A Weekend Getaway to Historic Frederick, MD
After being married almost eight years, my husband and I finally decided to take a special trip to celebrate our wedding anniversary. With two kids (ages seven and three), we don’t often get the opportunity to disappear for a week or even a weekend. If you have kids, then you can relate. If we were going to be able to get away, then we needed a place that didn’t take half of a day just to get there. I wanted to go someplace that I have never been before. Since nearly everything that I do and everywhere I go is food-centric (refrain from gasping), as a prerequisite it has excellent dining options. With that in mind, we decided to plan to trip to Frederick, Maryland. Frederick makes an easy day trip. I had never been there before and I was dying to dine at Bryan Voltaggio’s restaurant, VOLT. Less than 60 miles from home, Frederick, MD seemed like the ideal locale for our get-a-way. Pure serendipity, a couple of weeks after our discussion and initial plans, we were invited by the Frederick Tourism Bureau for a weekend media excursion. We decided that it was the perfect opportunity to scope out the local B&Bs and take full advantage of what Frederick has to offer.
On paper, Frederick is the region’s second largest city and has one of the best-preserved historic districts in Maryland, second only to the capital, Annapolis. It took me several instances to adjust that when someone used the term “downtown” they were really referring to Frederick. In my realm of experience, downtown means Washington, DC. Frederick reminded me a lot of Old Town, Alexandria. It’s comparable in size, historic, and quaint very much like Old Town, where I have visited countless times. Frederick’s tiny 50-block district has a majestic neighborhoody feel with its tree-shaded streets lined with buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries, and brick walkways that unite inviting courtyards. This along with the countless eclectic shops, coffee nooks, more than 200 antiques stores, museums, and fine restaurants all help attract crowds of weekend visitors here.
We started our tour at the Frederick West Farmer’s Market, which was voted the 15th in the 2011 America’s Favorite Farmers Market contest. Located on Baughman’s Lane off of Rt. 40W, it is a small farmer’s market; however, there were dozens of vendors, participating local farmers, bakers, and artisans. Sadly, we just missed Bryan Voltaggio, who was at the market gathering ingredients for his daily menu. With checklist in hand, we enjoyed a mini sampling and tasting by a variety of the market vendors which was arranged by our friends at the Tourism Council of Frederick County and S&R Media Group. We received fresh hand-milled organic flour from Tracy Utley, owner of Red Apron Organic, which I am dying to use, baked goods from Cakes for Cause, a local non-profit that helps teach job skills to youth who age out of the foster care system, and a incredibly aromatic spice bouquet from Jubilee Organic Farm.
While at the market, I also bought a greenhouse grown tomato that tasted like pure sunshine which was amazing, especially since tomato season was long gone and I also bought a head of local grown garlic. My absolute favorite purchase was a mini pumpkin wild flower arrangement from Glade Link Farms from Keymar, MD. They hollowed out the mini pumpkin, inserted a green sponge used for floral arrangements and then added the flowers. It was very festive and lasted about a week on my kitchen table.
After the market, our media group had lunch at the award-winning Firestone’s Culinary Tavern (105 N. Market St.), housed in a 1921 building which was once Shipley’s Department Store. The atmosphere is casual, like a neighborhood tavern but just as the name suggests, offers a true gastronomic experience. Chef Jack Walker was out but we were very well taken care of by Sous Chef and Frederick native, Jeff Beard. Based on our meal, I can say that Beard is well on his way to a very prestigious award bearing his own name.
For the first course, and a very memorable introduction to what would soon follow, I had the most incredible New England Clam Chowder that I have ever had with fresh briny Littleneck clams, Chardonnay, smoky pancetta, celeriac, cream, and potatoes. While typically I would never order this on my own accord, I absolutely loved their rendition. I used my mini toast to sop up every last drop.
The Grilled “Diver” Scallop wrapped snugly in Applewood bacon was just as spectacular, in taste and in presentation. The single scallop was served perched on top of creamy risotto beneath a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar, and truffle oil and embellished with a sprig of vibrant purple cauliflower. Without hesitation, I can honestly say that this dish was absolutely incredible, and would be willing to drive the one hour each way to Frederick just to have it again. On the complete opposite side of the culinary spectrum than the scallop, but not lacking in merit was our next dish — the Hand Cut Hot Pastrami sandwich with Swiss Cheese on country sourdough and served with crispy hand-cut french fries. The Pastrami sandwich, as simple and classic as it may seem, this was one of the most phenomenal sandwiches that I have ever had in my life (and after three courses, I was not hungry!). The Pastrami is brined, smoked, and cut in-house. I ate every bite, even the pickle (and my neighbor’s pickle). For dessert, we had the Apple Cobbler, which was out-of-this-world. I love fall flavors, and the Apple Cobbler was the perfect conclusion to an amazing meal.
