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Archive for February, 2011

IcedGems Visits Hopkins

Last week, I mentioned a third food truck sighting around Hopkins – the IcedGems cupcake mobile. Following the pink polka-dotted truck’s Facebook and Twitter sites relentlessly, I learned of its upcoming whereabouts on Thursday. From 1 pm – 2:30 pm, IcedGems planned to park at the corner of 33rd and North Charles Street, presenting its creations to college students with a sweet-tooth.

At 1 pm on Thursday, I arrived promptly at the corner of 33rd and Charles. But, alas – no cupcake truck to be found! Where could it have gone? Suddenly, just when I was about to lose faith – IcedGems (it’s hard to miss) blazed down Charles Street and turned the corner onto 34th street towards St. Paul. In a panic, I chased after the truck frantically. I pushed confused students out of my way, nothing able to stop me – I was going to get my cupcake.

The truck turned back onto 33rd and secures a spot in front of Barnes and Noble. Because of a lack of parking spots, the truck had to take a trip around the block. Finally, I purchased a Chocolate Hazelnut cupcake, just in time for my 1:30 pm class. On the way, I munched on my cupcake, relishing in the chocolate icing topping, and creamy chocolate hazelnut filling. I love how IcedGems’ website describes this cupcake – “for chocoholics wanting the next level.”

In addition to the Chocolate Hazelnut, IcedGems also offered a Red Velvet, Key West (Key Lime Pie in a cupcake), Smores (topped with a marshmallow), Vanilla Chocolate (buttercream cake with Callebaut chocolate) and other treats.

I should also spotlight Charm City Cupcakes, another well-known Baltimorean cupcakery, which happens to operate on the ground floor of my apartment building. However, what I love so much about the IcedGems truck is the thrill of the chase. Not knowing where the cupcake truck is going to be at any given point evokes suspense, and encourages its devoted followers to stay in touch. Pretty damn brilliant, if you ask me.

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The highly acclaimed Baltimore restaurant, Charleston, earned three James Beard award nominations – Outstanding Service, Outstanding Wine Service (Tony Foreman) and Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic (Cindy Wolf). The restaurant is part of a list of semi-finalists that will be narrowed down to a list of finalists on March 21.

During the one time I have dined at Charleston, I remember being floored by the service – the waitress was knowledgable about the menu and checked on us just enough as to not be obnoxious. She took her time, exuding the same care with which my food was prepared. And the food – what stuck out the most from my experience was the Ruby Red Shrimp and Real Grits. Such a classic Southern meal has had a strong presence in my life growing up in North and South Carolina, so dining on Charleston’s version brought me home.

Tony Foreman and Cindy Wolf’s restaurant is an indispensable asset to the Baltimore food scene. If Charleston wins an award (or all three), I hope Baltimore’s excellent, underrated food scene will win the recognition it deserves.

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The food trucks are taking over Hopkins! As if Kooper’s Chowhound Wagon wasn’t enough, Creperie Breizh is now parking around 34th street, every Wednesday from 10 am-2:30 pm. Why the sudden ambush of food trucks to my campus? Honestly, I think it’s a brilliant marketing strategy – giving college kids new and exciting food options, such as gourmet burgers and authentic French crepes.

Creperie Breizh’s dark blue truck posts its menu and daily specials next to the order window – on my visit, I ordered a traditional Ham and Cheese crepe filled with Swiss and spinach leaves. My friend Kit ordered a crepe filled with pesto, tomatoes and cheese.

I have to say this might be the best crepe I’ve had in Baltimore. Compared to Sofi’s Crepes, Creperie Breizh’s contained simpler, more traditional fillings. The flavors were less complex and more palette pleasing, in my opinion – yes, the BBQ chicken and cheese crepe at Sofi’s is delicious, but it leaves me feeling pretty nauseous afterwards. The Swiss taste was mild, but flavorful, melting through the thick slices of ham and spinach leaves inside the crepe. The bite I had of Kit’s crepe was pesteoy paradise.

