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Maggie's Farm on 'Restaurant Divided'

The Baltimore Sun

If you missed the "Maggie's Farm" episode of "Restaurant Divided" on Thursday night, you still have a few chances to watch the Food Network show about the Lauraville restaurant this week.

The episode will air again no Saturday at 11 p.m. and a few hours after that at 2 a.m. It will show again on Sunday at 11 a.m. Of course, you may have DVRed it or have anytime access to it on your cable service.

It's an entertaining, and even informative hour of reality television, offering more nuts and bolts of the restaurant business than other shows of its kind. The show's host, Rocco DiSpirito, offers what comes across as firm, practical and useful advice to the show's subjects, Maggie's Farm owners Andrew Weinzirl, Laura Marino and Matthew Weaver.

The show portrays Weinzirl as being torn between his partner, Marino, who wants to keep and refine the restaurant's farm-to-table concept and his best friend, Weaver, who wants to convert the Harford Road restaurant into a place called Speakgreazy, a contemporary speakeasy that serves Southern-style comfort food.

Let the games begin. The restaurant is literally divided into two side-by-side concepts. Weinzirl and Weaver get to create a menu for the Speakgreazy. Marino works with the restaurant's talented sous-chef, Sarah Acconcia, formerly of 13.5% Wine Bar, on the revamped Maggie's Farm concept.

In the episode, Marino says often and emphatically that she wants no part of anything resembling the Speakgreazy concept.

Designers come in to create side-by-side dining-room environments. Guests are invited in. They choose one of the concepts, and then fill out comment cards. Special guest commentors Cindy Wolf and Five Seeds Farm founder Denzel Mitchell handle their on-camera roles with grace and tact.

It looks like fun.

Along the way, lessons are learned. Marino learns the basics of mixology. Weinzirl and Weaver are sent down to Pazo, where Tony Foreman, in the role of elder statesman, scolds them for not taking inventory seriously.

It's watchable stuff. And the best part is how good everyone's food looks -- really, really good. Weinzirl and Acconcia are portrayed as talented chefs. No one comes across as delusional.

Only the ending is rushed, and ambiguous; it's also confusing. The Maggie’s Farm concept prevails in the end - it's DiSpirito who ultimately chooses.

But the Maggie’s Farm you see operating today at 4341 Harford Road is really a hybrid between the two competing concepts, combining the best ideas of both. The remodeled dining room is largely the one we saw as the "Speakgreazy" concept; the menu is rooted in farm-to-table ethos that Marino wanted but has been expanded to include the kind of Southern-influenced small plates that Weinzirl and Weaver wanted.

You're left thinking, well, why didn't anyone think of compromising in the first place. On the other hand, you can see how each side was softened up by seeing, in three-dimensions, the concept the other side had been trying to promote.

A few things feel wrong. In the interest of narrative simplicity, the show neglects to mention Maggie's Farm origins as Chameleon Cafe. The owners faced a unique challenge when they took over Chameleon, which had a loyal customer base. It's actually easier to understand the new owners' dilemma when you have this information.

And, as is typical for reality shows, "Restaurant Divided" is indifferent to geography. It would have taken about 10 seconds to describe Lauraville's relationship to the harbor, which is shown repeatedly in the show's establishing shots.

It's not just the home-town audience that wants to see geography and location portrayed accurately. Location matters, and you'd never give the same advice to the owners of a restaurant in Lauraville and Fells Point.


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