Chefs pair cocktails and food with intoxicating results.
Order the confit of pork shank with a pomegranate glaze at The Wine Market, and you might be surprised by the server's drink recommendation. Not a lovely pinot noir with cherry nuances or a smooth merlot with blackberry aromas. No, instead, he suggests a—wait for it—pomegranate martini.
A cocktail with dinner? Absolutely.
Cocktails are more popular then ever—and not just in the bar. Fruity elixirs and fine spirits have entered a new phase as chefs begin pairing them very deliberately with food.
Wine wish list.
Baltimore's wine lists need a shake up. While working on this issue's best restaurants list, I had a chance to do an informal survey of various offerings around town. Here's what I found: a gaggle of independent restaurateurs with diverse wine lists and a host of lax lists brimming with big-volume mediocrity.
But the blame for such a state of affairs may lie with you, dear reader. As my predecessor at Baltimore magazine once opined, "People drink what they deserve."
Hot cross buns add sweet tradition to Lenten season.
One a penny. Two a penny. Hot cross buns. The childhood rhyme resonates today, even though the sweet rolls cost about 70 cents each now. The Lenten bread, which dates to Pagan times before being adopted by Christian missionaries, is especially popular the week before Easter [March 23 this year]. "I like tradition," says George Simon, 75, a third-generation baker who turns out the candied-fruit-studded buns with the icing cross at Simon's Bakery in Cockeysville. It's a once-a-year ritual, peaking on Good Friday. The icing cross signifies the crucifixion.
The kielbasa king of Fells Point gears up
It’s oddly comforting, in our low-fat, low-salt era, to see beefy people lined up to buy pork sausage.
Before any major food holiday—but especially Easter, which falls on March 23 this year—devotees of Ostrowski’s kielbasa politely form queues that start in the tiny store and wend their way up South Washington Street in Fells Point. Mostly male, blue collar, and middle-aged, these are folks who grew up in East Baltimore and were weaned on the stuff.
Seductive Pairing: Wine, Chocolate.
It’s a cliché gift this month, but nonetheless, I simply adore chocolate. Always have, always will.
Perhaps not surprisingly, my favorite chocolates can be found at some of Baltimore’s best wine shops. I pick up Kirchmayr from The Wine Source, Vosges from Mt. Washington Wine Company, and Mexican bricks from Chesapeake Wine Company. Unsurprising, because wine and chocolate, when paired properly, are natural complements.
Baked goods and coffee make for a sweet detour.
After 14 years of turning out delectable baked goods for The Classic Catering People, pastry chef Robert Gonzalez traded his corporate apron for a piece of his own pie in Carroll County. He and his wife Julia opened a bakery four years ago in the hinterlands of Hampstead, turning out temptations like almond raspberry cake, swirled cheesecakes, and fresh fruit tarts. Recently, they expanded their venture to a bigger location and included a coffee shop.
Patrick's of Cockeysville
There was a certain amount of déjà vu as I walked into Patrick’s of Cockeysville on a recent visit. The familiar shamrocks are still on the door, and the traditional décor hasn’t changed much since I was last there nine years ago. But behind the scenes, there are big differences.
Carole M. Brosso, a Culinary Institute of America grad, is in the kitchen now, and she and her mother, Mary Lou Brosso, have owned the restaurant since April 2006. The mother-daughter duo is adding an imprint in subtle ways.
Restaurant fireplaces add spark to romance.
There’s something about a crackling fire in winter that stirs the appetite—for romance. Add good food, a glass of wine, and a great companion, and what could be a better recipe for Valentine’s Day? Several area restaurants offer all those ingredients, including Petit Louis Bistro (pictured), Milton Inn, Ambassador Dining Room, The Brewer’s Art, and Mt. Washington Tavern. You’ll find other dining spots that have fireplaces in our restaurant listings. Diane Feffer Neas, a restaurant consultant, explains part of the fascination. “There’s a thing about the glow,” she says.
Shake off the chill with hearty soup.
Cynthia Shea is too nice to be compared to Seinfeld's Soup Nazi, but her soul-warming elixirs rank right up there with the best. Shea, a CIA grad and San Francisco transplant, opened Soup's On (842 W. 36th St., 410-235-9801) in a cozy Hampden row house two years ago. While she moved to the East Coast to be closer to her family, she's found her cooking niche in Baltimore. "I make things I didn't learn as soup into soup," she says.
Some locals joke that there's a sushi place for every 10 people along the York Road corridor from Towson to Hunt Valley. That might not be such an exaggeration. We noticed quite a few Asian eateries on the busy thoroughfare as we headed north recently in search of, well, another sushi restaurant.
Grunge, java, and great grapes
It's hard to imagine Washington as a premier wine-growing region, given what popular culture has to say about the place—rainy Seattle, birthplace of grunge music, home of denizens whose thirst for something to take off the chill is so powerful it transformed local roaster Starbucks into a brand nearly as ubiquitous as McDonald's.
In truth, Washington is a tale of two climates—rain forest to the west of the mountains, near desert to the east. And that arid dryness is where wine grapes love to be.
Everything old is new again—at least, when it comes to hot chocolate. The wintertime drink has been around for thousands of years, dating to the Aztecs, Mayans, and even older civilizations. We can thank our European forefathers for transforming the Mexican beverage into the sweet cocoa concoction we indulge in today. Around town, you'll find several versions to chase away the cold. Vaccaro's (222 Albemarle St., 410-685-4905) uses a Nestle hot-chocolate mix with milk and adds a decadent swirl of whipped topping, plus you get a sugar cookie with your order ($2.30-3.40).
Casey Jenkins, chef/owner of Darker Than Blue Cafe (3034 Greenmount Avenue, 443-872-4468) is a sweetheart and maybe an urban saint. A native New Yorker, he's so passionate about Baltimore that he's staked his all on Waverly, a desperately underserved neighborhood when it comes to fine dining. Named for Curtis Mayfield's bluesy anthem of inner-city hope, Darker features mammoth platters of Jenkins' fine Southern cooking (he's a Culinary Institute of America grad), like superlative ribs, chicken—both fried and slow-roasted—and fresh greens from the farmer's market around the way.
Tried and true
We're all for the polish and shine of the new enotecas and osterias in town, but sometimes Little Italy standbys, like La Scala (1012 Eastern Ave., 410-783-9209, lascaladining.com), are just what you need for a comforting Old World feast. There are no gimmicks, just big platefuls of tender shellfish, chicken, and veal, immersed in garlicky overtones and thick red sauces.
Food bank Director Deborah Flateman wants to end hunger in Maryland.
“My mother never threw away a leftover. Never, never,” recalls Deborah Flateman. “I learned from her that there’s a way to recycle food into other edible dishes. So, why would you ever throw it away?”
That philosophy should serve her well as the recently appointed CEO of the Maryland Food Bank (MFB). You see, Flateman hates the idea that someone somewhere in Maryland might be hungry. She takes it personally, the way grandmothers do when they fear someone might leave their house without having a fourth helping of mashed potatoes.