After lunch, we wandered around downtown and went up and down Market Street going in and out of clothing, jewelry, and gift shops. My loving husband bought me a new necklace and matching bracelet at Molly’s Meanderings (17 N. Market St.).
Many (including myself until now) do not know the historical significance of Frederick, MD. The town was founded in 1745, 20 years before the Revolutionary War. In the early days before the Civil War, just after Virginia, Maryland’s legislature began the debate on whether it would too secede from the Union, an action that would leave the capitol surrounded by “enemy” territory. In April 1861, Federal troops occupied Baltimore and Annapolis in part to fortify and protect Washington, D.C. In order to keep the Union capital safe, Maryland’s state capitol was moved to Frederick, Maryland in April 1861. 2011 marked the 150th Anniversary of Frederick as the State Capitol. Frederick tells the story of how their town was divided and the healing that it provided by their hospital center at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine (48 E. Patrick Street), which is housed in a building where soldiers were embalmed during the war.
The best way to explore historic downtown Frederick is by picking up a self-guided map at the visitor center located at 151 S. East Street. There is ample parking offered next door at the East All Saints Street Parking Garage, and there’s always street parking along adjacent East Church and South Court streets. Using the latest technology, the Destination Frederick County Visitor’s Guide, offers QR codes throughout the guide scannable with your smartphone to view related videos. When we return in December, on the top of my list, is to hear the spine-tingling tales of Frederick’s past during the candlelight ghost tour which is offered May through December.
On our own walking tour, we came across the William O. Lee Unity Bridge and Carroll Creek Park, located on Carroll Street between E. Patrick Street and E. All Saints Street. This suspension bridge is said to symbolically represent the end of Frederick’s segregated past. Just beyond the suspension bridge is the Community Bridge (see center photo above) where I gasped in awe at the Mural. Local artist William Cochran’s award-winning trompe l’oeil or “trick the eye” mural transformed a plain concrete traffic bridge into a large-scale work of art. It’s absolutely stunning — truly like nothing that I have ever seen before! The mural creates the permanent illusion of an old stone and ivy-covered bridge. All of the stonework is a hand painted illusion. Even the green algae is painted. One of my favorites is “The Forgotten Song”, a painted illusion of a stone bird bath. It’s absolutely stunning. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see something like this. What’s even more interesting is that along the wall, there are painted “carvings” on individual stones to reflect the community, culture, and heritage. The Community Bridge Mural is a must see!
Adjacent to the Community Bridge is the Delaplaine Visual Arts Education Center (40 S. Carroll St.). This restored building once housed the historic Mountain City Mill. The structure was formerly used as a whiskey rectifying house, a flour mill, and a storage facility. Today, it has been re-purposed into a non-profit arts education facility features art instruction, exhibitions, special events, and a gift shop offering fine art and handcrafted items. I enjoyed viewing the naturalist art exhibit, “Nature – Shadow & Form” by Marcia Wolfson-Ray and the touching fictional media art/journal exhibit, “UNION: The Courier Journals, 1861-1865″ commemorating the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War by Michael Douglas Jones.
After Delaplaine, we walked to the visitor center nearby. We went hoping to locate the B&Bs that are walking distance from downtown. On December 9th, we have a reservation VOLT and plan to stay overnight to take in the sites. We poked our heads into the Hill House (12 W. 3rd St.), a three-story Victorian home circa 1870 with four guest rooms. It was gorgeous and I made my husband call that very afternoon to reserve our room.
After site-seeing for the afternoon, we returned to our room at the Frederick Courtyard Marriott (5225 Westview Dr.) to change and get ready for dinner. I was actually very surprised when checking in. The Marriott was beautiful, modern yet cozy. There was a water wall, fitness center, indoor pool, cafe, lounge with new flat-screen tvs, and even a fire pit and pond in their serine courtyard. We didn’t have a chance to enjoy any of the facilities, other than the cafe or lounge, but I wish that I had gone out to the firepit. I highly recommend staying at the Courtyard Marriott. It’s a lovely clean hotel with excellent customer service.
