The Dining Dish blog is Dara Bunjon's take on anything food, both national and in her hometown of Baltimore. Warning: this food blog can be harmful to your waistline.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tuscan Fresh Italian Kitchen coming to Riverside: Quick casual fresh Italian

Tuscan Fresh Italian Kitchen can be the start of something big for Chef Greg Nalley who has already had great success in Baltimore for his Nalley Fresh Restaurants. He and his partners have opened the Nalley Fresh quick casual food concept in downtown Baltimore, Hunt Valley and Towson with a Timonium location opening in a couple weeks, in Canton at the Can Company late October and another downtown location at 400 E. Pratt Street early winter.

The quick casual Tuscan Fresh Italian Kitchen will be opening in the old Ullswater location at 554 E. Fort Avenue not quite Federal Hill and not quite Locust Point, just in-between. The Tuscan Fresh Italian Kitchen concept is patrons choose from established pasta and salad bowl offerings or customizing their own by picking their pasta shape preference (gluten free available), sauce and protein. There will be daily offerings of additional gourmet sauces, proteins and pastas. Pick your beverage; Tuscan Fresh has a liquor license so they will be serving wine on tap from mini kegs or indulge in a bottled brew. They put our meal together tout suite and bring it to your table. Look for a November opening date for Tuscan Fresh. 

This like the first Nalley Fresh, will be a prototype for future Tuscan Fresh Italian Kitchens. Nalley advised, “Like Nalley Fresh where we do a nice portion of our business in carryout, I foresee the same for Tuscan Fresh – guests will be able to order on line.” He continued, “The price point will be in the $12 to $15 range.” Chef expressed that Tuscan Fresh will be conducive to family dining.

Chef Nalley started in the business back in 1992 where he spent 10 years as the executive chef at the Maryland Jockey Club. He opened his first restaurant at Tide Point, the Harvest Table, and sold it after seven years. Since then he has been doing consulting and developing his Nalley Fresh concept. His partners in Tuscan Fresh Italian Kitchen are not the same as Nalley Fresh and wish to remain silent.

When asked why the Riverside/Locust Point location chef Nalley replied, “There isn’t an Italian restaurant in the neighborhood so the location is ideal.” So get ready to get your Italian on Riverside, Buon Appetito.

Coming Soon: Tuscan Fresh Italian Kitchen – 554 E. Fort Avenue – Baltimore, MD Facebook/Tuscan Fresh

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Baltimore’s Tin Roof: A live music joint with Tenn- Mex cuisine

Since mid 2014 Baltimore’s Power Plant became home to the Tin Roof, a Nashville chain that started back in 2002 as a place for musicians to play and hang out. Baltimore’s Tin Roof is large, broken up into three sections with the stage in the center with a couple tables, room to dance or stand up close to the musicians. A long bar with television screens aplenty parallels the live performance stage and on the other side of the stage, a section with more tables for dining and its own bar with television screens aplenty (23 TV screens)  Weather permitting, enjoy the front patio with plenty of seating and a cool breeze off the harbor.

The Tin Roof is the latest restaurant incarnation in this corner location of the Power Plant formerly Babalu and then Kettle Hill. The vibe, very informal – funky, with road signs, other memorabilia throughout and bicycles on the tin roof façade over the back bar. It took me back to the days, yeah, the good ole days, at the Opus Bar in Atlantic City sans the 23 television screens, where dancing, drinking and hanging out until the wee hours was a nightly affair - always closing the joint down.
Media maven Downtown Diane threw a private party for the local media to introduce the Tin Roof venue.  Lucky us, we got to listen to Nelly’s Echo, a local singer who made it to The Voice. His rendition of Ain’t No Sunshine is a standout!

The menu is just as casual as the atmosphere, with plenty of Tenn- Mex, a mix of southern and Mexican offerings like chicken and waffle nuggets, the smoked brisket and mushroom quesadillas, or the Creole shrimp and pig soft rolled tortillas. Chef prepared Maryland crab cakes to go along with the other tasty fare for the evening’s gathering. The venue is ideal for private parties and chef has proven that they are adaptable in culinary offerings.

