Author Archive

RestaurFriend Shout Out! Curbside Cafe

May 7, 2010

Do you ever meet someone, and they seem cool, and then the more you get to know them, the more impressed you are, until finally you’re like, “Look, who the hell ARE you?  Tone it down, live like the peasants for a minute.  Jeez!”

Anyway, let me tell you about the Pistols.  They have real names, but I first knew them through roller derby, so to me, they’ll always be Pistol Whip and Mr. Pistol.  Here they are getting married at a roller derby bout!  Pistol skated in the bout before the wedding, and her team beat my team.

Well, now, after retirement from the roller world, they’ve turned their attentions to something else ridiculous and awesome: a travelling burrito truck in Baltimore.

Give it a rest, guys!  Seriously!

But, no, don’t actually, please.  We need our burritos.  I see by their facebook page that they’re going to be parked on the avenue tonight  (and it’s First Friday, so extra fun!)  Go out, get your burrito, and show your support of another cool local restaurant!

Team Charm knows all the hard work it takes to get a food service establishment going, and so we definitely congratulate Curbside Cafe!


We’ll fill our mouths with cinnamoooon

May 4, 2010

Guys, I was posting about this on our facebook wall, but I think I need more space to discuss my rich and complex  feelings about cinnamon rolls.

First off, I don’t want to make you any false promises.  From the start, we of Team Charm have planned to make as much of our food on the premises as possible, both to cut down our own food costs, and to have food that’s both fresher than pre-made food and unique to our fine establishment.  We want to do this SO BADLY, but as we get closer to opening and have to make tough decisions about where every crucial opening dollar is going to go, sometimes it looks like we may not immediately be able to make our own baked goods.

Don’t scream!  We are idea people, and foodies, and already we’ve got some great alternate menus planned, with all kinds of fresh, delicious foods, including some definite comfort food.  (You would think I was constantly distraught, the way I seem to need comfort food almost daily.)

Whether we get to make our own baked goods right away or not, we’ve still been testing recipes.  Making a tasty recipe at home and at leisure  is one thing. Making the same recipe consistently, quickly, and as part of a day that starts early and includes a lot of other vital prepwork is another.  When we try recipes, we try them over and over again, with prep time, storage, and many other concerns in mind.

So, anyway, now you see why I just have to make  a ton of cinnamon rolls, all the time, or I’ll be letting down Charmington’s (and all of Baltimore.)  As I try to find the recipe and variations that will suit us best, here are some of the things I’m considering.


As a nation, we expect cinnamon rolls to come from tubes, or from a stand at the mall.  We want the dough to be fatty with a hefty sodium punch, the icing to be gooey and plentiful, and for the bun to be the size of a big guy’s fist.

But, food in tubes is suspect, and rich in unpronounceable chemicals and preservatives.  The cinnamon rolls you get at the mall clock in at 730 calories apiece (or a mere 300 for the “mini” versions).

I worked out the calorie breakdown of the recipe I’ve been messing with lately to about 119 a roll, but since I have literally never been able to eat just one, let’s call it 238 with a serving size of two rolls.   The dough is a little drier and a lot less sweet than tube-roll dough, but that’s a bonus, I think, because it keeps the glaze from being overwhelming.

My challenge here is to get the smaller, less fatty, less sweet rolls to be so delicious that the other rolls taste gross in comparison.  It is not necessarily rocket science.


Unlike muffins or scones, cinnamon rolls are made with a yeast dough, which means kneading and time (or no-kneading, and even more time.)  At home, when I’m baking for fun, I don’t mind kneading dough at all, but at Charmington’s, we can’t afford to have someone come in at 3:00 AM to start bread rising (even if anybody wanted to take a shift that early.)  I’m trying a no-knead recipe later this week, which means that dough processes itself over a longer time frame, but this still requires attention to time and a lot of planning.  Plus, yeast doughs are high-stakes in that if you burn them or otherwise mess them up, you are now hours behind schedule.


This goes back to the mall rolls again.   They are huge, and the tube rolls come in jumbo for a reason: giant breakfast-dessert pastries just seem more inherently awesome than smaller ones.   But, seriously, you guys.  One reason the mall rolls are so high in calories is that they are enormous.

