Dining for Two: Mama’s on the Half Shell’s Tips for Creating a Romantic Meal

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Mama’s on the Half Shell’s fireplace backdrop provides a romantic setting for its diners. The food is elevated while keeping its roots as a true Baltimore-style seafood house. Diners have been coming for two decades, drawn by the welcoming environment, staff and food.

(Photos by Emerson Maggi, Marketing Manager for Mama’s on the Half Shell)

The restaurant is family-owned and operated. Jackie McCuster—a native Baltimorean and the owner of the Mama’s Restaurant Group, which manages Mama’s on the Half Shell—started Mama’s on the Half Shell because she thought that Baltimore needed a thoughtful, classic seafood restaurant. She had a love of the restaurant industry, and often dined out.

She says what she missed were the classics, the reliable dishes from her childhood. She wanted to bring back that emotional attachment, and so she created Mama’s on the Half Shell.

Mama’s on the Half Shell has several locations. The first is in Canton. Recently, McCuster opened a second spot in the Foundry Row shopping center in Owings Mills.

For McCuster, her favorite part of working in the restaurant industry is being able to serve guests and give them a satisfying dining experience that makes them want to return again. As a chef, she gets to create a meal made with love. For her, there’s no other feeling like it when this magic happens.

This time of year, you may be looking for ideas for a romantic meal. McCuster says that a romantic meal has to be full of thoughtful details and a cozy atmosphere.

Soft, dim lighting and the right music can help create that atmosphere, and the menu can elevate the romance even further, she says.

“Be sure to choose a menu with dishes that are not only delicious but also evoke a sense of shared enjoyment,” McCuster says. “Personal touches like flowers or candles make the meal truly special and memorable.”

McCuster also recommends adding bubbles for a special toast.

A romantic meal, McCuster says, doesn’t have to be out of reach for those on a budget.

“When we hear cooking on a budget, we tend to go towards seasonal veggies—they are often cheaper and fresher,” McCuster says. “You also don’t need to buy a filet mignon for a five-star meal; you can opt for a top sirloin or flat iron steak, which tastes just as delicious without breaking the bank. Cooking on a budget does not need to mean the quality needs to be compromised.”

McCuster’s dream romantic dinner is at Mama’s on the Half Shell, in the Sweetheart Booth. The Sweetheart booth is designed for two and features dim lighting. The booth is located near the fireplace, which helps to create a classy and expensive feel. It is also full of symbolic photographs of McCuster’s parents and grandparents, leading to the booth’s name.

Courtesy of McCuster, here’s a drink and dessert recipe that can complete a romantic meal.

Foundry Cuban Cocktail

  • 2 ounces Bacardi Reserva Ocho
  • Muddled mint
  • ¾ ounce lime juice
  • ¼ ounce simple syrup
  • Dash of bitters
  • Champagne

To a shaker, add mint, lime juice, simple syrup and a dash of bitters. Muddle, then add Bacardi Reserva Ocho. Shake to combine. Double strain into a coupe glass and top with champagne.

Crème Brûlée

  • 5 large egg yolks
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 3 cups heavy cream or heavy whipping cream
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Equipment: 8 shallow 4-ounce oval ramekins

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Whisk the egg yolks and ½ cup of granulated sugar together. Set aside.
(At this point, bring a small kettle or pot of water to a boil. You’ll need hot water to pour into the baking sheet for the water bath in a later step.)

Heat the heavy cream and salt together in a medium saucepan over medium heat. As soon as it begins to simmer, remove from heat. Stir in the vanilla extract. Remove about ½ cup of warm heavy cream and whisk into the egg yolks in a slow and steady stream. Keep those egg yolks moving so they don’t scramble. Then, pour and whisk the egg yolk mixture into the warm heavy cream in a slow and steady stream.

Place ramekins in a large baking pan. If you don’t have a pan large enough, bake them in a couple of pans. Divide the custard between each ramekin, filling it to the top. Carefully fill the pan with about a ½ inch of the hot water. The baking pan will be hot, so use an oven mitt to transfer the pan to the oven carefully.

Bake until the edges are set, and the centers are a little jiggly. The time depends on the depth of your ramekins. My ramekins are 1-inch deep, and the custard takes 35 minutes.

Begin checking them in 30 minutes. For a more accurate sign, they’re done when an instant-read thermometer registers 170 degrees F.

Place on a wire rack to cool for at least 1 hour. Place in the refrigerator, loosely covered, and chill for at least 4 hours and up to 2 days before topping.

Using the remaining granulated sugar, sprinkle a thin layer all over the surface of the chilled custards. Caramelize the sugar with a kitchen torch and serve immediately or store it in the refrigerator for up to 1 hour before serving. Caramelized topping is best enjoyed right away.

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