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October 30, 2009

Comfort food in the burbs

testudo.jpgRobert of Cross Keys has made my day, maybe my week, with this fine guest post. My Pikesville source, a guy who tells my husband about restaurants to pass on to me, has been going on for a couple of years about a fabulous Chinese restaurant called the Wigwam. Chinese, not American Indian, which is a little weird. Every time I'm in Pikesville, I look for it but have never found it; and it's not listed in the phone book. Now I know how to find it. Thanks, RoCK! EL

My wife had some projects this week in the suburbs that required my driving out there, so that's where my dining out took place. I visited the Diamondback Tavern in Ellicott City and the Wing Wah in Pikesville. ...

She was working on a writing assignment about seasonal menus in Ellicott City. I’ve always found some very good restaurants there, from Tersiguel's on Main Street to Asian Court, the dim sum place, in a shopping plaza. One of my new favorites is Diamondback Tavern.  I just feel the Diamondback does a lot of things right.

They use quality ingredients, many of which they get locally, when you know that it would be very easy for a tavern to just open up a Sysco box and dump the contents into a deep fryer.

They serve comfort food, but they are also willing to take chances with it.  By this I mean that old classics you just don’t see anymore, like Scotch Eggs, are on the menu. You’ll also see new creations of comfort food, like the Testudo, which is pulled pork with caramelized banana, onion and avocado on Italian bread.    

The Testudo sounds like something you’d assemble in your kitchen at 2:30 a.m. after closing down the bars. However, much like the Caesar Salad -- a dish that actually was thrown together early one morning to satisfy the hunger of people who were drinking all night -- the flavors all seem to complement each other. I couldn’t believe how good it was.  It was like a savory bananas Foster.  

I went back and forth on whether the sandwich had enough meat on it.  The pulled pork was excellent; and because it was seasoned with brown sugar and garlic, it had a nice balance of sweet and savory.  I wanted more of it, but I began to wonder if piling on the pork would overwhelm the banana and avocado. I don’t know, maybe a side car of pork would make me happy.

I had a side of cilantro rice with it that I found to be a little bland.  I think it needed raw cilantro instead of its being cooked in with the rice.  

I also had the Diamondback shrimp, which are sautéed in hot sauce, butter and garlic and topped with Monterey Jack cheese and jalapenos.  This dish reminded me a little bit of the BBQ shrimp dishes I’ve had in New Orleans at places like Pascal’s Manale, although Diamondback’s version is heavier on the heat.

The sauce is good, and it calls out to be sopped up with the accompanying bread; but this dish is successful because of the quality of the shrimp, which are cooked perfectly.  The window for cooking shrimp between raw and tough is about 15 seconds, and when cheese is added into the equation the time span shrinks to about five seconds.  These shrimp were squeezed into that time frame.
About 12 hours after my American comfort food at Diamondback Tavern, I was having another one of my favorite comfort meals: Chinese -- or to be more accurate, American-Chinese at the Wing Wah.

The trip to Wing Wah has become somewhat of a tradition. Next to it is Quick Fix, the only place in Baltimore that can repair eyeglasses.  My wife has one, and only one, pair of glasses. She thinks all other glasses -- or all other glasses that my insurance will cover -- are ugly. They are antiques that are quite fragile, and they break about every six months.  So every time we need to get the glasses fixed, we wait over a Chinese lunch at the Wing Wah.

Now, I actually love the Wing Wah.  It's a classic Chinese restaurant with red booths, Chinese calendar placemats and duck sauce and hot mustard that are served not from packets but from jars that you spoon out.   There just aren’t that many places like it any more.

The non-ironic retro nature of the Wing Wah is refreshing, but the food is also good and cheap. For about $6 I got a bowl of egg drop soup, a spring roll and Orange Chicken with fried rice.

The spring roll was forgettable -- it was greasy and had no flavor. The other items, however, were very well prepared.  

The egg drop soup was very rich and eggy.  It's the kind of soup that's going to give you a healthy and shiny coat.  Throw in a handful of the fried noodles, and you get a great contrast of textures.

The Orange Chicken was several all-white meat chunks that managed to maintain their crispy coating in an orange sauce that actually tastes of orange peel instead of corn syrup. The rice wasn’t anything special.  I guess it just wasn’t my week for rice.  

Sometime around April I’ll be back at the Wing Wah.  As for the Diamondback Tavern, I actually have to be in Ellicott City today for a conference, a conference that conveniently ends around dinner time.

(Photo of the Testudo by RoCK)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 11:14 AM | | Comments (19)


At $10 the d-back tavern's burger had better be good. That or they jack up the price to keep people like me out? I very much approve of that strategy, by the way.

My wife and I have been to Diamondback a number of times. I'm glad she not a fan of eggs, so I get to bogart the Scotch eggs! Their burgers are pretty good ( the beef comes from a local Ellicott City butcher, Treuth's...a trip there while in E.C./Oella is worth it also. You can smell the cows as you order your fresh cuts of meat!).
Diamondback has fresh hand cut fries also that are delicious.
Btw, I've heard the owner has plans on opening up an Italian restaurant in the space formerly occupied by Jordan's Steak House. Hopefully he'll hire some of those out of work employees.

Scotch Eggs are on the bar menu at Bertha's in Fells Point.

