Do you have a problem committing to self-improvement or resolutions at New Year's? I do. It's not a convenient time of year for such things. Residual holiday cheer (and stress), plus the long stretch of dreariness from January to April, doesn't exactly prime one's pump for renewal. But this time of year is lousy with renewal, and I'm in the mood to give myself a serious overhaul—not of my weight or sleeping habits, but of my wine preconceptions.
An Asian-themed chain spreads to Baltimore.
It's taken a while, but P.F. Chang's has finally come to Baltimore (600 E. Pratt Street, 410-649-2750), setting up residence in the Inner Harbor building that houses a Best Buy and new Filene's Basement. Before this, the nearest outpost of this quasi-Chinese chain was the one opened in Columbia in 2001. This one is a little smaller, and given a more intimate feel through the use of low lighting and extra soundproofing. Staff is friendly and upbeat, and the small, bright bar is a good stop for festive, candy-colored cocktails.
A monthly dinner draws a big crowd of tiny guests.
It's dinnertime at Birches Restaurant (641 S. Montford Avenue, 410-732-3000) and a pack of babies has taken over the dining room. There's crying, and gurgling, and even the occasional dirty diaper—but that's okay, because it's Baby Night. Every second Wednesday of the month, parents and their charges take over the top floor of the Canton restaurant. There's a playpen to keep the walkers and crawlers safely confined, and beer to keep the parents safely sedated.
A new bar crosses borders.
As its name suggests, Carlos O'Charlie's Sports Bar and Grill (3508 Eastern Avenue, 410-675-1485) is a mixture of random—but amusing—elements. There's the 1970's-era décor—lots of exposed wood and light fixtures that would have fit in well in the Brady Bunch's rec room—and the Latin-American pop tunes playing on the sound system. There is the Mexican and Salvadoran fare (the pupusas are great) sharing menu space with standard American items like steak and wings.
The St. Michaels Food and Wine Festival draws creative chefs and devoted gourmands from far and wide.
Nestled along the Chesapeake Bay's ubiquitous creeks and coves, the town of St. Michaels on Maryland's Eastern shore has been synonymous with clamming, crabbing, fishing, and dredging for oysters for centuries. But it may come as a surprise to some that this land of the skipjack is also a gourmand's delight. And nowhere is this more apparent than at the annual St. Michaels Food and Wine Festival.
Got tickets to the Hippodrome? Dinner’s just a block away.
"Where can I eat around the Hippodrome?" is a question I get asked on a regular basis. Of course, most people know about Maggie Moore's (21 N. Eutaw Street, 410-837-2100), the stately Irish pub across the street. The theater also has its own Hipp Cafe (410-625-7850), while around the corner, Salsarita's Fresh Cantina (324 W. Baltimore Street, 410-962-8270) is a casual (and currently booze-free) option for burritos and such. But many people still seem unaware of the lovely and very conveniently located MemSahib (400 W.
A chef brings inventive Italian to Glen Burnie.
We applaud any effort that boosts restaurant life in underserved areas, so kudos to Mike Wagner—formerly of Aida Bistro and Piccolo's of Columbia—for opening his own restaurant in Glen Burnie. The area could certainly do with more non-chain eateries, and MJ Wagner's Via Mia (8 N. Crain Highway, 410-760-9333) is definitely that. The modest, bare-bones storefront boasts a surprisingly ambitious menu; entrées range from prosciutto-and-provolone-stuffed chicken breast to grilled Kurobuta pork loin with apples and sage—both tasty, by the way.
Alonsoville continues to grow.
When Eddie Dopkin first described Miss Shirley's to us about a year ago, it was to be geared as much toward carry-out as toward sit-down meals. Well, that was the idea, but French toast that good deserved to be enjoyed right away, at a table. So it made sense to move Miss Shirley's into the much larger space across the street (513 W. Cold Spring Lane, 410-889-5272) when Big Sky Bread Company moved out.
I've picked up a rather severe case of spring fever. I am aching to engage in outdoor activities that it isn't quite warm enough for; I'm also feeling the tug of lighter red wines and fresh whites that accompany warmer weather. But it isn't 80 degrees just yet, is it? April can still get chilly, and requires flexibility in one's wine choices. Marching toward the warmth of May, you still spend a lot of time with hearty roasts, earthy beans, and wintry soups.
Quick, tell me where you would take someone to sample "American" food. The Prime Rib? A roadside barbecue stand? McDonald's?
You see my point: Any country's cuisine comprises a wide spectrum of flavors and classes. Le Cinq is no more nor less French than the lowliest sandwich stand serving croque monsieur and Orangina.
Our hearts sank when we saw Cafe Papa. It was hard to believe this place could possibly be worth reviewing; it looked like your standard pizza carry-out. A guy in a baseball cap and stained apron stood outside, chatting with a couple in a car; inside, there was a case holding a few cakes, with a kitchen behind that, and no seating whatsoever.
"Maybe we should go somewhere else," I murmured, but right then the man in the apron hurried back in.
March is a tricky month in Maryland. It can be sunshine and daffodils outside just as easily as it can be howling wind and driving snow. If it warms enough to fire our vernal desires, the temptation to grill is great. Snow drifts outside, on the other hand, keep us in the mood for hearty winter fare—one needs energy to clear a space on the street big enough to display one's lawn furniture. Ahh, what to drink, what to drink?
Philippe Faury Condrieu 2004 ($40)
Bedford Produce makes sausage worth standing in line for.
We remember the first time we decided to buy sausage from Bedford Produce at the 32nd Street Farmers Market in Waverly (www.32ndstreetmarket.org). The line for Walter Bedford's stand was about 12 deep, longer than any other line in the market. "So, um, is this sausage really worth it?" we asked the nice lady ahead of us. Her reply said it all: "Oh Lordy, yes." Bedford, who has been a fixture at the market for two decades, gets his breakfast sausage from another farmer in North Carolina, and it is some of the best we've tasted—well-spiced, meaty, and plump.
A tiny oasis of calm sits at the bottom of the Ambassador Apartments.
The owners of Truffles & Tea in Cross Keys have opened a new cafe at the bottom of the Ambassador Apartments in Homewood, where the floral shop Dutch Connection used to be, called Chocolatea (3811 Canterbury Road, 410-366-0095). As with their first business, this place offers a wide array of teas, plus some tasty gourmet truffles, but it also serves some nice light fare. Much of it is Asian—we really liked their miso soup—but there are also plenty of wraps and paninis. The atmosphere is bright and soothing, with cheerfully hued walls and relaxing music.
Rocket to Venus achieves orbit.
When Geoff Danek added a bar to his small Mexican eatery Holy Frijoles, it instantly drew a crowd. Clearly, Hampden had been ripe for a funky, très hip spot for drinks and some inexpensive chow. Now Danek's betting the neighborhood could use another such place—and judging by the crowds we've seen each time we've visited the newly opened Rocket to Venus (3360 Chestnut Avenue, 410-235-7887), he bet right.