Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Luke's Pizza Company

Luke’s, Luke’s, how do I love thee? Let me count 5 of the ways:

1. That Chicken Modena Salad. Big hunks of white meat chicken moistened with a creamy glaze, nestled on fresh greens, sidled next to roasted sweet peppers, olives and topped with chopped pistachios. Thank you for allowing me to pretend that I’m being good by ordering a salad instead of the lasagna.

2. That Antipasto Salad. So much meat!!! An Italian cold cut lovers dream. Plus you throw in some eggplant slices, roasted rep peppers and soft, fresh mozzarella just to put it over the top.

3. That Sweet Italian Pizza – sweet sausage, caramelized onions, roasted peppers served sizzling hot on some pretty doggone decent pizza crust.

4. Those Foccacia Rounds – perfect for every single party I’m invited to where I’m instructed to bring an appetizer. The spinach and gorgonzola foccacia was a favorite – and not just with the vegetarians. And back to you cold cut lovers – imagine a circle of herb seasoned foccacia, piled, and I mean piled, with Italian meats, sliced neatly into diamonds and drizzled with Mike’s vinaigrette.

5. That fried artichoke appetizer. If you go there and don’t order this – something is seriously wrong with you. I don’t care if you’re no-carb, low-carb, low-fat, slow fat – these little nibbles are worth cheating for. Halved artichoke hearts are lightly coated and flash fried. The resulting morsels are hot and crispy on the outside while remaining soft and artichokey (yes, that is a word)-on the inside. As a bonus, they are served with a nice garlic aioli (don’t breathe on anyone)

On the surface, Luke’s appears to be one of those run of the mill little take-out places that dot the landscape of strip shopping centers all over this country. But don’t let its outward appearance fool you!

All ordering is done at the walk-up counter. You can choose to eat on-site at one of the few tables available at the Crestwood location. (no tables at the Spring Ridge location). Or, as most do, you can take your goodies home with you. Although, when I took my pizza home, the crust had already gotten soggy. Better to eat it there so you get the full benefit of the great pie.

The folks working behind the counter are exceptional. I am always treated as if they are genuinely happy to see me and are anxious to find out what I want to order! Service can sometimes be a bit slow , especially when they are backed up with phoned in orders.

Take the kids – this is definitely a friendly, moderately priced spot for the family.

Luke’s Pizza Company

6942 Crestwood Blvd.
Crestwood Plaza
Frederick, Md 21703

Phone: 301.668.2424

Spring Ridge Location:

9009C Old Baltimore Pike
Frederick, MD 21704

Phone: 301.418.6328 | Fax: 301.418.6331

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Lodge at Blue Ridge Summit

As we drove up the driveway, still slushy from recent snows, the anticipation mounted. Things were looking good. The lodge appeared before us – unpretentious yet welcoming. The absence of other cars in the parking lot did not dissuade us. We were venturing out midweek and rather late for the typical lunch crowd: 2:00 on a Tuesday afternoon in mid-winter. Consequently, the lack of other diners was not surprising.

Rather than being concerned, we instead envisioned the delightful prospect of attentive service and one-at-a-time meals that we would enjoy as the only customers in the deserted dining room.

Through the front doors we stepped. What a show! As we gazed past the elegantly attired dining room, our eyes were drawn across the tables, through the enclosed outdoor patio and outward to an absolutely gorgeous panoramic view of the valleys and hills of nearby Eastern Pennsylvania.

While enjoying the amazing view, we were greeted warmly by the one young woman on duty who served as both hostess and wait staff. Allowed to select any table we desired, we decided on that one perfect table that provided views of both the great outdoors and of the wonderfully warm glowing fire crackling in the massive fireplace. The scent of wood smoke permeated the room generating a warm, welcoming sensation all around.

2 gold stars so far. View and ambience.

But, there’s more to culinary heaven than warm ambience. Time to peruse the menu. Oh, it was hard to decide. How to choose, how to choose? Appetizers alone created a dilemma. Crab bisque or roasted butternut squash soup? Sautéed mussels in a roasted red pepper saffron broth or herb & red chile accented grilled pizza dough layered with fontina, parmigianno-reggiano & mozzarella? Not a pedestrian selection in the group.

And, then there were the sandwich entrees. Each one sounding as enticing as the others. Ribeyes and crab cakes and big old juicy angus burgers and reubens on marble rye and, need I go on?

But wait, I haven’t even mentioned the most exciting part. This is M.L. Carroll’s place. You know you know who she is. ML is and has been the owner and top chef of Canapes catering in Frederick for years and years and is widely regarded as one of, if not THE top food executors in the area. Never disappointed with any of her catered affairs in the past decade – we were salivating at getting a taste of what she could do in her own restaurant.

We expected amazing culinary delights to come out of her kitchen when she didn’t have to make 250 at a time. We just knew that this would be the perfect venue for her to showcase her incredible talents. We were almost giddy with anticipation.

From all of the choices on the appetizer menu, we selected two: the crab bisque and the Avocado Spring Rolls served with a peanut sauce and a sweet chili dipping glaze. Props to the bisque. Actually very tasty with plenty of crab meat and flavor. The bisque was not overly thick as can often happen with less attentive chefs. So, yay for the soup.

Sadly, the praise must now come to an end. My mother always told me not to say anything if I didn’t have anything nice to say. So, if I were a good girl, and always did as my mother told me, then the review would end here. But who ever said I was a good girl?

For those of you who only like good news, I suggest you stop reading now. For there was nothing else we ate that lived up to its billing.

