Virtual Gourmet

  May 22, 2016                                                                                             NEWSLETTER


    Betty Draper (January Jones) filming Coke ad in "Mad Men" (2007)


By John Mariani


By John Mariani



By John Mariani



By John Mariani

Crab Dishes at Cantler's Riverside


    I suspect I am not alone in being helpless to resist ordering crab in every form when eating around Annapolis.  Even though the fat Maryland blue crabs—including softshells—are just now coming into season, the restaurateurs of Annapolis are able to maintain a steady supply of the best blue crab from down the coast and the Gulf of Mexico pretty much year round.  Thus, did I find myself ordering crab dishes at almost every meal—including breakfast—while visiting the historic city set on the Chesapeake. They certainly weren’t hard to find in profusion, with eggs, fried, broiled, with hash, in soups, as cakes, as stuffing, or on their own.  Here are some of the places, all quite casual but with food far better than you might expect,  where I enjoyed them and much else in Annapolis a month ago.

 Photos from

63 Maryland Avenue

    Opened in 1998, Galway Bay has all the trappings of a stereotypical Irish pub without seeming in the least kitschy.  The brick walls, bare wooden tables and booths, the beer signs, banjos, fiddles, and Irish whiskies—38 of them behind a long polished bar—are key to the genial ambiance, but it’s all a lot cleaner and kempt than so many rougher versions of the genre.  The owners make a good deal about their being, with no pun intended, green, which is to say it is the first restaurant in Maryland to be certified by Maryland Green Travel.
    The menu copies the traditions of Irish-American fare, including first-rate corned beef and cabbage with champ mashed potatoes ($18.99), a hearty lamb stew generous with meat ($13.99) and a shepherd’s pie ($12.99) that will convince you that this is one of the homiest of dishes when well made with fresh mashed potatoes, seasonings and good butter.  Of course, there are crab cakes, and they are terrific.  In line with its location, there are also daily specials like Chincoteague oysters with a Naptown Brown Ale mignonette ($10) and San Patricio’s Porter-laced chili ($11). 
For dessert there is a currant-studded bread pudding ($5.99), but you must not fail to have a shot of Galway Bay’s proprietary imported egg nog, which has become so famous that they run out of shipments because so many people order it by the bottle.  I’ve never tasted any nog as rich or delicious as this. 

Open daily for lunch and dinner.



165 Main Street

    You may think you’ve seen places similar to Chick & Ruth’s, but you’ve never met anyone like owner Ted Levitt, who can build, dis-assemble, weld, wire, fit, anchor, brick up, light up, and do anything and everything to keep his magnificent folly going after 50 years.  Proudly patriotic—everyone stands up to recite the “Pledge of Allegiance” at 8:30 a.m. (below)—familial to his employees and heavily involved with local charities, Ted is a Renaissance Man who has chosen as his life’s work to carry on his mom and pop’s legacy here by making people happy with good, honest food culled from the best ingredients he can find, no matter what it costs him.
    Chick & Ruth’s menu (above) is something like a flea market: If you look long enough you’ll find exactly what you want, in this case any of 23 just-baked pies ($3.99 a slice), myriad cookies, apple fritters, donuts, 20-ounce shakes ($4.99), and some of the best half-pound crab cakes ($16.99 to $27.99)—all lump crabmeat—in the city. The vast number of sandwiches are all named after politicians (the “Congressman” is made with corned beef and pastrami), and then there are the huge platters of eggs Benedict (right) with crabmeat ($10.99), Belgian waffles ($6.29), nachos ($6.79), Maryland crab soup ($5.99), pizza ($8.50), flatiron steak ($14.99), country fried steak with sausage gravy ($10.99), and just about everything else you could think of.
    I’m sure that, if given the time, Ted Levitt could cure cancer and eliminate the national debt, but he’s been busy keeping friends and newcomers overwhelmed by his largess and his classic American grub for 50 years and isn’t about to stop. 

Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

400 Fourth Street

Photos by John Bildahl

    In terms of sheer enthusiasm and customer care, Dick Franyo, owner of the immensely popular Boatyard Bar & Grill, would go arm and arm with Ted Levitt as exponents of Annapolis hospitality.  The whole atmosphere, which does indeed resemble a boatyard clubhouse with its flags, marine art and varnished wood, draws you right in, sits you right down and makes you hungrier than you were just a minute ago.
    A lot of Maryland eateries claim to serve the best crab cakes in the Chesapeake, but The Boatyard makes a strong case, with the proclamation
"ALL KILLER ~ NO FILLER!"  The dish is fully six ounces of lump crabmeat, barely coaxed into the form of a cake, served with housemade tartar sauce, fresh vegetables and smashed redskin potatoes (market price). There’s more crab done with artichokes, spinach, onion and Parmesan cheese served with crostini, and both the Maryland crab soup, which is tomato based with some bacon and potatoes, and the cream of crab soup laced with Sherry are paragons of those types ($7.99).  (Have the “yin/yang” option—a half portion of each soup serve together in the same bowl.)
      Chef George Betz does a splendid job grilling the local rockfish with mint, lime and rum butter, served with rice, ranchero beans,  vegetables and fried plantain.  Florida pompano (left) shows well here, sautéed in butter with garlic, cherry tomatoes, lump crab, white wine and a squeeze of lemon juice. West Ocean City mesquite-smoked whitefish takes on good flavor from whipped horseradish, sour cream, Sriracha sauce and other ingredients served with flat bread crackers.
    And while it looks daunting and quite messy, share one huge slice of Smith Island cake, a dense, 15-layer chocolate cake with a long tradition among home bakers in the region, now designated as Maryland’s official dessert.  The one served at the Boatyard has been carefully perfected.

Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.


Dinner Under the Stars – Reminiscent of the open air cafes in Paris and the piazzas of Rome and Venice, al fresco dining can now be enjoyed all summer long in Annapolis. On twelve Wednesday evenings, from July 13th through September 21st, the first block of West Street from Church Circle to Calvert Street will be closed to traffic from 6:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. so foodies can enjoy Dinner Under the Stars. Participating restaurants, including Rams Head Tavern, Café Ole, Stan & Joe’s, El Toro Bravo, Luna Blu, Tsunami, 49 West Coffeehouse, Chesapeake Brew Pub and others, will set up tables for dining in the streets. Visitors and area residents are invited to dine, stroll and shop while enjoying music beneath a canopy of lights strung above in the Annapolis Arts District. Sponsored by Annapolis’s Inner West Street Association.


