Welcome to Bits & Bites, a new weekly feature where we highlight news and notes from the area’s restaurant and dining scene.
This week, we’ll talk about downtown’s shifting dining landscape, probe the shutdown of a popular Italian eatery, bid goodbye to one doughnut shop and hello to another.
Lately, we’ve seen a new wave of restaurant and business closures as the dust settles from the initial pandemic upheaval. Some restaurant owners are likely burnt out after more than a year of pivots, head-spinning price hikes, health scares and more.
At the Village Square Cafe, which shut down in September, owners cited a lack of workers as a contributing factor. An exhausted Lisa Troia Martin, co-owner of Towson’s Cafe Troia, said she plans to exit the restaurant industry after closing up her family’s 35-year-old Italian restaurant. It’s slated to become Banditos.
Others, like old-school doughnut shop Hoehn’s Bakery, which shuttered after 95 years in Highlandtown, have said there were multiple factors at play. “Please know that we are closing due to multiple reasons,” the owners posted on Instagram. “Just like everyone else we will miss it too.” While truly nothing can compare to those marshmallow cream-filled doughnuts fresh out of the fryer, we do have another doughnut destination that has caught our eye.
Over in downtown Baltimore, some City Hall workers were unpleasantly surprised to see that the Big Apple Tree Cafe, a regular lunch and breakfast haunt on East Baltimore Street, has shut down and its phone number is now disconnected.
Many downtown businesses continue to struggle as office workers are gone and events still are in limbo. Some owners are taking a wait and see approach. Haluk Kantar, owner of Cazbar, the Turkish eatery on Charles Street, wrote in an email that the restaurant, which is currently closed, won’t reopen “until conventions and offices come back to the city.” To get your fix of Turkish ravioli, head to Columbia, where Cazbar has another location.
At the same time, others are exploring downtown as a new frontier for business. HoodFellas Kitchen, a bistro and catering company based at 801 E. Fort Ave., is moving to 7 N. Calvert St., according to their application to transfer the business’ liquor license. And a Black-owned tea shop is coming to North Howard Street, on the same block as Cajou Creamery and Vegan Juiceology — aka, Healthy Howard Row.
Nearby, big developments are underway. Seawall Development continues to announce new vendors for the revamped Lexington Market next year. Among them are Jbee’s Jamaican Me Crazy, owned by former Baltimore Police officer Jeff Brown. Maybe you caught Brown during his popup at Seawall’s R. House food hall.
In related news, Faidley Seafood fans can breathe a sigh of relief. Owner Damye Hahn tells me they will indeed be joining the new Lexington Market next year after several months of negotiations. Hahn, who is urging Congress to pass $60 billion in additional restaurant relief, said the pandemic has held up progress on Faidley’s Catonsville location, inside the old Plymouth Wallpaper building on Frederick Road.
Speaking of new restaurants, the Guilford Hall Brewery is open in Station North after launching Sept. 25. In addition to beer, look for “European fare with Baltimore flair,” or hearty offerings like shepherd’s pie and schnitzel with dumplings as well as brunch. The space includes a dog-friendly biergarten, which makes it the perfect place to take that pandemic puppy you picked up last year.
I said there would be doughnuts. Black-owned vegan doughnut shop Cloudy Donut Co. has a second location up and running in Federal Hill. Check out the storefront at 1049 S. Charles St. It’s open weekends only.
Regulars at the Baltimore Farmer’s Market and Bazaar may have noticed Mera Kitchen Collective has gotten into the doughnut game. I recently sampled a pistachio cream-filled donut from them at my local coffee shop, and it was delicious.
Quarry Lake will welcome an acai superfruit bowl shop, Playa Bowls. The store will offer free bowls and T-shirts to the first 50 customers on Sunday. It’s the New Jersey chain’s 7th location in Maryland and its first to be certified Kosher by Star-K, the Baltimore agency that oversees Kosher standards.
Groundwork Kitchen, the Pigtown eatery and training center that opened in July, is applying for a liquor license. The 100-seat restaurant at 925 Washington Boulevard includes training facilities where young adults will learn skills for careers in the hospitality industry. A hearing before the city’s liquor board is set for Oct. 7.
Orto, a popular Italian restaurant in Station North, shut down somewhat abruptly last week, leaving pasta hungry guests to read the sign on the front window: “Orto is permanently closed,” it said. “We are deeply grateful for all your support over the years, and through Covid.” Owner Elan Kotz sent The Sun a statement saying he had sold Orto to an unnamed restaurateur. News of the shutdown didn’t come as a total shock considering the social media maelstrom that surrounded Kotz earlier this year. He took a leave of absence from the restaurant in the spring while some of his business partners publicly severed ties with him. It’s unclear what will happen to another property Kotz owns, The Dizz. Kotz had purchased the Remington pub with plans for an overhaul, and did not respond to a request for comment.