The bar’s liquid libations has the usual suspects along with offering up some kick ass cocktails for those who wish to imbibe. I’m an occasional drinker, so they fixed me up with a pumped-up Arnold Palmer, something that wouldn’t knock me for a loop but made me smile for a couple hours.    
Football Sundays, karaoke Tuesdays singing with the band, and other musical performers  fill the week. Pop in for lunch, happy hour or late night munchies – enjoy the live music joint called the Tin Roof.

Tin Roof – Power Plant – 32 Market Place – Baltimore, MD 21202 (443) 873-8137 Find them on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram @tinroofbmore

Friday, September 26, 2014

Enjoy fine dining at Bistro Poplar: Tales of Dorchester County

As a guest of Dorchester County this summer I spent two days with my agenda packed with the county’s offerings; dining, aquaculture, shopping, music, an evening’s stay at a bed and breakfast, vineyard tour to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.  No one story can encompass, nor should it, all that there is to do and enjoy in this Maryland County.  This is my final segment of the Tales of Dorchester County – nationally recognized, award-winning, fine dining Bistro Poplar in downtown Cambridge Maryland.

Chef Ian Campbell, a native of Maryland’s Eastern Shore returned to his hometown in 2007 to open his own restaurant, Bistro Poplar. After working with numerous highly acclaimed chefs at restaurants of renown his resume listed the French Laundry and working with Chef Cindy Wolf.

Chef Campbell is inspired by the simple yet well prepared French bistro cuisine along with his nods to the foods of the Mediterranean and Asia. Of course, seafood from right there from Choptank River plays a prominent role as does produce, dairy and meats from the nearby farms. 

Check out the full story and slideshow HERE.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Fleet Street Kitchen Tavern Room Tastings says olé to Spain

The more casual side to Fleet Street Kitchen their Tavern Room is entering its second rendition of their Wednesday night travel the world fare. Along with the Tavern Room’s menu of local fare both small and large plates that are offered nightly, chef is featuring a supplemental menu to take your taste buds airfare free across the globe. 

Most recently the Tavern Room featured fare from France on their Wednesday night addendum menu but chef has taken flight once again, this time to Spain. Every Wednesday night now through October 29th say olé to the cuisines of Andalucía, Catalonia, and Basque country with the Fleet Street Kitchen Tavern Room Tastings:    

CROQUETAS DE JAMON SERRANO Y POLLO  - Serrano ham and chicken fritters - $9
GAZPACHO ANDALUZ - Refreshing chilled soup made with bread, cucumbers, bell peppers, tomato and garlic - $8
PAELLA DE BOGAVANTE A BANDA - Lobster and squid paella - $15

FRITURA DE PESCADO - Rockfish fried the traditional way, served with lemon and aioli - $12
ALMEJAS AL JEREZ - Littleneck clams simmered in sherry vinegar - $11
SETAS EN ESCABECHE - Bay leaf olive oil poached mushrooms with Spanish sweet paprika - $10

Basque Country
GAMBAS AL AJILLO - Spain’s famous tapa of sauteed shrimp with garlic - $10
PATATAS BRAVAS - Fried fingerling potatoes topped with FSK brava sauce and aioli - $8
TOMATIOS RELLENOS DE CANGREJO - Crab-filled cherry tomatoes - $9

Fleet Street Kitchen – 1012 Fleet Street – Baltimore, MD 21202 (410) 244-5830 @FleetStreetFood 

Fleet Street Kitchen on Urbanspoon

ShakeUp Lab shakes up the traditional milkshake

SkakeUp Lab is all about milkshakes but in a modern version. They make their own ice cream which isn’t too sweet and in its low fat version still has the rich mouth feel as the their rich version.  Their concept has been four years in development which started in Israel and gone through research at universities abroad and in the United States. ShakeUp Lab  is  just about ready to launch their soy based and sugar free milkshake options.

Partner “T” Zilberfarb explained, “ ShakeUp Lab milkshakes are a decadent treat that is more nutritious, natural products, the ice cream is enriched with dietary probiotic fiber.”  One can indulge in multiple flavors and combinations.  There are even seasonal flavors to be had like honey apple and apple cake - perfect for the fall season. The standards are there with Oreo cookie being the top seller, strawberry and all the chocolate varieties. Those are some of the standard fare flavor combos but with so many flavor choices at ShakeUp Lab: ie wasabi and green tea, coffee and caramel, salty pecan pie, pomegranate one can have creative license to make their own unique milkshake. As their signage says, “ The best milkshakes in town.”

