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Food & Drink

Bits & Bites: Fall is Old Bay caramel season, Aida Bistro to close in January and Maryland Restaurant Week arrives

I’m old enough to remember TV commercials where folks were upset that you got chocolate in their peanut butter and peanut butter in their chocolate. And OMG, what is this heavenly combo? It’s called Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and today, it’s by far one of the most popular candies and absolutely no one is mad at that, especially on Halloween.

But caramel in your crab and crab in your caramel hits a little different.

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The spice girls and guys at McCormick & Co. want you to take deep breaths, now. The company has crafted a new flavor blend for release this fall that combines its hugely popular crab seasoning with the taste of caramel, all neatly packed into a jar of what it calls Old Bay Caramel Seasoning.

McCormick is debuting a new flavor this fall. Old Bay Caramel Seasoning combines the iconic blend of 18 herbs and spices Old Bay fans know and love with luscious caramel flavor for the perfect sweet-and-salty mix.

You already sprinkle Old Bay on your popcorn and drink it in your vodka and even lick it up in ice cream. There’s chocolate with Old Bay and Goldfish crackers swimming in Old Bay and of course, those “crabby” potato chips that local filmmaker David Simon likes to tweet about.

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McCormick is simply making it easier to transition from summer to fall while keeping all of your foodie favorites close at hand. Use it to flavor caramel apple cider, caramel blondies or even as a rub on salmon.

The Hunt Valley-based company says the spice blend is made in small batches and will be available exclusively online for $5.95.

Aida Bistro to close as owners look forward to retirement

Aida Bistro & Wine Bar, the perennial Columbia favorite, announced this week that it will close its doors after two decades.

Owners Joe and Mary Barbera said they are retiring and plan to close the Italian restaurant at the end of January.

“We look at it less like closing doors and more like retiring,” said Joe Barbera, 68, in an interview with The Sun along with his wife and business partner, Mary.

The couple said after making it through the pandemic with the business intact and their team strong — the restaurant never closed during the crisis — they figured it was a good time to go out on top, so to speak.

And as they have done for decades, the couple focused on others as they made their plans to retire.

“We’ve been very intentional and that’s why we’re giving everyone a five-month notice to take care of our employees and our customers. … To take care of the things we nurtured over 20 years,” said Mary Barbera.

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Aida Bistro Wine Bar in Columbia owner Joe Barbera, pictured at some of the wine taps, plans to retire along with his wife and business partner, Mary, in January.

Although “everything has to do with the pandemic,” Joe noted the couple had been thinking about retiring for a while.

“But during the time of COVID, we really had a good chance to reflect and say what do we want to do,” said Mary, 65, adding that the couple has five children and five grandchildren, including a granddaughter born in 2019 that they haven’t seen as much as they would like.

“We work every weekend except Sunday, which is family day,” she said. “But our kids always have to come to us.”

The restaurant opened in 2002 and is named for Joe Barbera’s mother, 96-year-old Lillian Aida Barbera, who has often greeted the bistro’s guests as if they were family.

In 2010, it relocated from a strip-center to a free-standing building with an expansive 4,500 square feet of space that allowed the owners to include a wine bar area with tables and a kitchen large enough to handle a lunchtime crowd.

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Aida was among the top Italian restaurants in Howard Magazine’s 2022 Best Restaurants Contest. Hundreds posted fond memories and congratulations to the couple on the restaurant’s social media post announcing their retirement. Many have already called to book holiday reservations so they don’t miss a last chance to dine there.

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Mary Barbera said it’s the customers and staff members the couple has connected with who have grown alongside the business that they will long remember.

“We’ve seen these people grow and now they have their own kids,” she said. “Those will be the things that I will miss.”

Before the closing in January, the couple plans to celebrate and enjoy. There’s even a chance a buyer might be found to continue their legacy or to start something new in the same space.

“It would be nice if we could find someone who could carry on what we’ve built,” said Joe Barbera. “Anything is possible.”

Maryland Restaurant Week starts Sept. 19

Pancakes with a berry topping are a choice for breakfast at Miss Shirley's.

Returning for its third year, Maryland Restaurant Week kicks off Sept. 19 and continues through Sept. 25. The 10-day event includes participants in every county throughout the state offering diners special menus, discounts and more for dining in, curbside and carryout. “This week is not only an opportunity for the community to try out new spots, but it also allows them to support their local restaurants that are continuing to recover from the pandemic,” said Marshall Weston Jr., president and CEO of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, in a news release. Baltimore City restaurants joining the effort include Foraged, which is offering a three-course meal for $40 and Miss Shirley’s, which has a two-course meal for $22.

Baltimore chefs selected for James Beard leadership program

Two Baltimore-area chefs have been selected to participate in the James Beard Foundation’s Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Program. Keyia Yalcin of Fishnet and Tonya Thomas of H3 Catering, H3 Products, Nostalgia Baking Company will join the educational and networking program for women restaurant owners. Over 10 weeks, the fellows learn advanced business concepts that will help as they seek to expand their businesses. Fishnet is already making a splash with its new line of fish-based pet treats. Thomas, along with her husband, opened Ida B’s in downtown Baltimore in 2017. The restaurant closed last year. Since then, Thomas has been busy with The H3irloom Food Group, the couple’s new venture where she is a partner and the executive pastry chef.


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