Maggie's Farm has had a tumultuous few years. Fortunately, it's emerged as lovable as ever.
The restaurant is on Harford Road in the former home of Chameleon Cafe, an early pioneer in Baltimore's farm-to-table restaurant scene. In 2012, Chameleon was reborn as Maggie's Farm, still a farm-driven spot with much of the same staff, but with new ownership.
The following year, the restaurant owners at the time — Andrew Weinzirl, Laura Marino and Matthew Weaver — appeared on the Food Network show "Restaurant Divided," where they received a makeover and worked through differences over the direction of the menu. They decided to blend their farm-to-table ethos with Southern flavors.
But that wasn't the end of the story. This past February, Weaver and his wife, Andrea, bought out Weinzirl and Marino. The Weavers promoted Timothy Hogan from sous chef to executive chef, and the restaurant's menu underwent yet another change, this time drawing inspiration from around the globe.
Hogan's dishes are sophisticated but not overly fancy; his food is fun, as befits the restaurant's funky space. On a recent Wednesday night, after weaving through outdoor tables and pots of herbs, we made our way into the dim, red-wallpapered dining room. Even in low lighting, the room displays plenty of personality, from the prints on the walls to strings of tiny red lights over the bar.
Our first brush with the menu was a bit of a disappointment when we learned the kitchen was out of an appetizer we'd been eyeing, the Nashville hot chicken bun. Instead, we tried a different steamed bun, this one stuffed with fried oyster, kimchi and herbaceous aioli; it was lovely.
We were equally taken with a plate of crispy Brussels sprouts mixed with tiny sweet grapes, and a hunk of sausage served alongside sweet sauteed fennel with tangy tomato jam. Our favorite appetizer was Ethiopian-inspired okra, grilled and paired with potatoes, harissa — a hot chili condiment — and a mixed batch of soft, savory vegetables seasoned with the African spices.
Okra is a staple of Ethiopian cuisine and Southern American cooking, but it's not something that pops up on Baltimore menus frequently — maybe because cooking it properly can be challenging. Hogan's risk paid off, though. It was tender, not a bit slimy, and an overall hit.
Large-plate options are limited at Maggie's Farm, with just four entrees and two sandwiches on the menu during our visit. We tried three of the four entrees, which had one thing in common: They all featured flavors piled on top of more flavors.
Before cooking, brisket was rubbed with Zeke's coffee; on the plate, it was doused with sweet apricot barbecue sauce and paired with hunks of toasted cornbread and tart kimchi slaw.
Rockfish and almond-studded green beans were simply prepared but jump-started with lemony potatoes and a bright scattering of gingery tomatoes.
Duck breast was beautifully grilled, with a well-seasoned crust, and served over sweet red onion jam, an earthy jumble of potatoes and beets, and a side of crunchy green beans, then topped with a dollop of intense, grainy mustard.
On each plate, every element was cooked and seasoned nicely and, as a whole, the flavors worked in concert. The dishes were exciting and interesting — but by the end of the meal, a bit of flavor fatigue set in. We were aching for something simpler.
It wasn't a surprise, then, that our favorite dish of the bunch was the most basic: the burger. With meat sourced locally from Monkton's Roseda Farm, seasoned perfectly and stacked on a glossy bun with bacon, cheddar, pickles, smoky ketchup and mustard, the burger was big, juicy and exactly right. French fries, crispy and salty, also made us smile.
The same was true of the desserts. We liked both our choices but gravitated toward the rustic peach cobbler over the powerfully tart, fancier blueberry mousse.
Exploring the cocktail menu, we discovered a wide range of drinks. A mixture of lemon juice and watermelon-infused vodka was summery and bright; a combination of gin, lemon juice and soda water was spare and sophisticated.
Other drinks were less refined, but equally enjoyable. A basil, grapefruit and beer concoction was light and fun, and a gigantic mojito, served in a 32-ounce Mason jar, was well-balanced — and the size made it hilarious.
The service, like those beachy drinks, was laid-back but perhaps too relaxed for the food. Drinks and appetizers took too long to arrive, pushing dinner to the outer limits of a "leisurely" meal.
But we couldn't be too upset about the pacing, or the low-key approach to service. Not when we had Hogan's many masterful flavors to keep us entertained.
Where: 4341 Harford Road, Baltimore
Contact: 410-254-2376; maggiesfarmmd.com
Open: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Prices: Snacks, $5-$15; sandwiches, $14-$15; entrees, $21-$28
Food: Creative American dishes influenced by international cuisines
Noise/TVs: One television kept on occasionally, including for Orioles games and occasional movies
Service: Friendly, but can be slow
Special diets: The kitchen will adjust dishes to accommodate allergies and dietary restrictions
Reservation policy: Reservations are accepted
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Nearby reviews: Dish Baltimore - Hamilton/Lauraville