Spy Agent Report: Preliminary Findings on Mason’s – Redux 2017

Many new restaurants step up slowly to full menus and a packed house after opening their doors. But in Easton, Mason’s – Redux 2017 has elected to go from zero to sixty in a day. Courageous, and only possible with owners who pay attention to every detail along with a chef who brings restaurant experience and seriously capable culinary skills to the new enterprise.

Our party of three ventured out during the first week to give this long-anticipated dining location a try. While we went with expectations firmly in check given its still early days, we were delighted well beyond what a first-week experience would typically provide.

As you step off the brick sidewalk at 22 South Harrison Street, you notice the freshly painted building now gray. Entry occurs by moving through the velvet curtain – there to keep the cold outside. One immediately notices the tastefully elegant white tablecloth dining rooms as both appealing and inviting.

The young hostesses greet guests with efficient friendliness. Coats are taken without the use of those paper number things that always get lost. (They keep track of your jacket by your name.)

We were seated, offered water and beverages. The glasses of wine were selected from an attractive list of choices.

One can’t help but settle back and enjoy the environment while reviewing the menu. Our selections were made from an imaginative menu where seafood, pork, lamb, and beef are among the choices along with an attractive vegetable dish.

Our first courses consisted of roasted beets that included whipped feta, orange vinaigrette, and pistachios. Bibb lettuce salad topped with grapefruit, avocado, Bulgarian feta and poppy seed vinaigrette. Finally, the third member of our party enjoyed turnip cauliflower soup with cracked hazelnut and olive oil.

These offerings provided a delicious beginning to a dining experience we continued to enjoy.

We moved smoothly from our first course to our main course with the young wait staff removing and delivering plates to the table. The staff is friendly and comfortable in the new setting. Seasoning will come fast, and more senior members of the team are ever present ensuring that guests are fully satisfied.

Our entrees demonstrated the experience of chef Erin O’Shea. One of our party selected halibut that was perfectly prepared. Two of us enjoyed the lamb shank which remained moist and tasty as it fell off the bone.

We finished our fine meal by sharing the rice pudding topped with bourbon currants. This proved a soft-textured and sweet completion to our meal that was finished off with an excellent cup of coffee.

We fully enjoyed our evening. The owners were present and seriously reviewing their domain while warmly greeting friends and diners throughout the restaurant where every seat was taken. Our experience was relaxed and never rushed and came to a comfortable conclusion after two hours. The fare before gratuity was around $200 for our three courses and excellent wine by the glass.

As we departed, the opportunity to visit with one of the owners brought a series of thoughtful questions to make sure we enjoyed our experience. Relaxed fine dining is their stated objective, and that was certainly provided to us with a restaurant that seems positioned to do well in our community.

Spy Minute: What the Heck is the Bistro Bill with Joe Petro

Even after reading the coverage in the Star-Democrat over the last few days about the so-called Bistro Bill, the Spy was still not entirely clear what proposed legislation would do if the Talbot County Council ultimately passes in next month.

Our solution was a quick check in with Joe Petro, owner of Hair O’ the Dog, and the primary advocate for changing the law. As Joe explains, Hair O’ The Dog wishes to add a wine bar alongside their existing store off of Marlboro Street but current local law caps the amount Hair can serve its customers to one ounce. This change would permit them to remove that restriction for the wine bar addition and serve both wine and beer by the glass or bottle.

We checked in with Joe this morning to allow him to make his case that the law should change.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. For more information about Bistro Bill, a.k.a. Bill No. 1377, please go here

 

Food Friday: Thanksgiving Blast Off!

Here we are, poised on the cusp of Thanksgiving planning, and the countdown is blithely ticking away. The grocery store is going to be nuts this weekend, so if you have been assigned a Thanksgiving task, you better get out there early on Saturday and stake your claim on the mixed nuts, the fancy crackers, the yams, or the organic, farm raised green beans. I hope to high heaven that you have reserved your bird! Otherwise you will be stuck with a frozen Butterball, which you will need to start thawing on Monday.

