Certainly the words “Bon Apetit” written in script over the red door of Black Eyed Susan Restaurant suggested that good food would be found within.
We were welcomed quickly and graciously by Julia, our waitress who led us from the main room to the long side room to the south.
A warm, flower-scented breeze came through the new windows and past the cream-colored cafe curtains. The end-of-the-day sun warmed our wintry hearts and we felt happy.
We were reminded that summer would come soon and so would the blooming of Maryland’s state flower — the black-eyed Susan. In 1896 at Maryland Agricultural College, the black-eyed Susan was chosen as the state flower and it has bloomed joyfully in our gardens and along our highways from June to October ever since. John Walla, owner and chef of Black Eyed Susan Restaurant and Catering, chose the name of the golden wildflower for his restaurant.
The menu was clear with starters and salads, sandwiches and burgers, pastas and entrees. Our waitress added information about the specials of the day and the tricks of ordering.
For both of us, our choices leapt from the printed menu. Chicken pot pie is a favorite of mine and my Professor loves ribs, so that part was easy. But the decision about the salad or the soup was far more complicated and we needed the help of our extremely competent waitress. Thus, the Professor ordered the salad special and I ordered a bowl of today’s soup.
There was no dessert on the printed menu. We needed to settle that decision. Our waitress recited the options and then added, “Oh, and we have two homemade cakes: chocolate and coconut.” So the dessert choice was clearly the local cake.
No sooner had we sat back, tired from such a hard decision, than a young man brought slices of warm bread in a wooden bowl on a paper doily along with a bowl of green dipping sauce.
At first taste, we were smitten. The bread was like a ciabatta, crusty, full of holes, chewy and good. The dipping sauce was a lovely olive oil flavored with basil and garlic. We devoured it and our waitress kindly offered more, which we gladly accepted. We sipped our water in wine glasses and held hands. This meal augured well for us.
The salad was composed of delicate fresh greens and little red leaves, candied pecans, and slices of red pear. The Spanish Manchego cheese, made from sheep’s milk, gave a piquant bite to the salad, which was artfully dressed with a cherry vinaigrette dressing. This fresh salad was served in a glass bowl so the beauty of this springtime gift could be enjoyed in-depth.
The soup was supposed to be beef barley, so it was with profound apologies that the waitress served cream of mushroom soup,the color of the head of a draft of Guinness stout.
“I think you’ll like it,” she said with a wink.
Like it? This mushroom soup was the essence of fresh earthy springtime mushrooms.
“Have morels come up yet?” I asked the professor.
“No,” he said. “It is still very early spring.”
Well, this soup was close to my dream of cream of morel soup. I ate the creamy soup as slowly as possible to make it last a very long time. There were some crackers served with it, but they were really not necessary.
As the sun set and evening came, the restaurant filled with young couples, small groups, families and individuals dining alone. Our meals were served with a flourish.
The chicken pot pie ($16.95) was both very inventive and wholly classic. It contained very generous amounts of chicken breast contrasted with basic carrots, onions and celery in a light gravy. This was rock-solid good chicken pot pie. But, it was not a pie.
The chicken filling was wrapped in layers of phyllo dough that were baked to perfection.
With my fork, I punctured the first layer and a puff of browned flour flew up, a bit of smoke, like a dragon’s breath. This meal was indeed a treasure.
The gravy on the side was not necessary at all. But the little red roasted potato and the perfectly buttered green pea pods were most welcome. I devoted myself to total enjoyment of my meal.
Meanwhile, the Professor was happily engaged in drinking his Sam Adams seasonal pilsner. The beer went well with the beef short ribs ($18.95) servedau jus with a highlight of Lancaster Milk Stout.
The ribs were perfectly cooked, off-the-bone, melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The ribs were served on a bed of grits, which had been covered with strong melted cheddar cheese. The smooth tangy cheddar cheese and the soft crunch of coarse ground grits were most satisfying.
There was no question about dessert. The coconut almond cake with raspberry filling sounded like a winner to both of us, so we split a piece. The cake was very dry but that added to its charm.
This was a cake that would capture all with its raspberry jam center, real homemade white cake with almond flavoring, white icing and lots of coconut flakes on tip. Overall was a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.
The real coffee completed a very fine meal.
Omni Vore is a pseudonym for a Herald-Mail writer who reviews restaurants anonymously to avoid special treatment.