Comfort food in the burbs

Robert of Cross Keys has made my day, maybe my week, with this fine guest post. My Pikesville source, a guy who tells my husband about restaurants to pass on to me, has been going on for a couple of years about a fabulous Chinese restaurant called the Wigwam. Chinese, not American Indian, which is a little weird. Every time I'm in Pikesville, I look for it but have never found it; and it's not listed in the phone book. Now I know how to find it. Thanks, RoCK! EL

My wife had some projects this week in the suburbs that required my driving out there, so that's where my dining out took place. I visited the Diamondback Tavern in Ellicott City and the Wing Wah in Pikesville. ...

She was working on a writing assignment about seasonal menus in Ellicott City. I’ve always found some very good restaurants there, from Tersiguel's on Main Street to Asian Court, the dim sum place, in a shopping plaza. One of my new favorites is Diamondback Tavern.  I just feel the Diamondback does a lot of things right.

They use quality ingredients, many of which they get locally, when you know that it would be very easy for a tavern to just open up a Sysco box and dump the contents into a deep fryer.

They serve comfort food, but they are also willing to take chances with it.  By this I mean that old classics you just don’t see anymore, like Scotch Eggs, are on the menu. You’ll also see new creations of comfort food, like the Testudo, which is pulled pork with caramelized banana, onion and avocado on Italian bread.    

The Testudo sounds like something you’d assemble in your kitchen at 2:30 a.m. after closing down the bars. However, much like the Caesar Salad -- a dish that actually was thrown together early one morning to satisfy the hunger of people who were drinking all night -- the flavors all seem to complement each other. I couldn’t believe how good it was.  It was like a savory bananas Foster.  

I went back and forth on whether the sandwich had enough meat on it.  The pulled pork was excellent; and because it was seasoned with brown sugar and garlic, it had a nice balance of sweet and savory.  I wanted more of it, but I began to wonder if piling on the pork would overwhelm the banana and avocado. I don’t know, maybe a side car of pork would make me happy.

I had a side of cilantro rice with it that I found to be a little bland.  I think it needed raw cilantro instead of its being cooked in with the rice.  

I also had the Diamondback shrimp, which are sautéed in hot sauce, butter and garlic and topped with Monterey Jack cheese and jalapenos.  This dish reminded me a little bit of the BBQ shrimp dishes I’ve had in New Orleans at places like Pascal’s Manale, although Diamondback’s version is heavier on the heat.

The sauce is good, and it calls out to be sopped up with the accompanying bread; but this dish is successful because of the quality of the shrimp, which are cooked perfectly.  The window for cooking shrimp between raw and tough is about 15 seconds, and when cheese is added into the equation the time span shrinks to about five seconds.  These shrimp were squeezed into that time frame.
About 12 hours after my American comfort food at Diamondback Tavern, I was having another one of my favorite comfort meals: Chinese -- or to be more accurate, American-Chinese at the Wing Wah.

The trip to Wing Wah has become somewhat of a tradition. Next to it is Quick Fix, the only place in Baltimore that can repair eyeglasses.  My wife has one, and only one, pair of glasses. She thinks all other glasses -- or all other glasses that my insurance will cover -- are ugly. They are antiques that are quite fragile, and they break about every six months.  So every time we need to get the glasses fixed, we wait over a Chinese lunch at the Wing Wah.

Now, I actually love the Wing Wah.  It's a classic Chinese restaurant with red booths, Chinese calendar placemats and duck sauce and hot mustard that are served not from packets but from jars that you spoon out.   There just aren’t that many places like it any more.

The non-ironic retro nature of the Wing Wah is refreshing, but the food is also good and cheap. For about $6 I got a bowl of egg drop soup, a spring roll and Orange Chicken with fried rice.

The spring roll was forgettable -- it was greasy and had no flavor. The other items, however, were very well prepared.  

The egg drop soup was very rich and eggy.  It's the kind of soup that's going to give you a healthy and shiny coat.  Throw in a handful of the fried noodles, and you get a great contrast of textures.

The Orange Chicken was several all-white meat chunks that managed to maintain their crispy coating in an orange sauce that actually tastes of orange peel instead of corn syrup. The rice wasn’t anything special.  I guess it just wasn’t my week for rice.  

Sometime around April I’ll be back at the Wing Wah.  As for the Diamondback Tavern, I actually have to be in Ellicott City today for a conference, a conference that conveniently ends around dinner time.

(Photo of the Testudo by RoCK)

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