The Chameleon Café may have paved the way for a restaurant resurgence in the Hamilton-Lauraville area, but darlin' Clementine is continuing the culinary charge along the Harford Road corridor. This new dining hot spot presents itself as family-friendly, affordable, and innovative. With toys in the waiting area, dinner entrées $20 and under, and one of the most interesting menus we've seen, it's definitely meeting its goals.
On a recent visit, a couple of children did quiet battle with rubber dinosaurs on a plush area rug while their adults enjoyed dinner and conversation. The Food Network's Ace of Cakes crew (minus Duff Goldman) settled into another spot. And singles and larger groups took over the rest of the sleekly modern wood tables. It was packed, even on a weeknight.
It's all part of the relaxed vibe at the casual storefront restaurant with blue-gray walls, terrazzo floors, and pressed-tin ceiling. There's also a cold case of sausages and drinks in the back of the restaurant, adding to the throwback feel of a ma-and-pa operation.
And, actually, it is just that. Owners Winston Blick and his wife, Cristin Dadant, opened the renovated space in April. Blick, formerly head chef of SoBo Café, presides over the kitchen, turning out creative fare that often changes daily.
For instance, you're likely to find a charcuterie platter on the menu each visit, but it may feature different offerings. It depends on what captures the chef's eye in the market or where his creativity takes him, our pleasant server told us. Our tray included—get ready for all of this—Chesapeake boudin (a plump crab, pork, and shrimp sausage), bluefish paté, chicken liver paté, rémoulade, house-made bread-and-butter pickles (yum), tomato-ginger jam, and Humboldt Fog goat cheese with baguette slices. We polished it off, leaving maybe a sliver of crust. It's that good.
We also relished the stuffed mushroom caps—and were lucky to have them. After being seated, our server warned us that there was only one serving left. Yikes, we thought, we want these: crab, manchego cheese, and house-cured duck breast ham spilling out of four fat mushrooms with smoked paprika lemon aioli. Who wouldn't?
We also were intrigued by the Fantastical Mac N Cheese, an inches-high, baked square of ultimate comfort food that's light and silky without being gooey. (It's large enough to share as an appetizer.) The names of the dishes are part of the fun of the menu, like the Everglade Rod & Gun Club-Style Baked Cod. Huh? Our waitress said it was named after a dish the chef had, and liked, at the eponymous Florida club.
The soft, flaky cod didn't arrive just naked on the plate. It was smothered in mozzarella cheese and sautéed green and red peppers with cheddar grits and generous slices of grilled squash. Bick's dishes run that way—lots of distinctive flavors and textures.
One caveat: While the menu descriptions can be whimsical, they also can be labor-intensive to read. Call it over-sharing. By the end of the list, we felt like we knew the pedigree of every product. The only things missing were the animals' parents' names. But we persevered through the muddle.
We all agreed the smoked house-made Duroc pork was a standout, with wild mushroom and Chianti sausage, cheddar grits, and garlic sautéed dandelion greens with date, apple, and rye-whiskey cream. While these intense combos may seem overwhelming, they usually work. The only so-so offering of the night was the roasted chili-and-sesame-marinated catfish. While the fish was a moist, tender fillet, it didn't offer much in the way of flavor without the accompanying asparagus stalks, which were doused with tongue-tingling chili oil and sesame seeds.
Clearly, an area where the kitchen really excels is with its sausages. The house-made chicken, basil, tomato, and red-pepper-flake sausage was tender and juicy, and impressive, served over angel-hair pasta with a fresh tomato-basil marinara. You're just never going to find this delectable meat in a grocery store.
Adding to the family charm of the place are the desserts—retro, delicious, and made by the chef's mom. How can you not like a two-layer coconut cake with seven-minute boiled frosting, a dense fudgey brownie, or peach cobbler with bourbon cream?
The restaurant is BYOB with a $5 corkage fee per table, and the servers swing into action when they see you bearing brown bags. They quickly bring an ice bucket to chill your white, or you can bring your own cooler for beer or wine like some nearby diners did. Also, there's a liquor store a few doors down if you come empty-handed and suddenly get a hankering for a libation with your meal.
The restaurant also serves breakfast and lunch. We stopped by recently to see what daylight brings. Zeke's coffee perked us up while we waited for a breakfast casserole, which turned out to be a muffin-shaped, individual serving packed with potato, egg, asparagus, onion, and mushrooms. Spicy hot sauce gave it a wake-up call. We also devoured an egg-and-cheese breakfast sandwich on multi-grain bread. Service is more lax during breakfast, and we wished the temperature of the food had been hotter. But if the chef can keep up the pace, Clementine looks like it's here for the long run.