Friday, January 27, 2017

Deep Creek 2017

For the third year in a row, we went to Deep Creek to spend MLK weekend with some of my high school friends and their kids.

One of the highlights of the weekend, for me, was getting to break in this gigantic camo onesie,
gifted to me by Cooper's Aunt Noreen. It was both enormous and very, very warm.
But it was not slimming.

It was a meat-and-cheese fest, as it is every year. We start on Friday night, with meatballs from Mastellone's, and don't look back. Chili, tacos, burgers and steaks, sausage and bacon at every breakfast. And literally a pound of cheese available for every single person in the house, including those who are still in diapers. It's fabulous.

It's also a game-fest. We don't do a whole lot while we're there, but we do play board games. One of this year's hits was Speak Out, that game that gets so much play online because it involves weird dental torture devices that hold your mouth open.

It is hilarious, but also very, very creepy. And I'm pretty sure those devices are at least part of the reason why several of the people in the house (including Cooper) closed out the weekend with the stomach flu. Germs, people. Germs.

Though the weekend as a whole is a blast - how bad can it be when it's filled with meat, cheese, booze and board games? - one of our food-related highlights actually occurred before we even made it to the house.

On our way, just about five miles out, in the town of Accident, Cooper and Dixon and I made a quick pit stop at the FireFly Farms store. As is typical, pretty much everyone coming for the weekend had forgotten at least one thing in their travels. Like crackers. we were about to enter a house with massive amounts of cheese...but no crackers.

For whatever reason, I didn't immediately make the connection between the name of the store and the cheese that I often pick up at Atwater's and see on menus all over Baltimore. But as soon as we walked into the shop, we made the connection.

It's super cute, with an excellent selection of cheese (both from FireFly Farms itself and from other makers), plus tons of wine, a handful of locally made stuff (think Popsations popcorn and Snake Oil hot sauce) and, yes, crackers.

While I can't, in good conscience, recommend drinking the Maryland blueberry wine we picked up, I do think it might make for a nice ingredient in a savory dish. And I can recommend just about everything else in the place. We walked out with our arms full and big smiles on our faces.

Those smiles stayed planted all weekend long (until the stomach flu reared its ugly head...fortunately, the weekend was almost over by then). I'm already looking forward to next year.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Fourth Quarter Dining and Such

Everyone agrees that 2016 was a tough year on the grand scale, but on a personal level, for me, it had a lot of high points.

We ate and drank some fantastic things. I tried new places and hung out with food friends as often as possible. We drank tons of Hazanas Rioja. Cooper and I spent an interestingly large chunk of the year inside distilleries, both in the U.S. and in Ireland (one day I'll write about the rest of that trip). Dixon and I started collaborating (those articles are so fun to write). It was a good time.

But now, here it is in 2017 and I haven't written about some of the meals I ate in October. That's embarrassing.

So let's take care of that. Here's a look at some of our end of year highlights:

Towson Tavern
Towson Tavern got a new chef this fall - Josh Vecchiolla, the former sous from Parts & Labor. I've always liked it there, but under Vecchiolla's guidance, the menu has gotten a meaty upgrade that's really strong.

We had dinner there in late October with our friends Will and Karen. The drinks were excellent, as always, but the best parts were the stinging nettle dip and this chicken, which was seasoned perfectly, cooked in a cast iron pan, and just great all around.

Visionary Arts Museum Food Exhibit
The new exhibit at the AVAM is all about food, so we, obviously, had to go. It's pretty cool.


I mean, how could I not love this? A note about celebratory meals, posted right over a book called Muskrat Cookin'. That museum, it is the best.

The last weekend in October, we celebrated Bill's birthday with dinner at Henninger's (always the best - I could go there every night) and after dinner drinks at Cat's Eye Pub.

It was Halloween weekend and the weather was gorgeous, so Fells was wild. We made some friends - including an older guy who was dressed as "half naked" (literally, he was half naked). And I remembered why Cat's Eye is one of the best bars anyplace.

We barely took any pictures, but for whatever reason, I did snap this pre-dinner shot of Cooper and his duck lips. Why? Who knows.

Bar Vasquez
Foreman Wolf's new Argentine spot, Bar Vasquez, opened in the old Pazo space this fall and in early November, I had the chance to try it out with a fun group of food friends. It was so good. So good.

I've been recommending it right and left - it's an absolutely perfect place for a special occasion dinner, or even just to meet up with friends if you're looking for something a little more sophisticated than your average Baltimore evening. It's expensive, but between the food, the space, the drinks and the service, it's well worth it.

These potatoes were spectacular, but then, everything was. The duck I had for dinner might be the best duck I've ever eaten.

