Baltimore’s restaurant scene is so hot right now that even D.C. restaurateurs are getting in on the action.
That was my take after learning that a D.C.-based ramen joint is opening its first location outside the nation’s capital in none other than Charm City.
Some more highlights from this week’s column: The Greene Turtle is opening in Baltimore, its first since the closure of the branch in Fells Point. Bar Fusion calls it quits. A Little Italy fruit seller is buying up neighborhood restaurants. A former Baltimore City restaurateur is opening a liquor store. And did I mention there’s something new at Security Square Mall?
And let’s not forget about the $12.99 lobster roll special in Columbia.
Chick-fil-A opens at Security Square
Woodlawn’s Security Square Mall has long been a source of frustration for Baltimore County residents, who have complained of substandard food and shopping options and that its many vacancies attracted crime.
A potential green shoot: Chick-fil-A Security Square opened Monday, offering a multi-lane drive-thru, dine-in and carryout service. According to a spokeswoman, William Barge is the owner.
While Chick-fil-A usually launches with a “First 100″ giveaway, whereby the first 100 customers get free sandwiches, Barge has chosen to go a different route. The restaurant has found 100 “local heroes” who will get free Chick-fil-A for a whole year.
Just don’t try to visit on Sundays. All Chick-fil-A locations shut down on Sundays in accordance with company founder S. Truett Cathy’s Baptist faith.
Greenmount Avenue — the next H Street?
A Taiwanese-style ramen restaurant is launching its second ever location on Baltimore’s Greenmount Avenue.
Toki Underground, which has an outpost on H Street in Washington, D.C., will take the place of Bottoms Up Bagels at 2731 Greenmount Ave. in Harwood.
The restaurant won a Bib Gourmand from the Michelin Guide, meant to honor affordable restaurants that offer “value-for-money.”
The restaurant bills itself as D.C.’s original ramen spot, and boasts a menu of cocktails made with Japanese whiskey and ramen choices like the Taipei curry chicken ramen as well as dumplings and steam buns.
“We love Baltimore,” said co-owner Jeff Jetton. He added that some customers already come from Baltimore to D.C. for ramen, and the business has held pop-ups in Baltimore, including one at Bluebird Cocktail Room pre-pandemic. Jetton also has family in Fells Point and a brother in Towson. The city “just seemed like a natural choice.”
In preparation, Jetton said he and partners Christophe Richard and Olivier Caillabet have researched the Greenmount Avenue area and made connections with local community associations. “I do think that Greenmount Avenue has the bones and everything it takes to be a vibrant retail corridor,” he said. “You can walk it and see what it could be.”
The thoroughfare, Jetton said, “has a lot of similarities” to H Street when Toki Underground opened in 2009.
The new restaurant will be significantly larger than the D.C. location, which has just 26 seats and is on the second floor of a building. Renderings submitted as part of an application for a liquor license show 68 seats around tables with additional seats at the bar. “We’re still working on the layout,” Jetton said.
An opening date: “Next year, for sure,” said Jetton.
Bottoms Up Bagels
By the way, whatever happened to Bottoms Up Bagels, the previous tenant to occupy 2731 Greenmount Ave.?
The beloved bagel company shut down its Charm City location in May after their lease expired. Its owners, wife-and-wife team Michelle Bond and Joan Kanner, are now operating as a pop-up shop they call the “BUB Roadshow.”
Their motto, says Kanner: “Don’t just grow where you’re planted, but go where you’re wanted.”
Bond, who helped start the business seven years ago, said the project “started as a way to test new markets in a way that was authentic.”
Their last stop was in Frederick, where customers included regulars who came from Baltimore just to get their bagels.
With that kind of love from locals, could they land back in Baltimore soon?
The owners were noncommittal, saying past dealings with landlords left them wanting to ensure they could own whatever property they move into.
“If someone can help us find a building, high-five,” Kanner said.
The Greene Turtle crawls to Canton
Slow and steady wins the race. Almost 50 years after it first opened in Ocean City, The Greene Turtle is about to launch a new location in Baltimore, and the only branch within city limits.
The restaurant at 3803 Boston Street will take the place of On the Border Mexican Cantina & Grill at The Shops at Canton Crossing. It will seat about 200 people and offer both indoor and outdoor seating, according to an application submitted to the Baltimore board of liquor license commissioners. Owners are also seeking permission to host live entertainment.
The name on the application submitted to the board is Kevin Curley, director of culinary and concept development for the Greene Turtle franchise, according to his LinkedIn profile. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, he also owns RegionAle American Sandwiches and Fat Patties at McHenry Row. Both are backed by ITA Group Holdings LLC, the parent company that owns The Greene Turtle and other restaurants. Curley did not respond to questions from The Baltimore Banner.
