After I talked to Jerry Pellegrino, the owner of Corks in Federal Hill, the other day, I hung up the phone and wondered why he hadn't renamed his restaurant - oh - Say Cheese.
Sometimes when restaurants close for renovations, they never reopen. As the weeks wore on, I was afraid that might have happened with Corks (1026 S. Charles St., 410-752-3810, corksrestaurant.com), but not so. The wine-centric restaurant was simply going through a much more major redo than most of us realized, one that took eight weeks to complete.
Patrick Sutton Associates was in charge and has created what Pellegrino calls "a much more modern interior with cleaner lines."
Walls came down and the small open kitchen at the front has been supplemented by a new kitchen upstairs. The color scheme of cocoa brown and orange is part of the reason the atmosphere is now "earthy and comfortable," Pellegrino says. "Things are much more casual."
The look of the place isn't the only thing that's more casual. The new menu is less pricey and features cheese prominently. Items cost between $4 and $20, with five different types of grilled-cheese sandwiches, three different fondues and salads as the backbone.
When I say grilled-cheese sandwiches, I'm talking about selections like grilled Gruyere and ham with Dijon mustard on white ($8) and grilled gorgonzola, radicchio and balsamic syrup on wheat-berry bread ($9). Yes, of course there are cheese plates. You choose from an excellent selection of cheeses served with baguette and walnut bread. It sounds like a lot of fun, especially with Corks' all-American wine list.
Those who loved the restaurant's old, more formal style will find that three or four more serious appetizers and four or five entrees are still available.
Hours for the new menu are 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. daily, except on Sunday when brunch, another new addition, starts at 10 a.m. (Brunch is available until 4 p.m.) A limited late-night menu is served from 11:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.
New chef "My husband adores the Brewer's Art ... for the beer. I see they have a new chef. Have you heard anything about the food under the new leadership? I really hate eating bad food," the e-mail from a colleague read.
Not to worry, I told her. The new chef of the popular Mount Vernon restaurant and brewery (1106 N. Charles St., 410-547-6925, belgianbeer.com) is David Newman, and his credentials include stints at Ixia, Saffron (where Indigma now is) and Timothy Dean Bistro (now TD Lounge), as well as restaurants in San Francisco.
He's created a new fall menu, although the standards like steak frites and the Caesar salad are still available. The entrees range from baked butternut squash ravioli on a bed of winter greens with pears, chestnuts and sage-bourbon cream for $18 to braised lamb shank with orange and olives, grilled radicchio, crumbled feta and Israeli couscous for $25.
"He's starting to cook more with beer," says co-owner Tom Creegan (who picked up the phone at Brewer's Art when I called, and whom I last talked to when I called Hamilton Tavern, where his wife is an owner). "He's excited about working at a brewery."
Martick's pate Morris Martick is back. Well, not exactly. His quirky French restaurant, Martick's (214. W. Mulberry St., 410-752-5155) is still closed, but the octogenarian couldn't stay completely retired. He's now making and selling his country-style pate, which has been getting accolades in Baltimore for more than 30 years, for $40. It's made of ground veal, pork, chicken livers, sherry, garlic and spices.
If you call and order a Martick pate, which serves 12, you can pick it up at the restaurant Tuesday through Saturday by appointment.
Every retiree has to have a hobby.
Bistro opens If you love Bonaparte's bread and pastries as much as I do and live south of the city, you'll be thrilled by the news that the bakery has opened Bonaparte Bread's French Bistro (8600 Foundry St., 410-880-0858) in Savage Mill. It's located where a deli was in the New Weave Building.
The bistro is serving light fare, featuring local produce whenever possible, for eat-in or carryout. The selection includes homemade soups, crepes, quiches, savory tarts, hot and cold sandwiches and salads. The place is BYOB, with a $5 corkage fee. Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, till 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday and till 4 p.m. Sunday.
It's been open a few weeks, but there will be a grand opening party Friday. Details can be found on the Savage Mill Web site (savagemill.com).
Oven ready Joe Edwardsen of Joe Squared Pizza (133 W. North Ave., 410-545-0444 ) in Station North tells me that the new coal-fired pizza oven is now up and running. It burns hard coal (anthracite) with very little smoke. The extremely high heat cooks a pizza in about 3 1/2 minutes, he says, "leaving the crust beautifully charred on the outside while tender and bubbly inside. The cheese comes out nicely browned and the drying problem we experienced with our old ovens has been completely eliminated."
The installation of the oven is the end of extensive renovations, which included opening up the front of the restaurant with sliding doors, replacing the carpet in front with tile, extending the bar, redoing the lighting in the back of the restaurant, replacing the back bar with a catering and service station, and completely rearranging the kitchen.