Cunningham’s

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The latest jewel in the Bagby Restaurant Group’s collection, the semi-precious Cunningham’s, opened just before holiday mayhem set in. This was good timing for the restful spot in Towson City Center. The easy menu and drinks can be a pick-me up or wind-me-down, even as the Nordstrom and Macy’s bags languish at the coat check.

Owned by Sinclair Broadcasting magnate David Smith, Cunningham’s hits a sweet spot with several elements that characterize other Bagby properties (a la Fleet Street Kitchen and TEN TEN) including a local ethos, a chef who trained on a working farm and fresh interior design by Jane Smith, who also happens to be David’s wife. The ladies who lunch are just as likely to be wearing power pantsuits as cashmere ponchos, and the evening scene ranges from after-work quaffers to date night. 

Classically modern. Jane Smith is a self-trained designer who has managed to unite the restaurant group’s properties while infusing each with its own personality. Here, tall bar chairs and a swooping Alice- in-Wonderland-scaled banquette in the dining room are upholstered in a peacock blue art nouveau-meets-modern fabric, while dining chairs are clad in mist gray velvet—buttoned up the back like a little girl’s party dress.

Husband David joined slabs of wood from the couple’s farm to make the long communal counter that faces the cook line beneath a curtain of glittering crystal. Most striking are the oversized light fixtures in the dining room, billowing pale orange fabric lit from within like fragile Chinese lantern flowers.

Pasta perfect. Chef Chris Allen grew up in rural Pennsylvania and fondly remembers pork and sauerkraut dinners at his grandmother’s house. While there are no immediate plans for kraut on Cunningham’s menu, there’s a pork belly with shrimp dumplings, an apt
example of Allen’s new American hybrid style.

Allen honed his farm-to-table cred while living next door to the chickens and pigs at the Glasbern Inn in Fogelsville, Pa. Allen has a particular passion for cooking pasta. He uses fresh noodles from the powerful Arcobaleno extruder that can spew up to 10 pounds an hour for Cunningham’s house-made offerings.

Thrill of the grill. An impressive line of cooks—busy shucking oysters, plating pasta and arranging displays of charcuterie in the open kitchen—is visible from several angles. At one end is a wood-fired grill where a dry-aged tomahawk bone-in rib-eye (weighing in at more than 2 pounds) might be sizzling alongside a maitake mush- room “steak” charred at its frilled edges, or a Maine lobster. A selection of flatbreads topped with meatballs, creamed spinach or pickled shallots are baked in the nearby brick oven.

Baker’s dozen. In the bakery below the restaurant, John Aversa cranks out loaves for all the Bagby properties. Aversa, whose credentials include stints at Patisserie Poupon, Atwater’s and most recently The Breadery in Catonsville, brings an artisan’s touch to his baguettes, boules and loaves, which will also be available at Cunningham’s Bakery and Café, scheduled to open early this year. The casual spot will serve sandwiches and breakfast goods, caffeinated by Ceremony Coffee Roasters in Annapolis.

Curated Cuvée. Bagby beverage manager Tim Riley’s “triple threat” approach means equal attention to cocktails, wine and beer. Cunningham’s beer is mostly local with Stillwater, Union and Brewer’s Art on tap. Cocktails range from the Brooklynite—a rum-based drink adapted from an early 1960s Trader Vic’s concoction—to Cap and Bells, named after a W.B. Yeats poem in a nod to its Irish whiskey base. Riley is especially proud of Cunningham Cuvée, a Grenache-Syrah blend he created last year at a vineyard in France.

“We were a stone’s throw from Chateauneuf-du-Pape,” he says. “The wine has the deep, dark flavor from 100-year-old Rhone vines.” The wine will be available at all Bagby Group restaurants, but Riley says he first envisioned it with
Cunningham’s wood-grilled cuisine.

Bottom line. Pretty as a storybook with an adventurous menu to match. 1 Olympic Place, Towson. 410-339-7730, http://www.cunninghams towson.com

—Martha Thomas

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