By John Mariani
Photos by Noak Fecks

320 West 46th Street (near Eighth Avenue)

    The New York steakhouse long ago set the standard for the rest of America—along about the time that Prohibition forced a lot of restaurants out of business and sparked an explosion of speakeasies where food was the last thing on patrons’ minds.  But along the way, customers began clamoring for something to eat and the New York steakhouse—largely owned by Italians—began serving up steaks and chops, and maybe a little spaghetti, with the beer and booze.
    The sawdust floors, the scruffy yellowed walls, the raffish, masculine ambiance all added to the genre, and after the war the old-timers like Palm, Crist Cella, Pietro’s, Bruno’s Pen & Pencil and others competed on a fairly level playing field, where three-pound lobsters and dry-aged porterhouse steaks were drawn from the now vanished Meat Market District.
    One of those speakeasy pioneers was Frankie & Johnnie’s, opened in 1926, when prospective customers had to know the password “Frankie” to get the accepting response “Johnnie” to gain entrance.  Today there are three F&J’s, the original on West 37th Street, a very new one on West 46th, and one in the Westchester County town of Rye.  They don’t all look alike but the menus are similar, filled with classic New York steakhouse fare, from clams casino ($16) and shrimp scampi ($18) to rib eyes ($50) and sirloins ($53), along with calf’s liver with onions and bacon ($25) and surf & turf ($57).  Prices are comparable to those of close competitors like Smith & Willensky and Spark’s.
    The new, since January, F&J’s is smack on Restaurant Row in the Theater District and the most convenient steakhouse in the area if you need to make an 8 o’clock  curtain.  Two stories tall, with a bar up front and a good number of well-set tables and booths to the rear, the room has thus far not gotten too crowded or noisy.  Theater posters line the walls.  (You won't find any sawdust on the floors.) F&J’s has a very affable wait staff, admirably led by women. 
    The oysters ($16) are plump bluepoints. The shrimp scampi could use more garlic, but the corn bisque was first-rate, sweet but not cloying, creamy but not too heavy.  There are four cuts of steak here, all USDA Prime—sirloin, T-bone, ribeye and a porterhouse for two ($94).  We had the last and, asking for the outside to be well-charred, that’s precisely what I got, with a rosy medium-rare interior.  It wasn’t the best steak I’ve had in NYC—it needed more of the mineral bite Prime beef should possess—but I liked the veal chop ($43) and adored the double lamb chops ($42), which are among the best in the city, well-trimmed but with enough sweet fat  and grilled so that the meat against the bone and its tail take on a crackling texture.
    The usual side dishes are available, from good, cheesy au gratin potatoes ($10) to fairly bland—and expensive—fresh spinach ($10).  If you really feel a need for dessert, the classic NYC-style cheesecake will do.
    F&J stocks a good wine list with variety and depth and prices are about average for a steakhouse, which means pretty high. There are 12 wines offered by the glass.
    So if you’re off to the theater or coming out of one, Frankie & Johnnie’s will be a good bet and one that, at least until it gets better known, will not rush you in or out.    


Open for lunch and dinner daily.



By John Mariani


         Despite what many passionate winemakers will tell you about the excitement of what they do, the hard facts are that the science and making of wine is largely agricultural and biological.  It’s just that Idaho potatoes and New Jersey tomatoes haven’t quite the romantic associations that a Napa Valley Cabernet or Chardonnay has accrued though literature and marketing.  Wine writers like myself have to know Chemistry 101 just to be able to interview a wine maker, so we can chat about things like Brix levels, micro-oxygenation and TCA contamination.

         Fortunately, as in all interviews, it is the contrarians of the industry who are the most fun and the most revealing about modern viniculture in California, where far too many wines are indeed manufactured back at the winery lab to taste a certain way and to win awards according to the preferences of the wine media.

         “If I were asked by a winery to make 96-point [on a scale of 100] wine, I’d just walk away,” said Robbie Meyer (right), 45, since 2015 winemaker at Murrieta’s Well winery in the Livermore Valley in an interiew in NYC. “The people who ask for such a thing know nothing about wine.”

      Holding such an opinion flies in the face of many wineries, often owned by Silicon Valley millionaires or Wall Street billionaires who want nothing more from their investment than to win high points or “Wine of the Year” from publications like Wine Spectator and The Wine Advocate.

         Instead, Meyer focuses on small lot harvesting and blending based on the soil and micro-climate of the acreage, called terroir.  Hailing from Georgia, Meyer earned his Master’s degree in enology at the University of California, Davis, and has worked in  prestigious wineries like Peter Michael, Lewis Cellars, and Jericho Canyon as well as for his own labels, Peirson Meyer and L’Angevin.

         Murrieta’s Well is owned by the much larger Wente Family Estates, which has built it into their luxury wine brand.  Murrieta’s Well honors the name of Joachin Murrieta, who first discovered the property in the 1800s where Louis Mel would later set up a winery. So, too, Meyer assesses the wine from various estates owned by the winery, then blends them to reflect each vintage’s strengths, so that Murrieta’s Well wines may taste somewhat different from year to year.

