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.
Our 47 favorite places to eat this year.
Every year, we create a list of some 70 restaurants and divide it between our critics—Senior Editor Hannah Feldman, dining critic Bianca Sienra, and wine critic John Farlow—who set out to dine at every single one of them (anonymously, of course). And every year, we sit down together at the end and decide which places we loved, which we liked, and which we thought needed some work. This year marks the first time that the process has produced a list of less than 50 restaurants.
O.C. doughnuts invade Baltimore.
Want to hear our new definition of torture? It's sitting next to a box from the Fractured Prune (8705 Harford Road, 410-661-9999), knowing you have a 20-minute drive back to the office during which you may not shove doughnuts in your face, no you may not, no matter how delicious they smell, no don't eat them don't eat them noooo! See, the Prune—originally a popular Ocean City landmark—fries its doughnuts to order, so they're still fresh and warm when you leave the store. And this is when they're at their best—even a plain one is fluffy-crispy heaven when it's hot.
Three months of dining out for our "Best Restaurants" feature has put me in a mood to sit up on my soapbox and proclaim a few truths. As you can imagine, I pay particular attention to wine lists. My theory is that a passionate wine list promises a similar trait in the kitchen. A list populated by mundane mass-produced wine makes me worry that a similar disdain for the customer will arrive on my plate. The worst offenders hand over the wine list to one or two monster suppliers without a second thought.
For years, whenever someone asked me for vegetarian recommendations in Columbia (and in my particular job, you'd be surprised how often you get asked such things), two words instantly left my lips: Mango Grove. In fact, I'd recommend the popular vegetarian Indian eatery to all people, even those who eat meat. But I found that a lot of people weren't interested in a meat-free restaurant, no matter how tasty a bargain I said it was. Evidently, Mango Grove's owners discovered the same thing, because last year they opened Mirchi Wok right next door to their existing place.
Xanadu takes over where Club X left off.
Last February, we reviewed the new Club X Ultra Lounge; a year later, we're announcing the opening in the same spot of Xanadu (10 S. Calvert Street, 410-528-5110), a name that allows the new owners to keep the "X" motifs that decorated the old place. Indeed, much was retained from Club X—the small upstairs dance floor, the trippy colored light displays, the black leather couches in the upstairs lounge, the $185-for-Jack-Daniels bottle service. But there are changes.
Butcher’s Hill gets an Irish pub.
Tucked onto a hard-to-find, one-way street near—but not walking-distance near—the Hopkins medical campus, 2031 E. Fairmount Avenue has always been a challenging location. For years, Simon's Pub managed to lure patrons with its upscale yet reasonably priced New American menu; after the pub closed, new owners never seemed to be able to bring in the needed crowds to their Simon's of Butcher's Hill, despite the delicious New Orleans cuisine and frequent live jazz.