This was a fun post to write, even if the meal wasn't very much fun.
Like Cindy Wolf's Charleston, Spike Gjerde's Woodberry Kitchen is touted by both local food press and foodies alike. When I read such effusive praise, I'm always very skeptical, especially since we weren't at all impressed by the one visit we paid to Charleston. We had managed to avoid dining at Woodberry Kitchen for almost four years, but thought maybe it was high time to give in to the hype.
One of the main reasons we've never eaten at Woodberry Kitchen is that every time we check the online menu, we're not tempted by any of the offerings. They all sound so boring and plain and homey. If we want chicken and dumplings or a pork chop, we're perfectly capable of doing that in our own kitchen. And if we do go out and pay $28 for chicken and biscuits, well, the thing better be singing and dancing, I don't care how local/sustainable/free range/spoon fed it is. As it happened, Mr Minx and I were looking for a place in which to celebrate our 11th anniversary. A glance at Woodberry Kitchen's online menu revealed some items we might actually be into trying, so I made a reservation. Unfortunately, by the time October 7th rolled around, the menu was once more full of ho-hum selections. We went anyway.
The restaurant itself is set in one of the many old mill buildings that line the Jones Falls in the Hampden area of Baltimore City. With exposed brick, wooden tables, and plaid-clad servers, the place tries hard to evoke a feeling of modern rusticity. Kind of like the joints run by the bearded, pickle-making hipsters in Brooklyn who have already become a modern stereotype mocked by food critics. There's nothing else quite like Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore, though, so we've fallen for the image.
Not us, however.
If there's a bad table to be had in a restaurant, it's almost guaranteed that Mr Minx and I will get it. Maybe our preference to dine early gets us labeled as middle-aged or elderly rubes who won't appreciate the place and don't deserve a quieter or less-trafficked table. At Woodberry Kitchen, we clearly got the worst table in the house - a tiny one on the second floor, next to the service counter, where we were treated to the sight of servers slicing bread and packing up leftovers for two-and-one-half hours. Over my right shoulder, I could see particulate matter in the air coming from the fryers and the wood oven beneath us, and I knew that when we left the restaurant we'd be reeking of food odors. Immediately to our right, in our peripheral vision, was a line of round paper lantern-style light fixtures suspended from the ceiling. As the evening grew darker, these lights grew to have the effect of a bare lightbulb suspended from a basement ceiling. And strangely, as it got darker outside, the lights dimmed more and more until eventually we were sitting in the shadows.
It took us a while to decide what to eat. Between the stink of the fryers and the din of the music, I was irritated. Eventually, though, we were able to select a few items that seemed interesting. Because we expected small portions, we ordered both a flatbread and the "butcher's board" for starters, along with an order of wood-roasted okra.
The okra came out first. It was not a dish to convert okra-haters, those pussies who whine about the vegetable's delightfully mucilaginous texture. To me, it's more creamy than slimy, and what's more, okra tastes wonderful. WK's okra was still crisp and crunchy, with flavorful spots of char here and there, and made a good start to our meal.
|Wood-roasted Richfield heirloom okra, pickled fish peppers|
|Foraged mushrooms, savoy cabbage, onion, goat's cheese|
| WK Butcher's Board - cured pork neck, black ham, pork belly, air-dried beef, |
pretzels, head cheese, apricot jam, pickles, brown mustard, and assorted crackery things
I ate less than half of my Kitchen Burger and about three of the fries because I wanted to save room for dessert. The burger was fine, I suppose. Cooked perfectly to medium, the meat was juicy, but like most beef these days, it didn't taste particularly beefy. I loved the squishy sesame seed-topped bun though, which was toasted and buttered. The fries were also very good - crisp outside and soft within, like fries should be.
|Kitchen Burger - house-ground chuck, lettuce, onion & pickles, fries/ raw cheddar|
|Liberty Delight dry-aged tavern steak - fried potatoes, green beans, tomato, padron pepper sauce|
For dessert, Mr Minx went for the C.M.P., an item touted as the "best thing he ever ate," by Charm City Cakes' Duff Goldman. The bruléed marshmallow sauce on the top was a nice touch, but it made me fear for my dental work. The hubby, on the other hand, loved it.
|C.M.P. - malt ice cream, chocolate sauce, marshmallow fluff, wet peanuts|
So while the faux-rustic surroundings, poor lighting, and incredible din were less-than-pleasing to us, I have to admit that the food was pretty darn good. Hype-worthy? Maybe not. But Woodberry Kitchen is certainly busy enough not to need my opinion one way or the other to be successful. Just ask Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff, who scored a much better table than we did.
2010 Clipper Park Rd
Baltimore, MD 21211
Posted on Minxeats.com.
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