Monday, March 19, 2018

Spotlight on: Hersh's

Not sure if anyone knows, but I've been writing a restaurant column for the City Walker App Blog. The purpose of the app itself is to give visitors a local's-eye-view of a city, so they are able to experience it in the same way residents do--on foot. (Not that anyone actually walks anywhere anymore.) The blog offers a bit more detail; I have endeavored to take users on a stroll through the city while pointing out restaurants along the way. In addition to the walking posts, I have been writing others that put certain favorite restaurants of mine in a spotlight. I thought I could share those here with you.


When I was much younger, Baltimore was a pizza wasteland. Sure, restaurants touting their nightmarish “fresh dough” pizza were all over the place, and yes, I ate my share of it, always hoping to find a slice that actually tasted good. The whole ‘fresh” dough thing was quite a misnomer; it was made in a factory somewhere and trucked into restaurants around town, so how fresh could it be? Well into the 1980s, Baltimore-area pizzas consisted of these flabby, flavorless crusts topped with bland red sauce and puddles of rubbery salt masquerading as cheese. Though cooked up in mom-and-pop establishments, they were awful enough to make Pizza Hut and Domino’s seem like the good stuff.

There were, of course, exceptions to the rule. My favorite pizza came from a regional chain called Pappy’s, where they served birch beer by the pitcher and gave styrofoam hats to kids. You know, the ones that are modeled after straw boaters and seen on the heads of barbershop quartets and election day candidate-hucksters. I was probably 10 when I had my last Pappy’s pizza so can’t be held accountable for my taste back then. There was also Matthew’s Pizzaria in Highlandtown, Squire’s in Dundalk, and Pizza John’s in Essex, all of which are still in business lo these many decades later. The former has a strong fan base, but I’ve always thought their pies were bland. Squire’s pizzas are anything but, with a very herby and somewhat sweet tomato sauce and a crust that is crunchy rather than crispy. I’ve never been to Pizza John’s, but I hear that they serve thin NY-style pizza and they make their own dough, so I should probably get my ass out there, right? In any case, none of the pizzas of my Charm City youth could hold a candle to most dollar slices in New York. For a while there I decided I didn’t really like the stuff. Fortunately, in the 00s, a bunch of pizza joints opened up in Baltimore, all serving thin-crust goodness with toppings like pesto and arugula. I realized I did like pizza, even craved it, though none of these newer establishments were what I’d call a “holy grail.”

Then I tried Hersh’s.

Hersh’s is on the very end of Light Street, a good mile’s walk from the Inner Harbor. Owned by siblings Josh and Stephanie Hershkovitz, Hersh’s serves Neapolitan-style pizza and a whole lotta other yummy Italianate things. But first, the pizza. It’s cooked in a wood-fired oven and is served uncut, like in Naples. The crust is thin with a perfectly blistered cornicione and some leopard-spots of char on the crust and upskirt. While the pizzas look so damn good you just want to pick it up and shove it into your pizza-pie-hole whole, cutting it into at least four slices is probably a better way to approach things. Less hot cheese in the lap. Also as in Naples, you can’t just come in and expect to get a giant pie slathered in shredded cheese and slices of pepperoni perched on a 5-napkin oil slick. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) If you’re really into pepperoni, you can add some to a Margherita (otherwise topped with housemade mozz, grana padano, and fresh basil), but why not put a little more excitement in your life? My suggestion is to order the Tre Porcellini if it’s on the menu. It’s topped with three different pork products–sausage, braised pork, and guanciale–along with provolone, garlic and red pepper flakes, and it will take you to hog heaven. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!) The Fumo e Fuoco is my fave, topped with smoked mozz, grana padana, and soft rounds of fried eggplant, all drizzled with a spark of chili oil. Excellent for dinner, even better when eaten cold for breakfast.

