Restaurant Review: Woodberry Kitchen, Baltimore, MD
2010 Clipper Park Rd.; 410-464-8000
The Hamden area of Baltimore is the latest neighborhood in an American city that has been pronounced a hipster enclave. Baltimore is in the midst of a sputtering renaissance. Driving through the city gives you a sense of the possible—that reinvention can happen. That’s why when you walk into the renovated mill that is Woodberry Kitchen, you see that great things can happen in Baltimore. This is local chef Spike Gjerde's newest restaurant. The restaurant has a simple menu of seasonal and local food from the Chesapeake area in an urban rustic environment. Having made a reservation, we were asked to wait for 20 minutes. We got a drink at the bar and we politely offered some warm popcorn. Impressive sounding cocktails were in the offing, but noticing that a julep was featured on the cocktail menu, I went for that warm weather crowd pleaser. What took a lot of dramatic bartending gestures, turned out to be something that was functionally a tremendous mistake. The julep was poured into a pewter cup and had a massive dome of crushed ice and a five inch forest of mint sprouting out of the top. In addition, the drink beneath this foliage-enhanced snow cone was full to the brim causing spillage of the drink without allowing yours truly to enjoy his cocktail. The only course of action was to spill more on the floor in a doomed attempt to drink, before finally waiting until this snow cone had a chance to melt away. The result was a rather watered-down cocktail.
When being shown to a table in the casual side rooms with their high ceiling and exposed brick interiors, diners are greeted as “friends” and in a further contrived folksy way told to “enjoy their supper.” That supper is in fact superb and prices are moderate: cold appetizers are $10 and under, while warm ones are $9-14 and most main dishes are $18-25. Several traditional foods were prepared with sincerity and respect for the ingredients in contrast to the overwrought julep. Charcuterie was displayed on a wooden board featuring warm slab of bacon, spicy salami and sopressata and rich bresaola. A simple salad of sweet greens and tangy vinaigrette allowed its ingredients to speak in an uncomplicated style about the meaning of freshness and fullness of flavor. Deviled eggs had a piquant quality that impressed me and changed my usual disinterest for cold eggs. This was accompanied by a flat bread of warm peaches, goat cheese and pork shoulder. The pork shoulder that was probably once moist and flavorful was disappointing baked into oblivion after being put on top of this pizza. The dryness left one with all the stringiness and none of the sweet juicy quality of a slow-cooked pork shoulder that most people would recognize.
The waiter, who earlier was somewhat indignant when I disregarded his options of either still or sparkling water and asked for ice water, was now enthusiastic. He said “everything here rocks” and strongly advised ordering the veal. The veal was everything the pork shoulder deserved to be: slow cooked, juice, sweet and ready to melt in your mouth. It had been braising all day in a happy, syrupy liquid of mostly cola to affect a mundane, yet not the least bit trashy result of perfect comfort food. The sweet corn and pepper succotash it sat on, reinforced the idea that this is what I’d eat if I needed to warm up on a cold day. It was the middle of July, but the taste sensation was so great it quickly reminded me of winter.
Dessert was a rhubarb crumble with ice cream that was sweet and buttery with a mild ice cream that didn’t overpower the main attraction. As we finished our glasses of sangiovese, it was the right way to end a night of powerful eating in a subdued, yet impressive restaurant. The staff was solicitous as we left from the hostess to the parking valets.