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New restaurant draws crowd in historic Roland Park Shopping Center

RestaurantsDining and DrinkingBars and ClubsJohns Hopkins UniversityTony ForemanCharleston

Evelyn Zink ate breakfast on opening day at Johnny's, the new restaurant in the Roland Park Shopping Center. She ate lunch there, too.

And she said she'd be back for dinner.

"I'm besotted," said Zink, director of development at Roland Park Country School.

Zink, of Ruxton, was among a steady flow of diners who brought their appetites Tuesday, Oct. 16, to Johnny's, a long-awaited, family-friendly restaurant in the historic center at 4800 Roland Ave.

Johnny's is located downstairs in the center, in adjoining spaces last occupied by a Long & Foster Realtors and the Roland Park Bakery and Deli.

The restaurant opened with no fanfare and little advance notice other than a press release issued at 1:33 a.m. on Oct. 12.

"This is not a pomp-and-circumstance restaurant," said Tony Foreman, of Roland Park, restaurateur and a partner in the Foreman Wolf Restaurant Group, which owns the restaurant. "We have good food and we take care of people."

Johnny's, less upscale than its established neighbor in the center, Petit Louis Bistro, is open seven days a week and features separate coffee and whiskey bars, as well as an open kitchen. Johnny's is the fifth restaurant in the Foreman Wolf group, which also owns Charleston, Cinghiale and Pazo, among other dining spots downtown.

Some of the 25 members of Johnny's staff came from Pazo, including General Manager Robin Braniger and Executive Chef Kiko Wilson, formerly sous chef at Pazo.

Wilson brings a West Coast-influenced menu with Asian and Mexican accents, and she even makes her own potato chips, cheese biscuits, sweet potato bread and "cheese whiz," Allison Parker-Abromitis, a spokeswoman for the Foreman Wolf group, said. Menu entrees range from a farm frittata for breakfast to hoison and smoked jalapeno Berkshire pork chop for dinner.

The restaurant buys much of its food fresh from 15 to 20 farms in the region, including bison from Monkton and asparagus from the Eastern Shore, she said.

Foreman has been working since last year to open the restaurant, which the Roland Park Civic League supported, despite misgivings about a potential lack of parking. Ten parking spaces have been added in the shopping center's parking lot to ease any potential crunch, Parker-Abromitis said. She said a bike rack will be added outside soon and that people are being encouraged to ride their bikes.

The structurally unsound, late 1800s building, a former trolley facility, was built with no foundation and at a 25 percent slope for horses that once were tied up there. Now there's a new foundation and the original terra cotta plumbing has been replaced, Parker-Abromitis said.

The four-room restaurant with its original brick and stone walls, offers an abundance of plush booths to give it a 1940s-50s look, fine whiskeys like Black Maple Hill ($14) and a coffee bar run by Lindsay DiFabbio, whose title is "coffee auteur," akin to a barista, Parker-Abromitis said. She said Johnny's also offers 50 American wines, available by the glass or bottle.

A back room, formerly part of a dirt basement, includes a window looking into the wine room.

In a first for the Foreman Wolf group, the restaurant also has three flat screen TVs.

"It's pretty cool," said DiFabbio, a former barista at the coffee shop Spro in Hampden and at the Four Seasons downtown, now running her own operation. "I'm familiar with a lot of brew methods."

"I think it came out pretty well," Foreman said. He would not say how much it cost to open the restaurant, but said, "We try to do things the right way."

Customers were duly impressed.

Mike Savlo, a software engineer on the Mount Washington campus of Johns Hopkins University, said his wife emailed him a newspaper article about Johnny's, so he and co-worker Tony Ang thought they would check it out.

"I tagged along," Ang said. He was glad he did, after ordering a MEGA cheeseburger stuffed with chorizo and wrapped in bacon.

"The food was great. The service was awesome too," he said.

Carter Wilkinson's mother, Emily, was visiting from Virginia, so he took her to Johnny's, which he heard about at a bar in Towson.

"This is great," Emily Wilkinson said, eating butternut squash soup and a BLTA (with avocado) sandwich.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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RestaurantsDining and DrinkingBars and ClubsJohns Hopkins UniversityTony ForemanCharleston
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