I know this post is destined to be lost in the mountainous mass of articles and reviews written about this local farm-to-table hotspot housed in the fully restored Clipper Mill in Woodberry – a few blocks south of Hampden – so I’ll spare you the lengthy back story and just say this: Woodberry Kitchen was opened in 2007 by Spike Gjerde, an Iowa-born, Baltimore-raised chef with a background in philosophy and a fine culinary resume to boot (including Joy America Cafe, which occupied the top floor of the American Visionary Arts museum in Federal Hill for about ten years or so). That’s it. He went to school, he learned some stuff, he did some things, blah blah blah.
Coming in at #3 on the most recent Baltimore Magazine best of list, Woodberry Kitchen is all that and then some. It fell behind Charleston and The Prime Rib but honestly I’m not sure I agree with those rankings. Charleston still may be the best dining experience Baltimore has to offer but the extreme value and unmatched excitement that Woodberry Kitchen brings to the table is, to me, of greater interest than a steakhouse. Simply put, I think this is the most important restaurant in Baltimore. You see this wave of farm-to-table places cropping up in the city, a number of restaurants growing their own herbs and veggies with rooftop gardens…this all began right here in Woodberry.
The food here is tremendous, but it’s the entire experience that really sets it apart from similar, Founding Farmers-like establishments in the region. This is a fully realized vision from top to bottom. The location and decor lend to it’s rustic appeal – a restored mill, exposed brick, pine floors, plaid napkins and flannel dressed servers deliver upscale traditional dishes like warm skillet cornbread, wood oven baked chicken and biscuit, smoked mutton bacon, and chocolate pudding pie with an enthusiasm akin to your local independent record shop or comic book store employee. Our server gave us a proper introduction to the menu by telling us which items fell into which of two categories: A) made fresh in-house or B) grown locally. Woodberry Kitchen is the definition of a farm-to-table establishment. A seemingly endless list of farms (or “heroes” as they refer to them) lines the back page of the menu. Every single ingredient is made fresh or grown locally! Butter, cream, sugar, honey, mustard, pickles, bread! They butcher and cure their own meat, dry-age their own steaks, pickle their own veggies, can their own fruits, bake their own bread, churn their own ice cream! And this is merely the tip of the iceberg.
We were seated right next to a window looking out at the Clipper Mill. We ordered the warm skillet cornbread w/ Trickling springs butter and Cybee honey ($5), deviled eggs w/ chipped ham ($4) and the WK butcher’s board with liverwurst, mangalitsa salami, pancetta, corned beef tongue (all house cured) w/ smokey baguette and mustard ($16). Thankfully, I managed to take in just enough oxygen in-between bites to keep my brain functioning. The cornbread alone sent waves of pleasure right up my spine and throughout all of my blood vessels.
I should also mention our drinks. We ordered the stone fruit soda w/ apricot syrup, milk and peach bitters, and the WK apricade with fresh lemon and honey. The fruit soda was different – it was good but different. The apricade was out of this world.
Off the supper menu we ordered the Springfield Farm chicken & biscuit, w/ braised kale, ramps, carrots, and herb pan sauce. They cook it in a wood oven so hot that the chicken ends up crispy and bubbly on the outside – but tender and juicy on the inside. The drippings fall into the pan below which is de-glazed over and over to form the gravy. The biscuit is thick and dense, and soaks up the gravy nicely. An outstanding dish.
We also ordered the Mutton & Egg Noodles w/ gravy, lima beans, asparagus, sour cream, and egg yolk. Prior to ordering, our server brought out several of their eggs which had been delivered that morning. He told us all about the hens from which they were laid, and explained to us the benefits of catching eggs laid early in the cycle. Smaller, with green and yellow shells. Just a little note there. The dish was excellent. Never having tried mutton before, it was basically a gamier lamb cubed into 1″ pieces and mixed into a sort of stroganoff like dish of house-made egg noodles and beefy gravy. The asparagus was cooked to perfection.
Dessert was great too. We shared the CMP which came out on a platter engraved with a chocolate ganache “Happy Anniversary” and the chocolate pudding pie. My only complaint of the night was the small size of the pie. I just felt that for an $8 dessert, the piece should have been a little more substantial. It did taste good though. Really good. Fresh whipped cream on top. Mmmm. The CMP is house made malted ice cream with chocolate ganache sauce, marshmallow cream and wet peanuts steeped in honey.
What I keep going back to in my head is the amount of information our server was willing (and able!) to share with us about the ingredients that went into our meals. I’ve never seen someone get so excited about eggs! And when I asked about the pork chop, he described in full detail the particular breed of pig they had received that morning and that because of this breed, the chop would be a leaner, whiter piece of meat as opposed to the darker, fattier chop normally used. When I asked him about the pickles that came with the WK butcher’s board, he told me about the pickle specialist they flew in from Texas. When I commented on the perfect texture of the ciabatta bread he told me about the night he spent with their in-house baker, learning the art of baking bread.
The biggest revelation of the night? While organic is great, that isn’t what it’s all about. “Organic” is not the end all be all. It’s all about knowing where your food comes from. Some of their farmers aren’t even certified organic. Many cannot afford the certification, and some just choose to use pesticides – and that is OK. It isn’t the pesticides that are the problem, it’s the mass production and the lack of attention paid to detail. At Woodberry Kitchen it’s all about the details.
We had such a great experience that we decided to book another reservation, this time for a table of four. We took the next available opening…at the end of June!