I made fig-rosemary jam! I had to. Our fig crop this year was hilariously large and it hung on until...well, it's January and there are still figs on the tree. I doubt they're good, but they're hanging on.

No Kid Hungry at Food Market
Also in early November, Cooper and I went to a dinner at Food Market, benefiting No Kid Hungry. Charm City Cook Amy organized the event, which involved a bunch of local chefs and raised a boatload of money for the organization.

We were thrilled to be a part of that, but we were also thrilled to be on the receiving end of some incredible food. One thing this city does well is a chef-driven charity dinner. I have heard stories of boring "rubber chicken" fundraiser food. Seems to me, Baltimore has risen above that.

Our table was an absolute blast; whoever did the table assignments was a rock star. And every course was terrific. This, venison lasagna by Bryan Voltaggio, was more like a napolean than like lasagna. Incredible.

Wicked Sisters
Wicked Sisters, the new spot in the old McCabe's space in Hampden, opened earlier this fall. It's the latest effort from Charlie and Lori Gjerde and Carrie Podles, who own several other local spots, including Papi's Tacos.

Cooper and I found ourselves with an unexpected Dixon-free Friday night in mid-November, so we stopped in to see what it was all about. It's casual and fun and we liked the food a lot. We started with Brussels sprouts (solid) and I had an excellent burger.

After dinner, Charlie handed us this glass full of Winecream, and we couldn't say no. I mean, they're a local company. Who doesn't want to support that?

Mock Thanksgiving 
Our annual pre-Thanksgiving party was a small affair this year, with just a few friends and their kids coming over for dinner on the Sunday before the big holiday. I made a mess of the turkey and I might not be ready to talk about that yet (or ever), but the night was an overall success, thanks largely to Piper and Hadley, who came over early and set a mean kids table.

Those two design stars have started their own YouTube channel and Facebook page. If you're a fan of short videos of hilarious girls, I strongly suggest you follow them.

Clavel and WC Harlan
After Thanksgiving, we jumped straight into the busy holiday social season.

The first weekend in December, our friend Stacey came down to visit us from New York. Alicia and Mary and I took her to Clavel and WC Harlan. We knew she'd love them both - who doesn't?

Stacey took this picture!

Carol and Crawl
For the ninth year in a row, we spent the first Saturday of December with our friends, celebrating the holiday season with way, way, way too much booze and a lot of off-key singing. Not caroling - despite the name of the party, there is no caroling. If there's any crawling, it's done after the party has officially ended, when people are trying to make it to their beds. It is a fun party. With lots of mozzarella sticks.

Also, this year, lots of ridiculous outfits:

Buck Buck Moose at Volt
Cooper and I spent one day after the Christmas party licking our wounds, then we got back into it, heading to Frederick for a book signing dinner at Volt. Hank Shaw, the blogger behind Hunter Angler Gardener Cook and the author of several cookbooks that we love, was at the restaurant, and Bryan Voltaggio was in the kitchen, cooking recipes adapted from the book.

It was our first time at Volt and we took Cooper's cousin Sarah, who lives in Frederick, with us. Dinner was great - fun and interesting and delicious - and we were especially happy to have another go at the venison lasagna from the No Kid Hungry dinner was just a warm-up. That stuff is so good.

R. House
This fall also marked the opening of R. House, the food hall in Remington.

I've been twice now - once on opening night with Nikki Marks (of Madame BBQ/Mindgrub fame) and again before seeing the Hampden lights with Mike, Alicia, Maggie and Dixon (Cooper was sick, so he stayed home).

They've done a great job over there. It's casual and easy and the food is good. Technically, it's a food court, but it's such a cool one!

I've tried a bunch of different things so far and have liked all of them. The only thing I've photographed, though, is the shawarma from ARBA. It's great.

Clavel at The Charmery
After R. House but before the lights, Dixon, Mike, Alicia, Maggie and I dropped by The Charmery, where they were in the middle of a busy Clavel pop-up. Mexican cinnamon ice cream, wedding cookies, Mexican hot chocolate, lots of other things that were great - unsurprisingly, this was a collab that worked.

I turned 41 this year, which means I've been celebrating my birthday at McGarvey's for 20 years straight. TWENTY YEARS.

This year was a fun one, even though bad weather and illness meant a lot of people couldn't make it. But still, a bunch of high school friends joined Cooper and me for oysters, crab dip and Aviators at McGarvey's, oyster shooters at Middleton's (pictured), quite a bit of Irishness at Galway Bay and a mildly sloppy close to the evening, featuring good red wine and French whiskey at Harry Browne's.

