Bryan Voltaggio's recent announcement that he'd be opening a restaurant in Baltimore arrived like a complimentary dessert — something you appreciate all the more because it isn't expected.
"OHMAGAWD" and "yeeeeeesss!!!" were a few of the reactions on Twitter.
But the "Top Chef" alumnus said he had wanted to come to Baltimore for years. It was just a matter of finding the right place, said Voltaggio, who co-owns Volt, his flagship restaurant, and Family Meal in his hometown of Frederick, as well as the meat-centric Range in Washington's Chevy Chase.
"We're excited to be in Baltimore," Voltaggio said. "It's been a long time coming. We're excited to join the community."
Voltaggio will be bringing Baltimore an Italian fine-dining restaurant named Aggio. That's also the name of the brand-new concept that he unveiled recently in Washington, where it shares a kitchen with Range. Aggio has a separate dining area, wait staff and atmosphere, Voltaggio said.
"[Aggio] isn't just isn't a pop-up restaurant," he said. "I want to be Range to be Range. I want Aggio to be Aggio."
That Voltaggio chose Power Plant Live, a downtown entertainment district with a party-hearty reputation, came as a second surprise. "Terrible location," tweeted Tom Creegan, who owns Hamilton Tavern. "He may turn it around but would KILL it in a better locale." Aggio will open on Water Street in the space now occupied by Tatu Asian Grill, which Voltaggio pointed out is outside the district's central plaza. Diners won't have to walk through the plaza's security check to get into Aggio.
"A lot of things that make [this location] a plus," he said. "It's an area where people go to. And I like its proximity to a major thoroughfare."
As for Tatu, it will be relocated in a modified format elsewhere within the Power Plant complex, according a spokesman for the Cordish Cos., which operates the Power Plant.
Awards season The James Beard Foundation has announced the first round of candidates for its annual restaurant-industry awards. Cindy Wolf of Charleston and Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen are among the 20 semifinalists for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic, one of 10 regional categories in the James Beard Foundation Award 2014.
An independent panel composed of regional critics, food and wine editors, and past award winners will now pare the list down to five finalists, which will be revealed March 18. The winners will be announced May 5.
Both chefs have been on the semifinalist list before, and each has made it to the finalist round, Wolf in 2006 and 2008, and Gjerde in 2013.
Marylanders have had rare success in the awards, which were established in 1990. The Monkton wine expert Robert Parker won for Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional in 1999 and the bygone restaurant Maison Marconi received a James Beard Foundation "America's Classics award" in 2002 for locally owned restaurants open at least 10 years.
The new Trinacria Back in November, we told you that the owners of Trinacria, the 105-year old Italian grocery store and deli on Paca Street, were going to open an Italian cafe in Mount Vernon.
And so they have.
Trinacria Italian Cafe (111 W. Centre St., 443-759-4082, trinacriacafe.com) opened last month at in a ground-level retail space in Gallery Tower, an apartment building on the corner of Centre Street and Park Avenue.
The counter-service cafe is not a replica of the original, which is very much still in business. There are things like pasta sauces, cookies and other pastries for sale at the Mount Vernon facility, but it's a far more limited selection than what you'll find on Paca Street.
Owner Vince Fava, whose grandfather founded Trinacria as a macaroni works in 1908, said he's bringing up more merchandise every day and looking for room to display even more.
The new cafe is more like an extension of the Paca Street deli counter. There are hot and cold sandwiches and subs, like there are at the original, but the cafe has pastas and thin-crust pizzas, too.
And, unlike the Paca Street location, there is a place to sit down and eat.
The cafe is open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., but those hours might change, Fava said, as he gets a better read on what the neighborhood wants.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun