A Southern Accent A charming place: Cindy Wolf works wonders in the kitchen of Savannah and puts customers at ease when she steps into the dining room.

February 21, 1996|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,SUN STAFF

It's after 6 p.m. and things are beginning to speed up in the kitchen at Savannah, the new Southern-American-with-a-French-accent restaurant at the Admiral Fell Inn in Fells Point. An order comes in and Executive Chef Cindy Wolf reads it out.

"Ordering palm salad, David," she says to David Deutsch, an engaging young man in a backward baseball cap who is working cold food prep this evening. Without pausing a beat, she adds, "Do you know how to do palm salad?"

Mr. Deutsch doesn't miss a beat either. "I have no clue, chef," he sings out.

Everyone laughs, and Ms. Wolf's infectious burble rings through the kitchen. She leaves the line and heads for the cold station, where she patiently, quietly, leads Mr. Deutsch through the delicate steps of plating up the salad. "Always try to keep the lettuce bunched up tight," she says.

"I'll try," he says.

"You do not know how to talk to a chef," says Eric Grimm, a line cook, who is filleting a whole salmon nearby. "It's yes, chef. Every time, chef. Eternally, chef."

There's plenty of laughter and plenty of patience in this sleek, stainless steel environment, but there's no question who's "chef" in this kitchen: Ms. Wolf, a 1987 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, configured it to suit herself, and runs it with a firm hand -- and that characteristic laugh. With her red hair in a ponytail and her wide hazel eyes, she looks younger than her 31 years, but she has packed a lot of culinary life into them so far.

"Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to open my own restaurant," she said. She speaks quickly, with little reminder of her birthplace of Richmond, Va., in her speech. Her father was a restaurant executive who worked for the Hardee's and Ponderosa chains, and she expected that she would work "the front of the house," as the dining area is known. "I traveled a lot with my parents, and I ate in a lot of restaurants. I grew up hearing my father talk about the restaurant business from his point of view."

A natural path

She studied business management at college, but something about it dissatisfied her. Her parents were living in Charleston, S.C., then, and she took an apprenticeship in the kitchen at a new restaurant called Silks, in the Planter's Inn. She worked every station, doing tasks as diverse as ordering supplies and making pastries. "I found out I really liked it."

After culinary school, she worked in other restaurants in South Carolina, and Knoxville, Tenn., then moved to Washington. She had a brief stay at a French restaurant in Georgetown, then joined Capital Restaurant Concepts, the company that operates Paolo's in Georgetown, Towson and the Inner Harbor, and Georgia Brown's in Washington. Ms. Wolf designed the menu for Georgia Brown's, drawing on her Southern background. While she waited for the restaurant to open (in July 1993), she worked at both Paolo's locations in Baltimore, her first experience with the city.

She was destined to get more, however, because while working for Capital Restaurant Concepts, she met Tony Foreman, who was the opening general manager for Georgia Brown's. They were married in August 1994. Mr. Foreman was born in Baltimore and wanted to come back to his home town. The couple hoped to open a restaurant of their own, or to find one to operate.

Last May they found the Admiral Fell Inn, which was in the midst of a $6.5 million restoration and expansion program, where Ms. Wolf now offers her nouvelle Southern cuisine and Mr. Foreman oversees the wine and runs the dining areas and the pub.

"We needed to find a knowledgeable, capable chef," said Jim Widman, a founder and partner in the hotel, but he noted it was also important to have someone who understood the dining room and wine aspects. "We felt in Cindy and Tony we had that kind of a team."

The Southern food concept was Ms. Wolf's, and the idea of naming the restaurant Savannah was Mr. Foreman's. Mr. Widman said he initially resisted renaming the restaurant, previously simply called the Admiral Fell Inn -- even though, coincidentally, he is from Savannah.

But Ms. Wolf and Mr. Foreman were adamant about giving the restaurant its own identity, and eventually Mr. Widman agreed. Ms. Wolf and Mr. Foreman also chose decorations for the understated, but elegant and comfortable dining rooms, where shades of green, cream and pale yellow predominate. The couple will also oversee banquet space on the fifth floor that is being added to the hotel, and the kitchen has just begun to offer room service.

At least one other Fells Point restaurateur welcomes the competition.

"I'm on the abundance theory, not the scarcity theory," said Michael Gettier, of M. Gettier the country French restaurant that's a few blocks north of the Admiral Fell Inn. "There's more than enough [customers] for everybody."

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