We always close out the night at Harry Browne's, which is by far the nicest place we go, and we're always a little unruly when we get there (not too unruly, but still). The bartenders there, though, they are fabulous. The one working during my birthday celebration was a total pro - keeping us engaged and put together and having fun. He was the best.

Matisse/Diebenkorn and Parts & Labor
Earlier this year, when word got out about the Matisse/Diebenkorn exhibit at the BMA, my brother and sister and I hatched a plan to meet there while they were in Maryland for Christmas. And we actually made that happen!

The Friday before Christmas, Dixon and I met Tom and Cail and Erin and Clark at the museum. The first thing we did was head to the exhibit itself; I was completely blown away.

I love both Matisse and Diebenkorn; I wrote college papers about both painters (though not about them together). They're two of my favorites, so purely from an aesthetic sense, I enjoyed the exhibit. It's pretty.

But even if I wasn't a particular fan of either of the artists, I would've been impressed. It is so smart and hangs together so well. It reminded me why art history fascinates me. I'm planning to go back again - this time without a 10 year old boy (who was not quite as enamored as I was). I could spend days just soaking it in.

After the exhibit, we wandered through the Cone Collection and the Contemporary Wing; Tom and Erin hadn't been to the museum since they were kids and Cail and Clark had never been. Dixon had a blast in the contemporary collection, taking pictures of the pieces with his iPod and getting really into it. I'm not sure I realized how interactive it is. It's great for kids and I loved watching him have fun with the art.

After all of that, we headed over to a very busy Parts & Labor, where I got their version of a pit beef sandwich and it was killer. Highly recommended!

New Year's Eve
Christmas Eve, Christmas day and the few days after passed in a bit of a blur. Cooper and I both end up working a lot during the week between Christmas and New Year's, but we also always have friends in town, so we're out a lot. This year, that meant seeing people from Denver and Seattle - and also doing a lot of work.

New Year's Eve, we had friends (with kids) over here for a dinner showcasing various cuts of meat from the Jack Straw Farm cow we split with friends. (Oh yeah, we have a freezer that is jam-packed with beef right now.)

The meat was very good, as was the Barefoot Contessa sauce I made with it and the Barefoot Contessa cake Alicia made for dessert. Ina is everywhere these days.

But the highlight of the night wasn't on our plates - it was the kids. Piper, Hadley and Maggie went live on Facebook a couple times and made tons of videos, including one at midnight, when Cooper sabered a magnum of Champagne.

In retrospect, we probably should've opened that big boy earlier. Everybody went home at like 12:15.

Overall, it was a big quarter. On New Year's Day, all we could pull ourselves together to do was order some Chinese food. We're exhausted.

But we're not slowing down. This weekend, we'll be celebrating Kyle's birthday at Bar Vasquez. And after that...who knows. I'm sure it'll be something good.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Stop It with "Like a French Girl"

Look, I love Paris as much as any other basic American girl - a lot. But even I have had my fill of "do this like a French girl" stories.

When French Women Don't Get Fat came out - way back in 2004 - it was celebrated, and rightly so. The author, Mireille Guiliano, is insightful, gracious and engaging and at the time, the "French woman" thing was fresh and new.

But here we are twelve years later and writers are still beating that same old drum. Yes, Paris is still thrilling. And I know these articles are getting clicks and that I am 100% part of the problem...because some of those clicks are coming from me.

I don't even want to link to the article that set me off this morning (it was about throwing parties). It's not that it was a bad article, per se. The advice was all good (don't feel bad about buying dessert vs. making, the quality of conversation is more important than the quality of anything else, ply them with booze). The writing was perfectly fine. I'm sure the writer herself is great. But the underlying notion - the shorthand use of "French" to mean "expert hostess" - that grates. It's tired.

Interestingly, the opposite version of this article - the one proclaiming French food culture all but dead as a global influence - is almost as prevalent as the "like a French girl" articles are.

The demise-of-culture articles have more depth, though - including this one, by Jon Bonne, published earlier this week on Punch.

The gist of the article is this: French cooking, particularly outside of Paris, is mediocre. It is stuck in the past and kept from advancing by the sentimental notions and expectations that diners - from the French to the Americans to the rest of the world - have about French food.

The author holds this in stark contrast to the current wine scene in France, which he describes as dynamic and exciting. He gives a shoutout to cheesemakers, too, noting that the best ones manage to do something very difficult, as they honor what makes French cheese historically great, while still celebrating innovation.

As a country that has been, historically, celebrated for its food and entertaining culture, France is in a tough spot. Embracing innovation is tough for any individual or entity, particularly ones with storied pasts. And it's not like every old restaurant in France feels boring; when we were in Paris two years ago, we basically did the Hemingway tour, eating at a bunch of the author's old haunts, and the food wasn't avant-garde, but it was excellent.

