Here’s a name for Baltimore foodies to put on their radar: Helena del Pesco.
Del Pesco comes to the city with an impressive resume. The artist-turned-chef is heavily influenced by California’s Chez Panisse, considered the birthplace of the farm-to-table movement. She trained at Arzak in Spain, a three-Michelin-star restaurant where dinner will set you back a few hundred euros. Still, she’s been known to crouch in the dirt to help local farmers harvest a bumper crop of sweet potatoes before the rain comes.
And now, she serves lunch in Old Goucher. Larder, del Pesco’s lunch-only cafe, opened in May, sharing a courtyard with Fadensonnen, the natural wine bar from Lane Harlan. (Larder staff prepare pates and other dishes served at the wine bar, as well as pastries for neighboring Sophomore Coffee.)
Limiting the menu to lunch allows del Pesco to keep costs down for customers. “I wanted to do farm-to-table, but at a price point that was accessible to a broader range of people,” she said. It’s also good for her own sanity. Having spent 20 years working in fine dining, she knows “It can be exhausting as a chef to meet those super high expectations every night.”
First impressions: Adjacent to the biergarten below Fadensonnen, the glassed-in space looks from the outside like a food lab or a Mac store. Inside, it feels relaxing and minimalist without being austere, all wooden tables and white walls, with decorative dried herbs hanging and the sun beaming in.
Must-tries: The food at Larder looks precious on Instagram and eye-popping in person. It tastes even better. We loved the assortment of pickles ($3) and ordered a pao de queijo, a warm Brazilian cheese roll ($3) on the side. A $6 frittata made with chickpeas and chicken sausage is lovingly plated with fresh herbs and edible flowers, filling but not greasy. Summer succotash ($7) with house-made seeded crackers is excellent with an add-on of sheep’s feta. Salads boast vibrant flavors and spicy herbs, a testament to the close relationships del Pesco has formed with the local farmers who provide her produce.
As the chef, del Pesco only takes partial credit for the food being delicious. “If you’re priding yourself on your food being good because it’s coming from really good produce, it’s not about you,” she said. “It’s more about from this whole ecosystem of happy and informed employees and skilled farmers.”
Special touches: With the exception of bread made by local bakery Motzi Bread, the menu is almost entirely gluten-free, owing in part to del Pesco’s own gluten allergy. “We don’t really advertise it as that,” del Pesco said. The goal is simply to make delicious food that lets you leave feeling good afterward.
Pro tip: You could have a full meal at Larder and only use a few Weight Watchers points, in case you care about things like that. But you can’t forget dessert, can you? An ice cream sandwich ($3.50) served on ginger snaps was a refreshing option on a “Code Red Extreme Heat” day, as was the yogurt panna cotta ($4), decorated with pansies and roasted strawberry topping.
Bottom line: Lunch at Larder leaves you sated, yet wanting more. Customers have been known to nag del Pesco when she’ll open for evenings on a regular basis; she doesn’t plan to, but later wrote in an email that it was a possibility. (‘3 months in we are still figuring it out,’ del Pesco wrote.) For now, it’s well worth a midday detour.