Even if you’re not concerning about your weight or sugar levels, even if you’re an active person who needs to consume a lot of calories per day, 700 calories of breakfast pastry, she is not so good for you.  If nothing else the gigantor roll will take up valuable stomach-space so that you’re less inclined to eat anything with some more nutritional value.

The other thing is, giant portions are inherently wasteful.  Wasted if you throw it half-uneaten in the trash, sure, but kind of wasted if you throw it in your body, too.

I’m not trying to be preachy here.  I am just trying to tell you some of my thoughts about cinnamon rolls.    What are yours?

Treats, indulgences, and malevolent elves

April 20, 2010

I don’t know about you all, but I’ve been glued to Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.  Well, sort of lightly glued, as (wait for it!) I Don’t Own a TV*, so I catch it on Hulu, which depends on me having free time, a decent internet connection, and nothing else to come along and claim my attention.

Still, I’ve managed to mostly-watch every episode so far.  I’ve seen the truck of lard, and the kids who couldn’t use a knife and fork, and the school officials who patiently explain over and over again that their jobs depend on straight-facedly calling French fries a vegetable.

It’s interesting on a personal level, because like I mentioned a few posts back, some vicious elves (or maybe sprites: not sure about the taxonomy on this one) have been tightening my pants, and I’m trying to fight them.   I hear they hate vegetables and sweat, so that’s what I’ve been using to ward them off.

It’s gotten me thinking, though, about cafe offerings.  I know, for example, that we’re not going to be serving ultra-jumbo muffins.  It is because we don’t have any giant muffin pans.  I know we’re going to do our best to incorporate in some local food, some organic food, and above all some fresh food, but I know that the bananas in the vegan banana bread probably aren’t coming from a local garden patch.

I know, too, that when I want a muffin, or a cookie, or some other indulgent treat, I kind of want the real deal.  I’d rather sub out my bagel for a salad sometimes than spread it with a thin layer of lite cream cheese, and sometimes, I want that bagel to be made of sparkling white processed flour, with no flecks of stuff. And, I’d rather have the occasional whole milk latte and drink black coffee the rest of the time (even though skim milk foams better, if we’re being frank.)

But, I also want Charmington’s patrons to feel at home there, and eat there on a regular basis.  I don’t want to enforce my all-or-nothing snack views on a defenseless populous.  I’d feel like a spectral Jamie Oliver was about to bust in and dump a truck of lard in my parking lot. So I must ask: what’s you favorite semi-healthy, semi-indulgent snack?  Or entirely healthy snack that feels like an indulgence to you?

*I watch a lot of TV for someone who DOATV, FYI, BFFs.

“When do you open?”

April 6, 2010

Recently, Team Charm had a tasting party to show off some potential menu items to our friends and families, as well as to recruit some investors.  I’ll post more about it when we get some photos coming in.   Anyway, the party was quite successful.  We thought we completely over prepared and made way too much food, but then guests started arriving and hitting the buffet table, and the phrase “Plague of locusts” sprang to mind.

In a good way.  Great plague, locusts!  Stay insatiable!  No, I mean, it was great to see so many of our friends and supporters enjoying the food and going back for more.

Of course,  one thing people kept asking was, “When do you open,” which is a natural question, but a tough one to answer.  Our exact opening date depends on the vagaries of contractors and the health department, so we are planning on doing a very soft opening.  I’ll tell you all about it here, and if you live or work in Miller’s Court, you’ll probably catch on pretty quick.

Right now, though, know that we’re working hard to get the doors open as soon as we can, and we do, it’s going to be phenomenal.

Also, watch this space for information at an upcoming event at our neighbor, the Ottobar!

Slice of heaven

March 24, 2010

Team Charm, lead by Jen,  found a restaurant auction in Northern Virginia a few weeks ago, and yesterday the bidding closed.  It was online only, so no one got to hear an auctioneer, but we were also protected from accidentally bidding on any Ming vases by scratching our noses.  (Something that I am pretty sure happened at least once on every sitcom I watched growing up.)

Anyway, we got a lot of necessary equipment for the space at a much lower price than we would have buying it new.  A sandwich table, a couple of prep tables, some big mixing bowls, a nice food processor, and the crown jewel, a slicer.

The funny thing is, no one actually like, wants the slicer.  It’s big and heavy and scary, and some of us (me) don’t really relish touching big hunks of meat.  And yet, after talking it over, we realized that we wanted the slicer badly, because of what it will allow us to do.

