Table Talk: Restaurateur seeks to reopen Chesapeake

Karzai would place it atop an urban food hall, seafood market

March 10, 2010|By Richard Gorelick | Special to The Baltimore Sun

"I thought I had had it with the restaurant business," Qayum Karzai says.

He has not formally retired, but with the daily operations of his restaurants Helmand, Tapas Teatro and B in capable hands, Karzai has been increasingly able during the past eight years to pursue his other passions, particularly for organic farming. And he was definitely not looking to be challenged again in the restaurant business.

But retired prizefighters can be coaxed back into the ring, Karzai admits. And the Chesapeake Restaurant property is the Ivan Drago of restaurant challenges.

Since early 2008, the property has been in the hands of the Baltimore Development Corporation, which acquired it from its longtime owner. Karzai is part of a group that has been granted exclusive rights to negotiate a purchase of the property from the BDC. Ruxton-based Lucas Associates Architects has been enlisted to draw up their proposed plans.

If the purchase goes through, and the various oversight boards are satisfied, Karzai sees at least the first stage of the project happening relatively quickly. This would convert the first floor into a great urban milling-about space, anchored by a Food Hall selling farm-grown vegetables, wine and cheese, basic staples and ready-for-table dinners to neighbors and commuters.

Also here would be what Karzai has previously described as a Harrods-inspired seafood section, a retail environment with limited seating, that some have confused with the group's plans for the restaurant, which would occupy the second floor.

Neopol The longest line at last week's Cosmic Cocktail Party formed for the smoked delicacies at the Neopol table. City Paper's annual celebration of its own dining guide insert, held again at the American Visionary Art Museum, gives participating restaurants and food producers a chance to show themselves off to strolling tasters.

There were certainly good showings from new places like Federal Hill's Reserve and the museum's new in-house restaurant, Mr. Rain's Fun House. But it was sweet to see the enthusiasm for a veteran establishment like Neopol, which has been around just long enough to be taken for granted. And there have been some peaks and valleys. Barbara Lahnstein's smoked fish, spreads and seafood have been a farmers' market mainstay for years, but after the closing of her well-remembered Metropol Cafe - which arrived a little ahead of Station North's time - Lahnstein went a few years without a fixed location. Then came the successful reopening in 2002 of the renovated Belvedere Square.

And just a few weeks ago, Neopol opened its second store, in Talbot County's new Easton Square Market. Lahnstein's son, Dorian Brown (whom market-goers remember as the stall's lemonade-selling kid), became a full partner two years ago, just at the time, he says, when his mother was admitting to enough fatigue to consider closing down the Belvedere Square location. Brown, who passed up a teaching career to come on board, is quick to throw credit back to his mother while taking pride in this unplanned-for partnership.

"People say you shouldn't go into business with the family," he said, "but this has been great."

Union Jack Gary Oullette has enjoyed the success of his Union Jack's British Pub in Arlington, Va., and Bethesda, but with the third location, scheduled to open this Friday, Columbia resident Oullette will be bringing the "mega-pub" concept home. Oullette has renovated the old That's Amore, next to the Mall in Columbia, and this will be the largest of the three locations, the first to allow the inclusion of a separate and more sedate dining room.

This dining room gets its own menu, created by chef Mike Soltes, recruited from Washington, which includes lemongrass pork chops, citrus salmon, and vegetable paella.

Awards for Charleston Charleston (1000 Lancaster St., 410-332-7373, charelstonrestaurant.com), the Meryl Streep of Baltimore restaurants, shows up in this column because it wins a lot of awards. This time, it was among the 50 restaurants nationwide to win one of OpenTable's Diners Choice Awards for restaurants with excellent service.

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