'Test kitchen' is now real restaurant


March 18, 2009|By ELIZABETH LARGE | ELIZABETH LARGE,elizabeth.large@baltsun.com

The "test kitchen" sign has been taken down. Taverna Corvino (1117 S. Charles St., Federal Hill, 410-727-1212) is officially open. This is the restaurant that replaced Juniors Wine Bar, which closed suddenly earlier this year.

The new owners and executive chef Chris Paternotte decided to keep serving food while they were making cosmetic changes and creating the menu. Juniors had a core group of customers they didn't want to lose. So, they put up a "test kitchen" sign, and used customers as guinea pigs (in a good way) to find out what would make the neighborhood happy. Because they knew what they were getting into, customers seemed to enjoy the process.

What has come out of the testing is a menu that consists of small plates "slightly larger than tapas" and family-style platters for a group to share. The small plates, such as salt-baked prawns with capers, herbs and olive oil, cost $5 to $10. The platters, which might be braised meat or seafood, are more traditional Italian cuisine and are priced from $10 to $20.

Paternotte said there are also "plenty of vegetarian options." Pastas are handmade every day.

When I asked him for a signature dish, he couldn't name just one, but mentioned the lamb scottadito, which means "burnt fingers" (from not being able to wait and pulling the lamb off the hot grill) and a "phenomenal cheese selection."

The wine list of 45 or so bottles is mostly European. "We're trying to get people away from California," Paternotte said. Glasses are priced from $6 to $9; bottles from $21 to $126.

The kitchen is open 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week, the bar until 2 a.m. Once lunch starts this Saturday, hours will be 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week.

"It's a fun, energetic atmosphere," Paternotte said. "A different scene. Old World Italian meeting New World America in Federal Hill."

Grind On Cafe I've talked at length about all the new restaurants opening up in the Lauraville/Hamilton area, but one I've neglected to mention is the Grind On Cafe (4607 Harford Road, 410-426-1161, grindoncafe.com)

"Our hours are ambitious, our coffee strong, our ice cream delicious," the Web site says. I love that.

The hours aren't the only thing that's ambitious. Even in these eco-friendly, locavore-conscious, community-oriented times, the Grind On stands out. Owner Greg Bandelin, for instance, offers the space free for community meetings. Every morning, he shops starting at 5 a.m., he says, for the meats and vegetables he uses in his organic, build-your-own sandwiches. As soon as he can, Bandelin wants to start buying ingredients from the Hamilton Crop Circle, the neighborhood community garden.

Healthful lunches-to-go are available by 6 a.m. He uses local suppliers like Zeke's for coffee, Sylvan Beach for ice cream and Woodlea Bakery for baked goods.

All materials used are recycled or able to be recycled or composted.

Bandelin takes this social responsibility thing seriously, and I've heard the food is good as well.

Those ambitious hours, by the way, are 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. except every other Sunday, when Grind On closes at 5 p.m. (The other Sunday it stays open with live music.)

Special request Three... (2901 E. Baltimore St., 410-327-3333) in Patterson Park has started offering a $10 burger on Wednesday nights. That may not sound like big news, but a group of neighbors who walk their dogs together after work on Wednesdays asked the place to start offering a burger for them (there isn't one on the regular menu) and Three... responded.

For your 10 bucks you get a turkey or beef burger (on a brioche bun) with your choice of four different cheeses, fries hand-cut that afternoon and a beer. The dog-walking neighbors love the special; about 50 were sold last Wednesday. And you don't have to live in the neighborhood to order it.

Benefit tasting If you like wine tastings, don't miss the Mother of Them All, the Taste for Life Wine Event, which benefits the American Cancer Society. More than 40 wineries will be represented, and you can chat with the representatives, taste more than 100 wines and buy at a discount.

The event is being held at Ten Oaks Ballroom (Routes 108 and 32) in Clarksville on March 29. For more information, visit tasteforlife.org or call 888-535-4555.

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