        Meyer works with 20 different grape varieties from 500 acres with three soil profiles ranging from 560 feet to 860 feet elevations; he plants root stocks according to the soil composition, which will affect flavors.  Livermore Valley, for instance, has very gravelly coarse sandy loam, while at Pleasonton the gravel is very fine, and Las Positas has a grass pasture.

        Still, Murrieta's Well wines sell at modest prices by comparison with other well-known California small estate labels.  Its white blend, called The Whip, sells for about $24 and has a wonderful aromatic bouquet that comes from orange Muscat, Semillon, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, to give it an acidic edge that makes it very food friendly.  The red blend, The Spur, at about $30, is made from Petite Syrah, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc, which provide several layers of fruit and tannin.
    Murrieta’s Well’s Small Lot line is more expensive and rightly so.  Both the Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($58) and the Chardonnay 2014 ($44) are excellent examples of what those California varietals should taste like, not replicas of Bordeaux or Burgundy templates but expressive of the far different terroir of Livermore Valley.  The Cabernet, at 14.4 percent alcohol, skirts being massive while maintaining its tannic muscle, which should mellow further in another two years. The blend contains Petit Verdot, Melbec, Petite Syrah and Merlot, and, according to Meyer, the drought conditions of 2013 actually allowed the winery to “subsidize the minimal water requirements through our sustainable drip irrigation methods.”
The Chardonnay, at 13.9 percent alcohol has none of that overuse of oak and there is an admirable balance of fruit and acid you don’t often see in California Chardonnays, and while not cheap, it is certainly a fair price for a wine of this caliber.



Dante Anderson of  Oklahoma City, who claims to be a time traveler, bust into a local Arby's, shoved the  manager out of the way and stealing chicken and beef.  After trying the same thing at a  Carl's Jr., Anderson told police that he walked here from the distant future of 2020  because this will be how people go foraging once the apocalypse begins.


After 21 years on the job and 1,100 cartoons, editorial cartoonist Rick Friday of Iowa's small-circulation Farm News and nearly 1,100 cartoons, the longtime editorial cartoonist  was fired for drawing a critical cartoon noting farmers' shrinking profits within the context of huge salaries paid to the CEOs of DuPont Pioneer, John Deere, and Monsanto, leading to one company's canceling ads with the paper.


Sponsored by Banfi Vintners

Benventuo Brunello 2016: First Taste of Castello Banfi

By John Fodera, Tuscan Vines

    Any vintage that followed the perfect 2010 was bound to have the cards stacked against it.  However, 2011 -- ranked a 4 star vintage by the Consorzio--portrays itself admirably.  With larger than imaginable shoes to fill,  the Brunello producers poured their 2011 wines for the first time in public in late January. 
    Tuscan Vines  covered the event in my earlier "Brunello for Breakfast"  piece.   Following is an excerpt from  a more comprehensive report providing greater depth of coverage.  Please note that due to the setting not being ideal and the small tastes of the wines presented, only score ranges are provided. 

Overview - Vintage 2011
The vintage started with a moderate winter with cold but not unbearable temperatures and moderate  amounts of rain and snow.  An earlier than normal start to spring was very warm and rainy and seemed to allow for early vegetative growth and flowering.  June was very nice but once July arrived, the heat spiked severely and it remained hot through the end of August.   Temperatures moderated by harvest time, but overall, the grapes were harvested earlier throughout the zone.  Generally, the vintage is considered similar to 2003 and 2009.  Some producers described the overall climatic conditions as "similar to 2010, but more extreme."  Producers with vineyards at higher elevations fared slightly better than producers with lower lying vineyards in warmer areas.  Yields and production levels were down.

Tasting Notes: Castello Banfi
Castello Banfi (above) is in the southern most area of the Brunello zone yet this didn't impact the quality of their 2011 in terms of freshness.  The estate's versatility is impressive across the lineup. 

