Pen and Quill

Pen and Quill (August 1, 2014)

The Karzai family—owners of The Helmand, Tapas Teatro, and b. Bistro—know a thing or two about running a successful restaurant. So when they announced plans to open a new place in the former location of The Chesapeake, excitement was high. We got a sneak peek at Pen & Quill (1701 North Charles St.) during Artscape, when co-owner Helmand Karzai (pictured, nephew of outgoing Afghan president Hamid Karzai) opened up a few tables inside and out to sample the goods. The limited menu included beef tongue steam bun ($8), halibut crudo ($15) , and beet salad ($9). Karzai tells us that, barring any construction setbacks, they’ll be opening the doors  the first week of August. Named after the cocktail lounge in the original Chesapeake (and, coincidentally, sharing the first initials of Helmand’s father and co-owner Qayyum and Qayyum’s wife Pat), the Station North restaurant’s kitchen is led by chef Bella Kline—previously the sous chef at The Chameleon and most recently at Chicago’s Michelin-starred Longman & Eagle. Helmand tells us to expect an “eclectically creative new American style menu,” outdoor seating not unlike Tapas Teatro, and an interior décor that takes from its art-heavy surrounding neighborhood. As Karzai emphasized, “you’re gonna know that you’re in Station North.”

Lobo (1900 Aliceanna St.) has opened its doors in the former location of Pearl’s in Fells Point. Owned by Mike Maraziti and Jamie Hubbard—owners of nearby One Eyed Mikes—the space underwent major renovations including an upgraded bar, the addition of a copper-accented raw bar, and an open chef’s station. While the menu is still evolving, you can expect smaller offerings such as oysters on the half shell with house-made mignonettes, cured meats, cheeses, pickled vegetables, salads, and paninis. Wine, handmade cocktails, and a newly installed 10-tap draft system serving local craft beer round out the menu’s liquid diet side. Sounds like a good option if you’re looking to avoid the packed-shoulder-to-shoulder parts of Fells.

If the thick crowds at Dylan’s Oyster Cellar prove anything, it’s that Mount Vernon is ripe for a permanent restaurant dedicated to bivalves. Federal Hill’s Ryleigh’s Oyster (1225 Cathedral St.) hopes to fill that need when they open a new location in the space formerly occupied by Mari Luna Bistro across the street from Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. While that location hasn’t been kind to the restaurants that’ve opened there in recent years, we’re thinking the combination of Ryleigh’s established identity, local character, and good food will make a solid addition for both neighborhood residents and symphony patrons alike. They intend to open in mid-September, appropriately the first “R” month for oysters.

The owners of The Chasseur have quietly opened The Pig & Rooster Smokehouse (3242 Foster Ave.), a bar and BBQ joint just a block west of their Canton restaurant. After taking over management of Hummer’s Bar and Grill back in April, the owners have been slowly upgrading the space with new floors, lighting, windows, and a free-to-play championship length shuffleboard table (!). Manager Natalie diFrancesco tells us, “We still want The Pig & Rooster Smokehouse to be the same go-to neighborhood bar that Hummer’s was but with a major improvement in service and food from the kitchen.” While the bar is still a work in progress and the full menu isn’t available yet (the highly touted smoked wings are), their plan is to be serving items such as in-house smoked brisket chili and Italian smoked-pork sandwiches by August. Or, as diFrancesco describes it, “cheap eats at a whole other level.”

Scratch cooking has come to Canton in the way of chef changes at Bistro Rx (2901 E. Baltimore St.) and the opening of Farmstead Grill (3721 Boston St.). Chef Darren Maas—previously the executive chef at Café Troia, the Baltimore Sun’s 35th Best Restaurant of 2014—has taken over the kitchen at Bistro Rx and has extensively reworked the menu at the four-year-old Patterson Park wine bar. As owner Wayne Mahaffey explained in a recent newsletter, “most of our dishes are now made from scratch and they eventually all will be. There is a renewed focus on quality and creativity.”  Further south, in the new Canton Crossing, chef Galen Sampson is bringing his farm-to-table cooking to Farmstead Grill. The former owner and chef of Hampden’s The Dogwood, Sampson is cooking up plates of house-smoked Chesapeake bluefish pate, wild Virginia cornmeal-encrusted catfish, and a 24-hour hickory-smoked beef brisket. If you’re looking for something quicker, the nearby Farmstead Shack is serving “jumbo” breakfast biscuit sandwiches, house-made hotdogs and brats, salads, and smoothies for either carryout or for enjoying on its brand-new outdoor patio.