Getting unsliced meat from local(ish, we hope) farmers that follow sustainable practices is going to be much, much more cost effective and less wasteful than trying to get pre-sliced good meat.  Also, no one really wanted to go with the pre-sliced hormone-treated “conventional” meat we could get, even though that would be cheapest of all.

So, we’re psyched about this dangerous albatross of a slicer, even though it means a certain amount of hassle and a whole lot of vigilance.

Torch! Torch! Torch!

March 23, 2010

Amanda posted about this in a facebook status, but I’m so into the torch that I have to elaborate.  One of our fans recently gave Team Charm a kitchen torch, and man, are we excited.  Like, I literally squealed when the package arrived, and I’m not real squealy.

Amanda, Jen, and I have been the first to play with it, and so far, it’s been a lot of fun.  We’ll have pictures and video for you soon.  Watching sugar crystals turn into beads of molten, caramelized liquid sugar is intensely satisfying, as is eating all kinds of foods with burnt sugar on top.  So far, we’ve stuck pretty closely to the custard family when we’ve engaged in burnination, but really, we can burn any old thing.

I think we’re going to be able to toast cheese on bagels and other sandwiches, for example.  I’m hoping.  To quote Robert Louis Stevenson’s marooned pirate, Ben Gunn, “Many’s the long night I’ve dreamed of cheese.  Toasted, mostly.”   I’m with you, guy.

The really cool thing about the torch, though, is that it’s going to take up a tiny amount of space (very important in quarters as cozy as ours) and allow us to use our oven far less.  Our space is already planned out in a way that makes packing sound equipment into a station wagon* look like child’s play, and the smaller and more versatile every gadget we get, the better.

*I’m talking about a lot of sound equipment here.  If you’ve ever been in a band or been friends with those who have been in bands, you know exactly what I’m talking about here.

Little things

March 17, 2010

As we get closer to opening, Team Charm is working on the stuff-gathering process.  A few weeks ago, Kris and some hero friends of his cleared out our entire storage space, and moved the contents into our new storage room in Miller’s Court.  They got everything, even the massive refrigerator.  (Unless there is a happy change, you will see this refrigerator right down in the cafe, because it seems to be too large to fit through a few key doors…whoopsie.)

We were able to purchase most of the cafe at bluehouse’s old equipment, so Charmington’s has a head start there, but we have more ambitious food goals at Charmington’s, and so we’re getting more equipment as well, like an oven of our own.  While we’ve been scouring restaurant auctions and similar sources for the big stuff, we’re trying something else for the little things: We’re asking around.

The more specialized a kitchen gadget is, the more likely it’s going to sit around unused for years, jamming up your drawers and cabinets.   So, we’re asking our friends and neighbors and anyone who wants to see our ragtag little cafe to succeed to look inside their drawers and cabinets and to see if anything looks lonesome.

We have a loose list of things we could use here at Alternative Gift Registry, but what the heck, challenge us, right?  We’ll take more obscure items, and more practical ones as well.  (Sadly, we can’t take a lot of mechanical things like toasters, unless they are listed for commercial use.)

We promise to give you visitation rights if you need them!

We know it’s uncommon for a cafe to ask for things like this, but we’ve been touched by the outpouring of support and well-wishes we’ve received already.  Many people have asked how they can help, and while purchasing our stock is always an option, not everyone is in a place to do that.

As always, we appreciate everyone’s support, and look forward to serving you coffee and food in the very near future.

Guest post: The neighborhood coffee shop

March 11, 2010

The other day I saw my friend Jen Plants (not Charmington’s Jen, but another Jen altogether) had posted in her blog about neighborhoods, feeling at home, and being happy.  Her post touched on so many of the things we’re trying to do with Charmington’s that I asked her if I could steal it, and she graciously agreed.

She writes, as part of a longer post:

So what are the things that I would need (ideally within walking distance) to make me happy? I want a real list that reflects places I really use that really matter to me. So although, it would be nice to have a dentist I can walk to, since I only go twice a year, I can live with getting in the car or getting on the subway to get there. So, I now present the first item on this list (which is in no particular order!). . .