Are you hosting this year? I was poking around in a kitchen drawer the other day and found the still-wrapped-in-cellophane package of festive holiday cocktail napkins I had bought for last year’s Thanksgiving, and never remembered to use. At least I am still prepared on that level of middle class etiquette. Though no one noticed the lack of finger bowls last year, either. I must have raised a pack of wolves.

Have you thought about a centerpiece? I am always a big fan of using what is at hand, instead of getting fancy with flowers. I always think you can never have too many candles – which puts us in the camp of people who eat Thanksgiving as dinner, and not as a football halftime event. I use an apple corer to make hole in apples, pears, pumpkins,cabbages and squash. I like using low candles so we can see each other across the table. Candlelight can be so flattering. I know I look better in the golden glow, and the shadows mask all our wobbly bits. There is so much to be thankful for!

This year we are traveling, as our Gentle Readers may remember from last week. We have been assigned to pick the turkey up on Wednesday. We will be bringing wine and years of Thanksgiving cooking expertise. This is the first time our daughter has cooked Thanksgiving. I was telling a visiting carpenter about our plans earlier this week. His personal cautionary tale was not the usual rhubarb of turkey woe. For his first Thanksgiving as the chef, he conferred in the kitchen with his experienced grandmother, who inspected the turkey for offending giblet packages. She said that the bird was ready for stuffing. A few hours later, once the turkey had been roasted and basted and brought to the table to be carved, they found the turkey neck still inside the bird. Granny had not been as thorough as she thought. Let that be a lesson to you! It was a teachable, memorable moment and it was better than the textbook case of trying to cook a frozen turkey. I promise to be alert to potential disaster. I will check both ends of the bird.

Since it is my job in the venerable Spy Test Kitchen to keep up with cooking trends and Thanksgiving hints, I have been rooting around the internets looking for helpful ideas to pass on to you. I hope you have been paying attention:

1. Buy your crucial Thanksgiving ingredients this weekend – Thursday morning is no time to go shopping
2. Have your parents buy the fresh, organic, free-range turkey and a case of wine
3. Remove the giblets AND the turkey neck
4. Buy lots of flattering candles
5. Cocktail napkins and finger bowls are optional
6. Buy a keg of beer – it makes perfect sense
http://www.thekitchn.com/why-you-should-get-a-keg-for-thanksgiving-250994?

Have a fabulous Thanksgiving. Play nicely. Give sincere thanks. Blast off!

Here are a few Thanksgiving toasts.

“Here’s to alcohol, the rose-colored glasses of life.”
— F. Scott Fitzgerald

“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.” – Henry David Thoreau
“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy. They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
– Marcel Proust

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
– John Fitzgerald Kennedy

“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.” 
― Oscar Wilde

Mid-Shore Food: Finding the Balance between a Restaurant and the Family Kitchen Table

Bill Lynch might be one of the few chefs in America that works in the home kitchen of approximately 180 people every day. While it is true that Bill doesn’t get in his car to visit each one, the metaphor works in describing what it is like to direct the food service at the Londonderry on the Tred Avon community just off Port Street in Easton.

And that is where the challenge begins for Bill as he and his crew as they navigate the expectations of sophisticated residents with significant international culinary experiences but who also seek out simpler food options for their day to day meals.

That’s not an easy task for any chef, but with Bill’s own culinary background, starting with learning to cook from his Italian grandmother in Philly, to progressing through the hierarchy of professional kitchens, including some of the best in the Mid-Atlantic region, he has found himself very much at home himself is the new and satisfying change from what a traditional restaurant faces daily.

