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, June 26, 2007

In Search of the Holy Pizza

My food buddy and I decided to try two pizza places in Baltimore that have had rave reviews. We had an early start and off we went to Eastern Avenue to Matthews Pizza, which has won best pizza in Baltimore numerous times. I was extremely hungry with just eating a slice of watermelon all day. I was up and ready for this pizza. Since we knew we were heading to two pizza places we ordered the small margherita pizza with tomato, mozzarella and fresh basil.

I have to admit I have a preference for thin crispy pizza, it doesn’t make it a better pizza, it just meets my personal likes. Matthews offers a thicker crust ..but then again it isn’t a crust, it seems more like a focaccia dough. The tomato was in cubed pieces with sufficient mozzarella and strips of baked basil. The texture was fine but the taste was bland. We both added more Parmesan, garlic powder, oregano and chili pepper flakes. The staff was pleasant enough but to me Matthew's wasn't "all that."Matthew's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Next, Joe Squared on North Avenue next to the Maryland Institute of Art Building. It isn’t in the best of neighborhoods. My companion wanted to sit at the bar which gave us the added benefit of 2nd hand cigarette smoke. I let it ride and put it in the atmosphere column. We settled in on the mushroom pizza with sautéed mushrooms and mushroom powder.

I thought I would order a cup of gumbo while we waited for the pizza. When the gumbo arrived it was a conglomerate of meat sauce, some shrimp like creatures, sausage, ground beef and okra…it was a mixture of what seems to be their Bolognese sauce and regular gumbo. It needs to be listed on the menu as Gumbonese. As we both are finishing the Gumbonese we were informed there were no mushrooms so we chose another pizza margarita. Another disappointment. The crust was thin and crispy but they seemed to have just spread tomato sauce on this square pizza with limited mozzarella and fresh strips of basil. It was lackluster except for the crust. We picked off the mozzarella on half the pizza and added it to the slices we were eating and left the naked slices.

Joe Squared seems like a cool hang-out for the art students but not worth my return. I found I was barstool dancing to some of the music but eventually there was too much rap. Was it Eugene O'Neill who said "you can't go home?" I can't go back, funky places are a part of my youth.Joe Squared Pizza and Bar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Friendly's Revisted

I’m not usually swayed by television ads but there was something about the ad for Friendly’s burgers a couple months ago that had me salivating. Maybe it was that my husband has been dieting for months and we are eating salads almost nightly, maybe it was sense memory of a gooey mushroom Swiss burger I had 20 years ago, maybe I was sick of our Friday night restaurant haunts, in the end I craved their burger. This may not be something you expect from one who professes their love of foie gras, caviar and all things gourmet but I do have my dark side.

I convinced the husband to go outside of his 1 ½ mile radius for our Friday night restaurants to trek to Towson to Friendly’s Restaurant. Surprisingly, the husband ordered a bowl of their Manhattan clam chowder and a Caesar salad with grilled chicken (yup, another salad). For some reason beyond my own reasoning, I ordered a cup of chicken soup - knowing full well it would not taste homemade, and you guessed it, the mushroom Swiss burger - which now comes with smoky bacon.

I tasted the “home-made” clam chowder and it was really good, really tasty, much better than my soup and made a mental note to get it upon on my next visit. My burger arrived with an abundance of French fries that the husband inhaled. I took off the bacon, unhinged my jaw in preparation of this large burger, and bit into the nice juicy, gooey burger. It was Nirvana, the perfect burger for the perfect sense memory. I indulged in the "happy endings" hot fudge sundae to complete this degustation menu. His soup, my burger and the hot fudge sundae rocked my world that night.

I really need to find out who the ad agency is for Friendly’s because the ad must have some subliminal messages “you will go to Friendly’s”. Well, a new ad appeared on TV and you guessed it, it played, I craved and I had to go to Friendly’s. I was thinking juicy, gooey burger and a great cup of clam chowder. The husband agreed again to go outside his comfort zone for Friday night dinners but this time we went to the Friendly’s in Reisterstown. This outlet looked fresher in appearance, not as old as Towson’s.

I knew what I was going to have; you guessed it, the clam chowder, the mushroom Swiss burger and the hot fudge "happy ending" sundae. Well the clam chowder was tasty, maybe a bit saltier and the potatoes were hard. The cheese wasn’t quite melted on the burger and the mushrooms didn’t abound. The husband knew he was going off diet food so he did a burger as well, ate all the fries and then dipped into mine – he was a happy camper.

Maybe there would be a reprieve with the sundae. I asked the waitress for extra hot fudge. I wanted to totally indulge even though I was quite full, full indeed, from the soup and the burger. What I got was an extra cherry and no extra hot fudge. It wasn’t a bad meal it just wasn’t the one I expected. What I ended up with was a meal of a trillion calories, lots of cholesterol that wasn’t worth the anticipation or taste.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Gelatin Man

Well folks, here is a photo I took at the opening event for the International Association of
Culinary Professionals in April. It was held at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago where the committee went all-out to prove that Chicago is a cutting-edge food town.

If you look at this photograph closely you will see that all the parts of this life-size gelatin man is made up of food. I bet Bill Cosby didn't think this when he was pushing Jell-O to the kids.

They also had mannequins clothed in food.

