Afavorite Pikesville haunt now looks just plain haunted. Donna's Coffee Bar and Restaurant closed its doors Oct. 18 at the Festival at Woodholme.
The popular local hangout continued doing brisk business even after the Bibelot bookstore - in which it was located - closed its doors in March 2001, after declaring bankruptcy. But a short while ago, Donna's owners Alan Hirsch and Donna Crivello learned that they would have to vacate the space.
"We couldn't stay," says Hirsch. "We thought we would be staying with another bookstore, but Barnes & Noble got the deal and they do the Starbucks thing. We're tremendously disappointed."
Hirsch says both he and Crivello were there the last day of the Pikesville Donna's, when many regulars came in to say their goodbyes. "There was so much hugging and crying," Hirsch says. "It was a real neighborhood place."
The good news for Pikesville customers is that he and Crivello are actively looking for another site in the area.
Out in the open
When you're perusing a menu, do you ever wish you knew what dish the restaurant owner likes best? Well, the secret is out at Gertrude's at the BMA.
Chef/owner John Shields used to serve himself a bowl of the eatery's vegetarian chili every day, and then plop a scoop of mashed potatoes in the middle of it.
"The staff would ask me what I was doing as I sat back in the kitchen eating that every day," Shields says. "[The combination] is just comfort food for me."
There was some prodding to get Shields to share the dish, and now, with a little tweaking, his secret fave has come out of the kitchen and onto the restaurant's menu.
Mt. Vesuvius Deluxe - Veggie Vesuvius, as Shields calls it - is a mound of mashed potatoes with veggie chili "spewing" from the center of it. A topping of Cheddar, sour cream and scallions completes the dish ($5.95).
Vesuvius is one of several new small-plate additions to Gertrude's menu. The others include zuchettes, pan-fried mini-versions of the restaurant's "I can't believe it's not crab" cakes, which come with an orange-chipotle sauce ($4.95), and mussels caponata, Prince Edward Island mussels steamed with Chardonnay and served with roasted garlic and Sicilian caponata ($9.95).
Gertrude's is in the Baltimore Museum of Art, 10 Art Museum Drive. It's open from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Brunch is served from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Weekend dinner hours are 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
The menu at Helen's Garden has also undergone some changes. It's all part of the Canton Square restaurant's planned evolution, according to Ed Scherer, who owns Helen's with partner Tom Looney.
Scherer says that when they opened seven years ago, they started with "recognizable American type food." Over the years, they've continued to add a little more adventure.
In its latest incarnation, the menu has more international influences, Scherer says, but the food is still recognizable.
"It's comfort food with a global feel," he says.
New appetizers include shrimp al ajillo, a spicy traditional Spanish tapas preparation in garlic, olive oil and sherry ($9); eggplant sun-dried tomato Napoleon ($9); and the owners' favorite, Afghan Kadu bouranee, a roasted pumpkin with garlic yogurt sauce and toasted pistachios ($8).
There are several new salads and entrees. Among the latter are Moroccan chicken tagine, roasted with turmeric, paprika, garlic, almonds and cumin and served over cous cous ($18); and lamb shank Marbella, roasted with capers, garlic, Marsala and dried fruit and served over pasta ($20).
Helen's Garden is at 2908 O'Donnell St. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for Sunday brunch, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. for Sunday dinner.
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