college and found a Craigslist ad for a farm on the Oregon coast that was looking for seasonal farm hands. He made the move, lived there for three and a half years, and was ready to plant roots when life threw him a curveball.
“I came back to Baltimore for the holidays in December of 2017, for what I thought would be a three-week visit. My dad suffered a massive heart attack over Christmas, and went into the hospital where he stayed for four and a half months until he passed in May 2018,” Ilardo said. “It was a tough time, and I decided to stick around Baltimore to regroup and be with family.”
Shortly after his father’s passing, Ilardo met Cowman.
“We didn’t start hanging out more seriously until 2020, but kept running into each other at the market,” he said. “I decided to go back to Oregon in March of 2021, and Megan took off for Central Asia in May of 2021. We linked up in Oregon later that summer.”
“I was working on a farm with some close friends growing produce,” he continued. “To supplement my meager farming income, I bought a small mill, and was milling local grains to sell at market. I also started baking a few things, like cookies, and cakes, to further supplement my income.”
Luke smiles as Megan walks by.
“When she arrived, we scaled up baking as much as possible out of our 10×10 uninsulated, unplumbed shed next to a chicken coop. We drove back to Baltimore in October of 2021 and started at Doppio in April of ’22.”
Doppio Pasticceria Sicilian Bakery will have a soft opening Tuesday at their new spot at R. House in Remington. Customers can also stop by anytime between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. In addition to their popular items they will be introducing coffee drinks and some other soon-to-be-announced additions to their menu at the R. House location.
Customers can also visit Doppio Pasticceria Sicilian Bakery at the following markets:
Kenilworth Farmers Market (Tuesdays 3 p.m.-6 p.m.) 800 Kenilworth Drive, Towson, MD 21204
32nd Street Farmers Market (Saturdays 7 a.m.-12 p.m.) 400 E. 32nd St., Baltimore, MD 21218
Baltimore Farmers’ Market and Bazaar (Sundays 7 a.m.-12 p.m.) East Saratoga Street & Holliday St, Baltimore, MD 21202