Spend a few years tracking the dining scene in any city and you’re sure to see plenty of places come and go. But a lot of those bygone bars and restaurants tend to live on in your memory.
An interesting side effect of being a food reporter is that the ghosts of all the places and people you’ve covered in the past often pop up in future stories. That’s to be expected in an industry known for unforgiving churn and narrow profit margins.
So it’s always nice to see a popular chef return with a new project, or a restaurant space that was left vacant by the closing of a favorite cafe reopen with a new vision.
In today’s column, I have a few such updates, including a Hampden chef’s re-emergence from retirement, a Station North sandwich shop turned juice bar and a fresh concept in a Butchers Hill pub.
Corner Charcuterie chef, Atlas bartender team up
Bernard Dehaene was retired from the restaurant business and living on a boat in Canton with his rescue dog Lou when Octavio Vazquez approached him with an enticing new opportunity to return to the chef’s life.
Dehaene, the former chef/owner behind The Corner Charcuterie Restaurant and Bar and Chuck’s Trading Post in Hampden, was coaxed back into the kitchen by Vazquez’s idea for Octobar, a new bar and restaurant opening in Federal Hill next month.
“It was time to close one door behind me and open a new door with a new vision,” Dehaene said.
Octobar will take over the former Rowhouse Grille at 1400 Light St. in South Baltimore. An April 1 soft launch is planned for the restaurant, which will focus on tapas and other Spanish and Mediterranean fare.
Vazquez, a veteran bartender who has worked for several Atlas Restaurant Group properties, including Ouzo Bay, Azumi and, most recently, The Admiral’s Cup, said the idea for Octobar has been on his mind “for a long time.” The restaurant’s moniker is a reference to his first name (furthering the “octo” theme, there’s also an octopus ceviche on the menu).
“I always liked the concept of tapas, the concept of sharing small plates,” he said. “It brings people together, family-style.”
He’s crafting the bar menu for the new restaurant, which will serve beer, wine, housemade sangrias and a variety of cocktails, from crushes to margaritas.
On the dining side, Dehaene will bring back a few favorites from The Corner, including stuffed peppadews, roasted bone marrow and a kangaroo tartare with quail egg and crostini. Octobar will serve a full dinner and tapas menu from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Monday, with options like a chicken-and-seafood Paella Valenciana, roasted duck breast and a chorizo burger. From 10 p.m. to midnight, diners can order from the tapas list, featuring shareable small plates like Spanish mussels cooked in a white sangria and chorizo sauce and a venison meatball shakshuka. Look for weekend brunch service, too, expected to start within a month.
Dehaene, who worked at upscale Washington, D.C. restaurants like Le Caprice and La Colline before heading to Baltimore, said his approach to the menu is “refined peasant cooking,” bringing a classically trained touch to populist ingredients like mussels, bacon and potatoes.
Accordingly, the restaurant will offer up some dining deals, including a Monday-night three-course meal special for $25 and a $20 late-night industry workers’ special.
Station North gets some juice
BAMF Cafe, the erstwhile comic book-themed spot in Station North, will be transformed into a juice bar.
Todd Sheridan and his fiancee, Nichelle Roan, plan to open the first brick-and-mortar location of their cold-pressed juice business, Treehouse Juicery, in the cafe space at 1821 N. Charles St. in early April.
Sheridan and Roan started the company in 2016, inspired by Sheridan’s own experience with juicing as a means of improving his health.
“In a year, I lost 200 pounds and it really changed my life,” he said. “My fiancee said: you’re already living the lifestyle — why don’t you start a company around it?”
In seven years, Treehouse Juicery has clinched more than $100,000 in grants from accelerator programs including Made in Baltimore, Shore Hatchery at Salisbury University and the Community College of Baltimore County’s Center for Business Innovation. Sheridan and Roan sell their juice at farmers markets around the area, including in Fells Point, Catonsville and at the B&O Railroad Museum.
In Station North, the new juice bar will sell 16-ounce bottles of Treehouse’s all-natural juices, which don’t contain any added sugars or preservatives. Customers can also opt to buy a gallon of juice.
Sheridan said he plans to serve tea and coffee, too. Eventually, the menu will expand to include soups, salads, fruit bowls and sorbet.
From Irish pub to Jamaican eatery
The long-vacant Life of Reilly Irish pub in Butchers Hill will come back to life this spring with a new restaurant concept.
Palance Roti Shop has plans to open in the building at 2031 E. Fairmount Ave. The restaurant was approved for a liquor license transfer on March 23.
The eatery will serve Jamaican fare, according to Abraham Hurdle, an attorney for the project. Palance Roti Shop has another location in Prince George’s County, where Caribbean staples like oxtail, curry beef and macaroni pie are on the menu.
Distiller for a day
If you’ve ever wondered how rye whiskey is made, here’s your chance for some firsthand experience.
Baltimore Peninsula distillery Sagamore Spirit is offering three people a chance to take a peek behind the scenes with a new “Distiller for a Day” experience this spring. The opportunity will immerse participants in a day of whiskey-making, from cooking a mash of rye, corn and grains to watching that mash turn to white rye in the distillery’s 40-foot copper still, according to a news release.
Anyone can apply — as long as you’re of legal drinking age — by following the distillery’s Instagram page, @SagamoreSpirit, liking the “Distiller for a Day” post and leaving a comment about why they’re interested in learning more about distilling. The contest is open through April 15.