2014 Rosso di Montalcino Poggio Alle Mura -- Contains lots of declassified Brunello from this vineyard and it is impressive.  I enjoyed a glass of this with lunch immediately following the seminar and this was juicy, fresh and delicious with penne pasta with sausage, and vegetable panini.  Lots of bright berry flavors accented with spice, vanilla, and a hint of olive.  The best 2014 rosso I tasted that day.  88-90 points.

2011 Brunello --This deep ruby wine displays pretty floral notes, with warmed clay and lots of bright berry character. The acidity is fresh and lifting and there's some fresh red licorice on the finish.  Solid effort.  90-92 points.

2010 Poggio Alle Mura Brunello Riserva--Only 1,000 cases of this select Riserva are produced from vineyards just outside the Castello walls.  Deep ruby with  lots of flowers, toast, spice, meat and berry character.  Polished and elegant, there's lots of power here.  Not yet released.  95-98 points.

2010 Brunello Riserva Poggio All'Oro--Single vineyard Riserva and simply one of the best wines from Brunello each year that it's made, which has been only 11 times since 1985.  This is deep ruby in the glass with only a slight fade to brick at the edge of the bowl.  A bit shy on the nose initially, the aromas blossomed considerably with more air time. Huge berry and cherry aromas and flavors dominate with sweet pipe tobacco, spices and chestnut joining in.  Lots of structure, lots of acid, lots of tannins.  Elegance and power combined, this will cellar and develop well for a decade or more.  Lots of fennel emerges on the finish. Love it!  97-100 points. 



 Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from

   The Hound in Heaven (21st Century Lion Books) is a  novella, and for anyone who loves dogs, Christmas, romance, inspiration, even the supernatural, I hope you'll find this to be a treasured  favorite. The  story concerns how, after a New England teacher, his wife and their two daughters adopt a stray puppy found in their barn in northern Maine, their lives seem full of promise. But when tragedy strikes, their wonderful dog Lazarus and the spirit of Christmas are the only things that may bring his master back from the edge of despair. 


“What a huge surprise turn this story took! I was completely stunned! I truly enjoyed this book and its message.” – Actress Ali MacGraw

“He had me at Page One. The amount of heart, human insight, soul searching, and deft literary strength that John Mariani pours into this airtight novella is vertigo-inducing. Perhaps ‘wow’ would be the best comment.” – James Dalessandro, author of Bohemian Heart and 1906.

“John Mariani’s Hound in Heaven starts with a well-painted portrayal of an American family, along with the requisite dog. A surprise event flips the action of the novel and captures us for a voyage leading to a hopeful and heart-warming message. A page turning, one sitting read, it’s the perfect antidote for the winter and promotion of holiday celebration.” – Ann Pearlman, author of The Christmas Cookie Club and A Gift for my Sister.

“John Mariani’s concise, achingly beautiful novella pulls a literary rabbit out of a hat – a mash-up of the cosmic and the intimate, the tragic and the heart-warming – a Christmas tale for all ages, and all faiths. Read it to your children, read it to yourself… but read it. Early and often. Highly recommended.” – Jay Bonansinga, New York Times bestselling author of Pinkerton’s War, The Sinking of The Eastland, and The Walking Dead: The Road To Woodbury.

“Amazing things happen when you open your heart to an animal. The Hound in Heaven delivers a powerful story of healing that is forged in the spiritual relationship between a man and his best friend. The book brings a message of hope that can enrich our images of family, love, and loss.” – Dr. Barbara Royal, author of The Royal Treatment.


The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink by John F. Mariani (Bloomsbury USA, $35)

Modesty forbids me to praise my own new book, but let me proudly say that it is an extensive revision of the 4th edition that appeared more than a decade ago, before locavores, molecular cuisine, modernist cuisine, the Food Network and so much more, now included. Word origins have been completely updated, as have per capita consumption and production stats. Most important, for the first time since publication in the 1980s, the book includes more than 100 biographies of Americans who have changed the way we cook, eat and drink -- from Fannie Farmer and Julia Child to Robert Mondavi and Thomas Keller.