I understand why France falls back on its laurels and writers, especially American ones, keep writing those "like a French girl" listicles. But really, for the sake of France, it's time for all of us to move on.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Festive All Around

Today is Cooper's birthday. And this is his cake:

It was a gift from our friends Audrey and George, who spotted it at Sam's Club last month. (Not this specific cake. This one is much fresher than that.)

It's pretty much the most Cooper cake I can imagine.

When we celebrated here last night, with Cooper's family, it was just the latest event during what has, so far, been quite a festive month.

Among other things, DRP and I went shopping in Hampden, including a stop at Charm City Chocolate, and then we came home, all three of us decorated the tree and we tried to ration the chocolate-covered Oreos so they'd last.

Last weekend was a busy one, too. On Saturday, I took Mimi (our niece) to Maria Springer's gingerbread house workshop. A few years ago, I wrote an article about Maria and what she does - she is the nicest lady and she makes the best gingerbread houses.

She used to host gingerbread house teas at her home in Phoenix, but just after I wrote the article, she and her husband moved to a condo and she shifted the gingerbread festivities to a church on Hampton Lane. The tea part of the day is no longer - which is a shame - but the house-decorating is still just as fun.

Mimi was an incredible house decorator - so patient and creative, with an amazing dedication to symmetry. Her focus was super impressive - especially considering that she was about 48 hours shy of her seventh birthday.
 After the gingerbread decorating, Cooper and I got ourselves dolled up to go over to Kyle and Mary's for the 9th annual carol and crawl party. We retired the house-to-house nature of the party years ago, so there hasn't been any "crawling" for about six years, and the only "caroling" comes late night (and hopefully doesn't disturb any neighbors). But the party is still a great time.

This year, both Cooper and Kyle really brought it with the outfits (George was similarly dressed, but I didn't get a picture of all three of them):

On the Pollard front, possibly the most exciting part of the weekend the completion of the cheese knife Dixon hand made for Kyle and Mary:

Knife-making is a new hobby for DRP; he's pretty taken with it. A while back, Cooper bought a bunch of antique saws at an auction. For these knives, he (Cooper) cuts a knife blank from one of the saws, then Dixon files and sands it down until it has a sharp edge. Then, the two of them work together to hook it into an antler handle. (The antlers, apparently, we just have laying around.)

It's a lot of work for Dixon, but he loves it, and the end result is pretty cool. I'm not sure who was most excited to see this end product - Cooper and me, Kyle and Mary (who had placed an order for the knife), or Dixon, who is extremely, and understandably proud of himself.

Knives, cakes, candy, festive holiday apparel. So far, December is going pretty well.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Food Numbers are Pretty

These are bringing me great joy today:

They are visual depictions of Google searches for the words "mango" and "ginger," coming to us courtesy of Google's partnership with Truth & Beauty. At the linked website, you can see similar data visualizations for a bunch of food-related words. For someone like me - someone who is equally taken with data and food - this is nothing short of magical.

Truth and beauty, indeed.

(I didn't discover this on my own. Thank you, Richard Gorelick, for sharing it on FB!)

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

43 Hours in Kentucky

Last year was a big one for us, since Cooper and I both turned 40, along with tons of our friends. This year, as it turns out,  has been nearly as big. Most recently, we helped our friend Jeff celebrate with a bang - a bourbon-tasting trip to Kentucky.

The crew included Jeff and his wife Christine, Alicia and Mike, Cooper and me and Kyle (Mary had to work, as did Bill).
Our tour guides very graciously took this photo for us.
As it turns out, Kentucky is a pretty easy trip from Baltimore. The flight from BWI to Louisville is just over an hour and, since it's a regular Southwest run, there are lots of choices and it's not very expensive.

After doing some research, Christine booked us at a cool bed and breakfast called Bourbon Manor, in Bardstown, a small town right in the thick of bourbon country. Mike,  Alicia, Jeff and Christine headed down on Thursday; Cooper and Kyle and I joined them Friday. And we all set off together on an epic adventure.

Friday: From Baltimore to Bardstown

Kyle & his bloody and Kyle with Cooper at the airport; Harrison-Smith pork rolls, Busch Light bottles
and live music at Old Talbott Tavern

Because I am a slightly crazy person when it comes to travel plans, Cooper and Kyle and I arrived at the airport on Friday with, oh, two hours to spare. We killed most of that time at Obrycki's, which really does have a nice house beer and a gorgeous bloody.

