It’s always sad to see some of our favorite restaurants close, and even sadder when the closure leaves a vacancy where there was once so much life. Luckily, this week brings news of two restaurants taking over once-vacant dining spots.
And in Downtown Baltimore, a seafood and soul food restaurant is in expansion mode.
Tacos and margaritas on tap
Bond Street Social left a hulking vacancy in Fells Point when it closed without warning this spring after more than a decade in business. But the lease to the prime waterfront property was recently scooped up by a new restaurant team with names that will be notable to those who follow the D.C. dining scene.
Greg Lloyd, the former head chef at Le Diplomate, Stephen Starr’s buzzy 14th Street French brasserie, tells me that he’s getting ready to bring Baja Tap, a Mexican restaurant and bar, to the Bond Street space next summer. The project has the backing of the Wave Group, a collection of DMV-based restaurant partners that includes Lloyd and Scott Parker, the restaurateur behind D.C. and Virginia concepts like Roy Boys, Bronson Bierhall and Nighthawk Brewery & Pizza. Parker also owns Poppyseed Rye, the Northern Virginia sandwich and flower shop where Lloyd found a culinary home after six years at Le Dip, known as a hot spot for D.C.’s movers and shakers.
Lloyd is looking to create a more casual atmosphere at Baja Tap. “The concept is going to be simple: tacos, margaritas and live music,” he told me, with menu highlights like moles and birria made in-house. Following a trend that flourished during the height of the pandemic’s limited-contact era, the new spot will ask diners to order food and drink via QR code rather than sending a server to the table.
Lloyd said he wants Baja Tap to be known just as much for its cuisine as for its cocktails. In other cities he and the rest of the Wave Group have scoped out while researching culinary concepts, “there’s always good restaurants and there’s always good bars, but the bars don’t serve good food and the restaurants don’t serve good drinks. Conceptually, that’s an ideology that will work: giving the best product, whether it’s liquid or solid.”
For a taste of Baja Tap before it opens in Baltimore, head down to Adams Morgan, where a sister restaurant will be opening in late February or early March. Lloyd said the Fells Point spot is slated to open by August.
Hamilton-Lauraville meets Italy’s Abruzzo region
Regional Italian cuisine is having something of a moment in Baltimore. Allora, an ode to Roman gastronomy, opened in Mt. Vernon last year and quickly became a favorite for cappuccinos and cacio e pepe.
Now, two former Allora managers are embarking on a culinary journey of their own. On Wednesday, Sam and Paul Mincarelli will open Cafe Campli, a new restaurant in Northeast Baltimore serving dishes from Italy’s Abruzzo region.
Abruzzo, east of Rome, is home to both rugged mountain landscapes and coastal towns along the Adriatic Sea, and the local cuisine spans seafood dishes as well as more pastoral offerings featuring beans or lamb. For lunch, Cafe Campli will serve antipasti like tuna-and-anchovy-filled deviled eggs, as well as hearty pasta dishes featuring meats like wild boar, sweet sausage and oxtail. Plates of lemony Alla Lanterna showcase long, chewy strands of square-cut alla chitarra pasta typical of the Abruzzo region.
The cafe gets its name from Campli, the hilltop medieval town where Paul’s family has roots. The Mincarellis were inspired by trips to the region and by the pace of life in Italy, where cafes serve as a kind of neighborhood meeting point throughout the day.
“One reason that Sam and I love the Italian bar so much is because it’s the backbone of your day,” Paul says. “You get up, you get a croissant and an espresso. And then maybe you come back at lunch and you have a panini, and then right around 4 or 5, you come by for an Aperol Spritz. That would be like going to four different places in America; in Italy, it’s just one spot. That’s what we’re channeling here.”
In addition to heartier lunchtime options, Cafe Campli will serve an assortment of pizzas, paninis and breakfast pastries, as well as coffees to go or to drink in the restaurant’s 34-seat dining room, which is decorated with pictures of Abruzzo and a mix of deco, classic Roman and baroque flourishes. The space in the SoHa Union development along Harford Road used to be home to sushi and ramen spot Fire & Rice.
For a decidedly Italian experience, the cafe will offer a $1 discount on espresso drinks for customers who plan to have a caffe al bar, a tradition among Italians of spending just a few minutes drinking their coffee at a standing bar.
“You can enjoy your coffee, scroll through your phone for a minute and then get on with your day,” Paul said.
Cafe Campli will be open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day but Tuesday to start, though the couple said they are considering extending the cafe’s hours in the future.
HoodFellas hits the road
It’s been almost a year since childhood friends Ira Chase and Benjamin Thompson opened HoodFellas Bistro & Catering in Downtown Baltimore’s Munsey Building. The restaurant owners are celebrating with an expansion.
Chase and Thompson recently launched HoodFellas Mobile Kitchen, a food truck that will bring HoodFellas’ comfort food to stops around the city.
“The goal is to have the food truck running just like the restaurant,” Chase said this week. “We want to have more points of distribution and a larger reach.” The HoodFellas co-owners are working on a weekly schedule of locations, and Chase said they also plan to take the truck to festivals, pop-ups and catered events.
Diners can find favorites from HoodFellas’ brick and mortar on the truck, including cheesesteak and crab cake egg rolls, fried fish and Thompson’s dry-rubbed, slow-roasted ribs. The chef also devised some new offerings just for the mobile kitchen, including butterfly shrimp and wraps stuffed with jerk chicken or salmon.