There are two  locations of ShakeUp Lab found here in Maryland at Towsontown Mall and the Mall in Columbia.  Towsontown has been in place for over a year and the Columbia location will be a year in October. Both locations are templates for future franchised ShakeUp Lab opportunities.

For sure ShakeUp Lab milkshakes aren’t  like the days as a pre-teen working behind the fountain counter at my dad’s patent drug and luncheonette only  offering vanilla and chocolate milkshakes. Who knew from low fat, lactose or gluten intolerance and sugar free in those days.  With ShakeUp Lab, everyone can indulge.

ShakeUp Lab - @ShakeUpLab

Monday, September 22, 2014

Chef Cyrus Keefer partners to open Allbird

Many of you know Chef Cyrus Keefer who has really made a name for himself not only locally but on a national platform by cooking at the James Beard House twice and at his most recent posting at Canton’s Fork & Wrench where he and his culinary and beverage team were featured August on StarChefs’ CEO Antoinette Bruno came to Baltimore to meet Keefer and his team, and to taste Chef Keefer’s culinary creations like his stuffed trotter that its recipe can be found on the website.
Keefer is partnering with Sean White and Andrew Dunlap of Bandito’s in Federal Hill in a new concept called Allbird featuring Asian inspired poultry. In the interim until they finalize a location Chef Keefer will be continuing doing menu development for Bandito's.
It was just this past Saturday evening that Chef Keefer posted his goodbyes to all his friends and co-workers at Fork & Wrench on Facebook. Curiosity as to his next step has been rampant so he was able to tell us just enough to quell any rumors.
Personally, I’m excited to see what interesting and tasty flavors combinations will take place when Keefer finally has his own restaurant.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Charm City Cakes announces upcoming cake decorating classes: Enter to win

Fans of the Food Network’s Ace of Cakes are everywhere and many were in the recent cupcake decorating class at Duff Goldman’s Charm City Cakes. A mother and daughter from Montgomery County, a 9th grader with a passion for baking, a pair of Baltimore gals out for fun, a huge California fan who recently moved to the mid-Atlantic region and treated her visiting Michigan friend for her birthday and myself.

Teaching the class was Mary Smith, recognizable as one of the numerous talents on Ace of Cakes and a true artist. At each of our stations we found cupcakes, recessed spatula, X-Acto knife, paint brush, stippling tool, fondant cutters and a communal bowl of royal icing.

 The cupcakes were far from perfect and Mary directed us to trim the cupcakes with a small peak in the center.  The next direction was to top the cupcake with the royal icing which would act as a cement for the coming fondant topping.  Mary told us, “Try not to get the icing over the edges of the cupcake, you don’t want to see it coming out from underneath the fondant.” 

Check out the details on how you can win one of Charm City Cake's cake decorating classes, the complete story and the slideshow HERE.

Friday, September 19, 2014

How to make matzo, matzoh, matza, matzah balls: L’shanah tova

There are numerous spellings for these soup dumplings although The Food Lover’s Companion dictionary spells it matzo balls. There are numerous ways to spell its other name; knaidlach, knadlach, kneidlach, kneydlakh which means dumplings.

Matzo balls were initially used during Passover when one could not use leavened bread and the matzo was crushed into meal to make the dumplings. It was early in the 20th century that Manischewitz came out with a packaged matzo meal and it was then that matzo balls started to grow in popularity. Each family, each Bubbe, had their own formula for her matzo balls light and fluffy (floaters) or dense and heavy (sinkers).  What made what, well the more fat and matzo meal the heavier the matzo ball, less fat and less matzo meal the lighter. Also the longer time spent chilling the fridge before forming the balls and cooking them improves the texture. Seeking matzo ball wisdom, I prepared numerous recipes each with a twist on original Manischewitz matzo meal boxed recipe and with the matzo ball mixes which have leavening agents and seasonings.

Faklempt, either my balls were coming out loose or too heavy. Trying all recipes and techniques to make replicas of my mother’s light and fluffy renditions had me using club soda which contains sodium bicarbonate which aids in leavening and separating the yolks from the whites, whipping the whites stiff and folding them in as the last step.  These did nothing whatsoever to lighten the texture of my matzo balls.