One short flight, plus a couple of Kyle's free Southwest drink coupons later, we landed in Kentucky, where Kyle picked up his hilariously red, enormous Ford F-150 rental and we got on the road.

Bardstown, where we were staying, is about 40 minutes from the airport, but we took a slight detour to Shelbyville, to stop by Walnut Grove Farm, where Kyle's uncle's lives.

It was our first time meeting his uncle and he was fantastic - funny and super welcoming. He hosts weddings on the farm and while we were there, he was getting ready for festivities taking place the next day. It's a gorgeous spot and so relaxing. (Especially relaxing during our visit, since he was plying us with beers.)

Back on the road, we made our way to Bourbon Manor, which was more charming than we could've guessed. Pretty, 19th century-inspired rooms, personable hosts, really, really good breakfasts - it had everything we could've asked for, including a bar, called The Bunghole, right on the premises. Also, ghosts. In Bardstown, everything is haunted.

For dinner, we headed into town, to Harrison-Smith House, where we had one of the best meals I've had all year. I feel like I say that a lot, but I mean it. The menu is short, focused and pig-heavy in a creative way. The drinks were solid, as was the wine list, and the sausage roll, which was kind of like a porky egg roll, was absolutely amazing.

Also, our waiter, Richard, was awesome. A total professional who read our table so well. Even with an average waiter, it would've been a memorable meal, but his excellent service pushed it over the top.

After dinner, we wandered over to the Old Talbott Tavern, where we were greeted by live music and $1.50 Busch Light bottles - a combination that Cooper finds hard to resist. We spent a couple hours dancing and drinking and generally having a blast, before going back to The Bunghole and closing it down with a few more drinks. If the weekend had ended right there, it still would've been a winner.

But it didn't.

Saturday: Bourbon and Beer

On Saturday morning, we were up and at 'em early...and some of us were moving a little slowly (Cooper). But we had things to do. Christine had hired a tour company, Kentucky Wine Tours, to take us on a tour of bourbon country.

Normally, one of our stops would've been Jim Beam, but as it turns out, the staff went on strike at midnight on Friday. So we didn't get to see that very big distillery, but we didn't miss it. Instead, we hit a couple other places: Maker's Mark, Limestone Branch, Heaven Hill (just for the gift shop) and Willett.

Our first stop was Maker's Mark, which is beautiful...and very busy. If you're going, try to get there just when it opens, otherwise, you risk waiting for a while for an open tour. (They run a lot of tours throughout the day...but they also get a lot of visitors.)

The grounds, the process, the barrels, the the Chihuly ceiling and Cooper and Alicia enjoying some togetherness
Our tour guide at Maker's was young, but really good. He knew what he was talking about and he was funny and personable. It's a gorgeous place and though it's a big company, it didn't feel at all impersonal. We got to see the bourbon made and where it's packaged, labelled and dipped in wax. It's all right there.

The tour ended with a tasting and I have to be honest, bourbon at 10 am is rough when you're 40 and hungover. But you know what's not rough? The Dale Chihuly ceiling that leads into the Maker's gift shop. It's gorgeous.

Because it was Jeff's birthday, our tour guides gave him a gift: his own bottle of Maker's, which he got to dip in wax in the gift shop. It was pretty cool all around...though the part that was most entertaining for us was how totally unimpressed the wax-dipping lady looked by Jeff's antics.

Jeff, in a photo by Christine
After Maker's, our tour guides surprised us with a trip to Limestone Branch, which is the (legit) distillery that was on Moonshiners. While there, we tasted some really good moonshine (for real) and were given a tour by the most engaging, entertaining man ever. He was fantastic. So fun and so full of knowledge.

One of the things we learned is that a lot of the people who distill bourbon are related in one way or another. There are a whole lot of Beams down there and in many cases, the master distiller position at a company is passed down from father to son or daughter (mostly son). It's as much an art as it is a science to create bourbons that are both tasty and consistent and there's no replacing the value of apprenticing with your dad.

We also heard a lot more about the water quality than I was expecting. Comparing this trip to our whiskey adventures last summer in Ireland was interesting. Since there are strict laws regulating how bourbon is aged (new oak barrels, charred on the inside), there's more emphasis on the water and, in some places, the mash vs. the Irish emphasis on the barrel's history and the distilling process itself.

Limestone Branch is a small place, but full of great stories that go back for generations. If you have the chance, go there.

An old whiskey sign at Limestone Branch, view of their grounds, and an Ale 8 One with lunch
After Limestone Branch, we headed back to Maker's, for lunch at Toll Gate Cafe, a little spot on the Maker's campus that makes excellent sandwiches...and just so happens to be run by the brother of the owner of the Harrison-Smith House.