Hal: Scotch Eggs are quite possibly the original Scotch Eggs in Baltimore. The owner 's (Laura) father was a Scottish pastor and married my DH and me 27 years ago. Laura's mom, who was also Scottish, made Scotch Eggs, and some other Scottish dishes for Bertha's and taught Laura how to prepare them.
I'm glad that other people are discovering Diamondback. I posted info on them when they first opened about 11 months ago.

jl: those burgers are pretty money,but they don't charge for every little thing like bacon or cheese. which i like. That testudo looks tasty im gonna have to get in there this week it's been awhile.

jl: those burgers are pretty money,but they don't charge for every little thing like bacon or cheese. which i like. That testudo looks tasty im gonna have to get in there this week it's been awhile.

EL - can you start a petition to get Rob Kasper's "Kasper On Tap" beer blog back!? He just annoucned its ending :(
I read 3 blogs religiouisly - this one, his, and one unlrelated one not from the Sun.
I need my beer fix!

With ya on the good ole timey Chinese food at Wing Wah! Since I've moved north I haven't been there. I'm going to have to make it part of weekend some time soon though!

Excellent post, RoCK! I'm reading along and thinking barbeque shrimp at Pascal's Manale--mmmm! Scotch eggs--mmmm! And then a tip on where to get my glasses repaired! My cup runneth over.

Oh, yes - Wing Wah!!! - my favourite restaurant comfort food guilty pleasure - period - maybe because in my youth, Cantonese cuisine is what passed as exotic food. Cantonese chow, often poo-pooed by foodies, is now almost impossible to find in sit-down restaurants. I've never, ever had a bad meal at Wing Wah and have always been greeted cheerfully by the owners. Fattening as hell, worth every bite. BTW, parking is simple, right out back.

Thanks for the kind words RoCK. The person responsible for making the rice has been terminated..... just kidding, and thanks for the suggestion.

Re: our burgers- We admittedly struggled a little with putting a $10 burger on the menu, but we decided if we were going to do a burger it was going to be done right. As previously mentioned, the beef is purchased fresh through a local butcher, it's a 1/2 lb patty and we don't nickel and dime on the toppings. It always rubs me the wrong way when I see a $7 plain burger on a menu plus .75 for cheese, $1.50 for bacon, $1 for onions, etc... Since toppings are included in our price, guests will usually get 2-3 toppings that they may not normally have ordered if there was an upsell, and subsequently will enjoy their dish more.

Anyway, thanks to Nick, CG, and fullhouse for your kind comments- your checks are in the mail ; ) . Chef Tom Williams is working his butt off and it's good to see people are enjoying his cooking.

As for Wing Wah, I've driven past it roughly 400 times and never stopped in, so I definitely will give it a shot after reading RoCK's review.

Yes, the Wing Wah is next to the Jiffy Lube at Slade and Reisterstown in Pikesville.

When I came home today, my wife was wondering why I wasn't carrying in some Testudos. I should have stopped because the food at the conference was not good. I think they served five pasta dishes, four of which were with penne, and two potato selections. Well, it wasn't good, but it was filling. I was more interested in heading home and taking a nap, so sleep beat out sandwich on this day.

Wow, that's a blast from the past for me. A few decades ago (the early 1980's) I worked in the office building on the northwest corner of Slade and Reisterstown. Judging by Google Street View the area has changed a good bit since then.

I had my first real bagels at the Bagel Shop a block or so south of there, and my first knish at the Knish Shoppe. The Bagel Shop is now defunct. I don't know about the Knish Shoppe.

I finally couldn't take it anymore and Googled "Scotch Eggs".
Looks dang tasty!
I'll either look to have them soon or attempt them @ home

Hal, the Knish Shop's still in business, still kosher, with a different owner. You'll sometimes find the founder, Kenny, behind the deli counter at kosher Seven Mile Market.

The sandwich shop in the office building at Slade and Reisterstown was run by Koreans back then, and on Fridays they had bulgogi and kim chee, which also were new things to me.

I just figured out that the Diamondback Tavern is where the Tiber River Tavern used to be. And a different name before that -- another revolving restaurant location. I hope the Diamondback stays for a while. Will make a poing of checking it out soon.

Didn't know a new place opened where Tiber was.. will have to check it out.. the picture is making me hungry and i am an avocado aficionado, the combo sounds interesting with pork, not sure about the banana but i will try just about anything..

Yeah jjk, I've been told by many of the locals that the location is cursed.

Tiber River lasted four years and was doing great after the first two, but was then sold to people with no restaurant experience so that pretty much explains that. It was Milltowne Tavern (more a bar than a restaurant) before that for 8 years or so. I like to think of it as the right concept for the spot hasn't come along yet and now we are there. Plus, if the Red Sox can win the World Series then any curse can be broken.

There is now a concerted effort to turn Historic Ellicott City into a dining destination, so we are confident The Diamondback will sustain for years to come. I encourage anybody looking for something new to do a mini-restaurant crawl one day and see what the town has to offer. Tersiguel's, Pure Wine Cafe (very new and very good), Rumor Mill, La Palapa, Cacao Lane, Ellicott Mills Brewing Co., Phoenix Emporium, and The Wine Bin (retail) all have something different and unique to offer. Plus, we will be adding Portalli's to the mix where Jordan's used to be (ok that was a shameless plug, I admit it). For those who haven't been to Old E.C. in a while, you will be pleasantly surprised at the variety of restaurants what this town has to offer.

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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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