baltimore eatery: grano emporio

grano emporioA few weeks ago, my girlfriends and I stumbled upon a small restaurant in the heart of Hampden, an area of downtown Baltimore. We originally had reservations some place else, but a super fast change in direction landed us literally across the street at the most charming local Italian eatery–a split second decision that couldn’t have had better results if we tried.

We walked into Grano Emporio and while small and packed on a Friday night, they did everything they could to accommodate our party of 3. We ran into one of my co-workers who was with his own party of 3, while waiting in the bar area. And then had the pleasure of sitting at a table next to someone we think was an owner and quite charming in his own right.

There was a lot of Italian being spoken, the wait-staff was awesome, our wine glasses were never empty (at the direction of aforementioned owner), the bread was hot out of the oven, and the seasonal desserts were delish!

I was intrigued by the specials, so I ordered them…all of them. The appetizer of salmon, prosciutto, mozzarella pinwheels, the main dish of lobster with crab stuffed ravioli, and an apple custard pie. And while my dessert was super yummy, one of my girlfriend’s had the tiramisu and it was to die for–highly recommend. Actually, that’s the point of this post–in case you hadn’t noticed, I would highly recommend Grano Emporio–I also would highly recommend you make a reservation.

Normally, when I go out for Italian, it’s some place in Little Italy–Amicci’s anyone? And when I got to Hampden, it’s usually for Holy Frijoles. Dining at Grano Emporio was a delightful experience all around and one I plan to repeat–did I mention the yummy French press coffee? Don’t miss out on this hidden Baltimore treasure. Buon appetito!

OMG, I Think I’m a Foodie!

foodieWe put labels on a lot of things–people included. There are many labels I would give myself: good listener, funny, creative, obsessive handbag connoisseur, and the list goes on and on. However, what I discovered after coming home from dinner with one of my girlfriends last week is I can add another label to myself–foodie. This one caught me by surprise, but after careful consideration–I don’t know why.

See, I always thought foodie’s were those people who chased the latest fads like food trucks and cupcakes; always went to the latest and trendiest restaurant openings; things like that. While the term may apply to those people, I think foodie covers a broader spectrum.  Here’s why I think I fall into it. I love to cook. I love to bake. (I’m good at both.) I like to go out to eat–including trying trendy new restaurants–but I also LOVE an eatery that’s considered a hole in the wall with good food. I love inviting friends over and having a theme for a meal and finding recipes to fill out the menu. And  yes, I watch the Food Network and buy food magazines (when the covers look particularly yummy).

When I say I watch the Food Network, I’m not watching Chopped or other cooking competition shows (though I was really into Iron Chef America for a while). I watch and DVR cooking shows. My 3 favorites are (in no particular order):

Every week I record and watch these 3 shows and then determine which recipes I’m going to try out. My list is growing substantially, to say the least. This was the final component that sealed my foodie fate. I am super excited to add this latest label to my repertoire of personal descriptors–and in turn, as I try out new recipes, I’ll let everyone know how they go. First up: The Pioneer Woman’s Crash Hot Potatoes

Restaurant Rundown in Catonsville, MD

catonsvilleThis post has been in draft form for entirely too long, so it’s time to share. During the holidays last year, I found that I was eating out more than usual–often at some really tasty places. Surprisingly, Catonsville, MD has turned out to be quite the culinary hot spot–who knew?!?! Let’s dig in (pun intended).

Catonsville Gourmet Market–The food here is good and I would go back, but I’m not doing cartwheels. The atmosphere is cozy, service is good, and there’s a section in the back of the restaurant that sells seafood that looks yummy and fresh. I would recommend a reservation because it’s not that big. But a huge score is that there is a parking lot behind the restaurant and it’s free.

Dusenberg’s–I can’t say enough good things about this place. The food is awesome, the portions are huge, and the environment is ‘classic.’ They serve breakfast, brunch, and lunch; everything from beignets and specialty omelettes to the ‘Chesapeake Club’ that I enjoyed–shrimp salad topped with lump crab dip. The only down side is they don’t take reservations and they only have about 12 tables in the whole place. Because it’s such a popular spot–rightfully so–be prepared to wait. Street parking only.

Regions–The food here was very good and everyone in my party loved what they ate. Unfortunately, because it’s been so long I don’t remember what anyone had, myself included. I know it was off the specials menu and it was seafood (so I like seafood, I live in Maryland!). They do not have a liquor license so you will need to bring your own wine. And for a mere $5, yes $5, they will uncork it for you. (Yes, I’m being facetious.) The only true ‘negative’ I have to say about this restaurant is that they have a very strict 2-hour dining limit. We were a party of 3 women catching up and 2 hours after the start of our reservation we were brought the bill and politely told that our table was needed for another party. To be fair, this is mentioned on their website, but seriously??? Get ready to get in, eat, and get out.

Ship’s–I haven’t actually been to this restaurant, but I have heard good things.

Bonus review: This place isn’t in Catonsville, but it was good enough that I have to give it a shout out.

La Palapa–Seriously, they have a mariachi band, need I say more? If you can handle really spicy food, get the stuffed jalapeños, they’re worth the burn. I am a chimichanga girl and I was not disappointed in the least. This restaurant is located in downtown Ellicott City and parking was a NIGHTMARE. Yes, it was holiday time and Santa was in town until midnight on the night we went, but oh my–took me about an hour to park. The restaurant parking lot only holds about 9 cars. There are lots all around and street parking for free. I parked about half a mile away in front of someone’s home and one of my friends parked in the lot of an apartment complex–shhh, don’t tell. All that said, a super fun atmosphere, good food, and apparently a popular happy hour spot.

While on the subject of yummy food and restaurants, and since I stepped out of Catonsville, I may as well step out of Maryland. My recent reviews of my stay in Miami Beach were less than kind, though truthful; but there were a few bright spots. I went to a restaurant called Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine. I know it sounds odd and maybe they should consider a name change, but put that out of your mind–the food is awesome and so is the sangria. They are known for their roast pork which unfortunately, they were sold out of, so they recommended the pork chops–divine. And there were two of them, along with perfectly cooked plantains and black beans.

The other culinary crib worth mentioning was in South Beach–Van Dyke’s Cafe on Lincoln Road. The warm Brie appetizer alone was worth the traffic riddled cab ride. Coupled with pineapple mojitos and lobster stuffed ravioli, you can’t go wrong. Plus, I got to wear flip-flops and a sundress in March, only to return to snow in MD 2 days later, it was a nice reprieve.

There you have it. The review that took 4 months. Enjoy!