Entrepreneur, caterer and owner of Baltimore’s Haute Dog Carte Daniel Raffel invited me over to his house for a matzo ball making party after seeing me moaning about consistency in my matzo balls on social media.  Daniel uses matzo ball mixes to start but has tried and true techniques that make for a matzo ball which is a happy medium between sinkers and floaters.  I will try to impart those pearls of wisdom on to you. My recommendation is to get the matzo ball mixes by Streits or Manischewitz since they already have leavening agents, seasonings and everything is already measured.  If not use the plain matzo meal and add a teaspoon of baking powder to the recipe for every ½ cup of matzo meal.

Matzo Ball Mix - 1 package

1.      Put your eggs in a small bowl and poke the yolks, don’t mix it up like scramble eggs

2.      In a separate bowl add the 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil but Daniel Raffel uses 1 Tablespoon schmaltz and 1 Tablespoon shortening. If you make your own chicken stock, don’t throw away that fat that forms at the top when chilled. Freeze it, it is full of flavor and use that for the schmaltz. Add the matzo ball mix to the fat and blend it in pressing with a fork when blended add the eggs and fold in until just blended but don’t over mix. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes, the longer the better.

3.      There are many recipes online, some say to cook the matzo balls right in the stock – don’t do it, it will cloud up and suck up your broth.  Bring plenty of water to a boil, salt lightly – think like you are cooking pasta.

4.      As the water is coming to a boil form the matzo balls in a 1 inch diameter and put on a sheet pan. When the water boils start to add the matzo balls, slowly they will rise to the surface. Once the water comes back to a boil, reduce heat to a very  low simmer and cover.  As Lois Levenson emphasized in her recipe in 1952’s  Like Mama Used to Make, “Do Not remove cover until ready to serve, as air entering the pot makes the knadlach lose their fluffiness.” In reality, you want to remove a matzo ball to make sure it is cooked through.

5.       You may be making the matzo balls in advance but when their cooking time is completed turn off the heat and leave the lid on for about 20 minutes per instructions in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food

6.      The matzo balls will have doubled in size, meaning they are holding a good amount of water. Per Daniel Raffel, put them on and angled sheet pans at the top of the angle and let the excess moisture run off.(see photo in the slideshow)  At this point they can be added to your soup. Matzo balls freeze well – freeze until just firm on a lined sheet pan (parchment paper or plastic wrap). Throw them in a freezer bag for use at a later date. Let them reheat in a simmering broth.

Optional: Add minced onion, parsley, dill or thyme to your matzo ball mixture. Some add a hint of cinnamon, garlic powder. For a look back, our grandmothers stuffed bone marrow in the center of the matzo balls while shaping them leaving the door open to your imagination for other surprise centers.

What I have learned each family has its own rituals when making matzo balls. Hopefully in this piece you have learned a bit more about making these dumplings. If you have any tips for making matzo balls please share.

Epicurious had the Battle of the Matzoh Balls – check these recipes out as well.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Local Fry specialty fry shop coming to Federal Hill

Kevin Irish from Ireland met his now wife Baltimorean Elizabeth while she was living in Europe and upon their marriage moved to back to the United States in 2009. Now with 4 years under their aprons as proprietors of a West Baltimore wing and sub shop they decided to try their own new restaurant concept, enter The Local Fry.

Federal Hill seemed ideal, a good neighborhood, a community they can support. The Local Fry will be located at 21 E. Cross Street and should be opening in November. The main feature of the menu will be specialty fries. Irish explained, “Our menu will showcase specialty fries using fresh ingredients, all prepared in house. We will be offering other menu items such as a variety of buffalo-style wings, salads, and possibly even sliders, but our main focus is on our gourmet specialty fries menu. Without giving too much away, our specialty fries menu will feature fries loaded with unique toppings, sauces and seasonings. Fries are oftentimes overlooked as just a side dish and our goal is to make it the star, a meal in itself. Think poutine times 10!”

A trip back to Ireland was the inspiration for the Local Fry, there were just some dishes the couple craved and couldn’t get here. Think Irish chips, which are reminiscent of our French fries but thicker, usually about 16 fries to an average sized russet potato. The Irish use malt vinegar on their chips, fries here in Baltimore are often time topped with our regional favorite, beef gravy. The potato is a blank canvas, like pasta and rice it can be topped with almost anything. Back in my youth, at the shore, some Rhode Islanders were dipping their fries in mayonnaise which wasn’t appealing to me as was the thought of Baltimore’s beef gravy on the fires was disgusting to them.

