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When Tony Foreman talks about restaurants, he talks about the movies. He imagines the dining room as set and diners as cast in the film he most wants to see. And designer Rita St. Clair listens. The latest Foreman-Wolf restaurant, Petit Louis in Columbia, says Foreman (whose business partner is chef Cindy Wolf), “is a Belle Époque, turn-of-the-century silent movie.”
“Not too silent,” interjects St. Clair. This is, after all, a restaurant. St. Clair and her associate, Brian Thim, reached back to what St. Clair calls “perhaps the most wonderful time in Europe,” a time without wars, when for the middle class and the nobility “life was a party.”
With 150 seats, a convivial bar area and an adjacent coffee, pastry and sandwich shop, Petit Louis on Lake Kittamaqundi is substantially larger than its St. Clair/Thim-designed 115-seat namesake, which opened in Baltimore’s Roland Park neighborhood in 2000. But it shares much of the same design vocabulary, from the Parisian style globe lamps to cozy vinyl-upholstered booths. Even so, the Columbia space is “a bit more gilded” than Roland Park, says St. Clair. “More brasserie than bistro,” Foreman adds—meaning, presumably, that it’s a bit fancier.
Indeed, there’s an elegant private dining room with a recessed tray ceiling lined in faux tin and lit by bowl-shaped chandeliers. Muralist Kelly Walker painted the walls and a sliding pocket door that divides the room in muted golds and greens depicting a fanciful view of Versailles—inspired by photographs Wolf brought back from a visit there. Foreman points to a monkey perched in a tree clutching a bouquet of delphiniums, a detail that Walker added in honor of his daughter, Delphinium, born in November.
The restaurant and the sunny “comptoir” are in a space once occupied by a Chinese restaurant. When the team began working, says Foreman, it was a dark warren of walls, with dropped acoustic tile ceilings and an enormous tropical fish tank as a centerpiece. “Terrifying” from a design perspective,
Now there are distinct seating areas, including banquettes along mirrored walls, tables near a fireplace—its surround sourced from a New England salvage outlet—and a massive marble-topped bar illuminated by art nouveau- style fixtures. St. Clair bought plaster cherubs in Italy and had them fashioned into lights for above the bar; a graceful period lamp depicts a woman in a flowing dress, with sprays of flower blossoms. The kitchen is large enough for a separate baking area, where Ashley Roop, the former executive pastry chef at Charleston, cranks out desserts and pastries for all the Foreman-Wolf operations.
The mahogany woodwork throughout the restaurant begins with the exterior. The design team replaced the plate glass storefront with paned windows in keeping with the period, and paneled the outside walls. In warm weather, seating (on Parisian-style faux wicker bistro chairs) will extend outdoors.
With a menu and wine list nearly identical to the Roland Park original, Petit Louis is part of a larger redevelopment of the Columbia lakefront, and sits on a plaza that reaches to the water. Across the way is a circa-1970s modernist stucco and glass building designed by Frank Gehry. Not exactly part of a Belle Époque screenplay, but as St. Clair says cheekily “it could be worse.”
Petit Louis bistro
10215 Wincopin Circle, Columbia.
Designers: Rita St. Clair and Brian Thim, Rita St. Clair Associates
Executive chef: James Lewandowski
Pastry chef: Ashley Roop
Lunchtime can be mayhem at tiny Trinacria, the Italian deli and gourmet grocery on Paca Street. Customers crowd the deli case waving paper stubs with numbers, calling out orders for muffaletto and eggplant parm, while those here for a bottle of $3.99 wine or frozen lasagna have to elbow their way to the back. In part to ease this crush, owner Vince Fava, whose grandfather Vince emigrated from Italy in the early 20th century to start a spaghetti company, has opened a nearby café with his wife Dee, who did the design. The new place, Trinacria Café at the corner of Park and Centre serves all the prepared pastas, sandwiches and sides available at the shop, only you can sit down to eat. Plus, it offers salads, pizza and hand-cut fries. The eatery overlooks attractive apartment buildings, like the new 520 Park and Chesapeake Commons, and the Walters Art Museum is around the corner. Space seats about 75; in warm weather, Fava hopes to expand outdoors. Another future goal: groceries by delivery. 111 W. Centre St. 410-685-7285, http://www.trinacriabaltimore.com
The Pikes Cinema Bar & Grill
Brandon Rust is the first to acknowledge that his restaurant in the old Pikesville Cinema building needed some help. “The food sucked; I’m not afraid to admit it,” says the general manager, who decided to make some changes. Rust, whose family has owned the restaurant since 2006—redubbed it The Pikes Cinema Bar & Grill and refurbished the menu to coincide with the reopening of the art deco-style movie theater, shuttered since 1986 and recently revived by Ira Miller’s Horizon Cinemas, owner of both the Rotunda and Beltway movie houses. The menu is pleasantly eclectic: stuffed oysters packed with spinach, shrimp and cheese, pasta and burgers and many Mexican options. The retro décor—including a mash-up of almost-life-size statues of film characters from Laurel and Hardy to the Blues Brothers—gives the place a quirky air. Don’t forget the full bar with boozy shakes and classic cocktails. No, this isn’t fine dining, but locals seem delighted to have a place to nosh before or after a film. “At least 75 percent of the people who come in tell us about coming here when they were kids,” says Rust. 921 Reisterstown Rd., Pikesville. 410-653-5545
Emporiyum, a fancy food gathering planned for the Thames Street Wharf Building on April 26 to 27, isn’t limiting its reach to Baltimore’s makers. Taharka Brothers will rub elbows with Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams from Columbus, Ohio; Mouth Party will serve chewy caramels alongside handcrafted gumdrops and lollipops from Portland, Ore.-based Quin Candy. Outside vendors—like Momofuku Milk Bar and Luke’s Lobster—are clamoring to be involved, says Mindy Schapiro, whose nascent event company And More, is behind the festivities. “They see Baltimore as an untapped market.”
Emporiyum was inspired by Smorgasburg in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood. Schapiro, who grew up in New York, frequently travels to the city for inspiration. Still, she believes the Baltimore food scene “is on the cusp of chic and hip,” and Emporiyum is “trying to mix in people from around the country who are doing the same things.”
Sue Jean-Chun, a New York-based publicist has enlisted her clients Bryan Voltaggio—of Volt and Family Meal in Frederick and Range in D.C.—and Eric Bruner-Yang, owner of D.C.’s Toki Underground, to distribute bites.
News of Voltaggio’s plans to open Aggio, an upscale Italian restaurant in Power Plant Live, came close on the heels of the Emporiyum buzz. Tickets, $15-$20. 1300 Thames St. http://www.theemporiyum.com