A few weeks ago, the Spy sat down with Bill to talk about this unique balancing act.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about Londonderry on the Tred Avon please go here

Food Friday: We Say Potatoes

I’ve confessed before that my favorite part of Thanksgiving is the leftover turkey sandwich. After burning through all that cooking energy, and surviving peril-fraught gavotte with relatives and siblings and in-laws, I like walking into the kitchen alone, and making a nice turkey sandwich. It is a total WASP sandwich – with none of the embellishments that my son, the Tall One, enjoys. Give me two slices of Pepperidge Farm white bread, a small swipe of mayonnaise, and a scattering of salt and pepper. A little handful of Ruffles potato chips and the last dregs of the Beaujolais. Yumsters. It is as enjoyable to assemble and devour as any comfort food that someone else could lovingly prepare. It never disappoints. It is bland and consistent.

The Tall One trowels anything that been on the dining room table onto his leftovers sandwich. He has even been known to smush a crescent roll between the slices of bread, where it pads out the turkey, cranberry sauce, gravy, pickles, limp lettuce leaves, a couple of green beans and a generous schmear of mashed potato. I don’t think he has ever added after-dinner mints or pumpkin pie slivers, but he is young and hungry and has a passion for out-doing himself every year. Excelsior, Tall One!

We have always been a mashed potato family at Thanksgiving. We have looked askance at sweet potatoes, except as pie ingredients. But this year our former nuclear family is scattered. The Tall One is spending the holiday with his new in-laws, where he is sure to astound and amaze with his capacity to consume Pilgrim Sandwiches. We are traveling to visit the Pouting Princess, who will be cooking her first Thanksgiving dinner. She is a former vegetarian and pescatarian, and now consumes many seeds. It will be a memorable meal.

We all lovingly remember her first Thanksgiving coming home from college. She was newly vegetarian – not yet vegan, so we tried to be sensitive. We did not use chicken broth when we made the mashed potatoes. I can’t recall all the restrictions, but I am pretty sure we were allowed to use milk and butter in the mashing process. Imagine our surprise, then, when we sat down at the table, crammed with heirloom silver and wine bottles and candles and extra elbows, as we gazed with amazement as she poured a steaming lake of turkey gravy into her Richard Dreyfuss-inspired mountain of mashed potatoes. Yes, Thanksgiving stories like that are golden memories that we love to recall year after year.

Mashed potatoes are good hot the first time around, lukewarm on sandwiches, and reheated as potato pancakes on Saturday morning.These mashed potatoes from Bon Appétit can be prepared the night before Thanksgiving. It is always a good bet to have one steaming hot dish squared away before plunging into the kitchen battlefield. Another thing these potatoes have going for them is that you do NOT have to peel them. If you have a potato ricer. Quick – get on line with Amazon right now! Though adding garlic is something we won’t do – we are purists, but you might be more open-minded than we are. Go for it. We are the Blandings. https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/ultra-creamy-mashed-potatoes

Another recipe calling for a ricer – yet insisting that you peel first – is from our friends at Food52. To them, the mashed potatoes are a canvas on which you can paint dreams of lusciousness. Surely those pipe dreams are better spent on dessert? https://food52.com/blog/11703-how-to-make-mashed-potatoes-without-a-recipe It is a good recipe to re-read in case you are separated from your smartphone and need to improvise making the potatoes to prove to your Aunt Regina that you are indeed a grown up, and know how to do more than order take out. As I said, Thanksgiving can be fraught.

If you have your own vegan coming home from college this year, try this recipe: https://minimalistbaker.com/the-best-damn-vegan-mashed-potatoes/

A long time ago, when my brother was the family mashed potato person, he peeled the potatoes, quartered them, and cooked them in boiling water until tender. The he dropped the cooked potatoes into a big yellow ware bowl, added several tablespoons of butter, and mashed them with the electric hand mixer. Once the biggest lumps were smashed he would pour in a dribble of fresh whole milk, a little at a time, mixing at a low speed until all the lumps disappeared. He was the mashed potato whisperer. Milk, butter, salt and pepper and potatoes. Simple, bland, delicious. No garlic. No potato ricer. Classic stuff.

“What I say is that, if a man really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow.”
― A.A. Milne

Other potato ideas from Bon Appétit: https://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/slideshow/thanksgiving-mashed-potatoes

Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZ3fjQa5Hls

Mid-Shore Food: Perry Cabin Partners with Phillips Wharf Environmental Center on Oysters

Just in time for OysterFest weekend, Inn at Perry Cabin by Belmond and Phillips Wharf Environmental Center are serving up a most delicious commercial partnership.

