Friday, September 27, 2013

Herb & Soul

The stretch of Joppa Road between Providence Road and Loch Raven Boulevard has become the area we frequent most often for dinner. There's Noodle Charm, Spice & Dice, Gino's, Mo's, and now, just around the corner on Loch Raven (Yakona Road), there's Herb & Soul. We paid our first visit to the restaurant on one of those days when neither of us felt like making dinner. As I checked out the restaurant's web site, I noticed they had extended their Baltimore County Restaurant Week menu for another week; that seemed like a sign from God.

It started out as a carry-out and catering operation behind a convenience store, but when the store moved out, Herb & Soul snatched up the remaining space and became a full-service restaurant that offers lunch and dinner, with live entertainment most nights that includes comedy, poetry, and music. The space is large and open, and the decor is eclectic. The few tables and chairs range from old church pews to bright green-upholstered seats. It's all very homey, like an impromptu dinner party held in someone's club basement.

The menu is Soul Food with a green twist: Herb & Soul uses sustainable organic produce, grass fed and free range meats, and they even recycle their cooking oil. Oh, and the food is pretty amazing.

After we ordered, our server brought us our glasses of lemonade (the restaurant is BYOB) and a bowl containing two sweet potato biscuits. Hello there, sweet potato biscuit! Where have you been all my life? Sweetened with a touch of blackstrap molasses, these biscuits are prepared by one of the owners, who loads them with butter and love. They are moist, slightly sweet, vaguely cinnamony, and taste like Autumn. They've quickly become my favorite baked good in the world.

The first two biscuits are complementary; extras will cost you $1 each.
But before you open your wallet, there's plenty more food coming.
As it was Restaurant Week, we had appetizers, entrees, and dessert. Mr Minx ordered the chicken and waffles. The chicken was cage-free, with a light and crisp coating. The waffle was Belgian-style, light and fluffy and still crisp, flavored with sweet potato and drizzled with a maple syrup infused with rosemary.

Chicken & Waffle
I ordered the orange-chipotle braised pork belly, and expected a few chunks of pork belly on a plate. What I received were three rather hefty "sliders," each containing a nicely-sized slab of pan-seared, moist, and lightly fatty braised pork belly and a bit of green. The buns were toasted, and there was a dab of chipotle sauce on each one. The heat was at the perfect level for me, but I could have done without the buns, as they muffled the flavor and texture of the meat.

Orange-Chipotle Braised Pork Belly
Mr Minx is a sucker for pasta, and the penne with kale pesto and garlic tofu meatballs sounded too unusual to pass up. The meatballs were very garlicky and tender, and if I had not known they were made of tofu, I might not have guessed. The pesto had a very fresh and green flavor, but could have used a bit more salt. 

Penne Rigate; kale pesto with garlic tofu meatballs
I had the free-range Old bay fried chicken with mac and cheese and sauteed squash and onions. Both entree portions were enormous, and I did the best I could with mine. I managed to finish two of the four piece of chicken (leg, wing, partial breast, partial thigh) about half the very cheesy and somewhat addictive mac, and most of the veg, which still retained a nice crunch. Like Mr Minx's chicken, mine had an almost ethereally-light coating that shattered with crispness. It was perfectly seasoned and piping hot.

Old Bay Fried Chicken (Freebird Farm Chicken)
And then there was dessert.

Mr Minx chose the apple and mango pie eggrolls. Think back to the days when a McDonald's apple pie was a real treat. The filling was always incendiary, and the crust super crisp. These eggrolls (spring rolls, actually) had those same molten/crispy qualities, but of course tasted far better. The fruits inside were cut into a tiny dice and still had a little texture, and the caramel sauce on the side just gilded the lily.

Apple Mango Pie Eggrolls
Remember when I said that sweet potato biscuit was my new favorite baked good in the world? I lied. It's actually the beignets at Herb & Soul. Ok, so they're technically not a baked good, as they're deep fried, but damn are they good. They are light and fluffy, with huge air pockets inside, almost like choux pastry that accidentally ended up in the Fryolater. So good, I barely used the brown sugar caramel dip, although that was pretty tasty, too.

Couldn't finish the beignets, so they got to share a doggy bag with my leftover chicken. As I said, the portions and Herb & Soul are large! In addition to the terrific food, the service was attentive - we never had to ask for lemonade refills - and everyone there was extremely friendly. We're definitely adding this restaurant to our regular weeknight dinner rotation.

Herb & Soul Gastro Cafe
1702 Yakona Rd
Parkville, MD 21234
(410) 668-1886
Herb & Soul Gastro Cafe on Urbanspoon
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