Neighborhood restaurants — within a 20 minute walk from my home in Northwest Baltimore — have sustained me during the pandemic. But lately I’ve found some good reasons to branch outside of my geographical comfort zone.
If I lived in the 21228 zip code, there’s no doubt I’d be a regular at 818 Market, a restaurant on top of a grocery store that opened late last year on Frederick Road.
Its current executive chef is Sebastien Trossbach. Former executive chef Matthew Milani previously ran Rumor Mill, a global fusion, small-plate restaurant that opened in Ellicott City in 2006. Tragically, that restaurant was forced to shut down following the 2016 flood. Afterward, Milani went to work as a chef for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan before moving on to AIDA Bistro & Wine Bar team.
Milani teamed up with partners in Catonsville to launch a concept that feels perfectly suited for the eater of the moment, whether they want to eat in, eat out or cook at home. “It’s very hard to please everyone,” said Milani. “And we wanted to take a really hard shot at pleasing everyone.”
A ground floor grocery store offers fresh seafood, baked goods, hard-to-find spices and some gourmet goodies, geared toward home cooks in search of adventure. Upstairs, Milani cooked up tasty dishes that you can eat there or take home. A seasonally changing menu offers elevated takes on healthy-ish cuisine: innovative salads, thoughtfully composed entrees with an emphasis on seafood. There’s also an entire cheese bar.
In everything he does, Milani aims to strike a balance of “sweet, salty, sour and bitter.” The result is dishes that never bore or overwhelm.
At dinner several months ago, my dining companion and I shared some appetizers, including a wonderfully tender duck breast with hot honey cherry compote. Duck, Milani says, is a “fan favorite” among his regulars dating back to his Rumor Mill days. At 818 Market, he removed the skin and cooked it sous vide with salt, pepper and cardamom. It came with a puree of white beans seasoned with vanilla, and was garnished with brined cherries and spicy honey. That might sound complicated, but it comes together in a way that feels simply tasty.
We also enjoyed a wonderful rockfish entree (or striped bass for non-Marylanders). “A lot of people top rockfish with crab meat,” Milani says, but he aims to show it can be more than just a vehicle for shellfish. Here it’s served Italian-style, with tomato and prosciutto. Local grilled asparagus makes a nice accompaniment.
Or try 818′s take on the traditional Caesar salad, which subs in crispy chickpeas for croutons — both an innovation as well as an overture to gluten-free eaters.
For dessert, we were intrigued by the chocolate tart with white truffle ice cream. And yes, that’s truffle like the mushrooms. The mustardiness (I just made up a word) of the truffles added dimension to the sweet dessert, and was a refreshing way to change things up. In Milani’s words, it’s “a little touch of comfort, a little touch of science and a little touch of whimsy all together.”
The restaurant also opened an outdoor space, so add it to your list of al fresco dining options in the area.
And don’t expect to see 818 leaving any time soon. Before Milani departed the restaurant in April, he said the restaurant’s owners all live locally, and are committed to seeing it thrive for generations. As for Milani, diners can find him in the kitchen of Hersh’s in Baltimore.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect that executive chef Matthew Milani left 818 Market in April. Sebastien Trossbach is the restaurant’s new executive chef. The Sun regrets the error.