In addition to savory crepes, the truck also offers sweet crepes, such as Nutella, and raspberry and white chocolate.

Later that day, I heard word that Icedgems, a cupcake truck, had made an appearance on Wyman Park drive and in front of Eisenhower Library. Talk about sensory overload! That’s THREE food trucks on Hopkins territory over a period of three days. I think I’m in Heaven.

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It’s almost too good to be true – Kooper’s Chowhound Burger Truck parked at the corner of North Charles Street and 33rd Street today, from 11 am – 2:30 pm. When I first heard of its whereabouts, I didn’t believe it until I saw it, the familiar brown truck with Kooper’s Tavern’s logo on the side. Finally, us isolated Hopkins kids (don’t even get me started on the Charm City Circulator – which completely ignored Charles Village) could take refuge in access to some of Baltimore’s finest burgers.

The burger truck was started in 2009, as an extension of the popular Fells restaurant, Kooper’s Tavern. Over the years, the truck has popped up in various areas around Baltimore, but never have I seen it around Hopkins.

As you can see, I’m still in shock. I can’t thank Kooper’s enough for having the brilliant idea to bring mobile burgers to Hopkins.

The mobile menu is basically a “Best of” version of Kooper’s Tavern’s full menu. There are signature Angus burgers such as the “MacGuinness,” with apple-smoked bacon and cheddar, and the “Otis,” with sautéed mushrooms and onions, and jack and cheddar cheeses. For the pickier palettes, there is a “Build Your Own” menu, with a choice of cheese, up to three toppings and up to three different sauces for your burger. Oh, and if you aren’t a burger-lover, the truck offers customers turkey, veggie and bison burgers.

On my way to class, I decided to grab Kooper’s “fifty-fifty” fries as a snack – half sweet-potato fries and half regular fries. I loved the guy who was working in the truck – I wish I had gotten his name. His cheery, upbeat attitude showed the time and care that go into Kooper’s burgers. Not to mention, the long line of students he attracted, too. Kooper’s burgers are a nice, and much needed, change of pace from the typical Hopkins and Charles Village lunch options.

You can follow the burger truck’s whereabouts through its webpage, Twitter or Facebook sites – look for the truck the next Monday, 2/21, in the same spot!

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This past weekend, I traveled to Boston University for the Valentine Invitational track meet. While warming up for my race, the mile, I ran past a hot dog joint called Spike’s Junkyard Dogs. I could not have been more excited –  I had heard about this place from Paul, who used to go when he was little (he’s from Providence, RI). Obviously I could not stop right then to try one of Spikes’ dogs, so I returned the next day for lunch.
I loved the interior – the walls decorated with photos of people who consumed exorbitant amounts of hot dogs. One guy ate 12 hot dogs, a surprisingly low amount in my mind. I think I could scarf down at least fifteen. I also loved the flashy, bright colors that decorated the menu above the front counter and randomly scattered chain-link fences.

The menu offers several kinds of dogs, from the classic Junkyard Dog with Spike’s mustard, tomato, pickle, hot pepper rings and chopped scallions, to the Texas Ranger, with Barbeque sauce, bacon and cheddar. If you don’t see any combinations on the menu that you like, you can customize your own dog with any of Spike’s abundant toppings. Paul told me he used to order “everything” on his hot dogs. Really, everything (barbeque sauce combined with mustard, bacon and more?)?

I finally decided on the Chili Cheddar Dog and an order of Spike’s curly fries. The presentation of the hot dog was beautiful – not at all as messy as I had envisioned. The hot dog was stuffed into a warm, soft French roll and covered in melted cheddar cheese that secured the chili in place. A typical hot dog bun cannot support chili, which soaks the bread and causes it to disintegrate – a catastrophic mess of spongy bread, tomatoes, bean and ground beef. However, the French roll at Spike’s is extraordinary. Whereas I found the French roll at The Haute Dog Carte to dwarf the hot dog inside of it, Spike’s roll was just the right amount of bread.