We then did a quick drive by Heaven Hill Distilling, which makes a couple big brands of bourbon, including Evan Williams and Elijah Craig. Our timing was off, so we didn't stay for a tour, but we did make the most of our time at their gift shop, which was more like a museum than a simple store.

As we drove between the distilleries, our guide, Gary, gave us some instruction on the finer points of the bourbon business. Pointing out the rickhouses - the places where the bourbon barrels are placed to age - he talked to us about construction and location and insurance.

That sounds boring, but it wasn't. The big structures, which are often painted black because they end up covered in black mold anyway, are built far from the distilleries themselves and far enough apart from one another that if there's a fire, they won't all go up in flames.

Because bourbon is so highly flammable, fires to happen, and they can very quickly take out a lot of product. And because of that, the aging bourbon is impossible to insure. So if you have a fire, you're stuck.

After Heaven Hill, we made our way to our final distillery of the day, Willett. This was a special request from Jeff, who loves the stuff and so does Kyle's dad. So, apparently, do a lot of bartenders.

The brand hasn't been around for a super long time, though the family behind it has been distilling for generations. And, as we discovered during our tour, given by a fun girl named Evelyn, the family has roots in Maryland. Though they've been in Kentucky for many generations, they were originally from Prince George's County.

Willett is cool overall, but the highlight is the still, which is a proprietary genie bottle shape
(which is also the shape of their bottles)

It was a fun tour and Cooper finally started to emerge from his hangover haze, just as Kyle started to slip into a bourbon-induced buzz that kept building for the rest of the night. It was...entertaining.

The tours were over and we were back at the B&B before 4...and then back off, having a drink at The Bunghole before heading to the Bardstown Craft Beer Fest. We walked from the inn - it wasn't too far - and strolled around town, ducking into a few shops before heading to the festival itself.

Once we got there, we were pleasantly surprised by a ton of craft beers, some not-so-craft beers (Carlsberg?), the Hogslop String Band, and a couple very good food trucks. Plus, a boatload of friendly people. AND there was square dancing at one point, which I did not participate in, but Mike, Alicia and Kyle did. Believe me when I say it was memorable. About 20 minutes too long, but memorable.
Tons of craft beers, Cooper at The Bunghole, the band, a kickass BBQ truck
While at the festival, we got to talking with a couple manning one of the food booths, a place selling chili. Turns out, the lady there is the mom of the people who own Toll Gate Cafe and Harrison Smith and she used to work at Limestone Branch and was the distiller behind some of our favorites there.

It's a small town.

But a really nice one.

After the festival, we headed back to the Old Talbott Inn for a couple more Busch Lights and a little more live music before finally throwing in the towel and calling for a cab to carry us back to the B&B. (One downside of Bardstown: no Uber.)

Sunday morning, we were up and out very early and we were back in Baltimore by 11. A quick trip, definitely, but one that was so much fun. I knew we'd have a good time - we always do - but I wasn't expecting to be so thoroughly charmed by the town, its people and its restaurants and bars.

I'd go back in a heartbeat.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Out and About in September

We have been going out like crazy lately and I've been terribly remiss about blogging about it. So here's a quick(?) recap of what we ate and did during September.

Parts & Labor for Burgers
In case you missed it, Dixon and I are collaborating on a series of articles for (cool) progeny. Each article highlights some of our favorite spots for a specific meal. First, we tackled mac and cheese. Next up was burgers.

One of the burgers on our list was the locally-raised monster at Parts & Labor in Remington. We used the article as an excuse for dinner at P&L - and it was as good as ever. The pre-dinner charcuterie was perfect, as it always is. Dixon's burger was ridiculous and Cooper's lamb was gorgeous. But I won the night with sausage-stuffed chicken over ratatouille. It was a simple but genius combination of summer and fall flavors. Everything about it was great.

CFF Passion for Food and Wine 
There are so many worthwhile causes out there and I am continually impressed by how Baltimore's restaurant community steps up to support them. The community rallies especially hard for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation - and rightly so.

The organization is one of the best I know - thin on bureaucracy (over 90% of funds raised go directly to research) and thick on results. There have been very real, significant strides in developing treatments for cystic fibrosis over the past several decades and CFF's fundraising efforts have fueled those developments.

But what does this have to do with what we ate in September? Early in the month, we were lucky enough to be invited to CFF's Passion for Food and Wine, an event that is so much fun and raises so much money. It's mind-boggling.

