From the way eating places are opening up along Harford Road in the Hamilton/Lauraville neighborhoods, you would think every chef in the region had moved to the area and decided to open a restaurant or tavern there. This section of Harford has become a restaurant row to rival any in Baltimore, with Clementine (new this spring), Chameleon Cafe, Big Bad Wolf's House of Barbeque, the Alabama BBQ Company, Koco's Pub and Zeke's Coffee being among the best at what they do in the city.
"It's a convergence of several things," says Lorrie Schoettler, executive director of the Neighborhoods of Lauraville. "It's a very stable, middle-class neighborhood with families. There's a great demand for food and eco-friendly places."
She points to the fact that the business owners know each other, have brought others in and help each other out. Many of them have moved into the area in the last few years and like the fact that they can walk to work.
"We all got tired of driving down to Canton," says Tom Creegan, who owns the building where the Hamilton Tavern recently opened at 5517 Harford Road.
"It's comfort bar food, but everything is fresh," is how Creegan describes the new tavern. "You come in with a $20 bill, get fed, have a drink, leave a tip and leave happy."
There are no entrees offered yet - just appetizers, salads, sandwiches, burgers and a blue-plate special. But the produce used - corn, tomatoes, peaches - is from a local farmer's stand.
After major renovations, Hamilton Tavern still has its own rustic charm. The pressed-tin ceiling has been kept, along with a 1950s glass-front stainless-steel cooler. Creegan says he took up seven layers of linoleum and tile to get to the hardwood floors.
"It's streamlined right now."
While Hamilton Tavern has gotten the most press because Creegan is also a part owner of the popular Mount Vernon restaurant Brewer's Art, Lauraville House at 4528 Harford Road also opened recently. This bar with a dining room has a Peruvian owner, Luis Cabrera, so you'll find both American bar food and South American specialties on the menu.
And wait. There's more. Any day now, Grind-On Cafe at Harford Road and Grindon Avenue should get its final permits and will be selling sandwiches, ice cream and coffee - all with a local focus. This fall, Parkside Fine Food & Spirits should open where the Cameo was at 4709 Harford Road. (It's named after the Parkside movie theater that was in the building at one time.). It sounds like the most ambitious project yet: a restaurant, bar, bakery, delicatessen and gourmet-to-go designed to lure in folks from all over the city.
Meanwhile, Clementine is expanding into the building next door for more seating, a bar and lounge (yes, a liquor license is in the works), and a curing room for charcuterie. The restaurant will be closed from next Sunday to Sept. 17 to complete the renovations.
FIRST CRUSH The blogosphere has been buzzing recently about an imaginary restaurant that won an Award of Excellence for its wine list from the Wine Spectator magazine. A writer, Robin Goldstein, submitted a fictitious menu, wine list and expensive "reserve" list and the necessary $250 check. His faux reserve list contained mostly Italian wines that had received low scores from the Wine Spectator in the past.
"Restaurants, like all businesses, have strong incentives to embellish their images online," says Goldstein on his Web site. "We turn to experts and awards bodies to help navigate the chaotic world of information and misinformation that results. If Google, Chowhound and a couple of unanswered phone calls suffice to verify not just the existence of a restaurant but also the authenticity of its wine list, then it's not clear what role the critic is playing."
The Wine Spectator responded by calling the hoax "a publicity-seeking scam" and saying, "We do not claim to visit every restaurant in our Awards program. We do promise to evaluate their wine lists fairly. (Nearly one-third of new entries each year do not win awards.)"
SHORE GOOD Although it's the end of the season for many Baltimoreans who visit Ocean City, it's still good news that the old favorite Hobbit has reopened after 2 1/2 years. The restaurant is still at 81st Street and the Bay, but now in the new Rivendell Condominiums complex.
Thirty years ago, the Hobbit opened with only 90 seats, a lace-tablecloth restaurant that served dinner only. It was located in an old beach house on 82nd Street. The resort crowd loved it, and it expanded to a 300-seat restaurant offering lunch and dinner. But in its newest incarnation, the Hobbit is small again, with 90 seats and booths, serving dinner only.
"Since about half our staff worked together previously," says Chris Ciletti, a managing partner, "we have been able to maintain some continuity from the former restaurant."