For me, Spike’s was nothing short of divine intervention. My hot dog was outstanding. In addition to hot dogs, Spike’s also offers burgers and chicken sandwiches. Even so, why on earth you would want to order anything but a hot dog is beyond me.

If I had to compare Spike’s to my favorite Baltimore hot dog joints, The Hot Dog Carte and Stuggy’s, I hate to say it, but I think I’ve found my favorite. Although The Hot Dog Carte comes close with its gourmet spin on the classic dog and Stuggy’s succeeds by staying traditional, Spike’s takes the best of both worlds. Now if only they’d come to Baltimore.

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Restaurant Week in Brewer’s Hill – Blue Hill Tavern’s pastry chef Bettina Clair’s creative desserts were featured on the special menu, including the “Candy Bar” and “Breakfast for Dessert.” I went with the second option. The trio of breakfast sweets included a miniature pop-tart, cocoa puffs soaked in chocolate milk and a cinnamon roll with creamy icing.

I loved the innovative, colorful presentation – Clair treated this dessert as an artist would paint a picture. For me, Clair’s brilliance shines with the Pop-Tart and the Cocoa Puffs. Both evoke childhood memories – the days when I could get away with eating loads of sugar for breakfast (I was also a fan of Cookie Crisp and Rice Crispie Treats cereal). Although I am a diehard fan of the traditional death-by-chocolate treat, I really felt the thought that Clair put into creating this dessert. This is a true winner, in my mind – a dish with flavors that can go beyond just tasting “good.” To me, Clair’s dessert has the comforting flavor of home.

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I love Baltimore Restaurant Week because it promotes the city’s dining scene while encouraging people to try new places. I think that Baltimore offers an impressive array of restaurants, especially in the ethnic area. I can think of at least one restaurant in every sort of category – for example, before I moved to Baltimore, I’d never tried Afghan cuisine. When I first discovered The Helmand in Mount Vernon, I was blown away.

Restaurant Week is an excellent way to try something different, whether exotic or traditional. And for me, that was prime rib at none other than The Prime Rib. It seems shocking that I’d never have tried this type of meat, being the foodie I am! When my boyfriend Paul suggested we go to a steakhouse, I thought this was a brilliant plan. I chose The Prime Rib, with locations in D.C. and Philadelphia, because it is more local than Ruth’s Chris or Sullivan’s.

Regularly, the prime rib is priced at $47.99, or $33.95 for an “off the bone” cut. But with the Restaurant Week deal, not only do you get the prime rib (the less expensive one), you also get a soup or salad and a dessert for $35. This is the kind of the place I’d recommend going for Restaurant Week – a place where you can really save a few dollars (about $15 a person in this situation).

The Restaurant Week menu at The Prime Rib offers a choice of a soup or salad, followed by a choice of prime rib, filet mignon, salmon or crab, and finally a few dessert options. I could not pass up the prime rib.

I made the correct choice. Served with creamed spinach, mashed potatoes and a topping of freshly grated horseradish root, this prime rib did not disappoint. It was a beautiful medium rare, red all the way through, juicy and more tender than I expected. The buttery, rich flavor of the meat combined well with the pungent, slightly spicy taste of horseradish. I’d never seen grated horseradish with steak before, either.

The mashed potatoes and creamed spinach were the perfect savory sides. I loved mixing the juice from the meat with the creamy potatoes.

The only downside of the meal was the special house salad I ordered as my appetizer. Drenched in dressing, smothered with hard-boiled eggs and topped with some sort of yellow pepper, the presentation was a bit sloppy.

But nonetheless, my experience was memorable. The atmosphere inside the restaurant has a 1940s ambiance, with low-lights, white tablecloths and leather-padded chairs. And best of all, on Sundays, The Prime Rib offers a half-priced wine list. I selected a French wine from Saint Emilion, a vineyard in the Bordeaux region that I visited when I was abroad last year.

Having tried my first prime rib, and having sipped French wine, I was indeed satisfied. Not to mention, we both felt sophisticated – college students dining at a classy steakhouse. Not bad, right?

Prime Rib on Urbanspoon

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