I do love this city, but sometimes, I don’t mind leaving for the night.
Especially for chef Erik Bruner-Yang’s kick-ass ramen at Toki Underground. I am – like many in Charm City – new to somewhat new to ramen. But after the beauty that was Toki-fact at Artifact Coffee back in January (I happily stood in lines around the place…) I had to see the place that had inspired Spike to partner up on that delicious pop-up.
Almost Valentine’s Day, yeah, yeah, I know. I got nothin’. While couples are gazing into each other’s eyes over champagne and oysters, some of us will be ordering from the singles menu. And so, a love letter to food, which I adore and suffer from and play head games with as I would any bad boyfriend. In fact I just gained weight while visiting Africa, an accomplishment few can claim. Now back in the bosom of Baltimore I offer a Valentine to favorites from local eateries, which I seem to love as much for what they remind me of as what they are.
1. Huevos rancheros, Atwater’s
Of all influences I absorbed during the 20 years I lived in Austin, Texas, none has been more abiding than my passion for Mexican breakfast dishes, and I am always on the lookout for reasonable facsimiles. When my friend Ken was recovering from surgery in a rehab up north near the Beltway, I used to stop at the Falls Road location of Atwater’s to bring him a latte on the way to visit and thus came to try the non-traditional version of huevos rancheros served there. Three, count ’em three, fried eggs served on corn tortillas with a thick, mild red chile sauce and queso blanco. No refried beans, no potatoes, no jalapenos, no ranchero sauce for that matter, but satisfying in its own way. Or maybe I’m just getting soft in my old age.
2. Cheese steak, The Real Thing, One World
Cheese steak was the signature food of my first husband Tony, born and raised in Philly. He used to go to the Italian market on South 9th Street with his grandma, and if he was good they would stop afterwards for a steak from Pat’s King of Steaks. Indoctrinated early in our relationship into this wonder of the junk-food world, I said farewell to Tony by ordering 100 cheese steaks from a sub shop in Austin for his memorial service in 1994. As you may know, Pat’s in South Philly is across the street from another cheese steak stand called Geno’s, and each has its own passionate fan club. The guy who owns The Real Thing on York Road in Towson used to cook at Geno’s, but we try not to hold that against him. And call me crazy but my daughter Jane and I like the vegetarian version at One World.
3. Tart frozen yogurt, TCBY Belvedere Square, Evergreen Cafe in warmer months
Probably due to my mother’s overzealous policing of my youthful eating habits, I have a kind of PTSD that prevents me from enjoying desserts. Fortunately frozen yogurt was invented after I escaped my mother’s surveillance. My first bite was a life-changing encounter with creamy cold sweetness for me, spawning an immediate fantasy of opening my own fro-yo store. Early frozen yogurt tasted like real yogurt, but soon a bland replica of soft ice cream took over. Only in the past few years has yogurty frozen yogurt come back. R.I.P. Mr. Yogato of Fells Point, a kooky, endearing spot where I first encountered the new “classic tart” flavor. Fortunately it has now caught on widely.
A few weeks ago, I heard that restaurateur Teddy Bauer had invited over the weekend a few friends to stop by his old-restaurant-made-new, The Valley Inn, on Falls Road in Brooklandville. I immediately drove by and called the restaurant; both actions bore no fruit. The following Thursday, a friend and I met there for a drink and to see if it was open. (I had heard from a friend of Teddy’s that he was going to open the bar first.) When we arrived at about 8:00 at night, the place was dead.
Looks like Richard Gorelick at The Baltimore Sun heard the same rumors I did and went by last Saturday to check things out for himself, and it looks like it is open (but mostly for FOTs – Friends of Teddy’s). He reports that the pub is open for business on Fridays and Saturdays, serving burgers, crab cakes, salads and more. Read his story here.
Our friend the Charm City Cook, Amy Langrehr, let us know today that a new casual French restaurant, Le Garage Beer Bar & Frites, will open this spring in the space formerly occupied by The Dogwood Restaurant on The Avenue in Hampden.
The restaurant’s chef, Sarah Acconcia, comes with experience from 13.5 % Wine Bar in Hampden and Maggie’s Farm in Lauraville. Local architect SMG will rework the space to include a 60-seat dining area, an 18-seat bar, and a french fry stand that will be available at street level, in the restaurant’s store-front space.
The Baltimore Sun is reporting that Trattoria Alberto, the Glen Burnie strip mall restaurant famous for exceptional northern Italian food, is closing its doors after nearly 30 years. Since it opened in 1985, food lovers from all over the city have driven to the restaurant’s unlikely location on Crain Highway for some of the best Italian food in the region. It was consistently ranked in Zagat’s among the best restaurants in Baltimore.
It’s only fitting to end the year with a commemorative list. I don’t remember which part of my Myers-Briggs personality combination makes me prone to list making, but it is my habit and I’d be living a lie to hold back now. It’s the beginning of a new year and the end of a BIG year! Why wouldn’t I want to list my top five Food and Wine experiences of 2013?
