The taxi sped off toward Hampden. Wind lashing my hair, the road narrowed,
the air grew still, as we approached Woodberry Kitchen in the refurbished mill.
Sometimes a person takes stock of their inner merits after surveying
stacks of preserved food in jars and the bottling of housemade spirits.
That night, Romance came laced with verjus and muddled Mara de bois berries
Peach-Ade arrived as promised, peach and Eureka lemons, no need to be wary.
On to a Harvest Slaw with batons of celery root and honey crisp apples, pecans,
“ash log” and mayo with a crunch and creaminess, enough to make me reckon
I would return. Out came the cast iron pan, hoe cakes topped with roasted
eggplant, sweet peppers, smashed tomatoes and squash from local crops,
paired judiciously with a trace of creamy quark. Can the consummate dinner
end well, can the dessert be driven by housemade detail and end up a winner?
A tall glass called C.M.P. arrived as I gathered up any and all stores of hunger.
My spoon chipped the candy surface with a clatter down to plunder past cream
Of marshmallow to wet peanuts, deeper still digging into chocolate ganache
and malted ice cream, flavors that when swirled together gave me pause.
This might be the meal to end all meals: the food, the drinks, dessert
or service, the 10,000 pounds of tomatoes processed for winter menus
(such fast, slow work, preserving what is now for what is to come) for when
tomatoes are not sprouting off the bush curling up from the ground.
Oh, to peek in that larder and espy the oven to heat the jars or the cauldron
in which they bathe – To poke my head into the charcuterie closet and gaze
at hanging salami or peer out at the shelves lining the hallway, jewel- tone
jams soldiering on by pert pickles or a vat of sourdough starter. Everyone
a miserly master of gleaning more from the fruit of the earth of shaping spelt and rye bread
baked in the wood-burning oven, housemade butter churning in anticipation of the well-fed.
If I might find a reason to return to Baltimore and feast at Woodberry,
I’d be ready to avow, that this kitchen here and now pricked something sacred
into being, not just snake oil (fish pepper hot sauce) slathered on a ho-hum meal.
It should come as no surprise that a year later, almost to the day, with much zeal,
a cab sped toward the Hampden neighborhood that I could return to by look and feel.
Thus arrived a young carrot salad with frilly tops laced with rocket, drizzled with pecan
pesto, tarragon dressing and Ewe’s cream. This time I took note of hard cider, but
settled on sipping a Red Cyrus with muddled nectarines, verjus, basil, wild honey, a glut
of entrée choices lay before me. For the main course, I dined on stewed rye berries,
on summer squash, green beans, eggplant and peppers to make the mouth merry
relishing the chewy grains dripping with heirloom tomato dressing. Next to choose a new
drink, out came a Wayfarer of sumac tincture, caramelized watermelon sugar and juice.
Not a restaurant reviewer, but a reveler, I’d been inspired to take up tongs after a three hour
dinner, but first my fork sank into flaky crust and I regressed into childhood via Concord Grapes,
then into Vanessa grape ice cream as my eyes closed envisioning peeling skins from pulp,
pressing out seeds, separated from gel. The time had come to leave again and mull
what might become a yearly rite to enter fall at this bustling refurbished mill.
Until then, inspired to cook and to can, off to my kitchen I went by a matter of will.
- The Restaurant Poem is dedicated to Hannah (and now Brad), servers with much spirit -
Restaurant Poetry inspired by
2010 Clipper Park Rd., No. 126
Baltimore, MD 21211