Laura Marino wasn’t the only one to breathe a big sigh of relief when Rocco DiSpirito, host of the Food Network’s “Restaurant Divided,” proclaimed the restaurant she owns with her partner, Andrew Weinzirl, and “frenemy” Matthew Weaver would remain Maggie’s Farm. The guys had hoped to reimagine the tiny Lauraville farm-to-table as a turn-of-the-century gastro-pub, queasily called “Speakgreazy”—a hybrid of greasy spoon and speakeasy. Get it?
Even so, the men (it was indeed a gender war, as Marino teamed up with then-sous chef Sarah Acconcia for the competition) scored on some critical fronts on the program, aired late last year. And ever since DiSpirito said farewell, Maggie’s Farm has continued to evolve and grow.
Owners. Weinzirl established a following with his thoughtfully crafted dishes for the iconic predecessor, Chameleon Café, launched in 2001 by Jeff Smith, a pioneer in Baltimore’s chef-run restaurant scene. Marino, who raises produce and makes desserts, is also the number cruncher and was dismayed by runaway spending in the early days of Maggie’s Farm. Weaver, a veteran front-of-the-house guy, has become passionate about using fresh ingredients and infusions in cocktails. However, none had much experience running a business, and were admonished by local restaurateur Tony Foreman to “frickin’ get it together” on national TV.
Décor. In the end, the “turn-of-the-century, brothel-y, speakeasy” décor beat out Marino’s vision for a baby blue country kitchen style restaurant. Gilt stenciling on crimson walls looks like flocked wallpaper, and the bar—a combo of poured concrete and reclaimed wood by local artisans Luke Works—combines with rustic and rusty bric-a-brac for a kind of agrarian steampunk vibe. Another of Marino’s concepts, brown paper-covered tables, on which wait staff would jot down the menu as they recited it to customers, was likewise rejected. Chef Cindy Wolf, a “special guest” at the smackdown dinner, says Weinzirl, “told Laura there’s no way you’d be able to do this every night.”
Food. If her décor tanked, Marino can feel vindicated that her ideas about food survived. The menu continues to proffer creative plates with seasonal, locally sourced ingredients—though the boys’ vision of small plates is alive and well. Don’t miss the $5 fried oyster steamed bun, an Asian-style take on the Po’boy: cornmeal fried oysters in a sweet chewy roll with kimchi and basil mayo.
Bar. Weaver also got to retain his concept of seasonal craft cocktails made with small batch liquors. For spring, try the Road to Perdition: housemade ginger liqueur, lemon juice and chamomile-infused gin, served with a twist in a cocktail glass.
Sunday Brunch. Weinzirl seems somewhat baffled by the popularity of weekend brunch. “All of a sudden something just clicked,” he says, “and we have lines out the door” for the fresh warm doughnuts, steak and eggs, chicken and waffles and, of course, cocktails. Common wisdom in the restaurant world is that Sunday brunch is a chance to use up ingredients left from the week, thus mitigating overspending. So Marino may be the biggest fan of all.
Final Verdict. While the name Maggie’s Farm stayed in place, the restaurant has undergone a dramatic change—for the better. Inviting décor, innovative and affordable dishes by Chef Weinzirl and a new cocktail menu make it a go-to any night of the week. And the owners are all getting along.
4341 Harford Road, Baltimore