Beginning this week, Chef Ken MacDonald will feature in Stars restaurant and Purser’s Pub a variety of oyster specials sourced directly from Phillips Wharf’s new 5-acre oyster farm just off of Black Walnut Point.

“Phillips Wharf’s oyster farm sits right where Harris Creek meets the Choptank River,” says MacDonald. “The convergence of fresh river water with the Choptank’s brackish, saltier water offers a unique, incomparable flavor in these oysters that simply belongs at the Inn.”

“Right out of the water, these oysters are to die for,” says the Inn’s Food and Beverage Director Samir Dhir, “but we look forward to working with the team at

Phillips Wharf to create a signature flavoring and a truly proprietary line of Inn at Perry Cabin oysters. Alongside the Harris Creek Oyster Company products we continue to feature on our menus, the two taste profiles are distinct and complementary—perfect for discerning palates.”

Inn at Perry Cabin by Belmond’s flagship restaurant Stars has long offered one of the finest dining experiences on the Eastern Shore. It is the only Forbes-rated establishment in the area and recently earned the Distinguished Restaurants of North America’s (DiRōNA) Award of Excellence.

“This new endeavor with Phillips Wharf is a natural extension of our commitment to local, sustainable, organic and seasonal cuisine,” says Inn at Perry Cabin’s General Manager Michael Hoffmann. “Almost every ingredient on our menus in Stars and Purser’s is sourced within 150 miles of St. Michaels, and with the Farms at Perry Cabin up and running, that radius is rapidly shrinking. Every day we’re harvesting herbs and vegetables right here on property.”
Hoffmann adds that this partnership also reflects the Inn’s commitment to the Chesapeake Bay. “Our guests benefit from the health of this beautiful, bountiful body of water, and so many of our neighbors here in St. Michaels thrive off of it. So it’s essential to our business to be environmentally conscious and to support organizations like Phillips Wharf that work so hard to protect the Bay.”

“For Phillips Wharf, the oyster farm represents a steady stream of much-needed revenue to support our educational and conservation programs,” says Executive Director Kelley Cox. “We’re thrilled to partner with Inn at Perry Cabin, and eager to build on this model with other organizations in 2018.”
The Inn also will be receiving this week its second delivery of oyster spat—an annual tradition for the Inn in conjunction with the Marylanders Grow Oysters program—and an extension of its partnership with Phillips Wharf and the Midshore River Keeper’s Conservancy.

Stars is open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch, dinner and afternoon tea. It’s located at 308 Watkins Lane in St. Michaels, Maryland, and reservations can be made at www.opentable.com/stars or on (410) 745-2200. Purser’s Pub opens daily at 3 p.m. on weekdays and noon on weekends, and features an eclectic small plates menu.

 

Food Friday: Portable Pears for Thanksgiving

Countdown to Thanksgiving! 20 days!

Since there is a still a large bowl brimming with Halloween Baby Ruths, Butterfingers and Nestlé Crunch bars in our front hall, it might be a little early to start thinking about Thanksgiving. Or is it? Over at Martha’s, her cowering staff is probably tinkering with Easter jelly bean recipes. But in the venerated Spy Test Kitchens we are grappling with the weighty questions of dessert and wine for our contribution to Thanksgiving. These are two of our favorite problems to solve. Obviously.

We are taking a road trip with half of America for Thanksgiving this year. And since we will not have access to a kitchen en route, our dessert must be made ahead of time, and it must travel well. Desserts are pretty hardy, and remain delicious even if they get a little shopworn after spending six hours on I-95. I think it best not to count on bringing something with a beautiful glistening flawless surface, or towering and multi-layer. Admittedly you could reassemble your creation at the last minute just when the green beans beans are losing steam and the gravy is getting cold and the hosts are worn to a frazzle. Not good guest behavior, though.

