An old friend of mine from high school contacted me on FB out of the blue after my Emo post and said we should all get together for dinner sometime. Well, due to scheduling issues and such our plans got pushed back a few months, but she was finally able to secure us a table for 5 at 6:15 on a Friday in March. This was in early February. Woodberry was near the top of my list of places in Baltimore to check out and I’d heard nothing but rave reviews from friends and collegues so you can imagine how excited I was. But I held my expectations in check, and vowed to dine with an open mind.
I’d been checking their online menu weekly, and as the big day got closer I was sad to see a lot of the dishes I was looking forward to drop from their menu. I guess in this transitional period my heavy and rich winter favorites were making way for the coming of the light and fresh cuisine of Spring. Fortunately when we arrived the menu had in fact several decadent dishes that screamed winter. I was immensely pleased.
We were seated in the room off to the right side after passing the coat rack, along the wall. I love being seated by the wall or in the corner so I can people watch, and I loved the warm casual setting. Woodberry is definitely one of the prettiest restaurants I’ve dined in in Baltimore, falling second only to Pazo. Little did I know that our seating would make this experience, as our insanely gracious and fun waitress, Tiffany, really made our night special.
We started with the usual flat water and we ordered a round of cocktails. I’ve been on a Manhattan kick lately so I had the “Manhampden” made from Maryland-style rye, California sweet vermouth, old fashioned bitters, and housemade brandied cherry.
This Manhattan turned out to be slightly sweeter than how I make my own, but it also had a much smoother finish. The cherry at the bottom of the glass turned out to be the star of the drink. The honor of the best drink at the table went to my new friend R’s Bourbon & Peach Fizz (sorry no picture). It featured 107 proof bourbon, honey, ice tea, greenhouse basil, lemon, and Angostura bitters. The insane thing about this drink is after finding out they infused their own peach bourbon I jokingly mentioned how I’d like to get the recipe. To my ultimate surprise and delight the bartender appeared at our table moments later and talked me through the entire process, even providing me with a written recipe. A one-of-a-kind experience.
The bread basket was abundant and surprisingly diverse. My favorite was the crusty sourdough with the amazing hole structure and chewy moist crumb.
My friend from HS, let’s call her J, raved about a little cheddar crisp she had, unfortunately they were all gone. She inquired if Tiffany could bring us some more and we were presented with a whole other bread basket, packed with sesame semolina and the little cheddar crisps.
I love sesame so I went straight for those and they were long and shatteringly crisp. The crisps paired beautifully with the pickles. Speaking of which…
Our first round of orders included the Kitchen Pickles, the Smoked Onion Dip with chips, the Wood-Roasted Royal Trumpet Mushrooms, and finally the Disco Fries. It was funny that these were the dishes I expressed interest in trying, and it turned out to be exactly what we ordered. I guess I do have a certain eye for these things!
The pickles were the first to arrive at our table. Due to Woodberry’s dim mood-lighting, I didn’t realize the variety of pickles we were given until I was browsing my photos on my PC the next day. I sampled a sweet and vinegary carrot, a bell pepper (it was either yellow or orange, I couldn’t tell) and the best of the three, a whole pickled okra.
I consider myself a fan of okra, but I do understand why some don’t care for it since it can be very slimy if not properly prepared. Fortunately this was pickled perfectly and it had a great crisp thready texture to it, and when I bit into it an abundance of seeds burst into my mouth. When paired with the cheddar crisp this was one of the best bites of the meal. Granted there were many best bites.
The Smoked Onion dip was light and fluffy as opposed to heavy and fatty, achieving an almost whipped texture. I think excessive amounts of fat/salt is overly popular in restaurants today, and while Woodberry definitely incorporates those two staples of comfort food into it’s cuisine, it does so with a measured and restrained hand. The chips were only the slightest bit greasy, proof they were freshly fried. I loved how they curled up into themselves, creating extra-crunchy layers. The curled up crunchy chips are always the ones I go for first, and we were provided with an entire basket full of them. What really made the dip special was the sprinkle of dried pepper flake on top. My only complaint about it is I wished that pepper were incorporated into the dip itself, because it added a lovely smokey punch of heat that warmed the back of the tongue.
The Wood-Roasted Royal Trumpet Mushrooms exceeded expectations and was another one of my favorite bites. They were absurdly buttery and coated the mouth in a way that I hadn’t quite experienced from mushrooms before. The edges that lay against the cast iron developed an addicting caramelized crust which had us fighting over the crunchiest looking shrooms. I would’ve left perfectly happy had I eaten an entire bowl of those mushrooms as my meal.
But then the Disco Fries happened. Alright, this was getting just a little bit absurd. I referred to this dish as an ‘umami bomb’ and the rest of the table agreed with me. The execution was flawless as the fries were both soggified with gravy in some places and delightfully crispety-crunchety in others; a quality exclusive to only the upperist of upper echelons of gravy fries.
