If you’re heading into Westminster’s Rock Salt Grille for a hot dog, well…tough luck. Though the space was previously home to longtime downtown favorite (and hot dog haven) Harry’s Main Street Grille, the new concept from owners Lee and Susan Nardyz and partners Joe Pasterkiewicz and Allison Blessing has shifted the focus to high-quality seafood—and all things Maryland, as indicated by the flag in their logo as well as the red, black and yellow decor. “Basically everything has Old Bay in it,” jokes Susan, citing the crab cake and cream of crab soup as signature dishes. Other favorites include the Chicken Chesapeake, their house-made Rock Salt Sauce, and most notably, a raw bar featuring about eight varieties of oysters at any given time. (The couple says the Grille shucks about 10,000 of the mollusks a month, the shells of which are recycled to create new reefs in the Bay.) “It’s been great how excited the community has been about having a seafood restaurant downtown,” says Susan. “There’s a need for it and we love it,” Lee adds. 65 W. Main St., Westminster, 410-861-6400, rocksaltgrille.com — KIMBERLY USLIN
For Chef David Thomas of Ida B’s Table, the history of food is just as important as its taste—especially when it comes to Southern and soul food. He says his menu is inspired by the fare’s progression, from the meals made by the first Africans brought to America to the rebranding of Southern food as soul food in the 1970s. “I was thinking about the next step in the evolution of the cuisine,” he says. “I would say it’s ‘modern soul food.’ That’s how we reclaim this cuisine that was ours—change the presentation, change the ingredients. I’m going back to that time where we were respectful of the products that we used, where we revered the history and the heritage.” His offerings will be available breakfast, lunch and dinner, with breakfast and lunch fast-casual and a weekend brunch and dinner more traditionally seated. The space, too, has its history—the former factory has been transformed into an 19th century-style “house” with a main dining room, bar, drawing room and lounge-style “parlor room,” which only adds to its Southern charm. 235 Holliday Street, idabstable.com —K.U.
The unassuming Chef Bobby D’s, which recently took over a corner spot at the busy intersection of Falls Road and 41st Street in Hampden, is an unexpected treasure. Chef-owner Bobby Davis’ wraps, salads and entrees showcase his kitchen cred—from high-end seafood houses in Nantucket and Cape Cod to a stint at Dinosaur BBQ in Harbor East—without ever relinquishing his Jamaican upbringing. “Most of the seasoning is from the Islands,” the chef says. “I do things with a twist.” The storefront is tiny and unadorned with only a high counter for ordering and a smattering of chairs, so carryout is probably the way to go. Order your New England-influenced lobster bisque, barbacoa pork bowl (with coconut rice, black beans and grape tomatoes), or Cajun style shrimp and grits—with parmesan cheese sauce—for dinner at home. The chicken avocado wrap with chili lime glaze is his most popular lunch item, according to Davis, along with the crabcake (“People be loving it,” he says.). The menu also includes chef salad, corned beef and Swiss Panini, and Andouille-crusted cod. As a child in Jamaica, Davis lived by the water and loved to fish. He and three friends came to the U.S. in 2001 with $100 between them. “A lot of things I saw here for first time,” says the chef. “Like washers and dryers—and irons. We used to heat the iron over charcoal and then wipe it off to iron clothes.”Chef Bobby D, 4032 Falls Road, chefbobbyd.com — MARTHA THOMAS
WILD WILD WEST 36th
Once the site of an odd little convenience store, Chuck’s Trading Post is a spot every neighborhood should crave. The wild west-inspired concept has a rustic breakfast and lunch counter (wooden stools hewn from tree trunks by local artist Steve Baker) that serves up skillets of egg and potatoes, hearty sandwiches (BLT, smoked pork and pickles) and “chuckshuka” (spicy tomato stew with onions and feta). Evenings are more casual—Friday burger night and Saturday “wing thing” with a reminder to BYO. Sunday’s Bloody Mary bar likewise depends on spirits provided by customers.
Chuck’s deli case has an assortment of meats, some byproducts of owner Jim Freaney’s side business of barbecue catering. Shelves have a small selection of local foodstuffs: Salazon chocolate, jerky from Dundalk Dan, Woot! Granola, Zeke’s coffee and jars of Bmore Saucy. Freaney, who previously worked as a manager for Panera Bread, took over the place in May, from Bernard Dehaene, of Hampden’s Corner Charcuterie (who ran it only briefly).
Freaney describes the concept as “chef grub with local goods,” or “a bodega done differently.” Chef Matt Weaver is at the grill, while his wife, Andy (both former owners of Maggie’s Farm) works the front. The Weavers, incidentally, are in the planning stages of a new place in Hamilton, scheduled to open sometime this fall, so may not be around much longer. Meantime, Freaney’s goal is to get a liquor license and expand the food offerings. We just wish he’d expand into our neighborhood. Chuck’s Trading Post, 1506 W. 36th St., chuckstradingpost.com