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May 13, 2008

Memories of Louie's the Bookstore Cafe and a recipe


I got the best e-mail (from someone who wanted to remain anonymous) when we did a Top Ten on Locations We Miss Terribly. In it, I said I still regretted not getting the recipe for the Chestertown Chicken at Louie's the Bookstore Cafe in Mount Vernon.

Anyway, somehow the e-mail got lost in the hundreds I've put aside for future posts because they're so good. I just came upon it today. It contained this vignette as well as the recipe. I'm going to reprint it in its entirety: ... 

"After some searching to locate the old cookbook into which I’d shoved this recipe I finally found the old Chestertown Chicken secrets from Louie’s.  But to get it you’re going to have to read the long and not very exciting back story.

"I worked there long ago and there was a time they tried to do weekday breakfasts.  I got stuck on those shifts (Monday mornings, no less) and they were horrible.  The manager would show up only to go back to sleep in the upstairs office, leaving the lone server to prep produce, coffee, receive the bread order, and set up tables & stations.  Busy office workers would come in and expect to get out quickly.  But one latte order and you would be in the weeds, steaming the milk while an impatient line formed.

"By mid-morning the main chef would show up and generally get annoyed that a lowly server needed access to his kitchen.  I wore him down in his less cranky moments and he opened up the big binder of recipes for me to copy my favorites.  Some of the recipes were his and god only knows where the rest of them came from.  Recipes, like people, had a way of just falling into Louie’s and seeming as if they’d always been there.  Nobody who worked there sweat too many details and, to me that benign neglect was no small part of the café’s charm.

"For me, what started as a desperation job (the only thing college really taught me was how to make cocktail party chatter and wait tables to pay the rent), became a much richer experience than I ever imagined.  I’m constantly amazed by how old Louie’s friends have come back into my life over the years. 

"So here’s the recipe for the secret marinade.  I hope you’re good with ratios because this is enough to fill a bathtub.  The cooking instructions were never given, but basically it was pan seared then finished off in the oven.  While this was given to me, I feel a little guilty about sharing it.  So please don’t let anyone know where you got it. 

"5 ½ cups of chili powder

1½ cups of ginger

2 ½ cups of curry powder

10 quarts of lemon juice

2 ½ cups of garlic

5 cups of onion

1 ¾  gallons of 10 percent olive oil (I often use mostly grape seed oil or something that can withstand the higher temperatures of the skillet)

Combine all the ingredients and mix oil in slowly. "

Photo of Jimmy Rouse, owner of Louie's, 1997, by Kenneth K. Lam/Sun photographer) 

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 12:12 PM | | Comments (20)


EL - Sounds like a good marinade. Would anyone know if the recipe calls for ginger powder or grated ginger root; how about chopped garlic or is it garlic powder?

And who can afford 1.5 gallons of grape seed oil? LOL

Thank you to our un-named benefactor!!

I'll be making this this weekend for some friends who loved Louie's.

Okay, I need help. I can do the math to break the marinade down to something manageable, but how much chicken will it cover, and do I use white or dark meat? Is the oven temperature 350? Thanx, y'all.

This does sound pretty interesting. "Curry Powder" is a little ambiguous though. I guess we'll have to experiment!

Dottie, my mother used to tell me that 350 was the default oven temp. When in doubt, use 350.

Didn't stop the turkey from collapsing that one time, but it usually seems to work out ok.

Bob UU wrote: :"Curry Powder" is a little ambiguous though.

Since it calls for 2-1/2 Cups, McCormick's should do fine, and it is available (I think) in large jars at restaurant supply stores, such as the Sysko store on Rte 1 south of Rte 100 in Howard County.

The curry powder I use most, for smaller recipes, is Maharajah Style Curry from Penzey's Spices ( ). If you want large quantities it costs $36.99 for 2 cups. A 1/2 Cup jar costs $11.99. They say it has one pound of Kashmir saffron in every 50 pounds of curry.

