Chefs Craig Curbean and Dante Davis are on a culinary mission -- to open as many Taste This restaurants as they can in Baltimore.
"We always flirted with the idea that if we found a place we would get a restaurant," Curbean said. "It took a while."
The fledgling restaurateurs, who became friends while working as cooks at various catering events, opened their first venture, a carryout, in Hamilton in 2014. As customers crowded into the tiny space, they were already searching for their next opportunity.
They found it in Charles Village and kicked off their second restaurant in October, offering the same freshly made soul food, juicy wings and gigantic stuffed potatoes found in the original location. Taste This also has breakfast items like fried chicken and waffles, and build-your-own omelets.
The new place has counter service, but it also has several tables for customers who want to dine in. The food is made to order and can sometimes take a bit of time to be prepared. But the staff is friendly and keeps an eye on waiting diners.
Now, Curbean, who graduated from then-Baltimore International College culinary school, and Davis, whom Curbean calls an "awesome home cook," are looking for a third venue.
"We're trying to go bigger with more sit down," Curbean said. "We want to be a staple in the city."
Scene & Decor We followed a line of people to the steps leading up to the mostly carryout soul-food restaurant brightened by a red awning. While most folks wait for their orders in a nondescript room with an open kitchen behind a counter, others grab a table in an attached, pale-gray dining area with a recessed ceiling, big windows and several colorful, modernistic paintings. A big screen TV blares, and conversation is high-pitched. But the food is worth the noise.
Appetizers The Caesar salad ($5.95) was an admirable version of the classic, with romaine lettuce, garlicky croutons and showers of fresh Parmesan. The honey Old Bay wings (six for $6.25, 10 for $8.25) were crunchy and meaty, capitalizing on the sweet heat flavors of the ingredients.
Entrees The restaurant has several decadent, stuffed spuds named after Baltimore neighborhoods. On our cashier's recommendation, we opted for the Harbor East Taste This potato ($14.95). It was the size of a water balloon and crammed with lumps of crabmeat, thick hunks of salmon and whole shrimp that had been sauteed in lemon butter. The rich dish was suitably named for the tony area. The barbecue pork ribs platter ($7.95) showcased tawny ribs dripping with tender meat. The substantial dish also comes with seasoned rice and two sides. The mac and cheese was silky and creamy and the collard greens had a sweet, mild flavor. We also tried the yams ($2.95), a magnificent mash of the deep-orange tuber.
Drinks Fountain and bottled drinks, lemonade and iced tea.
Service Order at a counter and wait for your number to be called.
Dessert There is a dessert of the day ($3.50), but it goes fast. We missed it on our visit. If you're lucky, the restaurant's bread pudding, peach cobbler or peach upside down cake will be listed on the chalkboard.