But enough about the pizza. While a pie and a beer, glass of vino, or a crafty cocktail can be a perfect meal for some, Hersh’s kitchen magic is not limited to things on crusts. You see, Hersh’s isn’t a pizza parlor. It’s an Italian restaurant. Yet, it’s impossible for my husband and I to eat at Hersh’s and not order pizza. However, we like to make it one course of a multi-course meal and share everything. So we might start off with one of the antipasti, most likely the wood-fired octopus or maybe the meatballs in tomato sauce over housemade ricotta, then move on to a salad. Right now there’s a lovely Autumn Salad comprising escarole, apples, pecans, parm, and gorgonzola dolce in a dijon-apple cider vinaigrette that sounds perfect. And while the more protein-focused of Chef Josh’s main dishes are going to be dynamite, we usually lean toward ordering a plate of his tender housemade pasta, like a classic spaghetti Carbonara, or maybe some roast pumpkin gnocchi with crispy braised pork and arugula-pumpkin seed pesto. (Yeah, I’m drooling too.) Once we’ve demolished those items, then we’ll have pizza. And if we can’t finish it, that’s when it becomes breakfast the following morning. There’s really no losing with this meal plan.

So if you’re in the mood for really great pizza and a plate of pillowy ricotta ravioli or maybe tagliolini with some sort of seafood on top, you definitely need to walk all the way down Light Street to Riverside to eat at Hersh’s. (And if your feet are sore from all the other walking you’ve been doing, jump on the bus. The Silver Line goes straight down Light and stops within a block of the restaurant.

1843 Light Street
Baltimore, MD 21230
(443) 438-4948

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Friday, March 16, 2018

Flashback Friday - Fabio Viviani's Mama's Meatballs

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This post originally appeared on on June 5, 2013.

Everybody loves Fabio Viviani. I know Minxeats readers do, because we still get tons of hits from nosybodies googling "is Fabio Viviani married" on a regular basis. Come on - if you were a real fan, you'd know that he's divorced from his first wife and really doesn't have time for a relationship right now, much to his mother's dismay.

Richard Blais, who competed against (and beat) Fabio in the Top Chef All-Stars season, loves Fab, too. I recently found a brief piece in which the two compliment each other's cookbook. In it, Blais waxes rhapsodic about Fabio's meatballs, claiming that ricotta cheese gives them the "most amazing texture." Now, we just so happened to have a quart of ricotta in the fridge, purchased during a 2-for-1 deal. The expiration date on the package is late June, so there was no real hurry to use it up, but before I forgot about it--lost it in the bowels of the always-full fridge--I thought it should be meatball time at Casa Minx.

I got no arguments from Mr Minx. Spaghetti and meatballs is probably his favorite dish, and he knows I'm always looking for a meatball recipe that is reminiscent of my Aunt Stasia's. Her balls were big and soft, cheesy and evenly-textured. (Ok, who's going to be the first to take that sentence out of context?) A quick online search later and he had Fabio's meatball recipe in hand.

We wanted to make the recipe exactly as written, so a trip to the store was necessary to pick up the cup of grated Parmesan, the shallots, and the panko that we didn't already have in stock. A couple hours later, we feasted. The result was, ah...pretty good. But despite half a cup of ricotta and a whole cup of parm, the meatballs were pretty firm. We blame that on the panko, a super-crunchy Japanese breadcrumb that's best used for coating fried foods. Also, the shallots hadn't melted into the meat, so there were little crunchy oniony bits here and there. Sure, the meatballs were moist, but then, I've never really had a dry meatball.

The recipe seems like a good springboard for experimentation. Maybe substitute a bread-and-milk panade for the panko. Cook the shallot a bit or puree it before adding to the meat mixture. More ricotta. Something.

In the meantime, does anyone out there have a recipe for a soft, cheesy, evenly-textured meatball? No offense, Fabio, but your balls just didn't cut it.

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Breakfast and Lunch at LB Bakery

I've popped into LB Bakery from time to time to grab a cup of La Colombe coffee and a flaky croissant to go, but I've never stayed for breakfast. One reason is because I'm always in a hurry in the morning, but also because they didn't serve a hot sit-down breakfast until recently. I suppose that's the most pertinent reason, huh? In any case, this little cafe on the ground level of the Lord Baltimore Hotel now serves both breakfast and lunch in addition to their usual assortment of pastries, macarons, and refrigerated sandwiches. A few weeks ago, Mr Minx and I joined several of our foodie friends at an introductory brunch to sample the new menu.

We started off with the crisp Belgian waffles garnished with fresh fruit and maple syrup, then went on to a super-fluffy, goat-cheese-stuffed, omelette with a side of potatoes. I don't normally do omelettes because I have an issue with browned eggs, but this beauty was so perfectly cooked, I was happy to make an exception.