I'm sitting here laughing at myself because when I first read this I was thinking (and this will show my age), "Hmmm, Louies...wasn't that that kind of little dirty bar in an old row house with all the dusty books and the magician?". I just remembered I was thinking about Peabody's and I'm LOL that I got them mixed up. Got to laugh at those senior moments! Anyone else remember Peabody's?

For anyone feeling nostalgic about Louie's, this may be of interest:

Peabody's Beer Stube...remember it well, it's a parking lot now!!
On Charles Street across from the Brass Elephant

Oh Lord yes, the Peabody Book Store & Beer Stube. Years ago, in my small theater days, we'd go after Friday night or Saturday rehearsals for a beer and a sandwich. We loved the aged magician (whose name escapes me), and sometimes even had our cards (or was it palms?) read. Gone are the days....

It was the Great Dantini at Peabody Book Store and Beer Stube. He was the man who knew Houdini. And for the history buffs, the great Dantini knew Houdini because Houdini has lent him money and was never repaid.

Peabody's had a certain appeal and we had many a beer there.

Ya know, when they knocked Peabody's down, all the books were still in there. It was a crime against humanity. Yes, the City That Reads did that. This is the same city that turned the old Tiber bookstore into a Rite Aid. Because, you know, there aren't enough Rite Aids in this city. Anyone remember the Tiber?!? Good gawd, that place was amazing... Sniff...

when they knocked Peabody's down, all the books were still in there.

I didn't know this Sean. I agree that it is a crime against humanity. Books are sacred to me.

I did know about the Tiber to Rite Aid change.

Yeah, we saw the books amid the rubble of the building. Actually, after the upper floors had been demolished but the basement was still intact, we watched a friend-of-a-friend crustypunk MICA student digging through the mess and pulling out books. I couldn't believe they didn't at least donate the books or something. Really heartbreaking.

Oh, and the Tiber is apparently now an online bookstore -

I was a line cook at Louies in the 80's and came back to run the kitchen in 94-96, we used all dry spices except the garlic was fresh chopped, I can still taste that chicken,
I recently went to a Louies Reunion and everybody there was asking if anyone remembered the recipe, I am so glad to have ran across this article
Elizebeth, you reviewed me there around 95 and gave me a hard time for my kale being under cooked on a catfish dish.
Are your old reviews archived I would love to read it again alaong with one you did while I was chef at the long gone World Cafe.

I just posted about Louie's on my blog. When I did a 3 month internship at Hopkins I had breakfast at Louie's every Sunday. I can still taste the eggs and polenta.....What a great place to read and eat.

Oh, I remember Peabody's Book Store and Beer Stube and the old black and white movies on rainy Saturday afternoons ... getting a sandwich and hunkering down ... I often visit there in my daydreams!
Fondness indeed!

The Chestertown chicken recipe appeared in, I believe, the Baltimore Sun many years ago. In any case, I have a partial newspaper clipping of it in my recipe box (the last part, which was on a separate column, was lost some years ago). Here it is:

1 chicken, 1.5-2 lbs
1 tsp ginger
2 tsp curry
1 tbs chili power
juice of 4 lemons
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 onion, chopped
1 tsp salt
8 tbs olive oil

Quarter the chicken or cut it up into individual pieces. Set aside. To make marinade, mix ginger, curry, chili power, lemon juice, cloves, onion and salt. Whisk in the olive oil. Add a little more if necessary for consistency. Pour marinade into a shallow baking pan and add chicken parts. Marinate 4 hours at

and the rest is lost, but it basically involved baking for 30-40 minutes, as I recall. Enjoy!

I was stationed at Ft. Holabird in the early 70s. You had to walk through the bookstore to get to the restaurant. The food was great and sometimes musicians from the conservatory would stop by and play as we ate. Your comments brought back great memories.

What memories!
I am The Original New York City Free Advice Man and I used to do my thing right in front of that wonderful bookstore/restaurant. I wish I could get the recipee for their Carrot-Ginger and Mushroom Pate!
Anyway...thanks for the memories!
Oh...and if anyone needs any Free Advice then I can be reached through Cyberspace! I live in London now.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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