Spy Report: Tasting Trifecta in Talbot County

This past weekend, Easton became the epicenter of wine tasting. Three evening events over four days allowed participants to enjoy twelve different wines. We believe that only one person, our intrepid agent, actually attended all three events with the mission to share the story…

Talbot Country Club

First, the Talbot Country Club landed one of the winemakers from Washington State’s Chateau Ste. Michelle. The evening focused exclusively on wines from his winery and was coupled with exquisite food courses created by the Club’s Chef. Impressively, each course had food with a wine infusion.

One of the highlights of the evening was the introduction of a new wine, just released by Chateau Ste. Michelle, a delightful Rose. All the offerings are very affordable, found in the area and can be enjoyed immediately.

You can learn more about this fine winery founded in 1934 claiming to combine Old World winemaking traditions with New World innovation at their site.

The wines enjoyed by the guests from Chateau Ste. Michelle:

Columbia Valley Rosé – released March 1, 2018

Horse Heaven Vineyard / Sauvignon Blanc  2016

Indian Wells / Chardonnay / 2015.   

Canoe Ridge Estate / Merlot 2013 

Cold Creek Vineyard / Cabernet Sauvignon 2013.

Piazza Market

In another of the series of Saturday evening wine tastings hosted at Easton’s Piazza Italian Market. Emily Chandler provided a “snack” of select mushrooms along with a meat prepared with Barolo wine, all accompanied by the wonderful never-empty bread basket. We toured Italy with the selections below, ending in the always popular Piedmont region where the Nebbiolo grapes are grown to produce Barolo and Barbaresco wines. The wines are available now at Piazza Market.

Valdinera – Roero Arneis  

San Fereolo – Valdiba

De Forville – Barbaresco  

Osteria Alfredo

The third wine tasting event took place at Osteria Alfredo where the exceptional chef selected wines paired with his fine Italian food specialties. A full restaurant enjoyed fine Italian wines that perfectly complemented every course.

Altemasi Millesimato Brut 

Antinori Bramito Chardonnay  

Sella Mosca Villamarina Cabernet

Sartori Amarone Bra

With spring and summer coming, you will not go wrong with any of these selections!

The Breakfast Places in Talbot County Poll Results are In

The results of the Spy’s most recent poll on the best places for breakfast in Talbot County is now complete. While Carpenter Street Saloon was the top vote getter, it was surprising how even the returns were in most cases. The only loser was the national chain Panera Bread.  And the Spy received three new names to add to the list for next year’s survey. They are Victory Garden in Easton, Robert Morris Inn in Oxford, and Crepes by the Bay in St. Michaels.

 

 

 

Spy Wine Notes: Piazza Italian Market Visits Sicily

Easton’s Piazza Italian Market took a full “tasting room” of guests to Sicily in their second Saturday evening tasting at their new location in the Talbottowne Shopping Center. When one learns about the wines and the region from which they come, you must appreciate what Piazza is bringing to us in Talbot County. The evening provided a unique opportunity for the tasters to experience fine wines along with the wonderful food that accompanied the wines…and, both flowed in generous portions.

Emily Chandler, and her colleague Jennifer Martella

Piazza’s owner, Emily Chandler, and her colleague Jennifer Martella shared the history of the three Sicilian selections for the evening. Announcing she was breaking her own rules, Emily explained that the evening would forgo a single white wine and focus only on three delicious red wines. The fine offerings were met with approval by one and all as were the insights and stories about the wine makers and the grapes from Sicily.

Sicily is the southern-most region of Italy and is the largest island in the Mederterranian. Remarkably, the island has been the site of wine making for more than 2,500 years. Still, grapes from the region are new to many in the United States.

The frappato grapes provided the first tasting experience as guests were seated. Arianna Occhipinti’s Il Frappato was a bit on the lighter side, but complex with a long finish. Emily shared that the winemaker, a young woman about her own age, is creating a good deal of excitement with her wines.

Here is a description from the Wine Spectator: The Frappato grape is native to the Vittoria area, characterized by small berries and thick skins. It’s known for freshness and elegance and, other than the 2005, which was showing some dryness on the finish, all the wines revealed vibrant structures and a mix of cherry, floral, spice and mineral flavors. Eighty-five percent of Occhipinti’s 25 acres of vines are 50 years old, the remainder young vine

The second offering was Centonze’s Nero d’Avola. The grape is said to be the most widely grown in the region. It provided darker, bolder contrast to the Frappato. Here is a description of the contrast from a review in Vinous: Dark ruby-red; this wine, made with Nero d’Avola, is much darker than Centoze’s Frappato, as it should be, as the latter cannot give very dark or inky colored wines. Very ripe on the nose and in the mouth, but with still lively aromas and flavors of red and black cherry fruit complicated by tobacco, violet and sweet spice notes. Obviously super-ripe fruit was picked here, but the wine is surprisingly light on its feet.
Finally, the tasting trio was finished with a glass of Terre Nere’s Etna Rosso. As the winery describes this offering: Made from very fine Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio from low yielding vineyards (35 Hl. Per hectar), both young and old. The grapes are macerated until the end of fermentation. The wine then continues its life in wood until bottled roughly one year after harvest.

