Rebekah Sweeney moved to Carroll County last October.
She said there had been a restaurant week everywhere she’d lived before.
Thankfully there’s one in Carroll, too, because Sweeney’s brought a taste of New Orleans to the county in the form of her restaurant, Eazy Does It Bar & Grille in Taneytown, which opened in April.
Carroll Restaurant Week starts today, Sunday, Aug. 12, and continues through Sunday, Aug. 19. The seven-day event is strategically celebrated in August every year because it’s a time restaurants usually struggle, said Bernie Vogel, owner of JeannieBird Baking Co. in downtown Westminster.
“It’s a good idea for our industry as a whole,” said Vogel, whose bakery has participated since it opened in 2014. “August is historically the low point of the restaurant calendar: People are finishing up their vacations; families are getting ready for school; high school athletics started this week.”
But last year August was “really, really good” and Restaurant Week deserves some credit, Vogel told the Times. “It’s designed to give consumers a reason to try new restaurants, or to consider going out to dinner.”
Carroll’s rendition began in 2010 when two restaurants approached the county Chamber of Commerce, suggesting it organize an event similar to neighboring Baltimore County’s Restaurant Week, said Peggy Soper, the chamber’s director of operations.
The week-long affair has grown to include almost 30 enterprises, including taverns, bakeries, tea joints, bistros, pubs and more. Food options ranging from Italian to Cajun, elaborate pastries to the typical American fare.
And participating restaurants typically offer special menus featuring good deals.
Sweeney started Eazy Does It with her partner Arthur “Art” Baux, from New Orleans. She said they landed in Carroll because they “wanted a nice, quiet community, so we started looking around Carroll County (and) we just thought it was beautiful” and settled in Taneytown because they “liked the potential of the growth.”
The restaurant gives patrons some flavor of the bayou with its cuisine, music (like zydeco), lighting and decor, Sweeney told the Times. Blackened or fried catfish, jambalaya and Louisiana-style crab cakes are among the most popular menu items, she said.
Eazy Does It crab cakes substitute Old Bay, gasp, for Baux’s creole seasoning creation — “the secret sauce,” Sweeney calls it. The menu includes options for those who aren’t agreeable to spice, she said.
For Carroll Restaurant Week, Sweeney said, Baux and co. worked with the head chef to come up with a Big Easy staple, the po’ boy. Guests can elect shrimp, oyster or catfish, and the sandwich is served with hand-cut fries. Dinner options are also available.
Where Eazy Does It brings the Cajun spice and vibe, Liberatore’s Ristorante & Catering offers zesty Italian comfort.
Liberatore’s opened in 2002, the next step up for owner Pino Liberatore in the restaurant industry he’s dedicated his life to. He started as a 15-year-old busboy, growing up in Baltimore’s Little Italy, and working his way up the ranks.
The Westminster restaurant offers the classic Italian fair, and its authenticity is a point of pride for Liberatore, he told the Times. The homemade marinara and meat sauces compliment the hand-crafted fettuccine, tortellini and lasagna, Liberatore said.
He and his staff came up with a special menu for Carroll Restaurant Week: It’s a three course meal. Patrons can choose from salad or fried calamari as an appetizer, before moving on to Liberatore’s staples like chicken pino, rigatoni vodka or tortellacchi pizzaioli.
The latter includes “extra large tortellini stuffed with beef and veal, simmered in a chunky tomato sauce with onions, oregano and parmigiana,” according to the menu. Guests can then choose from a trio of desserts like creme brulee, chocolate Oreo or coconut cake.
Proper Italian dining experience is about comfort and consistency, which comes from the food, service and ambiance, said Liberatore, who was born to Italian parents. “It’s a big marriage that’s gotta click together in order for you to come back. …
“You’re only as good as your last meal, so you have to stay on top of the game every single time: The consistency is so, so important.”
In downtown Westminster on Main Street a blue sign with white trim contrasts the red brick building and black shingled awning. Large white letters spell “JeannieBird” and, in smaller print, below, “BAKING COMPANY.”
The bakery, which started as Vogel and his wife’s bucket-list dream, is named after her. Jeannie, her first name, and Bird, which is the meaning of “Vogel” in German.
Jeannie Vogel was killed in an automobile collision in 2016.
Her husband carries on her legacy by fulfilling their mutual dream.
JeannieBird differentiates itself from the other pastry shops in Carroll because it’s “more of an Old World bakery,” Vogel said. “We specialize in European style pastry.”
The bakery’s made from scratch, sweet and savory selection includes varieties of bread, breakfast pastries and fine desserts, Vogel said. “We have a lot of signature pastries that our business was founded on, to include our bacon, cheddar, scallion scone. … (his wife’s recipe) ... It’s our No. 1 selling pastry.”
One-third of his business is egg sandwiches, which combine homemade English muffins or croissants and eggs bought from Evermore Farm in Westminster, Vogel explained.
For Carroll Restaurant week, JeannieBird is going all in for tomatoes with a menu entitled The Great Tomato Parade. It includes eight tomato-centric specials, like gaspacho, caprese sandwich, heirloom tomato salad and quiche.
“We’re going to be buying several hundred pounds of tomatoes from … a Carroll County ZIP code,” Vogel said. “Many of these items can be served also with an egg … people just love eggs.”
There’s also a traditional Baltimore peach cake, for which the peaches come from Baugher’s Orchards and Farms, he added.
It’s about trying new things and supporting local businesses.
“Come and celebrate the bounty of the summer at any of the restaurants,” Vogel said. “They’re putting their best foot forward to try to attract the people at a time when their business is perhaps not as brisk.”