I've written about Passion here and here - but here's a quick overview: five years ago, a bunch of Baltimore chefs got together for an event to raise money for CFF. They wanted to do something unusual, so they decided instead of a standard "we fix bites and people mill around and visit our stations" cocktail event, they'd put together a multi-course, sit-down dinner - and they'd cook the dinner in front of the guests.

Each participating restaurant has its own table. Twelve guests sit around the table - shaped like a square-ish "U" - and watch the chef prepare the meal. This year, we were at the Colette table, where Chef Stefano Porcile absolutely crushed it. CRUSHED.

So much foie.

While this is happening, Sergio Vitale of Aldo's and Jerry Pellegrino of Schola hop up on a stage and auction off amazing experiences, like having Chef Cindy Wolf cook dinner for you and 12 of your friends. There's also a silent auction - this year we won some crystal from Smyth and a seafood tower and whiskey tasting at Loch Bar.

The event raises an unreal amount of money - hundreds of thousands of dollars, just in one night. And it is one of the most fun parties out there. I get a little emotional watching how committed everyone is to both the cause and the food. Everyone involved, from the CFF staff to the chefs to the other guests, is so dedicated and excited about the cause. "Passion" really is an apt name for the event.

Les Folies for Nan's 98th
In mid-September, my grandmother turned 98 and Dixon just happened to have the day off school.

My mom had also taken the day off work, so the four of us went to lunch at one of Nan's favorite restaurants, Les Folies in Annapolis.

Nan is a restaurant aficionado. I can't count how many times I have been out to lunch or dinner with her. Les Folies has long been one of her go-tos partly for convenience - it's on Riva Road, close to where she used to live - but mostly because their classic French food is consistently excellent.

Of course, what I ate wasn't classic, though the preparation was French, I suppose: sauteed softshell in a white wine and butter sauce. My mom had the same. Classic or no, it was fantastic.

Bookmakers with the Tribe
There are only a handful of William & Mary grads in the Baltimore area; most people end up in DC or New York or...somewhere else. And my college friends who do live in the area are scattered all over. As a result,we don't see each other much - if at all.

But one random Tuesday night last month, it just so happened that a friend from Austin would be visiting another friend in Columbia. Next thing we knew, we were having a little reunion at Bookmakers in Federal Hill, where the food is good and the drinks are amazing.

As is always the case when I do see W&M friends, it was super fun - and a great reminder that my college friends are crazy smart and interesting and they make the world a better place

Dining Out for Life at Silver Queen Cafe
Moveable Feast's annual restaurant-oriented fundraiser, Dining Out for Life, was September 15th. It's a good one - local restaurants donate a percentage of their take for the evening to the cause, which makes it easy to do a little bit of good.

This year, we went to Silver Queen Cafe in Hamilton, where we gorged on crab dip and pizza and pasta and fried chicken.

Silver Queen was packed, dinner was great, and we remembered that Hamilton is only about 10 minutes from where we live, so we should go there more often. It's good!

Jack's Bistro with Friends
Cooper and I have been to a lot of restaurants, but considering how quickly the food scene in Baltimore is growing, there's just no way we could possibly keep up with every place that's new.

But you'd think that, by now, we'd have been everywhere that's been around, and well-regarded, for at least a few years. But we haven't. We keep a short list of places we really need to go and, slowly but surely, we're checking them off.

We are not the only people who keep these lists. So when we coordinated schedules with our friends Rich and Lisa and their friends Doug and Kacey, we also coordinated our "places we haven't been" lists.

One of the places all of us needed to visit was Jack's Bistro in Canton. Everyone I know loves it and I've always felt a little embarrassed that I hadn't been. I was correct to feel that way. Jack's is fantastic and everyone should go.

It's tiny and pretty cramped, but in a charming way, and the food is really good and so are the drinks. I had pasta with pesto and duck that I loved so much - and everything on the menu looked excellent.

So that was one place we got to cross off our list. Of course, now we want to go back.

La Food Marketa for Tacos
In the five years that it's been open, Food Market in Hampden has established itself as one of the very best - and very most reliable - restaurants in Baltimore. It's not a surprise, then, that people were excited to hear that Chad Gauss, the chef/owner of Food Market, had plans to expand. And into the County, no less!

We visited La Food Marketa, Gauss's new south-of-the-border-influenced spot in Quarry Lake, about two weeks after it opened. It was a beautiful night and the restaurant was jammed. And it was good!

The menu is fun, with lots of flavor, and we liked everything we ate. But I really loved the drinks. The spicy, smoky pineapple margarita was absolutely killer. It might not be for everyone, but if, like me, spicy and smoky and pulpy drinks do it for you, you need to try this one.

