The year 2013 was, for the most part, a positive one on the Baltimore dining scene, except perhaps for trend-spotters. For every sign, there was a counter-sign. The sudden closing of a restaurant was followed by an unexpected, or at least not highly publicized, appearance of a new place. One restaurant would make itself over into an informal version of its formal self, and across town, a fine-dining establishment would open. Small plates continued to spin. Farm-to-table concepts continued to matter, but restaurants started to present them differently. Basically, it was a year of flux, the restaurant-world equivalent of a nonelection year.
Openings and projects
There were a few unqualified "big openings," or in some cases, projects that were inching toward an opening at year's end.
What makes an opening big? In some cases, it's the people behind a new project. In others, it was the location that raised expectations.
Among the veteran restaurateurs with new projects were Spike and Amy Gjerde, the owners of Woodberry Kitchen, who opened up the Shoo-Fly Diner in Belvedere Square. After a wobbly start, the restaurant began to adjust its menu and concept.
In June, the Foreman Wolf restaurant group announced it was adding its first Howard County location to a restaurant family that includes Charleston, Cinghiale, Pazo and Johnny's. The restaurant will be a version of its popular French restaurant in Roland Park, Petit Louis Bistro.
In November, the Bagby Restaurant Group opened Cunningham's in the renovated Towson City Center. The sophisticated new restaurant is the group's first outside of the Harbor East development, where it operates Bagby Pizza Co., Ten Ten American Bistro and Fleet Street Kitchen.
The owners of Corner BYOB opened an adjacent tavern, The Other Corner Charcuterie Bar, whose sophisticated charms belied its unwieldy name. And at year's end, Highland Inn, the long-awaited restaurant in Howard County from the Milton Inn's Brian Boston, was getting closer to its opening.
Dooby's Coffee, from Gilman alumnus Phil Han, opened in October in Mount Vernon's Park Plaza building, which had been without a restaurant tenant since the December 2010 fire that closed Donna's, Indigma and My Thai.
In June, The Chesapeake opened in the location where the old Chesapeake Restaurant operated for decades. Five months in, the new restaurant was still struggling to forge its own identity. Its original chef, Jordan Miller, left to take a position at the Lord Baltimore Hotel, where the French Kitchen opened in December.
Among the year's most appealing new restaurants was from first-time restaurateur Adrien Aeschliman, who opened a 20-seat BYOB named Bottega near Penn Station. Bottega paints a vivid picture of what the farm-to-table movement will look like when all of its principles are simply taken for granted.
Closings and transitions
When three traditional Little Italy restaurants — Rocco's Capriccio, Della Notte and Caesar's Den — closed up within a six-month span, it set off a spate of communal hand wringing. Trend-watchers wondered whether the neighborhood was in danger of fading into obsolescence. But the closings seemed, on second look, to be coincidental.
As the conversation continued, a few new eateries, including Mugs' Italian Bistro and a Persian restaurant named Ozra, opened in Little Italy, and another High Street establishment, Germano's, made itself over into a neighborhood bistro and tavern named Germano's Piattini. At year's end, the three closed-down restaurants remained empty.
There were other notable closings. In March, Bridget and Galen Sampson closed the doors on The Dogwood Restaurant after seven valiant years in Hampden. In June, Morning Edition Cafe closed on its 30th anniversary; the Butchers Hill restaurant was a popular destination for brunches. And in November, Captain Harvey's served its last crab cakes at the Reisterstown Road location where it had operated since 1953.
Some closings made way for new businesses. The owners of Barrett's Grill at the Hunt Valley Towne Centre opened the Glyndon Grill in the Butler Road location that had been Mia Carolina until earlier this year. Robbin Haas, the restaurateur behind the successful Birroteca, opened Nickel Taphouse in the Mount Washington space where Blue Sage Cafe and Wine Bar had closed in June. And Neill Howell left his executive chef position at Bond Street Social to start his own business, The Corner Pantry, which will open early next year in Lake Falls Village.
Off the table
The year got off to a bumpy start for Baltimore's Berger Cookies. The bakery that makes the fudge-topped cookies was closed on Jan. 31 for operating without a city-issued food-service license.
It took more than a month for the Cherry Hill bakery, which apparently had been operating for decades without proper licensing, to return to production and get cookies back on supermarkets shelves. The Berger bakery was back in the news at the end of the year, when a proposed Food and Drug Administration ban on trans fats had its owner experimenting — so far without success — with new shortenings, just in case the ban went through.
Some Baltimore food personalities and establishments had happier turns in the spotlight. Dangerously Delicious Pies founder Rodney Henry made an impressive run on "Food Network Star," a reality TV show that rewards both charisma and culinary skills. Henry made it all the way to second place.
The Lauraville restaurant Maggie's Farm got itself a spiffy makeover, courtesy of another reality show, "Restaurant Divided." And Shin Chon Garden, Nam Kang and Woodberry Kitchen were among the area eateries featured on an episode of Andrew Zimmern's "Bizarre Foods America."
Finally, and sadly, the Baltimore restaurant community lost Edward "Eddie" Dopkin, the popular restaurateur who founded and owned Miss Shirley's and co-owned the Classic Catering People. Dopkin died on October 19 from complications associated with a rare form of leukemia. He was 61.
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