Fried potatoes are everywhere as Don Odiorne, Vice President Food Service of Idaho Potato Commission reminded me of the hundreds of McDonald’s in Tokyo. He gladly sent along a link to Idaho® Potato Daigaku Imo, Japanese caramelized potatoes.

Looking forward to the tasting and discovering the numerous variations on the fried potato at the Local Fry – I’m food curious to eat what poutine times 10 tastes like.

The Local Fry – 21 E. Cross Street – Baltimore, MD @thelocalfry and Facebook – Opening November, 2014

Don't miss The Farmer and The Chef - September 26th

One of the best food events in Baltimore is almost here, the American Institute of Wine and Food will be hosting for the 5th year Farm to Chef on Monday, September 29th at 6:30 p.m. at the American Visionary Art Museum. 

What makes it so special? It is about partnerships with chefs and local farmers who create, who on a day-to-day basis proffer the freshest culinary creations for their clientele. Farm to Chef is a special evening when a chef, a farmer put one locally grown or raised item center of the plate for you. There are 30 chefs innovating with the local farmers, vying for your vote.  Local celebrity judges have the coveted task of tasting all of the chefs’ dishes and choosing the tastiest and most creative dishes in three categories: sweet, savory and vegetarian. A People’s Choice award will be based on the guests’ votes.

In addition to the chefs’ creations, top mixologists from The Baltimore Bartenders Guild will serve innovative and unique libations using premium quality spirits from regional distilleries. Brendan Dorr, President of The Baltimore Bartenders Guild said, “The Baltimore Bartenders' Guild is excited to be part of the AIWF's Farm to Chef Event.” The bartenders of the BBG, like the chefs, will be using the freshest produce from the best local farms to create seasonally, exciting cocktails.

The American Institute of Wine & Food (AIWF) Baltimore/MD Chapter, whose mission is to advance the understanding, appreciation and quality of what you eat and drink, is proud to present this one-of-a-kind event, designed to highlight the local talents of Maryland’s chefs and the bounty of our local farms. “Farm to Chef” benefits Days of Taste®, a discovery-based program that brings together farmers, chefs and community volunteers - to introduce elementary school children to the basic elements of taste and to teach them how their food travels from farm to table. When monitoring one of the Days of Taste classes in the classroom, the chef asked, “Do you know where corn comes from?” One student raised their hand and waved it fervently, responding “a can.”

The evening will also include an amazing food-lovers raffle that includes culinary classes, wine dinners and a YEAR OF DINING –where 12 of the best restaurants in town each offer a $100 gift certificate! And not only do guests get to enjoy the tastiest event in town, they will go home with a special Hometown Swag Sack filled with local goodies.

Date:                         MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 29TH, 2014
Time:                         6:30pm
Location:                  American Visionary Art Museum800 Key Highway, Baltimore, MD
Cost:                          Advance Ticket Sales -  $95.  Day of Event - $120
***Purchase Tickets:

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Inaugural Baltimore Seafood Fest: Win a pair of tickets

Before we say adios to summer, when the weather is just starting to be kissed by autumn’s cool breezes bring the family to Canton Waterfront Park for the Inaugural Baltimore Seafood Fest Saturday, September 20 from 12 pm to 6 pm.  Live music, cooking demonstrations, oyster and crab eating contests, family area, crab feast tent and signature seafood dishes by your favorite Baltimore restaurants. 

I don’t know about you but I’m all in for the oyster eating contest, where do I sign up. Seriously, Baltimore’s Seafood Fest is a great way to enjoy a Saturday afternoon at the waterfront munching Baltimore chefs' culinary interpretations of the Chesapeake Bay’s bounty and sipping refreshing libations.

Experience Baltimore’s best seafood at the Baltimore Seafood Festival with offerings from: Aggio, Bond Street Social, Barcocina, Langermanns, Café Gia, Farmstead Grill, Heavy Seas Alehouse, Ryleigh’s Oyster, Captain James Landing, Jimmy’s Famous Seafood, Blue Agave, Stuggy’s, Lebanese Taverna, Roy’s, Atwater’s, The Nickel Taphouse, Dooby’s, Dylan’s Oyster Cellar, Pitango, and Flavor Cupcakery. 