Starlite Diner for Brunch
The second Shoo-Fly locked it's Belvedere Square doors in May of 2015, locals started speculating about what would take its place. Earlier this year, we got our answer: Starlite, a restaurant that promised to hew closer to the "diner" concept than Shoo-Fly did, while still being a little more upscale than your average roadside diner.

After an interior facelift - which looks great- and a few months to sort out the menu, etc., Starlite opened in late September. On its third day, I headed there for lunch with my friend Bert, who lives in San Diego but happened to be in town, just for a couple days.

As soon as we walked in, the host, manager and waitress all jumped to introduce themselves to us - and to let us know that since they just opened, we would be receiving 20% off our bill, as a thanks for our patience. Smart, I thought. Very smart.

Service did take a long time that day; the waitress explained that the kitchen remade my dish, crawfish benedict, because they weren't happy with the first iteration. I don't know what round one looked like, but I was happy with the plate that made it to the table:

Overall, we liked everything we ate and liked the staff, too. In the couple weeks since then, I've heard mixed reviews from friends who have been, though by and large, it seems that the negatives are things that will get sorted out as the staff - both front of house and kitchen - gains experience.

And I remain hopeful that the building has found a concept that will stick around for a while.

Farm to Chef Maryland
Toward the end of the month, Cooper and I had the opportunity to go to Farm to Chef Maryland, a big food event held at the B&O Railroad Museum, benefiting Days of Taste.

Days of Taste is a program run by the non-profit TasteWise Kids. The goal of Days of Taste is to encourage young kids to appreciate the benefits of fresh food. Since I have a young kid, I know exactly how lofty a goal that is - and also how important.

Before we got to the event, I already knew that the restaurant community loves it. It's setup as a competition; each participating restaurant is matched with a farm and a panel of judges decides who does the best job on a handful of categories. The restaurant uses ingredients from the farm to create a small bite or a cocktail. Local breweries and wineries are also in attendance, so there are a lot of drink options a lot of food options.

We tried a ton of good stuff. My favorites included a really nice, simple quesadilla from Nacho Mama's, delicious sausage from Hersh's, a super-interesting take on watermelon from Alma Cocina Latina and this apple and oyster concoction from Conrad's:

It was a good party, packed with fun food people and I was so busy talking that I hardly took any photos. The oyster was it for the food photos.

I did, however, also take this one to send to Dixon, after he texted me to complain that the chicken tikka masala I ordered for him was "weird" and "not like the other place." I chose not to take that opportunity to regale him with the wonders of veal parm TV dinners, which is what I ate on babysitter nights when I was a kid.

I swear. Kids today. (And that's Black Ankle Crumbling Rock in that glass. It is so good. So good.)

Modern Cook Shop  Party
Farm to Chef was on a Monday and it kicked off a crazy busy week. On Tuesday, Amy and I headed down to Fells for a party at Modern Cook Shop, the new market-restaurant combo from the owners of Fork & Wrench.

I spent most of our time there trying to subtly scarf down as much charcuterie as possible. There were also oysters, gorgeous scallops and really excellent cocktails. So the food is good. But the space might even be better. I love the market-restaurant concept, especially since the "market" part of it isn't just an afterthought.

The shelves are stacked with rows of wine, olive oil, condiments and all kinds of useful items, many of which are made locally.

It makes for a space that's both good-looking and functional. I really liked it.

8 ball Meatball
After the Modern Cook Shop party, Amy and I ambled over to 8 Ball Meatball, the newish meatball shop and bar on Broadway. 8 Ball's concept: it's all about meatballs. You choose your meat, your sauce and any sides you'd like and next thing you know, you've got a plate of meatballs in front of you.

I took the bartender's advice, pairing the spicy pork meatball with a cream sauce and spinach. Everything was very nice (except my picture, which was awful). Best of all, it was seasoned properly. Just spicy enough, just enough salt.

The Ambassador for Dixon's 10th
At the very end of the month, Dixon turned 10. He's so old.

It took the three of us a long time to figure out where to eat for his birthday. Where do you go for a kid who's been everywhere, but still won't eat vegetables unless they are stuffed in ravioli or cooked down in some sort of sauce?

The answer, we decided, was the Ambassador. DRP loves Indian food - he would eat it every night if we let him.

Cooper and I hadn't been to the Ambassador for years, but it was just as stately as we remembered. Were we the youngest people in the place? Well, yes, but that doesn't bother me. Our service was lovely and my grilled shrimp was beautifully prepared.

And that was a wrap for September. So far in October, we've taken things slightly easier (though we did go to Clavel twice last week). I've even been cooking at home, occasionally. But with new places opening all the time - and our list of old places we haven't been still lurking - how easy can we take it?


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