Starting with the mundane – we could bring a traditional pumpkin pie. Or we could stop at Trader Joe’s and pick one up; they have a deft hand with pie crust, and I surely do not. But store-bought doesn’t scream love, or paying attention to detail. What I could do instead, is stop at Trader Joe’s for some heavy cream to whip up while the stuffing is being prepped. And then at the proper moment I can bring out the bowl of lovely sworling peaks of deliciousness, and apply generous lashings to plates of homemade dessert. There is almost nothing that whipped cream can’t improve.

I am thinking about pears this year. Pears always seem autumnal. They come in such a beautiful variety of colors. A few pears in an orderly line on the mantle piece, or up the middle of the dining room table, make a lovely simple decorations. And when the meal is finished, and the last coffee cup has been whisked away, a pear makes an effective palate cleaner. A light, juicy non-alcoholic digestif.

There are many kinds of pears: Green Anjou, Red Anjou, Bartlett, Red Bartlett, Bosc, Comice, Concorde, Forelle, Seckel and Stark Crimson. Feel free to research the more obscure. https://www.thespruce.com/pear-varieties-2216839

Anjous, Bartletts, Boscs and Asian pears are deelish eaten raw. Bosc and Anjous are excellent for holding their shape when cooked. Bartlett pears are perfect for sauces, or butters. Vivian Howard, who never wastes the tiniest bit of food potential, has an excellent recipe for the otherwise unloved Keiffer pear: Kieffer Pear Preserves: http://www.pbs.org/food/features/a-chefs-life-season-5-episode-4-food-truck-pear-tree/

This is a delightful dessert that should travel well: https://www.marthastewart.com/1165261/pear-cranberry-tart It will echo the cranberry jelly already on the table, only without the Ocean Spray trademark of can ridges along the surface. It is elegant.

Depending on your relationship with your family, you can bring this version of flourless chocolate cake. It does not call for a shimmering skin of chocolate ganache, but it does require for cricket flour. Won’t you be a hit with the youngsters! http://usapears.org/recipe/chocolate-cricket-decadence-cake/ (There is not enough whipped cream in the world for me to eat this cake.)

The easiest-peasiest: pear-blueberry crumble. It is the most likely to shine with heaps of whipped cream and it has no delusions about holding its shape. https://www.thespruce.com/fresh-pear-cobbler-3053813

Here is the most labor intensive, but absolutely delicious pie that would be a hit at Thanksgiving. It also doesn’t have any hard-to-find ingredients, a major plus in my cooking book. I do not want to drive for 45 minutes to find an obscure (and expensive) spice. Gingered Cranberry-Pear Pie: https://food52.com/recipes/24820-gingered-cranberry-pear-pie It is fun to roll the pie dough out on the crumbled gingersnaps, though! Mostly because you need to test some of the smashed gingersnaps. Lots and lots of testing…

And what if your assignment and contribution to Thanksgiving should be a cocktail? Fabulous! Lucky you! Here is a pear nectar and tequila cocktail that should burnish your reputation for being a great guest: Pear Nectar and Reposado Tequila Cocktail

INGREDIENTS
1 ½ oz reposado tequila
3-4 ounces pear nectar
Tiny dash of cinnamon
One drop vanilla extract
Light drizzle of honey
Half of a lemon, juiced
Cinnamon stick, to garnish (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS
1. Fill a double old-fashioned or high ball glass with ice.
2. Pour in the tequila and pear nectar. Add the cinnamon, vanilla and honey to the glass. Squeeze in half a lemon’s worth of juice.
3. Mix by pouring into a cocktail shaker or another glass, give it a shake or stir well, then pour it back into the original glass. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.
https://cookieandkate.com/2011/holiday-cocktail-pear-and-resposado-tequila/

“A fruit is a vegetable with looks and money. Plus, if you let fruit rot, it turns into wine, something Brussels sprouts never do.”
– P.J. O’Rourke

Sunflowers & Greens Wins Oyster Stew Competition

Sunflowers & Greens Chef Harley Peet has been named the first place winner in the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum’s oyster stew competition, held annually during OysterFest.