"This book is amazing! It has entries for everything from `abalone' to `zwieback,' plus more than 500 recipes for classic American dishes and drinks."--Devra First, The Boston Globe.

"Much needed in any kitchen library."--Bon Appetit.

Now in Paperback, too--How Italian Food Conquered the World (Palgrave Macmillan)  has won top prize  from the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.  It is a rollicking history of the food culture of Italy and its ravenous embrace in the 21st century by the entire world. From ancient Rome to la dolce vita of post-war Italy, from Italian immigrant cooks to celebrity chefs, from pizzerias to high-class ristoranti, this chronicle of a culinary diaspora is as much about the world's changing tastes, prejudices,  and dietary fads as about our obsessions with culinary fashion and style.--John Mariani

"Eating Italian will never be the same after reading John Mariani's entertaining and savory gastronomical history of the cuisine of Italy and how it won over appetites worldwide. . . . This book is such a tasteful narrative that it will literally make you hungry for Italian food and arouse your appetite for gastronomical history."--Don Oldenburg, USA Today. 

"Italian restaurants--some good, some glitzy--far outnumber their French rivals.  Many of these establishments are zestfully described in How Italian Food Conquered the World, an entertaining and fact-filled chronicle by food-and-wine correspondent John F. Mariani."--Aram Bakshian Jr., Wall Street Journal.

"Mariani admirably dishes out the story of Italy’s remarkable global ascent to virtual culinary hegemony....Like a chef gladly divulging a cherished family recipe, Mariani’s book reveals the secret sauce about how Italy’s cuisine put gusto in gusto!"--David Lincoln Ross,

"Equal parts history, sociology, gastronomy, and just plain fun, How Italian Food Conquered the World tells the captivating and delicious story of the (let's face it) everybody's favorite cuisine with clarity, verve and more than one surprise."--Colman Andrews, editorial director of The Daily

"A fantastic and fascinating read, covering everything from the influence of Venice's spice trade to the impact of Italian immigrants in America and the evolution of alta cucina. This book will serve as a terrific resource to anyone interested in the real story of Italian food."--Mary Ann Esposito, host of PBS-TV's Ciao Italia.

"John Mariani has written the definitive history of how Italians won their way into our hearts, minds, and stomachs.  It's a story of pleasure over pomp and taste over technique."--Danny Meyer, owner of NYC restaurants Union Square Cafe,  The Modern, and Maialino.



FEATURED LINKS: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linked to four excellent travel sites:

Everett Potter's Travel  Report

I consider this the best and savviest blog of its kind on the  web. Potter is a columnist for USA Weekend, Diversion, Laptop and Luxury  Spa Finder, a contributing editor for Ski and  a frequent contributor to National  Geographic Traveler,  and Elle Decor. "I’ve designed this site is for people who take their  travel seriously," says Potter. "For travelers who want to learn about special  places but don’t necessarily want to pay through the nose for the privilege of  staying there. Because at the end of the day, it’s not so much about five-star  places as five-star experiences."  THIS WEEK: A NEW PARIS BISTRO; PUB CRAWLING IN DUBLIN.

Eating Las Vegas JOHN CURTAS has been covering the Las Vegas food and restaurant scene since 1995. He is the co-author of EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants (the fourth edition of which will be published in early 2016), as well as the author of the Eating Las Vegas web site: www.eatinglasvegas. He can also be seen every Friday morning as the “resident foodie” for Wake Up With the Wagners on KSNV TV (NBC) Channel 3  in Las Vegas.


nickonwine: An engaging, interactive wine column by Nick Passmore, Artisanal Editor, Four Seasons Magazine; Wine Columnist,;;

MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Editor: Walter Bagley. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani, Robert Mariani,  Misha Mariani, John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Andrew Chalk,  Dotty Griffith and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographers: Galina Dargery,  Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

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