Does that make any sense at all? I’m trying to say that these were some damn good gravy fries, all right? Christ, a guy tries to be artful with his words and you throw it in his face. Bitch. Nothing short of an epiphany occurred when I sipped my Manhampden after downing a forkful of fries: the pairing worked beautifully. The smooth smoky sweet bourbon served to cut the richness and enhance the woodsy beef. I mentioned my discovery to our beloved Tiffany and she said she would keep it in mind and suggest it to future patrons. So if you go to Woodberry and this pairing is suggested to your table, you’re welcome.
One of the specials of the day was Fainting Goat. Yes, fainting goat. I was excited to eat one of the little guys that made me laugh to the point of almost peeing my pants. It’s funny because they fall over. It was served as four chops with sweet potato spoonbread, roasted young carrots & scallions, yogurt, and warm spice. I also took this opportunity to select a bottle of wine for the table. After Tiffany provided a taste I went with the M. Chapoutier “Belleruche” from Côtes du Rhône which was a Grenache/Syrah blend. It was quite spicy and paired nicely with the warm winter flavors of the spice rub and the peppery spoonbread.
The warm spice blend consisted of curry, chili powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. The crust on the goat was what made the dish really special. It was seared to the point that it was like eating goat bacon. Yes, goat bacon. If such a thing exists (and I’m sure it does, somewhere) then I consider myself extremely lucky to get just a small taste of what goat bacon must be like. The goat itself was perfectly cooked to the chef’s recommended medium. I Heart Fainting Goat Bacon, if thats not a great t-shirt slogan I don’t know what is.
The carrots were also rubbed in the spice and just barely cooked, slightly caramelized while still retaining their crunch. The green onions were fine, but I felt they were a tad undercooked and could’ve benefitted greatly by a little more charring in the pan. The sweet potato spoon bread had a nice peppery bite and a great texture reminiscent of thick pasty grits with a blacked bottom crust. The yogurt sauce itself was very aromatic, tasting of mint or cilantro. I’m not the greatest at deconstructing sauces; all my notes say is that it tasted very “green”. Make of that what you will.
I tried my wife’s VA Rockfish Out of the Oven with roasted chioggia beets, fennel, radish and rocket salad, and tarragon and it came off as mustardy, but a bit too fishy for my tastes. I loved the licorice flavor from the fennel and tarragon, and the beets were sublime, so mineraly and earthy a just a touch sweet. This served to remove some of the sting when I didn’t see beets on the small plates menu. I’d eat a whole bowl.
The dessert course is where this meal turned into a truly memorable experience. After all was said and done our table decided to order the CMP which for those of you who don’t know is malt ice cream, chocolate sauce, wet peanuts, and marshmallow fluff, the Sticky Toffee Pudding with cultured cream, the Peanut Butter Cup with peanut butter fluff, ladyfinger crackerjack, and pretzel stick, the Blueberry Meringue Cake with buttermilk sherbet, and the Cranberry Linzer Tart with apple butter, fresh cream ice cream, and cider sorbet. But when our server arrived it was like she was leading a Mardi Gras parade into the dining room. Not only did she tack on two extra desserts she thought we should try, she threw in an entire round of champagne to go with our meal; A truly wonderful and unexpected surprise. I’m not quite sure, but I think it moved.
The two desserts she tacked on were the Chocolate Pudding with whipped cream, and the Cider Sorbet. Now I came into Woodberry Kitchen hellbent on getting that CMP. But after seeing Sticky Toffee Pudding on the menu, which I had never tried, I was torn. My wife said we could share the two, and reluctantly agreed. Well, while the STP was great, the CMP was by far my favorite dessert on the table.
The key to it (Duff was right) is plunging your spoon down through the layers so you pick up a little bit of every component on your spoon.
A simple dish? Perhaps, but simplicity executed beautifully. Other favorites were the Blueberry Cake and the Cranberry Tart. I loved the torched meringue on the cake and I remember the tart bursting with perfectly tart sweet cranberries. I neglected to take a picture of the tart...
My STP was good, but not as saucy as I expected. After seeing Claire Robinson rave about Toffee Sauce on The Best Thing I Ever Ate I was definitely expecting a gooier cake. It was dense and moist and screamed date flavor.
I really liked the cream lining the dish which was smooth and tart and served to bring the potent date flavor to a more manageable level. But the CMP just killed it. I had to actually have my wife talk me down from almost ordering another one for myself.
All in all, I’m not really sure this post did the experience justice. This was one of the best dining experiences I’ve had in Baltimore. The setting, mood, friends, and, of course, food just really worked. It all snapped snugly into place like so many jigsaw puzzles completed in the early years of my childhood. As we paid the check I was smiling on my lips, but more importantly I was smiling in my mind, and, maybe just a little, I was smiling in my heart.