Is Baltimore’s restaurant scene shaking off its pandemic hangover?

Patrick Hudson hopes so. The oyster farmer and restaurateur just launched a new two-story branch of The Local Oyster in Locust Point at Fort Avenue and Lawrence Street, and said they are “off to a good start.” An earlier branch of The Local Oyster opened in Mount Vernon Marketplace in 2015.

Meanwhile, business is picking up at the True Chesapeake Oyster Co., the restaurant Hudson co-owns in Hampden’s Whitehall Mill. After two-plus years of COVID-closures and often disappointing sales, Hudson hopes this year will be “a fall that finally breaks through the pandemic.”

Elsewhere, some businesses that shut down during the pandemic are reopening under new ownership. This Saturday, the Atlas Restaurant Group is reopening the James Joyce pub in Harbor East, which had shut down earlier on in the pandemic. And below, I’ll tell you about a new chicken shop in the former Larder space, as well as a New Orleans-influenced eatery serving up po’boys downtown.

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I’ll also fill you in on the sweet story behind Hon’s Honey, and plans for the company’s future.

A Hon’s Honey-branded honey and a bar of soap. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

Hon’s Honey will open coffee shop

You might have seen jars of Hon’s Honey for sale at local coffee shops such as Baltimore Coffee and Tea in Timonium. It’s tasty stuff, sourced from Maryland apiaries. But it’s the company’s social mission and tagline — “a healing hive” — that draws in many customers.

Founder Mandy Memmel started the brand, which also makes soaps and skin care products, after working in the area for years through her church and later through her nonprofit, The Well. She wanted to do more.

Hon’s employs survivors of trauma, often women who may have been out of the job market for years. While many other business owners I talk to say they are struggling to find staff, Hon’s, which is supported through donations and grants as well as honey sales, has had the opposite problem: they have more women who want positions than they have openings.

Soon, Hon’s Honey will employ women at a coffee shop and storefront in Brooklyn that’s set to open next year. The location will be 3433 South Hanover St., just across the street from Diablo Doughnuts and The Hanover pub. Memmel said her nonprofit has secured grants to completely revamp the vacant building.

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“We are in rapid growth phase,” said Memmel, noting that annual sales have increased 150% each year the company has been in operation.

Hon’s is about more than just honey. “It’s giving hope,” said Angela Shaneyfelt, a Curtis Bay resident who has worked with Hon’s Honey since its inception. “It’s dignity again.”

B-More NoLa launches

Charm City and New Orleans could be culinary cousins. Both cities are wild about snowballs and seafood. We love Old Bay just as much as they love Zatarain’s.

You can explore the connections with a trip to B-More NoLa, a new eatery in downtown Baltimore from Keith Johnson, better known by the name “Chef Ricky,” and chef Kevanna Gilmore, who is from New Orleans.

The space is in the former Kings Garden Café in Charles Plaza and serves what Johnson calls a “beautiful blend” of New Orleans-style po’boys, fresh gumbo and Maryland crab cakes.

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Johnson has his own line of seasonings, called Neva Tew Much, and said he and Gilmore are using it — as well as Zatarain’s and Old Bay — in the kitchen.

Takeout chicken and sides from Chachi's (as seen at the home of Baltimore Banner reporter Christina Tkacik).
Takeout chicken and sides from Chachi's (as seen at the home of Baltimore Banner reporter Christina Tkacik). (Christina Tkack)

Try this:

Chachi’s has been open just over two weeks, but I’m already ready to add this Old Goucher restaurant’s rotisserie chicken and sides to my weekly dinner rotation.

Chef and owner Karl Diehn — formerly of Dylan’s Oyster Cellar, and a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley — brings a fine dining background to casual eats. On the menu are rotating sides such as “fancy slaw,” a mayo-free coleslaw made with daikon and dill, or flavorful, home-cooked ratatouille. And you can always get french fries.

But the star of the show is the locally-sourced rotisserie chicken and potatoes cooked in its drippings. Seasoned with a vibrant Georgian spice blend (that is, Georgia, the country), the bird is spicy and flavorful on its own — or you could pick up some additional house-made sauces to drizzle on top. It’s simple, hearty fare, a staple of European farmers markets, Diehn said.

The eatery — located in the former Larder space — shares a courtyard with Lane Harlan’s Fadensonnen and is adjacent to Sophomore Coffee. I was sorry to see Larder shut down, but Chachi’s is a welcome replacement.

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The rotisserie chicken spot takes the place of Old Goucher eatery Larder. (Christina Tkacik)

As fall approaches, look for additions such as Bavarian soft pretzels and Polish pierogi, a nod to the ancestry of Diehn’s wife, Stephanie. (It’s her nickname that inspired the name. ”It has nothing to do with Scott Baio,” Diehn said).

Guests can eat inside the small restaurant, or enjoy the courtyard. If you’re ordering online and picking up to-go food, as I did, be aware that it’s not the grab and go setup many restaurants use, with your bagged-up food waiting for you on the counter when you arrive. Diehn and his staff wait until customers actually pick up the order to pack it up. “I don’t want things sitting too long,” Diehn said.

A whole chicken is $25, which is about the same as you might pay for a local chicken at the grocery store. I was curious to know how Diehn was managing his food costs. Although he acknowledged that particular item is a loss leader, he was insistent on keeping the price low, reasoning, “You can get a $5 [rotisserie] chicken at Costco.”

Sure, but it won’t taste like this.

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