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Monday, March 5, 2012

Monday Munchies: Frederick Restaurants

This week and next week's entries cover our adventures in Frederick, Maryland - a beautiful little hidden treasure an hour outside of D.C. In each entry, we'll bring a different part of Frederick to you.

This particular entry is a little different than most, since it'll cover quick bites from four restaurants in Frederick, where myself and Official Girlfriend/Co-Writer of DCWD Texas traveled up for a downtown restaurant tour of Frederick, which is kicking off its own Restaurant Week starting today.

The Setup

The main barrier to eating in Frederick more frequently is the physical distance between it and D.C.; there are days when I can't even be convinced to cross over the Potomac, much less get into a car and drive an hour outside the city. Luckily, our dilemma here was solved by the loaner of a Chevy Volt for our travels (which we named Stella) [full disclosure: the loaner came from GM Northeast]. It came in even more handy when we decided to combine this trip with a trip to Bryan Voltaggio's Volt restaurant - we dubbed that portion of the trip (which will be posted later in the week) the Volt to Volt.

The car itself was actually pretty cool, enough to change my mind about Chevys. Despite the electric hybrid engine, Stella still had a lot of pickup with the added benefit of being fuel efficient, basically silent, and an incredibly smooth ride. The hatchback provided a lot of trunk space for our stuff, and in general it was a really good experience. Plus you know, pretty cool-looking car. Thanks GM Northeast for loaning us Stella for the week!

Stop 1

First stop on our tour (after a quick tasting of cake from Moxie Bakery and caprese sandwiches from Juliet's Italian Market) was Firestone's, a self-described culinary tavern. The restaurant feels like a brighter Cheers bar with small bistro qualities, like a chalkboard menu on one of the balconies. But otherwise, the brick walls and rich dark brown paneling and bars and dividers provide a fairly warm atmosphere. On a later stop-in, live music played in the bay window area which combined with the crowd filled the space with a buzz up to the second floor balcony. The first floor is dominated by two lines of more casual bar seating and the bar itself, though beware: in our attempt at brunch the next day, the host said they couldn't seat a party of six.

Our bite here was a fairly straightforward take on shrimp and grits, with a slice of bison sausage and a buttermilk biscuit tacked on. The shrimp was okay, though a tad overcooked for my taste. The rest of the dish was pretty good, with the highlight being the biscuit which was about a thousand times softer than we thought it was going to be.

Stop 2

Our second stop was Brewer's Alley, a microbrewery that's built into a space that's vaguely reminiscent of Camden Yards (at least the facade anyway). The ceilings are high vaulted, especially in the main space, which is filled mostly with some high seating revolving around the square bar. The inside feels almost like being in a wooden old-school bank or saloon with skinny columns and wooden floors. The side room is a little more staid, though still bright yellow with plenty of large windows.

Brewer's Alley was the most extensive of all the tastings, with three full courses of samplers. First up was a spring roll filled with chicken and kimchi and a light mustard-soy sauce and an oil made of basil and chives. The use of chicken thighs was interesting but solid, and the whole mix was flavorful with a nice crunch.

The second course was by far the best: a duo of baked and bread-crumbed cod with seared pork belly, served with a side of mashed potatoes (though we note that these are actually two separate dishes on their Restaurant Week menu). The cod was perfectly fine, but it was the pork belly that was just to die for (so much so that I ended up uncoolly asking for a to-go box when I couldn't finish it). There was the traditional fatty deliciousness to the meat, but also a level of smokiness that was great; and while it had a nice crust on it, it still melted in your mouth. To finish, a flourless chocolate cake, which was light and on point.

Stop 3

Our next stop was the Frederick Visitor's Center, a beautiful and well-designed exhibit built into an old spoke factory-cum-cannery-cum visitor's center (if contemplating a trip to Frederick, this seems like an impressive and important first stop). This historic building was where The Red Horse restaurant demonstrated two dishes: a flounder Florentine, and a roasted pork tenderloin with cherries. The former was an interesting combination of things, perhaps not my favorite of the day, but definitely a solid bite with a clear flavor of spinach and more spinach. The pork was probably a better dish overall, with juiciness and a surprising sweetness to it.

Stop 4

Our last stop for the day was Shab Row Bistro, a restaurant that feels like it was lifted like Dorothy's house out of downtown D.C. and landed down into Frederick. The front is more of a country-store, with some fours in sets with white table-cloths. The middle of the dining area is a giant stainless steel bar, while the back is a full-on wine store; one of the other bloggers rightfully proclaimed that it looked and felt like a more relaxed Columbia Room, an assessment that we definitely agree with.

On this stop, we had the benefit of watching Bar Chef Alex Strange prepare one of his newest creations. All of the cocktails on the menu are SRB originals; while some of them play off known entities (one drink, the Vesper, recreates the Casino Royale drink of the same name), all of them utilize fresh ingredients and many require intricate housemade concoctions. Case in point: the drink on this trip was called "Honor Amongst Thieves," which featured American Harvest vodka, Domaine de Canton, St. Germaine, and a house brew of green apple, cloves, allspice, star anise, and cinnamon. What followed was an absolutely brilliant drink, one that displayed literally every flavor in the drink with tremendous subtlety (as opposed to other cocktails in the new cocktail wave, which often obscure complexity in favor of a few bold flavors). What's more, the whole thing had the quality of being refreshing (like a Pimm's Cup or a cucumber martini) without being cloyingly sweet or otherwise flimsy.

Similarly, the plate of food that we had there was lovely: goat cheese ravioli with broccoli rabe in a brown-butter sauce. I wished the pasta wasn't as al dente around the edges, but the filling melted in your mouth, and the brown butter was creamy and warming at the same time. I absolutely loved this, and it was one of my favorite bites of the whole day.

Check back in later this week for more Frederick reviews!

Firestone's on Urbanspoon

Brewer's Alley on Urbanspoon

Red Horse Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Shab Row Bistro & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

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