 

Easton Sidewalks: Every Coffee House has Its Place

Rise Up New Building Image

Since the Spy prides itself on being a faithful observer of downtown Easton sidewalks, it has not gone unnoticed that the town has seen the recent openings of more than its fair share of high-quality coffeehouse establishments. From Piazza’s expanded space in Talbottown to Federal Street’s Weather Gage, the addition of Evergrain in the Conservation Center, and Rise Up’s plans to expand on Dover Street, Easton now finds itself in the possibly awkward position of having too much of a good thing.

Evergrain

Just a few years ago, some excellent locally-owned breakfast and coffee venues had sadly come to an end.  The corner store on Goldsborough and Washington, the Bartlett Pear Inn”s small store on Harrison, followed by the Cafe in the Inn, and finally, and very sadly, the untimely end of Joe’s Bagel, Easton was looking mighty thin on the coffee house front.

And yet, within twenty-four months, all have changed again. Just as the general economy has improved so has Easton’s, and poof, the community is now blessed with four new great places to frequent.

Nonetheless, having grieved over the obituaries of these former morning hangouts, it’s instinctive to wonder if all can thrive in a small town of 15,000 or so.

The Spy thinks they will.

New Piazza Location

After mapping out their different spheres of operation, clientele, and unique circumstances, it seems quite possible that all of these terrific establishments can make it work.

Weather Gage

When one looks at the bigger picture and realizes the unique territory each coffeehouse serves, as well as differences in how one arrives by foot or car, what time the store opens, all add up to each venue having their own, and very vibrant subset, of the total population they collectively serve.

While Rise Up and Piazza generally can attract motorists, Weather Gage and Evergrain will be relying on much more significant pedestrian clientele. And while Piazza and Rise Up can offer more space for customers, the other two are far more intimate. And finally, like any genuine coffee place, they will establish, if they have not already, their unique idiosyncrasies, specialties, and ambiance to draw different kinds of customers.

And that is the Spy’s hopes for these very special places on Easton’s sidewalks.

Which coffee place do you go to daily?  Take the Spy poll here

The Spy’s Monthly Sprout: Kathy Foster

Over the next several months, the Spy will be doing short interviews with residents that have using the Trappe-based Eat Sprout prepared meal company. In a joint effort with Eat Sprout owners Ryan and Emily Groll, we wanted to hear first hand why both individuals and families decided to order using this new food option.

We start with someone that knows a good bit about nutrition. Kathy Foster worked for the Talbot County Health Department for 34 years, including serving as the Health Officer for Talbot County and Director of Community Health Nursing. In her Spy interview, Kathy talks about the importance of Sprout’s locally sourced food but also the desire to spent more time with her grandchildren than in the kitchen.

We spoke to Kathy at one of the Sprout pickup stations, affectionately known as Sproutlets, located at Lyons Distillery in St. Michaels a few weeks ago.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. Full disclosure, Sprout donates food to the Spy from time to time. For more information about Sprout please go here

Mid-Shore Food: Chef Erin O’Shea at Mason’s Redux

Just like any other hiring process for a significant leadership position, the search for the right executive chef with the proper credentials is paramount to the success or failure of that dining establishment. All serious searches start with the premise that a person’s background and education that will made an indelible impression on the community and its long-term reputation.

That is why the Spy has continuously found a way to interview some of the best Mid-Shore chefs who have made the Eastern Shore their culinary home. From the past brilliance of Jordan Lloyd in Easton, Patrick Fleming’s remarkable presence in Cambridge, or Kevin McKinney’s legacy in Chestertown, we have intentionally sought to understand better these chefs unique pedigree and history.

That was why the Spy was excited to catch up with Erin O’Shea, the new executive chef at Mason’s Redux on Harrison Street in Easton. To our surprise, Erin is no stranger to the Eastern Shore having attended school in Talbot County before heading south for a brief tenure at Texas A&M University. But while college life didn’t quite fit with her ambitions, the cooking scene in Houston did, and very shortly she headed back east to pursue her passion for food and cooking.

Last week, the Spy sat down to talk to Erin and those early years of training, her mentors, and the privilege to bring Easton’s beloved Masons back alive with her own unique touch.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about Mason’s Redux please go here

Mid-Shore Food: Piazza Grows at Talbottown

After nine years, Emily Chandler’s Piazza Italian Market had more customers than space. Sliding just a 100 yards around from their original location, Piazza opened their new expanded market with a brand new interior. The fine foods and friendly, helpful staff are the same. But, there is more room to look around and a nice section for dining.

While actually making sandwiches, Emily took time to visit with one of our spies about the new location….

Mid-Shore Food: Sakura on Route 50

While technically Route 50 in Easton does not have formal sidewalks, this has not stopped the Spy from reporting that the third (that’s correct, the third) sushi restaurant has officially opened on the west side of the Ocean Gateway.

It must say a lot about the consumer demand for raw fish and rice that a town of 16,000 people, in a rural region, can still attract this kind of saturation on a small market. But in the case of Sakura, it does not hurt that a good percentage of the entire state of Maryland will pass their doors every summer.

The fact that this parade of sushi-starved beachgoers will not happen for another eight months can only be a good thing as Sakura, who, like any new restaurant, must work out some start-up hiccups in the kitchen before the masses arrive and judge.

 

What one can and does give Sakura great credit right off the bat is how one takes a deserted Sonic fast-food stand and turn it into such an attractive dining experience. A very nice job indeed.

Sakura Sushi 410-690-4773 8475 Ocean Gateway Easton, MD 21601

 

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