If you're an everything bagel with smoked salmon kinda person, then this generous platter with all the fixings you could ever want will make you happy. Again, smoked salmon isn't my thing (I am a lousy brunch person, aren't I?), but I truly enjoyed a portion of bagel schmeared with cream cheese and topped with a smoky slice of capers, eggs, onions, and a soupcon of dill.

After tasting breakfast, we also sampled some lunch items, like the lump crab cake sandwich with fries and the fish and chips. The fish was so crispy on the outside yet moist on the inside, which is how it should be. Both the crab cake and the fish are perfect choices for a Lenten lunch.

Of course we also had to sample Executive Pastry Chef Mary Elizabeth Plovanich's sweet yummies, including ginormous macarons, chocolate tarts, and key lime bars (my fave). Her desserts never disappoint.

Now when I stop into LB Bakery in the morning before work, I might just have to linger a while and enjoy that omelette again.

LB Bakery
20 W Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21201

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Friday, March 09, 2018

Flashback Friday - Maryland is for Crabs

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This post originally appeared on on June 19, 2013.

It's June, and that means it's time to eat crabs! (True of every other month of the year as well.) Please to enjoy an excerpt from our book, Food Lovers' Guide to Baltimore, with the addition of photos.

Here in Maryland, the act of cleaning steamed crabs, along with extracting (and eating) the meat, is known as “picking.” There are two schools of thought. One involves removing the legs before cleaning and the other does not. We like to remove the legs, since any meat that comes off with them is that much less we have to dig for later. Don’t just yank them out—grab a leg up high near the body and bend it downward. You should hear a small snap as it breaks away from the shell. Use a little finesse to gently wiggle the leg away from the body; hopefully there will be a hunk of meat attached to it. In the case of the backfin, there will be quite a bit of meat. If not, all is not lost—the meat is still inside. All crabs are different, so you won’t get lucky every time.

A crab and his legs are soon parted. Stop staring at me!
Next, turn the crab so it’s belly-up. Using a short, nonserrated knife, lift up the slim pointed tip of the flap-like apron (which is much larger on the female) and pull it upward until it’s perpendicular
to the body of the crab.

See the pointed tip of the flap?
At this point you should be able to slide the tip of the knife within the newly revealed gap between the bottom and top shells. Twist the knife and the halves should separate easily; remove the top shell.

Place your knife in that gap under the lifted apron, or use your
fingers if you prefer brute force.
What you have left will be pretty ugly, but stay with us! Use your knife or fingers to scrape off the gills or “dead man’s fingers” from both sides of the body, and remove the squiggly mess of guts
in the center.

Some of the squigglies are in the top of the shell, but you won't eat the shell,
so don't worry about them. The yellow, greenish-yellow, or brownish
pasty stuff, the "mustard," is edible, and actually tastes pretty good.
Some folks think it's fat, but it's actually the crab's hepatopancreas.
Mmmm! Doesn't that sound appetizing? 
Remove the gills, and the face while you're at it so it
won't stare at you anymore.
Whomever was the first to eat one of these was sure brave.
What you’ll have left is two halves of the body, joined by a thin piece of shell. With one half in each hand, bring them toward each other to crack the shell and separate them.

Grab each half...
...and snap the body in half.
Using the knife or your fingers, remove the meat from the various chambers that make up the crab’s body. The shell is quite easy to break with a little pressure, but the going might be slow until you get the hang of it.

When you’ve exhausted the supply of meat within the body, move on to the claws (the legs aren’t really worth bothering with, although there is some meat in them). Bend each “elbow” in the wrong direction to separate the top and bottom pieces of the claw. Grab the edges of the pincer (watch out, they’re sharp) and pull them apart. You should be able to wiggle the “thumb” portion of the pincer away from the shell, hopefully pulling out a piece of cartilage and a chunk of meat. If you only get part of it, use your hammer to crack the shell and remove it the hard way. Use the hammer on the white portion of the bottom part of the claw to crack it in the same way. Some people like to place the blade edge of their knife against the shell and hammer that instead, which can make a cleaner break.

However you do it, enjoy!

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