#1 Thing Every Town Needs:

A Locally Owned, Independent Coffee Shop

It may sound cliche, but I’m happier in neighborhoods where I can walk to get a good cup of coffee from people who live in my community and get to know their customers. I need a place where I can grade papers on a Monday afternoon, grab some caffeine before rehearsals, take Miss Hazel for a snack after a morning at the playground, have a light lunch and a business meeting with a collaborator. . . You get the idea. I just feel like communities without one feel soulless, and Starbucks with their trucked in desserts and generic wall art (rather than the rotating work or local artists) is NOT the same. In fact, Starbucks sucks and its presence often signals the kind of neighborhood I’m trying to avoid.


Wasn’t that nice? (This is Cara again.)   I know she said that her list was in no particular order, but still, #1, right?  We know that opening a for-profit cafe in a neighborhood isn’t any kind of holy mission, but we do feel that being of the neighborhood is preferable to just happening to be located in a neighborhood.

What’s a neighborhood to you?  Is your neighborhood the one where you happen to live, or is their a neighborhood that you consider “yours” even though you sleep or work elsewhere?

Testing recipes part 2

March 8, 2010

Last week I posted about the cooking party in which several members of Team Charm tried out some recipes.  Today I have some more photos from Amanda, and a little bit more about what we were making.

Lavender Chocolate Chip Cookies

Seriously, how cute is Amanda's kitchen?

Jen mixed up a batch of cookie dough that incorporated oatmeal, lavendar, and chocolate chips.

I was skeptical about lavender chocolate chip cookies.  I felt like chocolate chip cookies have survived for many years without any floral elements, and remain pretty much perfect.   Still, I’ve had lavender chocolate bars and enjoyed them, so I was willing to give the cookies a try.

We failed to truly test the recipe by letting the cookies cool and harden, and snatched them right off the cooling sheets.  They were less sweet than I expect a cookie to be, and the lavender flavors and chocolate flavors went well with the heartier texture of the oatmeal.


The final product: golden brown, with luscious chocolate chips still warm and melty from the oven, and a subtle odor of lavender.

Cream Scones

I bought a pint of heavy cream when I was making the imitation Berger cookies, and I only used half a pint, so I decided to use the rest in the recipe for cream scones given in Crust and Crumb.

I dutifully mixed the dry ingredients, and was getting ready to pour in the 8 oz. of cream that should’ve been left in the container, when I realized that it had turned, and was too far gone to pour–which is probably for the best.  as it kept me from ruining the batter.

After a quick walk to the store to get more cream–heavy whipping cream this time, and just the half pint needed for the recipe–I mixed it in. Though I had to add water to get the mixture wet enough to form dough, I must say, the scones were a success.  I added cranberries to the batter, and an egg wash topped with sugar to the top.  They came out golden brown and delicious!

Everybody must get scones.

Next time, I may press some cranberries onto the tops after the egg wash, just to make them prettier.

Testing recipes part 1

March 4, 2010

While all of us on Team Charm have our own favorite recipes, we need to make sure that they’ll work in the cafe setting.  Last week, we had our first cooking party, to test recipes and techniques.  Amanda volunteered her kitchen, which is the most spacious and photogenic one available, and she and I and Jen and Kris got together to make some good food.  All photos by Amanda.

Baked falafel

Kris: I like your hat!

Kris prepping some baked falafel.

Fact: Amanda had never had falafel in her life until a few weeks ago–on a trip to Korea!  Jen, Kris, and I have had much longer falafel eating careers.  We liked this recipe, but next time Kris plans to use a longer baking time, and to add a little more spice to the falafel mix.

He served these with pita bread, spinach, cucumbers, and homemade tahini dressing.

Muffins: variations on a theme

"My muffin top is all that..." There. Now it's in your head, too.

One of the muffin variations we tried. This one contained cranberries, and walnuts and were topped with candied ginger and/or white chocolate.

This muffin recipe is one of my personal favorites, the “Muffins of a Thousand Faces” from a wonderful book called Crust and Crumb.  A generous amount of vanilla extract and a carefully formulated creaming method set these apart from your everyday muffins, and the results are delicious.

This recipe is meant to be varied.  We tried frozen wild blueberries in half a batch, as well as the cranberry-walnut-ginger-and-sometimes-white-chocolate pictured above.  Jen mixed this batch, and her results were consistent with the times I’ve tried it in the past.

Next post: lavender chocolate cookies, and cream scones.