"Every once in a while, you come across a restaurant that has distinctive, well-prepared food at sensible prices," The Baltimore Sun's reviewer said. "Havana Road in Towson is such a spot; it is a find." And since its quiet opening, the cafe has extended its hours and its day of operation.
Quintana's story is about to get sweeter. She has just debuted a new line of Havana Road products in area Whole Foods Markets. The dinners are being promoted as the first line of fully prepared refrigerated Cuban meals in the United States. There are nine dinners in all. About half of them are either vegetarian and vegan; others are traditional meat-based dinners like Cuban pork, chicken and rice, ropa vieja, and shrimp and rice. Vegetarian entrees include black beans and rice, red beans and rice, and garbanzo bean stew.
Quintana opened her Pennsylvania Avenue cafe last September almost as an afterthought. She had really intended the storefront to be a home base and commissary for her catering operation as well as for the production of her small line of Havana Road artisanal foods — salsas, sauces and dips sold at Whole Foods and other stores.
Her longtime catering customers all but insisted Quintana incorporate a cafe into the storefront. Once she got started, Quintana said, "the more I started loving the restaurant."
"The food is like my mom's in the kitchen," Quintana says. "My mom is in the kitchen." Quintana's daughter, Ines Maria, a cake decorator, sometimes helps in the kitchen, too.
The Quintana family left their Guantanamo, Cuba, home on New Year's Day 1962, locating in Hollywood, Fla. Quintana first came to Maryland when her younger sister, Lourdes, entered what is now Notre Dame of Maryland University on a full scholarship. "I was the only junior living in Doyle Hall, the freshman hall — I know, right? But Mama wanted it that way, so it was."
Quintana is working with her mother on the new line of refrigerated meals.
"The inspiration behind our line was to be able to bring a little bit of Cuba into every kitchen." Quintana and her mother are working with a manufacturing partner, Baltimore-based Panache Creative Cuisine, to bring their family's heirloom recipes from the stove to microwaveable containers.
The food in the Havana Road line not only has to be delicious and stable, it also has to meet the standards set by Whole Foods. It was a chance meeting with Mark "Coach" Smallwood of Whole Foods that led to the development of Quintana's original artisanal line.
"I owe him a lot," Quintana says. Smallwood has since left the company, but Quintana enjoys a good working relationship with the regional Whole Foods team, which assists in the development of gluten-free and preservative-free meals.
Havana Road's refrigerated meals are scheduled for a Nov. 29 launch at area Whole Foods Markets. The dinners range in price from $7.99 to $8.99.
Heavy Seas headed for Little Italy Here's good news for fans of Heavy Seas beer: A Heavy Seas restaurant is on its way to Baltimore. The Heavy Seas Ale House will open in early 2012 in the Old Holland Tack Factory, most recently the home of Diablita, which closed in late 2010.
The restaurant is being developed by Patrick Dahlgren, co-owner of the Rowhouse Grille, who happens to be the stepson of Heavy Seas founder Hugh Sisson.
"I love the symmetry," Sisson said. "The pub business launched my craft beer career. How cool is it that my brewing career will further the pub profession of my stepson?" Sisson is the owner of Clipper City Brewing Co. (the brewer of Heavy Seas Beer) and former owner of the much-beloved Federal Hill institution Sisson's, which was also Maryland's first brew pub.
Heavy Seas Ale House is scheduled to open sometime before the end of April. The neighborhood tavern-inspired decor will feature a 40-foot bar, dark woods, comfortable seating, flat-screen TVs, a raw bar and an outdoor beer garden. Liquid offerings will include specialty beer and cask ales, and eight Heavy Seas beers
Restaurant week dates and changes Baltimore has announced the dates for its winter dining promotion. The dates for Winter Restaurant Week are Jan. 20-29. And there are some changes.
Lunch, which had been a three-course option, priced most recently at $20, will now be a two-course option for $15, and the fixed price for dinner menu, which had been $35 for three courses, will now be either $30 or $20 for three courses. Participating restaurants will be able to offer one of those dinner pricing options but not both.
The changes are in response to diner feedback, according to a spokeswoman for Visit Baltimore, which co-produces Baltimore's restaurant weeks. The lower price point will allow restaurants that didn't feel a $35 dinner menu provided value to their diners to participate in restaurant week. Visit Baltimore informed restaurant owners and operators about the changes in a letter.
Maryland restaurants rank Charleston, Woodberry Kitchen, The Prime Rib and Volt were among the 100 restaurants on Open Table's latest group of Diners' Choice Awards — the top 100 restaurants in the United States that specialize in American food.
The list of winners, which was announced Nov. 16, is derived from more than 10 million reviews submitted by Open Table diners for more than 12,000 restaurants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.