What is it about barbecue, so that even successful restaurateurs are drawn to opening their own barbecue joints? We saw it in Baltimore with Michael Marx and Rub in South Baltimore. An even more surprising example is Michael Tauraso and his new Black Hog BBQ & Bar (118 S. Market St., 240-436-6080) in Frederick.
Tauraso is a name familiar to Baltimore foodies. In its day, Tauraso's, an Italian restaurant, was Frederick's premier fine-dining spot. After he sold it, Michael Tauraso went on to open - and also eventually sell - Luke's, an upscale pizzeria.
Next came the four-star Tasting Room, which gets its share of customers from Baltimore in spite of the long drive to Frederick, and Proof, a bakery featuring artisan breads and European-style pastries. Tauraso is still involved with both these ventures.
So why did he decide to open a barbecue place, something so completely different from anything else he's done?
"I pick things first that I enjoy, and then what Frederick needs," he says. "I didn't want to compete with myself."
Tauraso, who says he loves barbecue, started experimenting with rubs and smoking meats 10 years ago in his backyard.
"It's a beautiful thing. You can take a tough piece of meat and, by cooking, turn it into something wonderful. I've been working on my sauce, and I like it."
His new place has gotten both raves and pans - the latter because his barbecue isn't heavily smoked although it's "100 percent cooked over wood." He says: "I like to taste the meat."
Tauraso uses a pellet smoker burning hickory and cherry wood for the pork and mesquite for the brisket. The menu offers four styles of barbecued beef, pork and ribs: Memphis, Kansas City, Texas and South Carolina. There are sides such as collard greens and mac and cheese to go with the meat. Dinner entrees run from $8 to $20.
Black Hog has been well received, says Tauraso, because you get a lot of food for the price and it's good.
"I didn't plan the economy," he adds, "but it's worked out for me."
Tauraso, 44, was born in Bethesda and grew up in Frederick. He hasn't expanded anywhere else because "I want to work five minutes from where I live."
The restaurateur, who is from a Sicilian family where "food was everything," is thinking of opening a little Italian place next.
"I've come full circle," he says with a laugh.
Mea culpa Because there was a public auction of the building in Little Italy that houses India Rasoi, I wrongly assumed the restaurant itself was closed. It isn't. I not only want to apologize for the incorrect assumption, I want to encourage everyone who likes this nice restaurant but maybe hasn't been recently, to go have dinner there and give it some support. The restaurant certainly didn't need this kind of negative publicity; it can't be easy being a non-Italian restaurant in Little Italy.
New location I got an e-mail recently from someone wondering what had happened to Cafe Mocha, the sandwich shop on Howard Street, and I was happy I could tell him it had moved to the old post office building at 1501 St. Paul St., across from the train station.
I stopped in the next morning to see the new digs and get a latte. The minimalist, industrial chic space is cozier than you might expect, with yellow walls, cheerful music and tables up the stairs on the mezzanine. Owner and chef Kader Camera was in the kitchen preparing chickens for the day's special, roast chicken with red beans and rice ($9.95). The soup of the day was black-eyed pea ($3.75).
People who frequented the old Cafe Mocha used to rave about the sandwiches and seasonal salads, and they are all available in the new spot, along with vegetarian specialties. You also can get breakfast panini and burritos, granola, yogurt, fruit and, of course, pastries, muffins and specialty coffee drinks.
Yes, there is parking.
Cafe Mocha's hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.
In the works Say hello to Dogwood Cafe, a sibling to Dogwood Restaurant and Dogwood Deli in Hampden. While the new place is still in the planning stages, so anything I say here may change, Bridget and Galen Sampson are hoping to open Nov. 1 in the Woman's Industrial Exchange dining room at 333 N. Charles St. (Sofi's Crepes will continue to operate in the basement luncheonette space.)
At first, says Nina Themelis, the administrative manager of Dogwood, the new place will be similar to the deli, a market cafe offering "the later end" of breakfast, lunch and carryout.
Right now the kitchen is being renovated, but the dining room will be kept much the same except for new paint.