Now based in Columbia, Greene Turtle announced earlier this year that it was reorganizing under a holding company.
The company had some green to help them out. Last year, according to data from the Small Business Administration, The Greene Turtle Franchising Group in Columbia received more than $5 million through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, a federal program designed to help restaurants survive the pandemic. It was one of the largest grants given in Maryland.
A ‘neighborhood boy’ invests in Little Italy
Little Italy resident Ben Sudano has has purchased High Street eatery Germano’s Piattini, known for its cabaret shows. The restaurant shut down during the pandemic.
The new owner is the CEO of Sudano’s Produce, a wholesale company founded in 1920 by Sicilian immigrant Sebastiano Sudano, according to the website.
I couldn’t reach Ben, but according to his son, Josh, the family plans to renovate Germano’s and run it as a restaurant, along with Aldo’s Ristorante Italiano. Ben Sudano purchased that neighboring eatery earlier this year. It’s currently being used as an event space.
Ben Sudano also owns the brick building at 245 Albemarle Street, childhood home of lawmaker Nancy Pelosi.
Ray Alcaraz, president of the promotion center for Little Italy, said he was glad to hear that Sudano was taking over Germano’s in addition to Aldo’s. “I love the fact that a neighborhood boy is doing this.”
Though foot traffic in Little Italy suffered during the pandemic, Alcaraz said he’s seen crowds returning slowly but surely, with lines forming outside social media-savvy businesses like Ovenbird Bakery, Joe Benny’s and new arrival, Waffle-Licious.
Spirit Shop comes to Falls Road
After a career working in restaurants, Lisa Heckman is getting into the spirits.
Heckman will launch The Spirit Shop, a high end liquor and wine store at 1407 Clarkview Rd., just off Falls Road in Baltimore County. Heckman is shooting for a late winter opening — February or March of 2023.
Heckman previously owned Soigne in Baltimore and helped out at her family’s restaurant, Iggie’s Pizza, which is under new ownership.
The shop is next to pizza place Earth, Wood & Fire. Heckman, whose husband and son co-own French Paradox in Stevenson Village, said the shop will also carry chocolates and snacks that go well with alcohol. Her attorney, Abraham Hurdle, presented some samples to commissioners during the shop’s hearing before the Baltimore County liquor board.
The $12.99 lobster roll
The Walrus Oyster & Ale House in Columbia, located in the Mall in Columbia, is offering a big discount on its Maine lobster rolls to lunchtime customers. At $12.99, it’s more than half off the usual price of $36.
It’s not the first time The Walrus has offered such a deal, said Des Reilly, principal of Star Restaurant Group, which owns The Walrus in Columbia and neighboring eatery Chicken + Whiskey.
In 2018, after the restaurant opened its first location in National Harbor, they temporarily offered lobster roll specials of $10.99 as a “publicity stunt,” said Reilly. “I’m not ashamed to tell people this. I was desperate. I knew we had a great product. The restaurant was massively underperforming. I wanted something that would be an eye-popper for guests.”
The stunt worked, and now Reilly said he intends the promotion to be a “thank you” to customers who have supported the restaurant during the pandemic.
How long will the deal last? “I’m not going to draw a line in the sand,” Reilly said. “We’ll keep an eye on how we do.”
Bar Fusion shuts down for good
It’s over for Bar Fusion.
The Hampden restaurant in the former 13.5% Wine Bar space got heat from neighbors, who complained of loud music and large crowds. Its owner, Chil Chong, owed another business owner, Bernard Dehaene, money in the six figure range. Then, it lost its liquor license after a previous owner took it back.
For a time, Bar Fusion appeared to be trying out BYOB brunches, according to an online invitation. Nicholas Blendy, deputy executive secretary for the Board of Liquor License Commissioners, said the agency had received a 311 complaint about the BYOB operation and referred the matter to the Baltimore Police Department.
Then, an attorney for Chong withdrew a request for a new liquor license at the location. Harry K. Prevas did not respond to an email from The Banner.
Don’t expect this space, owned by Milton Shaw of Baltimore, to be vacant for long. The Avenue is becoming one of the city’s most sought-after dining destinations and I’ll bet it’s only a matter of time before another restaurateur signs a lease.
I talked to Shaw briefly on Tuesday as he was cleaning out the restaurant. He says he’s already had several inquiries about the property. But he’s open to proposals, adding that the space also has access to a 14-spot parking lot behind the nearby 7-11.
He’s looking for a tenant who gets along with the neighbors.
An earlier version of this article gave the wrong name for Josh Sudano. The Banner regrets the error.