Monday, October 21, 2013

Woodberry Kitchen - If I Were To Open A Restaurant...

Woodberry Kitchen
2010 Clipper Park Rd., #126
Baltimore, MD 21211
410-464-8000
I've been meaning to get to Woodberry Kitchen for a long time. It's quite a drive from where I live, and with so many excellent choices to be had in DC and it's close-in 'burbs, it's hard to justify making the trip to Baltimore. I'm very glad I took the time to try Woodberry Kitchen.
When I say, "If I were to open a restaurant.." I don't mean that I think I could do what he does here, I mean that I would try to emulate some of the things he does here and I'd be very happy if I even came close.
This is a top-notch operation.
I caught the owner, Spike Gjerde, while my dinner guest and I were having a little spiked winter punch by the fire pit. He seems like a genuinely nice guy. His attention to detail and philosophies on farm-to-table dining are well publicized and are at the forefront of his operations from the second you walk through the door.
The service at his restaurant is second to none and will be the go-to answer whenever someone asks me who has the best service in the northern portion of the Mid-Atlantic. My answer for DC is generally Bourbon Steak if that gives you an idea of the bar being set. It's a more casual atmosphere and the relationship between the server/guest is less formal, but they are just as well versed in the products and culture of the owners as any place I've ever been to.
This young lady is the reason I finally got motivated to drive to Baltimore. Marie and I have been friends since 1982 or '83. We hadn't actually seen each other since our first high school reunion in 1991 or so. Marie, thanks for dragging me out and providing excellent company!
Here's a view of the outdoor lounge area. Very rustic. Like you're sitting outside a friends house having drinks by the fire pit. There is a bar and some table seating as well. We started out with a couple of glasses of Winter Punch and sat by the fire for a bit to catch up.
Have you ever gone to a restaurant and been asked, "Sparkling or still?". I have, and I always choose sparkling. Without fail, some well-meaning employee will come by and fill my glass of sparkling with still at some point during the meal. I knew I was in for a good experience when I saw that they'd swapped out the shorter glass used for still (to the left) with the taller one that designates sparkling. Simple solution to a very first-world dining issue, but also a very welcome one.
Here's a view of the kitchen which surrounds the main dining room.
I started out with a split of bubbly for the oysters.
Our server Matt dropped off several condiments in advance of the oyster delivery. They are house-made, like everything else here. He was right on with the recommendation that we try the Verjus Mignonette.
Cleanly shucked, nicely presented. We chose to get two of the six varieties available that night.
No bits of shell, lots of liquor.
Rather than fill up on entrees, we decided to go with a bunch of appetizers. this is the cheese and crackers. Some very nice cheeses accompanied by honey and preserves.
The meat board was tasty. Several varieties of cured meats with some excellent pickled okra and bumpy mustard.

My friend fooling around with a slice of tongue
This is the crab pot. Excellent flavors and jumbo lump crab. It was topped table-side with some sherry, which you can see bubbling in the picture. The aroma coming off that dish was awesome.
The crab cake was off the charts. Bar none, the best crab meat I've ever had. I'm sure Spike has a direct line to the best crabbers out of Anne Arundel County to get them this good. The only thing that prevented it from being the ultimate crab cake I've ever had was the spice. I'm sure it's intentional and meant to cut the sweetness of the crab, but there was a layer of heat in there that was just a bit excessive. It wasn't too much to stand or anything, it just didn't feel like it needed to be there.
To finish off I had an espresso from their barrista.
And some ice cream. It had nuts on the bottom and a short-bread cookie. Excellent flavor and texture.
These folks do pragmatic. A little rain? Use a clear plastic bag to cover your MICROS!

Overall, the experience here was excellent and I'd be eating at Woodberry Kitchen very frequently if it were in my 'hood. 

A special shout-out is called for to my friend Farmer Shane Hughes from Liberty Delight Farms. If you  follow me on Facebook you know that he provides me the best meats I've ever had. He also supplies some of his glorious beef to Woodberry Kitchen and was key to my getting a reservation on short-notice.

Woodberry Kitchen is listed on some web sites as fine dining. It is not a fine dining restaurant in my view. It is a neighborhood restaurant that is casual and very rustic with an incredible amount of attention payed to detail. From the time we walked in until the time we left we felt warmly welcomed and the staff made it known that they were there for us, there were no rules we had to follow to fit into their plan (other than having a reservation) and they went with the flow of what we wanted, when we wanted, with no hitches or stutters. Particularly noticeable was the lack of non-guest-focused activity observed during the meal. The people who work there want to work there and embody the spirit of hospitality.
Kudos Team Woodberry!
If you go, you know what to tell them.
Thanks for reading.

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