5. Breakfast in Antigua (July)
We accidentally ended up in the Caribbean this summer…long story…but as it was the first time my husband and I had been there, we were both taken with the tropical-ness of it all. Supremely casual, slow-paced, and relaxed, we rose whenever we felt like it, strolled down to the beach, and sat at tiny café tables in the sand while dining on the most beautiful tropical fruit I’ve ever seen. With papayas bigger than my head, the freshest pineapple, and passion fruit right off the tree, I looked forward to waking up.
What to drink: vats of iced tea with lime and passion fruit scooped right in. It was breakfast, after all.
4. Lunch at Il Convento in Puglia (March)
We took our honeymoon was a month after our wedding and I’d just found out I was pregnant. So with a bag packed full of stretchy pants and three boxes of saltines, we got on a plane for Italy and landed in the wettest, coldest spring the area had seen in decades. A pale shade of sea foam gracing my cheeks, we drove all over Southern Italy, stopping at various food and wine destinations we’d set up before I was in my first trimester and hoped for the best at each stop.
The top of my list is still Il Convento di Santa Maria di Constantinopoli in Puglia, right at the tip of the Italian boot. The convent-turned bed and breakfast has walls and rooms lined with ancient artifacts from all over Africa, the South Pacific, India, masks and figures and fabric and wooden statues, and the in-house chef Pierre-Luigi daily prepares beautiful meals. Every afternoon, they’d tuck just the two of us into one of the many tiny rooms and serve elaborate, leisurely lunches. The best was a typical Puglese lunch, a smattering of salumi, fresh fava beans, pickled artichokes, bread, local cheeses, pasta made by Pierre-Luigi’s mother, and fresh peas. It was amazing, vibrant, fresh, real.
What to drink: A local rosé made from Negroamaro. Spring, quintessentially.
3. Family pasta dinner at the beach (August)
A few of my family members have homes in Spring Lake, New Jersey where we all gather over a rolling few vacation weeks every summer. My aunt, who loves to garden but won’t plant anything without a flower or fruit, has developed a pretty stellar garden including squash, herbs, figs, grapes, raspberries, and mountains of tomatoes. This year, we brought down even more tomatoes and with our powers combined, we made a fresh tomato sauce for pasta night for our big family. A bucket of chopped tomatoes, lots of basil, a tiny bit of garlic, a little chili, salt, and a touch of honey macerated together as we cooked mountains of pasta (glutinous and gluten- free to be accommodating, naturally), then tossed it all with the sauce we’d made, which was heated just enough to take the chill off and then tossed with the warm pasta so the noodles would absorb the fresh juice. It was the most satisfying, seasonally appropriate dish of the summer.
What to drink: Rosso di Montalcino started the evening, followed by whatever else was in large quantity (for about 20 of us, after all).
The French Kitchen, the new restaurant at the Lord Baltimore Hotel, 20 W. Baltimore Street, opened this week. The eatery will serve traditional French cuisine with favorites like boeuf bourguignon and french onion soup on the menu. The opening of The French Kitchen is part of a larger renovation taking place at the Lord Baltimore, which was bought by Rubell Hotels (the company owns some pretty swanky hotels around the country), and is expected to be completed in April of next year. Read all the details about the restaurant in the press release below. – The Eds.
From French classics such as Tartare de Boeuf and Salade Nicoise to contemporary preparation of Poulet Roti and Boeuf Bourguignon, The French Kitchen is now open under the watchful eye of Chef de Cuisine Jordan Miller. Currently serving lunch and dinner, and with Sunday brunch beginning in January, The French Kitchen is located in the Lord Baltimore Hotel, the landmark property that was recently acquired by Rubell Hotels.
“Every inch of the Lord Baltimore is being renovated to restore its prominence as one of the most significant hotels in Baltimore, and the opening of The French Kitchen marks the first public space to be completed,” said Gene-Michael Addis, General Manager of the Lord Baltimore Hotel.
The French Kitchen offers a full menu ranging from Hors D’oeuvres to Salades to Principaux along with an approachable selection of Sparking, Rose, White and Red wines. Hors D’ouevres include items such as Cured Saumon with dill, crème fraiche, potato, and everything bagel tuile; Soupe A L’Oignon with crouton and melted comte; Tartare de Boeuf with shallots, capers, garlic, herbs, poached egg, pear and crostini; and a selection of Fromage and Charcuterie. Salades range from Vegetables A La Grecque with mixed winter vegetables to Frisee Aux Lardon with arugula, bacon, poached egg, fourme d’ambert, pear and vinaigrette. Entrée selections – or Principaux – include Moules Normandes with apples, mushrooms, heavy cream, calvados, cider and fresh bread; Roasted Canard breast and confit of leg with lentils, orange, fennel and olive; Steak Frites with cippolini onions and french fries; and Raie, skate wing with brown butter, capers, fingerling potatoes and winter vegetables.
