Eats and Drinks
Working it out at Maggie’s Farm
“Refined peasant cuisine”
Published: December 19, 2012
Restaurants come and go every day without much rigmarole or fanfare. They open, they close, and the next person in line tries to make their dream come true in that spot. A restaurant that reopens under new owners with the same style of cuisine is rare, but to open up with the same social and culinary ideology is even more unusual. Maggie’s Farm in Lauraville (4341 Harford Road,  254-2376, maggiesfarmmd.com) is taking the mantle picked up by the Chameleon Café and running with it to a more clear and concise territory.
Taken over from Chameleon’s former owner and chef, Jeff Smith, Maggie’s Farm is the vision of Matt Weaver, Andrew Weinzirl, and Laura Marino. They have been up and running under the new name for less than a month (Weaver has worked at Chameleon for over 6 years), but the farm-to-table manifesto has carried over and become more focused.
The space has largely stayed the same, although now you have to come in the side entrance. The dining room feels just as crowded. Seating is bistro-style, with diners back-to-back. The room itself is still as plain as it was, but that doesn’t matter once the menu is read and it becomes apparent that the food, not decor, is the attraction.
“Refined peasant cuisine” is what Maggie’s Farm calls its food, but that might be a little too twee for how it comes off. The food is simple but it is also creatively complemented in a way that no home cook, let alone peasant, would ever think of. The deviled eggs ($7) are a great example. The yolky filling was mustardy and smooth and topped by smoked trout roe. The roe added a briny note that helped accentuate the sharpness of the filling. Cornmeal-fried oysters ($10) were some of the best we’ve had in a long time. Skewered on a rosemary stem, the crunchy oysters were served on a bed of perfectly cooked spinach and sauce gribiche; this dish was fantastic when all components were eaten together.
The nose-to-tail feel of the restaurant really comes through when ordering some of the excellent charcuterie from the menu. The trotters ($8) were a pleasant contrast in textures. Crispy breading gave way to an unctuous ooze of chunky, porky pig parts. It had a heavy mouthfeel but when paired with the house-made mustard and small pickled cranberries, the fullness became a non-issue. Scrapple ($13), that long-ridiculed slab of meat and grain, is made here to remind us why people used to love it. Slices of the scrapple were served over buttery biscuits and a red-pepper jelly. The tiny hunks of meat in the scrapple gave it a homemade texture that lets the diner know he’s not eating filler. The lamb mortadella ($8), although well-made and delicious by itself, was weighed down by slices of focaccia and a thick aioli. A pickled vegetable is all the dish needs to be sparkler.
The drinks at Maggie’s Farm show that they are still trying to work out the kinks in their recipes. The smoke and mirrors ($14) featured a hint of orange from the Creole Shrubb orange liqueur and smokiness taken from the triple-smoked malt whiskey in it. There is something missing in the drink—a bright note—that leaves it flat though, and that’s what stood out about it. The chai Ronnie ($11) suffered from the opposite effect: There was so much going on that the drink couldn’t get out of its own way. Chai-infused bourbon, limoncello, and lemon juice combined to create a flavor that smells and drinks like incense or perfume, but not in a terrible way. If the spice were pulled back a bit, this drink could be interesting.
The menu at Maggie’s Farm is short (seven choices), presumably so the kitchen can focus on making a few dishes great instead of having a large menu full of satisfactory items, and the effort pays off. They keep a daily vegetarian option on the menu and they were serving the cauliflower steak ($20) the night we were there. A generously cut “steak” of cauliflower is steamed, then grilled, and served with shiitake and maitake mushrooms, mashed sweet potatoes, and creamed spinach. It was a strata of descending textures starting with the toothy cauliflower and ending with the silky potatoes. The charred marks weren’t just for show as they lent body to the dish, and one mouthful of all parts would satisfy even the most ardent meat eater. They should consider making this a menu staple (maybe at a lower price). The roasted cod ($24) was cooked expertly and featured a persillade crust of preserved lemon, parsley, and breadcrumbs that contrasted wonderfully against the bare firmness of the flesh. A little heat was given off from the mini “chowdah” underneath the fish, but the spiciness never overwhelmed. Braised salsify was a smart choice of a vegetable given its oyster-like essence. It was a dish that I would go back for in a heartbeat.
Maggie’s Farm has made the transition from its former self with focus and purpose. The seemingly laid-back approach they try to put out underlies an intelligence and fervor that shows in the great food they’re serving. In the upcoming months, they surely will become a go-to for diners wanting a humble yet rich and exciting meal.
Maggie’s Farm is open for dinner Monday through Thursday, 5:30-9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 5:30-10:30 p.m., and for brunch Sunday, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
> Email John Houser III