Baltimore Seafood Festival guests will enjoy live music by Strykers’ Posse and Super Bueno, Smirnoff Crush Bar, Peligroso Tequila Bar, Wine Bar, the Groupon Cooking Tent featuring cooking demos by Baltimore’s top chefs, local artists, and a family zone with kid-friendly attractions. The event will also feature a VIP area as well as a Domino Sugar Crab Feast Tent, featuring private tables for groups with bushel of crabs, private bars and cocktail servers. 

The Groupon Cooking Tent lineup includes: Scott Hines (Heavy Seas Alehouse), Bryan Voltaggio (Volt & Aggio), Joseph Cotton (National Aquarium), Jerry Pellegrino (Waterfront Kitchen), Tim Dyson (Dooby’s), Jessica Formicola  (food blogger, recipe developer and food critic for Savory Experiments and Baltimore Foodie), and Gianfranco Fracassetti (Café Gia). Guests will enjoy complimentary cooking demos from Bryan Voltaggio’s Squid Ink Pasta dish with blue crab, jalapeno, and Old Bay to the history of Eastern Shore cuisine with Tim Dyson. 

A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance, a local non-profit whose mission is to make downtown Baltimore a place where families can thrive.

For more information, please visit

How to be entered to win a pair of tickets to Baltimore Seafood Fest is simple. Share this story on Facebook and/or Twitter with the hashtag #BmoreCfoodFest. The winner will be chosen this Friday September 12th.  It’s that simple.   

Tickets packages start at $29 per person – kids 10 and under are Free. 

Baltimore Seafood Festival- Food and Drink Package - $29 in advance ($35 at the door if available): Includes general admission, a souvenir glass, swag bag, two drink tickets for beer, wine, cocktails or non-alcoholic beverages, and 10 tickets to use towards food items (items will be priced between $1 and $7 depending on the restaurant and item). Additional tickets for food and beverages may be purchased at the event $1=1 ticket. Kids 10 and under are FREE with a paying adult.  Purchase now!

B'more Crabby Ticket - $59 (will not be available at the door):  Includes general admission, a souvenir glass, swag bag, a half dozen premium male crabs, three drink tickets for beer, wine, cocktails or non-alcoholic beverages, 10 tickets to be used towards food items (items will be priced between $1 and $7 depending on the restaurant and item), and community seating in the Crab Cove area. Kids 10 and under are FREE and may enter with an adult as long as the adult has a B'more Crabby ticket, but chairs are designated for paying adults. Purchase now!

Private Crab Table - $750 (will not be available at the door): Includes general admission for up to 10 people, 10 souvenir glasses, 10 swag bags, one private table in the Crab Fest tent with a private bar and cocktail server, unlimited drinks including beer, wine, cocktails and non-alcoholic beverages, a bushel of crabs and sides, and 100 tickets to use towards food items (items will be priced between $1 and $7 depending on the restaurant and item). Please note that kids 10 and under are free, but space is limited and only 10 chairs per table. Purchase now! 

VIP Ticket - $75 (will not be available at the door): Includes general admission, a souvenir glass, swag bag, entrance to the VIP tent with a private bar, unlimited drinks, light fare, and 15 tickets to be used towards food items (items will be priced between $1 and $7 depending on the restaurant and item). Purchase now!

Kids Meal & Activity Package - $11 (will not be available at the door): Includes a catered boxed lunch (choice of PB&J or Turkey & Cheese, Chips, Fruit and a juice box), a "kiddie swag bag" with fish bubbles and a beach ball + an activity pass which will includes a sand art station, bracelet making station, temporary tattoo station, and crab hat station. Kids 10 and under are FREE to enter the event. This package is just an option for families.  Tickets must be purchased by 9/17/14. Purchase now!

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Chef Patrick Fanning’s culinary exploits: Tales of Dorchester County

If you were to scratch the surface of the culinary revolution in downtown Cambridge, Maryland you would find Chef Patrick Fanning. The former military skydiver isn't scared of risks, isn't scared of hard work and isn't hesitant to support others in the community. He is the executive chef/partner at Cambridge Eateries LLC with Brett and Jamie Summers. As top toque, it is his culinary visions translated to the plates at their three restaurants: The High Spot, Stoked and Squoze.  The High Spot is a gastropub featuring all that is local and fresh; Stoked is a wood fire eatery featuring contemporary Italian cuisine and Squoze a healthy eatery and carry-out focused on fresh squeezed juices and smoothies.

