Breaking from my usual Baltimore quick trip tradition of crabs and beer on Butcher’s Hill or a night out at Peter’s Inn, this time around I planned ahead for dinner at Woodberry Kitchen. It was my little sister’s birthday after all, and I also remembered old tales from her husband about how much he liked Spike & Charlie’s, Woodberry co-owner Spike Gjerde’s long gone spot near Baltimore’s Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Besides, I’d been hankering for a visit ever since reading about Woodberry Kitchen at both Old World Old School and The VLMTR.
Open for about a year and a half now, Spike and his wife Amy Gjerde’s newest spot serves contemporary American cuisine with a strong locavore focus. The sprawling space, which includes seating on two-levels, an inviting bar and a fully open kitchen, combines country rusticity with an air of urban chic. It’s a feel very much in keeping with the restaurant’s location on an old mill site that’s now been converted into an upscale condo development. A similar feel carries over to the equally sprawling menu, where popcorn, poutine and pierogies intermingle with Chesapeake classics and dressed up bistro-oriented “supper” plates. Though the menu lacks focus, its wide range offers something for just about any taste.
Oyster Stew – Choptank oysters, cream, leeks, pretzel bowl
Along with the brilliantly flavorful Roseda Farm tavern steak ordered by Sister R, Woodberry’s oyster stew was a highlight of our meal. The pretzel bowl presentation eliminated any need for a side of bread for sopping up the remains of the dish while also putting a fun twist (pun half-intended) on a Maryland standard. Of course, it would have been nothing more than cute if not for the richly creamed soup and generous fistful of plump, juicy Choptanks.
Woolsey Farms Leg of Lamb – purple cabbage, mixed roots, warm pea shoot salad, fresh mint
This was a seasonal special, right down to the creamed purple cabbage that made for a seriously startling, Easter egg-hued plate presentation. Once past the color shock, though, it was plenty tasty, the lamb beautifully bronzed and fork tender, the fresh snap of pea shoots and mint providing brightness and balance to what otherwise would have been a bit too bass heavy.
I neglected to note the official menu description for my dessert. The scrumptious apple-caramel bundt cake was true to Woodberry’s overall feel in its comforting core dressed up with a touch of pastry artistry.
The wine list, split simply into sections for sparkling, white and red, then arranged by price, is also right in step with the menu and mission at Woodberry. Offerings are focused in Europe with just enough globalization to provide appeal to a broad range of diners. A serious nod is given to local wines from both Maryland and Virginia, while the list also includes a featured organic producer – Nuits-Saint-Georges’ Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair at the time of our visit. Good values include the Beaujolais “Cuvée Traditionnelle” from Pierre-Marie Chermette, Charles Joguet’s Chinon “Cuvée Terroir,” and Jo Landron’s 2007 Muscadet from Domaine de la Louvetrie. I had set my sights on Provençal producer Henri Milan’s “Le Grand Blanc,” which I’d scouted out on WK’s website, only to find it no longer available. A bummer… but given our carnivorous choices, we made do with a bottle of red, Montirius’ Vacqueyras “Garrigues.”
Everything we tried was well executed, showing more than enough promise that – as a destination diner in this case – I’d like to see what Chef Spike and his kitchen crew could achieve by cutting back on the number of menu offerings, perhaps allowing things to be taken to a higher level. On the flip side, if I lived close enough to make Woodberry Kitchen a regular stop I might just be happy to have pierogies and poutine for the occasional mix-up, or to splurge on a bottle of Larmandier-Bernier Blanc de Blancs to pair with the housemade potato chips while hanging out at the bar.
2010 Clipper Park Road, No. 126
Baltimore, MD 21211