I spend a good bit of time in and around the Baltimore area with my in-laws, and I'm always a little disappointed when we try any remotely ambitious restaurants. So we play it safe, eating crabs on most occasions—though ironically, the area's signature crustacean is currently being flown in from places like Texas, since the Chesapeake blue crab is being fished to its capacity. Still, I'm drawn to places like Costas Inn, which just this past weekend was serving platters of steaming-hot blue crabs, thickly crusted in Old Bay. I'm also keen on the giant broiled crab cakes at Rib 'n Reef, where they use so little filler that you get hunks of lump crab in almost every bite.
But this weekend, I got to try an ambitious restaurant that I thought was terrific: Woodberry Kitchen. Chef Spike Gjerde, a longtime fixture on the Baltimore culinary scene, opened Woodberry last fall with his wife, Amy, and partner, Nelson Carey. The mission of the restaurant is farm-to-table, and Spike has spent a good bit of time cultivating relationships all around the Chesapeake to garner the best local produce, cheese, meat, seafood and even wine. While the locavore notion is nothing terribly new in many cities, it's really just hit Baltimore recently. The menu is big (much bigger than I'm accustomed to) but largely appealing, with fun snacks like deviled eggs with chipped ham, sizzling sweet shrimp (harvested nearby by Marvesta Shrimp Farm) and a selection of Chesapeake oysters. From the specials menu, I had a very green (and very good) stinging-nettle soup with onion grass and sour cream, and I wolfed down my whole black sea bass (from Virginia), which was roasted in the wood-burning oven until charred and crisp on the outside and unbelievably moist and tender on the inside. In the spirit of the place, I even enjoyed local Boordy Vineyards wine with my dinner. Spike spent about a year-and-a-half apprenticing with a local baker at Patisserie Poupon, and I could tell: His desserts were great, especially the flaky rhubarb pie (a mini pie with a crumble topping), served with house-made brown-butter ice cream (in full disclosure, I couldn't really taste the brown butter).
Next time I'm down in Baltimore, I plan to try Spike's halibut fish-and-chips with malt mayonnaise, and the Roseda Farm strip steak, from just up the road. Too bad the one thing I might have to forgo at Woodberry Kitchen is crab.