Chef Jordan Miller has nearly thirteen years of restaurant experience and began his work in restaurants at the age of fifteen as a dishwasher. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and the University of San Francisco in Quito, Ecuador in 2008 with a B.F.A. in Creative Writing, B.A. in Spanish and a certificate of Culinary Arts. Miller has cooked professionally in New Jersey, Philadelphia, North Carolina, California and Ecuador and has recently worked with Plumpjack Hospitality group and winery in Olympic Valley California. “Chef Miller’s food will be heavily influenced by his travels in the Americas and the chefs who have shaped him and his career. His menus feature the season’s best ingredients and aim to create an approachable, relaxed, comforting and delicious menu that can be enjoyed by both families and foodies, while still paying respects to the history and charm of classical French cooking,” said Addis.
Do you fry your chicken? Or…is it too messy…not on your diet…or maybe you don’t eat meat? Well, none of those things apply to me. Not one. I love to eat and try new things and well, I just can’t diet when I write this little blog. Too much great food in this great city.
As for making fried chicken at home…I tend to do it like my mom. A few years ago, she gifted me her old cast iron skillet. I think I cried. Not only would I use it all the time, I’d think of her. And my grandmother. They ‘fixed’ fried chicken in very similar ways – simple, classic dredging in flour and fried in bacon grease. (Sometimes oil when she was low on bacon grease in the fridge.) She’d fry it on top of the stove, skin side down (crispy skin = deliciousness) in the skillet in batches and then finish in the oven. She was feeding a family of eight (five serious eater boys in that group) so she’d fry up two whole chickens. She also lugged TWO FULL carts of groceries twice a week – if there was ever a person who could’ve used COSTCO back in the day, it is Peg Langrehr. And her fried chicken? Like many people’s moms, it was delicious and I can remember how it tasted.
I do make fried chicken at home from time to time…but I really love having someone else make it even more. It can be as simple and fast as Royal Farms. Oh, geez, the glorious smell. You’ve smelled it. It makes my car just pull on in there – and it is always good. Love a thigh and a leg. The Western fries, not so much.
So, a while back when I was at PABU, in between cocktails, happy spoons and those ridiculous chili-glazed ribs, I told Chef Jonah Kim, “We should have a fried chicken throwdown!” And his face lit up. (SMILE.) He loves to tinker with fried chicken. Tinkering is fun for most chefs, no? I’m not even a chef and I love to tinker…my salted caramel brownies came out of multiple tinkering sessions, you know.
Enter the “Fry My Chicken Smackdown” – a culinary battle to find the best fried chicken in town. Competing chefs include Opie Crooks of Shoofly Diner, Chad Gauss of The Food Market, Chris Amendola of Fleet Street Kitchen, Jordan Miller of the Lord Baltimore Hotel (formerly of The Chesapeake) and of course, Jonah Kim of PABU. Who will reign supreme?
Fry My Chicken
Wednesday, December 11 @ 6:30pm
PABU / Four Seasons / Harbor East
Easter is one of my favorite events of spring, probably because growing up in Hawaii there were few other markers of the change of the season.s In Hawaii, there are essentially two seasons: one that’s sunny and so hot (88 degrees! What?!), and one that’s rainy and so cold (sometimes down to the 60s at night. Break out the sweaters). We spent every Easter camping at the beach when I was a kid, on the east side of the island where we lived so that we could watch the sunrise on Sunday morning. We’d set up in tents, roast marshmallows and other grillable items, listen to the ocean, and watch the stars come out.
Or that’s how I tell the story. In reality, we probably spent two Easters at the beach in the fourteen years we spent in Hawaii, and “camping” was two tents pitched roughly ten feet from our parked fifteen-passenger van, and usually the sand was mixed with pokey pinecone-like spawn of ironwood trees and previous campers’ charcoal remnants from their marshmallows and grillable items, making the powdery, death-gray sand stick to our legs and arms and s’mores-crusted faces, meaning a dirty, sticky hoard of children (all seven of us) piling back into the fifteen-passenger van to be hosed off at a later destination, usually in the front yard of our house.
Now, a little older living on this coast, spring brings more than just ashen limbs and the occasional beach campout. The rotation of all four seasons is one of my favorite things about living here, and though Maryland seems to mix up the weather patterns a little bit, spring more or less means something new every day (like snow, perhaps?), not the least of which is a switch in the wine brain.
I didn’t much believe in that idea, that weather dictates what kind of wine you actually enjoy, but that first year in the wine shop changed my mind. It was Daylight Savings Time, yet another seasonal phenomena I still don’t understand courtesy of growing up in the middle of the ocean, and all of the sudden the sun was still coming through the windows at 7:30 at night. And it was warmer. And there were things growing. And suddenly, you’re looking at the tasting bar and you’re thinking, “my GOD, why is there no white wine?!” It wasn’t that my tastes had changed; it was just a response to everything else changing. We drink in seasons, too.