Chef Patrick Fanning isn’t a secret anymore; Celebrate Dorchester named him Business Person of the Year and he was one of five chefs statewide nominated by the Restaurant Association of Maryland as Chef of the Year.  I first met Fanning last year when Patron Tequila chose him and his Cambridge Catering to create and prepare their Secret Society al fresco dinner held outside Baltimore’s Sports Legend Museum.

Chef Fanning partners with Crabi Gras’s Keith Gravis,  a hot sauce and T-shirt empresario on a selection of Cambridge Food Festivals; Crawfish Boil and Muskrat Stew Festival,  Crabi Gras Frog Leg, Key Lime & Conch Fritter Fest, Chicken Wing & Bloody Mary Festival, Crabi Gras Orange Crush and Buffalo Brisket Groove Fest and still to come this year October 18-19 the Hot Sauce and Oyster Festival

When Bernadine “Bernie” Elliott decided to take a new career path in baking, she took her cheesecake to Chef Fanning and a relationship grew from there.  Bernie recently opened Elliott’s Baking Company in downtown Cambridge, right next to Fanning’s highly anticipated Nose 2 Tail smokehouse and butcher shop.

When asked, why downtown Cambridge, Fanning responded “I like the village feel.” He continued, “Cambridge has the deepest waterways offering the best crabbing you can find and excellent local chickens.”  Part of Cambridge Eateries LLC mantra is supporting local: growers, fisherman and livestock – all which can be found center of their plates. 

On my recent tour of Fanning’s Cambridge Eateries LLC, Chef Fanning treated me to newly created dishes on the High Spots menu:

·         Almond Crusted Goat Cheese with grilled peaches
·         Double Duck Southwest A L’Orange with a duck confit risotto cake and sliced duck breast
·         Chicken & Belgian Waffle with buttermilk fried legs, thighs and wings, Bird Dog hot sauce, butter and honey
·         RAR Chipotle Lime Shrimp & Sausage with house made Kielbasa, jumbo shrimp, chipotle lime mango salsa and local RAR breweries Nanticoke nectar

What’s next for Chef Fanning, I do know, but I have been sworn to secrecy on penalty of having my knife and fork permanently removed. 

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Dining Out For Life: Eat well so others might do the same

Here is what I want you to do, make reservations for Thursday, September 18th at any one of these restaurants, enjoy a great meal and these kind and generous restaurateurs will donate from 25% to 50% of the revenue to Moveable Feast. It has been 21 years since the inception of Dining Out for Life, a charity event that benefits over 60 service organizations nationally and here in Baltimore, Moveable Feast.
Moveable Feast, a non-profit which offers meal delivery programs to homebound people living with HIV/AIDS and breast cancer, transportation and in addition, a culinary training program.
Last year we interviewed Dining Out For Life celebrity spokesperson, Ted Allen. Here is a look back at that interview.

The Food Network’s James Beard Award winning host of Chopped Ted Allen has been a spokesperson for Dining Out for Life for the past six years. Ted Allen shared time to chat with about his commitment to Dining Out for Life, how Queer Eye for the Straight Guy evolved, Top Chef, Iron Chef America and more.
Examiner: When you look back at your early days as a journalist in Chicago what were your aspirations? Any dreams of what the future would hold for you?
Ted Allen: I had no aspirations of television. The contract to write for Esquire Magazine was my dream comes true. I wanted to write for a quality magazine; stylish, experimental and one with flair. I had to hustle for the Esquire job, they weren’t found on Craigslist.
E: Thank you for doing your part as Dining Out for Life’s spokesperson for the past six years. In fact, it is DOFL’s 20th anniversary this year. What have been the accomplishments and what do we still need to do?
TA: Over 4 million dollars has been raised annually for DOFL in 50 cities for local AIDS service charities. The money raised in each city stays in that city.
HIV/AIDS has promising therapies and is no longer the automatic death sentence. It initially hit the gay community first but with precautions the incidents of the disease in gays were down. The disease then seemed to spread to women of color and now with young gay men the numbers are increasing. The fight continues.
The real heroes are the activist, health care workers, volunteers. Dining Out for Life is a simple opportunity that by dining out on a specific day at designated restaurants, patrons are making a meaningful contribution. Restaurateurs donate a portion of the proceeds of that evening (and/or lunch) to DOFL. Everyone wins; the restaurateurs fill their seats with new patrons.
E: How did Queer Eye for the Straight Guy come about? It was pretty brave even for 2003 to ‘come out’ nationally. It wasn’t that long before that Ellen DeGeneres’s career suffered a blow when she came ‘out’ in 1997.
TA: No one took it more seriously being ‘out’ on television. Many didn’t like having it shoved in their faces. It opened a door for the LGBT community. It allowed me to come out to many but a few relatives learned when the show aired.
Since 1933 Esquire Magazine has set the standard for men to be modern world travelers, how to dress, where to dine – numerous service articles, an orientation to being a well rounded male. The folks from Queer Eye were huge fans of Esquire Magazine; it was almost a template for the show.
E: How did being a judge on Top Chef and Iron Chef America prepare you for hosting Chopped?
TA: When Queer Eye for the Straight Guy was at its peak (Emmy Award winner), I was on two television networks, Bravo and The Food Network. That was pretty unheard of at that time. It was important to talk about food in a way anyone could understand. Both Iron Chef America and Top Chef refined that talent, improved my skills to communicate on how food tastes.
It was Alton Brown and Tom Colicchio who influenced me to focus on the food and not who cooked it. They are both scrupulously fair in their judging.