Sunflowers & Greens of Easton, Md. earns bragging rights and a plaque recognizing the People’s Choice award. Votes were taken during blind tastings of the different stews at CBMM’s October 28 OysterFest, with Sunflowers & Greens served as stew ‘B’.  The stew will be served at Sunflowers & Greens and its sister restaurant, Bas Rouge, in Easton.

Five restaurants competed, with 500 festival-goers taking part in blind taste tests before voting by ballot for their favorite stew. T at the General Store of Royal Oak, Md. was served as stew ‘A’ in the tastings, which placed second with chef Hugo Ruesgas, with third place going to stew ‘D’ from Bistro St. Michaels’ chef Doug Stewart. Other participants included Billie’s Catering of Crisfield, Md. (stew ‘C’), and Gourmet by the Bay of St. Michaels, Md. (stew ‘E’).  More information about the event is at cbmm.org/oysterfest.

Hoopers Island Oyster Co. Launches Seasonal Retail Operation

Hoopers Island Oyster Co., a Dorchester County aquaculture business, has opened a pop-up store for the holidays in Cambridge during the months of November and December. It is the first time the company is offering oysters by the dozen and in shucked pints direct to consumers. Shucked oysters are also available in a one-gallon limited edition “Heritage Tin” modeled after the oyster cans used in the 19th and 20th centuries and popular with antique collectors today.

“Since founding Hoopers Island in 2010, we’ve had numerous people ask us where they could purchase both live and shucked oysters,” said Ricky Fitzhugh, Managing Partner. “We know that many people enjoy preparing and serving oysters for Thanksgiving and the winter holidays. The recent opening of our Cambridge sales and manufacturing facility provided the perfect opportunity to make our premium oysters available to local residents.”

The limited edition heritage tin, which contains two pints of Chesapeake Gold oysters, is designed by Cambridge graphic artist Jill Jasuta and features the work of Dorchester artist Michael Rosato.

Hoopers Island Founding Partner Johnny Shockley believes the oyster tin will be a popular hostess gift and holiday present with Eastern Shore residents and visitors.

“We’re proud to celebrate Maryland’s heritage of oystering and canning with this beautiful commemorative tin,” he said.  “As we work to revive Dorchester County’s seafood industry and return oysters and jobs to the Chesapeake Bay, we hope consumers will enjoy our oysters on the half shell, fried and in traditional recipes for stew and stuffing.”

Hoopers Island oysters, shucked pints and heritage tins will also be sold in Baltimore at Chef Spike Gjerde’s Parts and Labor Butchery in Remington.

Due to limited availability, orders for the oysters and heritage tins must be placed in advance and picked up at Hoopers Island’s Cambridge facility located off of Route 16 at 837 Chesapeake Drive (Unit B) or in Baltimore at Parts & Labor, 2600 N. Howard Street in Baltimore.

To place an order, call 410-397-3664 or email afitzhugh@hoopersisland.com.

Spy Foodie Report: Mason’s 2.0 Selects a Chef

While Talbot County has been thrilled with the the news a few months ago that the greatly beloved Mason’s would be returning to Harrison Street soon, there was the lingering question of who would take on the challenging job of leading the kitchen of Mason’s-Redux.

The Spy has found the answer. One of our many agents has reported that Erin O’Shea, formerly a star at Rooster Soup Co. in Philadelphia will be moving down to Easton to be the new Mason’s culinary founding food guru.

While Rooster Soup Co. may sound like a modest venue, it was one of only a handful of places named by GQ as one of the best new restaurants in the country last year. And it certainly didn’t hurt the 100% of the restaurant’s profits were donated to hunger projects throughout the city.

Chance Negri, one of the partners of Mason’s, couldn’t be more pleased. “I am confident Chef Erin’s menu will spice and liven up the food scene in Easton, Talbot County and beyond…”

Mason’s is planning to formally open in the middle of November so stay tuned.