The avocado spring rolls? Well, they were hot. The delicate almost unseasoned avocado filling would have been far better served by a light wrapper – perhaps a phyllo dough or a thin spring roll wrapper. Instead, it was enmeshed in a hard eggroll type wrapper that did absolutely nothing to enhance the flavor of the dish. It could also have benefited by the addition of salt. And the accompanying sauces? Both overly sweet. And the peanut sauce had a clumpy skin on top – almost as if it had been sitting in the refrigerator without benefit of a lid.

The fire grilled ribeye? The generously portioned yet flavorless, unseasoned, unmarinated un-anything piece of meat had absolutely no grilled flavor - nor flavor of any kind. Oh, and the cracked peppercorn and horseradish cream with which it was supposed to be topped? Nowhere to be found.

Where the heck is the salt cellar in the kitchen? Did we somehow end up dining on “reduce your blood pressure day”??

How about the creamy lump crab cake served on toasted focaccia with a Chesapeake remoulade? Creamy is not the adjective I would use to describe the texture of this well portioned cake. More like, doughy. Too much filler, not enough lump crab meat. Oh, and like the topping for the ribeye, the promised Chesapeake remoulade was not to be found.

Hey, it’s not like the place was packed and the kitchen staff was working frantically to garnish plates. We were the ONLY people in the restaurant! You would think that they could pay a bit of attention to the food they were sending out.

Our server handled the missing items with aplomb, appearing promptly with replacements. The horseradish cream was fine. But the Chesapeake remoulade? Can you say mayonnaise with relish?

But, I have saved the best for last. The omnipresent “Pasta Creation” served with each entree. The creation that graced our plates consisted of old cold egg noodles with a few julienned pepper strips thrown in for color. And a slice of mushroom.

You know the hard edge that pasta gets when you have it in the fridge too long? Well, the Lodge’s pasta creation made an art of them. My guess is that at some previous meal, wide egg noodles were served as a side dish and there were just too many left over to throw out. Add a bare minimum of slivered veggies, sprinkle on far too little parmagianna and voila: Pasta Creation!

What the heck happened here? Where are the refinement of flavors and taste explosions for which M.L. is known and respected? Is she even in the workspace anymore or is she torn between too many responsibilities with the lodge, the inn and the catering business? Or was this just an anomaly - a single day when the chef was out of town and the staff members didn't step up?

Oh, we so wanted to love it there. The view, the ambience, the crackling fire. Sadly, our Great Expecations turned in to Bleak House.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Marsala's Is So FINE (except for the wine!)

The review below was written a few years ago. Sadly, I no longer can recommend Marsala's. The last few times we have gone the food just hasn't lived up to its past reputation. It's quite unfortunate as we had some very good meals there.

If you still are interested, here's what I wrote a few years back:

I can, admittedly, be quite a fussy diner to please. I expect my food to be well prepared, served at the proper temperature, correctly seasoned, and worth the dollars I plunk down for it. Often, I am disheartened by the meals I order in restaurants.

But, every now and then, I unearth a gem. A rare ruby in a sea of cubic zirconium. And I found my latest gem at Marsala’s in Walkersville. Oh, how my mouth waters just thinking of the magic owner/chef Emilio creates. Appetizers prepared to order - actually served hot enough that you have to let them cool for a few moments before you can begin to savor them! And the entrees – wow. From the classics to the eclectic, Emilio definitely knows what he’s doing.

I have loved every single entrée I have had the pleasure of ordering at Marsala’s. Romano chicken sautéed to perfection, enrobed in a delicate crust and served over perfectly seasoned pasta, traditional lasagna so rich you want to stop eating but you can’t because it’s so delicious that you are physically unable to resist, eggplant parmesan made of thick slices turned velvety by his deft hand in the sauté pan.

The food is truly delectable. If you have been frequenting the dime-a-dozen “found in every town in America” Italian joints – then you owe your tastebuds a trip to Marsalas. Why buy fake when you can get the real deal?

The only flaw in this little gem of a restaurant is the meager wine selection. I do like a nice glass of chardonnay or pinot noir with my meal. Alas, the wine choice here is abysmal. I wish he would open a nice bottle that would truly complement his amazing food.

My only other concern is that often, we are the only diners there. Although I appreciate the individual service we get as the sole customers, I wish that more folks would venture beyond those ubiquitous cookie-cutter “dressing from a bottle” restaurants and come experience what good Italian really tastes like. We will all gain when we allow this diamond of a find to sparkle and enjoy the success it deserves.

The Quest for Pad Thai

Pad Thai is the “it” dish of Thai cuisine in our hometown. And we have lots of restaurants that serve it: My Thai, Thai Rice, Hunan Gourmet, Fuzasion, Café Kyoko. The list goes on… But where to go for a dish of that perfect pad thai. Those tender noodles redolent with garlic and shallots , perked up by a squeeze of lime and tamarind . Mmm hmmmmm! Soft and sweet and salt and crunch all in one bite! It is a fabulous little dish – simple to prepare and easy on the wallet.

But if this is what you expect to find at our local Frederick eateries – time to lower your expectations! I found a heck of a lot more Bad Thai than Pad Thai! Most of the offerings were great big gummy globs of coagulated noodles. Overcooked , over-sweetened and over-priced. But, if you insist on ordering the Sad Thai anyway – choose the version at Thai Rice on the Golden Mile. Though not quite perfect, it at least didn’t send my pour soul into insulin shock.

That’s it for this week’s Dining Diva.