Don’t forget; make your reservations and Dine Out For Life, Thursday, September 18. If you can’t do that, do think about a donation at Moveable Feasts.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Blissful Ananda Restaurant enchants for lunch and dinner

There are so many good things to say about Ananda Restaurant located between Baltimore and the D.C. suburbs off Route 29 in Fulton/Maple Lawn that it is hard to choose a starting point. The stand alone sandstone colored building located in close proximity to a strip mall is a bit hard to recognize because there is no sign, just their numerical address, 7421, on the pillar at the front entrance.

Ananda, which in numerous Indian languages, translates to bliss lays the groundwork for what you will feel during your visit(s).  The brothers Singh, Binda and Keir, already successful restaurateurs with the Ambassador Restaurant in Baltimore built Ananda from the ground up in a year and a half time frame – fulfilling their vision for Indian fine dining.   

Each area of Ananda tells its own story from the Polo Bar with tons of natural light to the more formal dining rooms with warm earth tones, wood, leather banquettes, and multiple fireplaces. The showstopper, the year-round terrace with its rattan and pillowed chairs, open vistas, fireplaces, ceiling fans – one feels transported back in time to the British Raj of India.  I had visions that David Niven, circa 1940’s might enter any moment dressed in his polo whites to sip a Mumbai Mule while perusing the lawns. The terrace is the highlight of Ananda’s Royal Indian concept.

Ananda features regional Indian cuisines for lunch and dinner along with their seasonal special menu. Fascinating to me was the Asian influence from Tibet. Binda explained, “We have always enjoyed Himali cuisine from our summer vacations and pilgrimage with our grandfather. From momos (dumplings) to thupka (Tibetan noodle soup), it is heavily influenced by Tibetan communities in the foothills of the Himalayas. It’s known for its liberal use of sesame and soy.”

The Singhs maintain their own 11 acre garden close by in old Maple Lawn where they grow seasonal fruits and vegetables. Their successful growing endeavors are apparent in the many dishes served to us at a recent media dinner. Their special menu best reflected all that is fresh this late summer season with the Kerala Cake with crab and Silver Queen corn, the swoon-worthy chilled Summer Squash and Carrot Soup with spiced pear chutney, Hindvana with watermelon, local goat cheese and Ananda’s lime chili dressing, or the Peach Strawberry Crumble with cardamom ice cream. We also relished and cleaned our plates of a tandoori-styled jumbo shrimp served with lip-smacking chutney of mint, mango and avocado. The Market Fish was halibut steamed in tamarind and sesame to flaky perfection.  

Stop in for “Bliss Hour” which is actually 2 hours from 4 pm to 6 pm for a wide array of wines, beers, small plates and signature cocktails.

Go now, while the weather is ideal for dining on the terrace or what southerners might call the veranda – watch the sunset, enjoy the lush surroundings and the royal hospitality of the Singh brothers.

Ananda Restaurant – 7421 Maple Lawn Blvd, Fulton, MD 20759 301.725.4800  Closed Mondays

Ananda on Urbanspoon


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