Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Family Meal - Baltimore

Chef Bryan Voltaggio has made quite a name for himself in the Baltimore/DC area. He started with one ambitious restaurant in Frederick, Volt, then went on to open Lunchbox, Range, Family Meal, and Aggio. There's an Aggio in Baltimore now, and just recently a third Family Meal opened here too.

Located on Pier 4, just past the Power Plant and across from the National Aquarium, Family Meal's space is open and clean, with an open kitchen and welcoming bar area. Mr Minx and I were among more than a dozen members of the media invited to a tasting of Chef Voltaggio's classic American fare.

The Keeper
The food at Family Meal borrows heavily from home cooking. Some of it, like the fried chicken, biscuits, pimento mac and cheese, and braised greens, has a Southern touch. The meatloaf, breakfast for dinner, and milkshakes bring to mind an upscale diner. And the little touches, like housemade pickles and hot sauce, creme fraiche with the chili, and the touch of salt cod in the spinach artichoke dip let you know you're in a Nice Restaurant. Albeit a family-friendly one (there's a kids' menu, too).

Onion rings
We started out with a couple cocktails, the Raven (vodka, ginger beer, black berries, creme de violette) and the Family Meal Sous Vide Sazerac (Catoctin Creek rye, lemon, fennel, peychauds bitters). Later we sampled the Devil You Knew (reposado tequila, pomegranate syrup, ginger, lemon) and the Keeper (vodka infused with "our bay" seasoning, pickle brine). All four of beverage director Dane Nakamura's drinks were refreshingly un-sweet and easy to drink. We especially enjoyed the Keeper, a nice twist on a (very) dirty martini.

On to the grub. There was so much of it, yet we didn't taste everything on the menu by far. What we did try: deviled eggs with smoked applewood bacon; cornflake breaded onion rings with bacon horseradish dip; spinach artichoke dip with salt cod, homemade seasoned soda crackers; chili with the fixins, charred lime crema, and aerated cheese; beef and onion soup; a wedge salad and a chopped salad that was like an antipasti plate or Italian cold cut sub in a bowl, but without the hot peppers; a lobster roll; fried chicken with jalapeno biscuits and housemade hot sauce; meatloaf with "everything" mashed potatoes and garlicky spinach; salmon with cannellini beans and cabbage; pimento mac and cheese; braised greens; banana scotch pudding; cream-sicle pie; and last but not least, a brownie-like chocolate dessert topped with ice cream, caramel sauce, and peanut butter powder.

Banana scotch pudding, chocolate/pb/caramel yumminess

While every dish was well-thought-out, fresh, and delicious, there were some real stand-outs. That beef and onion soup, for example, is Chef Voltaggio's spin on French onion soup. There are caramelized onions, chunks of braised short rib, and croutons, all smothered in a blanket of the stretchiest aged Vermont cheddar imaginable. So rich and unctuous, it would definitely make a satisfying meal if paired with one of the lighter salads. The spinach and artichoke dip, flavored with a soupcon of salt cod, was so far elevated above the typical home-made party-food version that it practically levitated. There were housemade saltines on the side, but I was eating it with a spoon. We also loved loved loved the desserts, particularly the banana scotch pudding, which was surprisingly light.

While Bryan Voltaggio is the owner and face of Family Meal, I also have to give a shout-out to his Chef de Cuisine, Keith Long, who is in charge of the day-to-day running of the restaurant. Full disclosure: a couple of Chef Long's recipe were featured in our cookbook, Baltimore Chef's Table.

Check out all the images from our meal in this slideshow.

Family Meal on Urbanspoon

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