Sunday, June 03, 2007


Up at 4 a.m. and ready to go by 5 a.m. on a ROAD TRIP to New York City. Camera, cell phone, mp3 player, one large empty suitcase, two totes, contact lens case and solution, cash, and two sandwiches on pumpernickel with butterfish and a selection of books-on-CD. My friend Jeff and I are off to New York for BookExpo America – the big show for the book industry. Seat belt buckled, hair pulled back in a scrunchy to keep it straight and ready for some serious doings on our ROAD TRIP.

At 5 a.m. there is no traffic on I95, and with Jeff’s EZPass we keep zipping along just talking away. We never seem to run out of conversation between his marketing business, my public relations business and our passion for food….yada yada yada. A quick pit stop and an oversized Crunch bar and we are in New York, parked and with the large empty suitcase in tow.

As an experienced BookExpo attendee, I immediately head to the special ticket counter where it is first come-first served for ‘celebrity author tickets’. Aah, I see Alan Alda is there with a book but they were out of his ticket and the same for James Patterson. I did get a Charles Grodin’s ticket.

BookExpo is not for the faint-of-heart. There are throngs of book retailers and librarians converging under one roof. Don’t get in the way of any librarian trying to get an autograph from Alan Alda, you will be trampled. I constantly felt like a car going the wrong direction on the Capitol Beltway at rush hour.

So visualize two floors of the entire Javits center. The lower back half are 34 partitioned lines where authors sit at the end autographing copies of just released books or galleys of forthcoming books. There are also authors signing at booths upstairs so you need to have an A, B, C plan and also having a friend help by standing in line and while your in a different one.

I take up what seems like permanent residency in the Silver Palate 25th Anniversary Edition autograph line. Ron Longe, publicity for Workman Publishing counts off heads. They only have 250 books to give away. From there it was to line 11 where Robby Benson was signing his book. He was more a teen actor and the original “Beast” in Beauty and the Beast. I looked at him and joked how he has grown up, with the long dark hair with streaks of grey. I had left Jeff in line for the Charles Grodin signing. Charles was always an entertaining actor and great conversationalist on the TV talk shows so I’m anxious to read his book.

Okay, we were pretty loaded with books so we go up to coat check and unload the totes of the books into the large suitcase. This will be one of three trips.

So we went upstairs with some time specific stops and on our way stopped at Cumberland House who is the publisher of YUM-tasty recipes from culinary greats, a cookbook co-authored by myself and ROAD TRIP buddy, Jeff Spear. Back lit in their booth is the image of our book cover which we had not seen and had little liberties as to the design. Of course, my name was spelled incorrectly but in their catalog it was all correct except for the book cover. Fingers crossed, they correct the cover. There is a lot to tell about the book project but for today, for the here-and-now, the book’s official release date is October, 2007.

We stopped to talk to two gentlemen who have a BBQ book coming out, a re-release as to where you find great BBQ in the country. Fate being with us, they were about to offer up some real BBQ. Jeff and I grabbed some slaw, BBQ chicken and beef, and corn. The only cool place in the convention center was the Press Room so off we went to enjoy our meal.

After our repast, we were off and running. There were many more books to get, many more authors to sign books. Actor Bruce Dern was promoting his upcoming memoir. I thanked him for entertaining us over the years and Jeff talked about Dern’s roll in Silent Running. Chris Kimball, Cooks Illustrated, was signing his new cookbook of lost recipes. I had a moment to chat about my old cookbook called Wartime. He seemed interested so I think we will take that contact to step two.

We ran into the Chef Elizabeth Falkner of Citizen Cake in San Francisco. We thanked her for her recipe donation for our cookbook and munched on some of her chocolates that she had made. Elizabeth will have a cookbook release this fall.

At around 3 p.m. Jeff called uncle and proceeded to wait for me in the Press Room. I visited more booths, gathered more catalogs, and more books. By 4 p.m. we were leaving with the suitcase repacked and one tote of books for Jeff. We drop everything off at the car and grabbed a cab for to go to east 18th Street. Time to kill before our dinner reservations; we walked past Maury Rubin’s City Bakery, through Union Square’s farmers market to a tiny Italian restaurant where we had drinks and an appetizer. We high-fived each other considering all that we accomplished in a short time. Understand I had to jump to accomplish that feat. Jeff is well over 6 feet and I’m sure I’ve shrunk below my formal five foot tall status.

We were off to make our dinner reservations but the restaurant’s air condition was broken. We politely decline to stay and went to BLT for dinner. Their Saturday night special was a lobster tail, filet mignon, corn, and potato for $29.00. So after a hearty dinner, we were in a cab back to the parking lot, and on the road for home by 7:10 p.m. Jeff removed his boots and back into his sneakers. I had my shoes off, my contact lenses removed and my hair back up in the scrunchy and set to roll in record time. As we chatted about the day, our cookbook, food and what we did in our crazy younger years the Eagles and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young serenaded us on the way back home.

Jeff got the suitcase-from-hell out of the trunk and in my front door. The ROAD TRIP was over. We decided we need to do more, a day jaunt to the shore, maybe a Chinese Fire Drill here and there. Nothing says we have to act our age.

As for names of these books, I haven’t opened the suitcase. I’ve just rolled out of bed and thought while thoughts were fresh I would jot this down for the blog. I will write more about the subjects in the Book Expo Dining Dish special edition. It is only 8:21 a.m.


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