That evening our group had lovely demo and tasting by Shab Row Bistro’s (221B North East St.) incredibly talented self-proclaimed “Bar Chef” (and not all atypical), Alex Strange. He said that he wanted to “showcase what makes the bar unique in the area.” He emphasized that all of their bitters, tinctures, syrups, etc. are all made in-house. The cocktail menu includes inventive, signature drinks made with fresh ingredients. We sampled an aperitif, and their twist on a traditional gin and tonic called, “Kick Ass Gin and Tonic” made with lavender gin, elderflower liqueur, lemon and tonic 9. We also tried one of his concoctions called, “Gods Must Be Crazy” that has burnt caramel tincture and peppercorn tincture. I admit that before meeting Alex I had no idea what a tincture was or that when using hard liquor that you’re supposed to stir only– never shake. He emphasized the importance of ice. He said “ice makes all the difference and is the most overlooked ingredient”.
Following Alex’s cocktail demo, we enjoyed a special Earth n Eats farm-to-table dinner with a presentation by the farm owner and operator, Josiah Martin from Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. Shab Row Bistro’s executive chef, Kevin Longmire, prepared a 5-course tasting menu showcasing some of the seasons most sought after produce provided by Earth n Eats farm. Martin explained, “One hundred years ago, everyone grew their own food. It’s not like that today.” He said that he started out with a roadside stand selling strawberries, but then realized that they needed more to offer than just produce 3 months out of the year, so they built a greenhouse. Today, the family owned and operated farm has been in operation for more than 15 years. They offer fresh locally grown produce to DC area restaurants, such as Shab Row year-round.
Of our 5-course tasting menu, the Winter Squash Soup made with local Spaghetti Squash, lemongrass, ginger, leek, curry, and micro-mustard was a highlight. In fact, my husband cleaned his plate and used bread to finish every drop. It had full-bodied flavor, with a spicy kick from the curry, and a smooth, velvety texture. It’s a perfect soup for the season.
Also, one of my favorite dishes of the evening was the Moulard Duck Breast served with red Russian kale, candy onion, shiitake mushrooms, and Sorghum dumplings. The duck was moist, tender and delicious. It was my first time trying Sorghum dumplings, and the gluten-free pillows made with grain flour were very dense, but were tasty with the duck au jus.
The co-owner, Lindsay Clark introduced us to her mother, who is the genius behind Shab Row’s desserts. Her Golden Delicious Apple Crisp with home-made Mascarpone ice cream was our last course. Another fabulous seasonal dish, each bite was like being enveloped in a warm sweater. Think upscale apple cobbler a la mode — the apples were warm and moist, and the ice cream was tart and creamy. The perfect finish to an incredible meal.
After dinner we walked to Volt to have drinks in the lounge. Luckily, chef Voltaggio was able to take a break from the kitchen to come out and chat with us. He admitted that he high-tailed it out of the market when he heard that our media group was arriving shortly. I told him that we planned to return December 9th for dinner to celebrate our wedding anniversary. I tried to contain my excitement … but I think he saw right through me. Fortunately, I don’t think that he remembered meeting me before, even though we’ve met several times.
The next morning we visited local Coffee roaster, Dublin Roasters (1780 N. Market St.) and met owner, Serina Roy. Even though I don’t drink coffee, I learned so much about where coffee comes from and the process of roasting coffee beans. Afterwards, we visited the Roddy Creek Bridge (14760 Roddy Rd.) in Thurmont, MD, only of only eight remaining covered bridges in the state of Maryland. The Roddy Road covered bridge, built in 1856, rests just north of Thurmont off of US 15, where Roddy Creek Road meets Roddy Road at Owens Creek. The smallest of the county’s covered bridges, Roddy Road is a single-span Kingpost design bridge measuring 40 feet long. The creek adjacent to the bridge was absolutely gorgeous. Together with the creek, the natural beauty at this bridge and park is something to treasure.
Afterwards, we went on a tour of Catoctin Mountain Orchard (15036 North Franklinville Rd.), also in Thurmont, MD with second-generation farmer and owner, Bob Black as our guide. He emphasized that their farm prides itself on taste. He said that many people throw away perfectly good fruit just because it doesn’t look perfect. but that they care more about how it tastes. I tasted the juiciest most delicious apples that I have ever had in my life. I learned so much about different variety of apples and when various kinds of produce are in season. After the tour, we sampled two kinds of pie and visited the market and purchased a four-berry pie, jar of pickles, and more apples.
I’m really looking forward to returning to Frederick in December. I can’t wait to return to Voila! (10 N. Market St.) for more specialty teas, to stay at the Hill House, and of course, have dinner at VOLT!