Last night, the team behind Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore, Maryland previewed their newest project, A Rake’s Progress, in the SAVEUR Test Kitchen. Chef Spike Gjerde’s restaurant will open in May in The Line Hotel in Washington, D.C. and follow the same philosophies as his previous projects, Woodberry and Parts & Labor (a butcher shop). This is to say, A Rake’s Progress (named for a series of William Hogarth paintings) will continue Gjerde’s fierce dedication to local farmers and producers coupled with the practical notion of “waste not, want not.” Because Gjerde and his team eschew products that can’t be sourced within a certain geographic range (no lemons, limes, or black pepper, for instance), their food has acquired a certain Chesapeake terroir and their arsenal of ingredients has become extremely creative. For instance, beverage director Corey Polyoka uses verjus, the juice derived from green grape pressings, to add acid to cocktails, as in his stunning opener drink, the Estuary Punch, a gin-based, anise-laced punch garnished with flaming oyster shells and dill.
Alongside Polyoka’s punch were scrapple bahn mi on flaky, sweet croissants, as well as Chesapeake oysters, raw scallops, and raw cheeseburgers with tomato jam—a cross between a rare burger and a steak tartare. One guest recalled a preference he’d once heard a precocious chef express: “I like my steak so rare that a good veterinarian could bring it back to life.” As the evening progressed, Vermonter cocktails (Barr Hill Tom Cat gin, DLC apple cider, maple barrel aged bitters, pantry preserves) were served with toasted, buttered wheat bread, which tasted vaguely of molasses or palm sugar, thanks to an extra-long fermentation. A chowder topped with chunks of rockfish (striped bass), put-up corn, and cubes of toothsome bacon followed, as did salads so flavorful they could have stood their own as mains: toasty Maryland grains with smoked beets, pickled ramps, and popped sorghum and a kilt salad with crispy toast, salty Lebanon bologna, and hot mustard dressing.
The main event was a parade of platters piled with roasted spatchcocked chickens, baby spring carrots, roasted parsnips, overwintered greens, and bowls full of smooth, buttered mashed potatoes. Profiteroles stuffed with ice cream along with generous pours of Dad’s Hat rye with rock candy lulled the crowd into sleepy murmurs, and elicited promises of train trips to D.C. as soon as the winter thaw was through.