Want Fries with That?
When James Clark was a college student in Ottowa, he and his friends would gorge on poutine—fries slathered in gravy and sprinkled with white cheese curds. “That’s what you’d do after a night out,” says Clark. The one-time hangover prophylactic has become mainstream in his home country. “You see guys in suits in Toronto having it for lunch,” he says. His eponymous Clark Burger, which opened in a small space adjacent to the Senator Theatre in December, serves the fries gussied up with options like pulled pork, bacon and Montreal smoked meat, in addition to burgers with all manner of toppings. Wash it all down with local brews on tap or a classic Canadian-inspired cocktail. One of Clark’s favorites is the Bloody Caesar, a lighter rendition of a bloody mary, made with Clamato. “I think the first person who tried it said, ‘Bloody Caesar!’ because it tasted so good,” he theorizes. He also predicts the return of the Boilermaker (for those who don’t watch crime dramas, that’s a beer and a shot of whiskey). 5906 York Road, 410-323-0000, clark-burger.com
Jim Glick, co-owner of the SoBo Market, an extension of nearby SoBo Café in Federal Hill, has a vision of the ideal customer. “It’s a neighborhood place. They’ll come in for a cocktail after work and then look around and see something for dinner.” That something may be on the simple menu of sandwiches on homemade bread, crudités and small plates—or in the grab-and-go case stocked with gourmet salads, roasted chicken, hummus and other spreads and staples like milk and eggs. Glick’s life and business partner Anna Leventis, bought the mothership café three years ago and has transformed it into a comfort food alternative to the raucous bar scene nearby—and a favorite of the neighborhood’s growing under-10 population. “We’ve had kids who ask to have their birthday parties here,” Leventis points out. Some of the café’s favorites, such as mac-n-cheese and spinach pie, are available at the market, as well as coffee drinks and pastries (including SoBo’s renowned biscuits) on weekend mornings. For those who want to linger, bar manager Paul Palombo (pictured right) is crafting such “post-prohibition” cocktails as the Bobby Burns (Scotch, sweet vermouth and Benedictine) and Corpse Reviver (gin, Cointreau and absinthe) from boutique spirits. 13 E. Randall St., 410-685-6605
Wake Up, Annapolis
Kyle Algaze, owner of Iron Rooster in Annapolis, has an operating principle that resonates with everyone: Breakfast for dinner. The menu moves seamlessly from eggs Benedict with smoked salmon to waffles with buttermilk fried chicken—a recipe of which Algaze is rightfully proud—to coffee-rubbed New York strip steak and “Cakes on Cakes” (crabcakes + cornmeal pancakes). The food at this homey spot, a stone’s throw from Market Slip (aka Ego Alley) is whimsical and comforting—and sure to incite food envy (you really want to know what the people at the next table are having). We salivated over a neighbor’s Oysters Roostafella with spinach and quail eggs, shrimp and grits, a risotto baked in its own cast-iron pan—and a dessert list that’s so over-the-top it sounds like a parody of modern food trends. Peanut butter glazed bacon candy bar or red velvet waffle ice cream sandwich rolled in dark shaved chocolate, anyone? 12 Market Space, Annapolis, 410-990-1600, ironroosterallday.com
The White Oak Tavern can’t yet afford to publicize on the strip mall marquis, so co-owner Clare Frey just tells people “it’s in the Enchanted Forest shopping center.” The Ellicott City restaurant that Frey owns with her brother Peter and bar manager Noel Johnson took over the space once owned by Jilly’s Sports Bar last January. Though the fairy tale playthings have been moved to a nearby farm, the shopping center once called home by the oversized shoe and three little pigs’ cottages remains well known to Howard County residents of a certain age. Thick and juicy burgers made with grass-fed beef from Wagon Wheel Ranch in Mount Airy served with caramelized onions on an Atwater’s brioche bun is emblematic of the restaurant itself. The busy spot with TVs and bottomless brunch cocktails that is, yes, located in a strip mall, has an old soul. The owners are committed to local sourcing and “scratch cooking” along with craft cocktails made with seasonal fruits. Walls are paneled with wood torn from old pallets and decorated with reproductions of vintage photos from the Miller Branch library’s archives. “We have some customers who recognize themselves,” Frey says. Those folks probably also played at the Enchanted Forest. The rest of us can revel in the authenticity of the place. 10030 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City, 410-680-8974, thewhiteoaktavern.com