John Cullen with Marty Shayt

John Cullen with Marty Shayt

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The Food Market opened last year on the site of an actual food market in Hampden. Getting a reservation, even on a weeknight, proved difficult (that is unless you want to try your luck at a “community table” sitting up to a dozen people).

Jennings’s Café was opened in 1958 by Omar Jennings after he sold his interest in the renowned Pimlico Hotel. Fifty-five years later, his great-grandson, Omar Jennings III, owns and runs the café that bears the family name.

Founded in the early 1940’s, Chiapparelli’s in the Little Italy neighborhood is still owned and operated by the family that bears the restaurant’s name. Marty was a fan of the Italian food and the iconic “Chip’s” salad back in the 1970s, and John became a fan in the mid-1980s. But downtown traffic and parking frustrations deterred us enough that we’ve only returned once in the past 15 years, about three years ago. Discovering a Restaurant Week $20 special for dinner, we were curious to compare our memories of “the Chip’s” from days of yore with the 2013 fare.

We started the new year with a visit to the vegan Great Sage restaurant in Clarksville, and we were wowed by a gourmet vegan dining experience unlike anything we’ve encountered.

The Dining Out duo surveyed their dining out experiences in 2012. Here are some of the bests and worsts of the year:

Blue Sage Café & Wine Bar opened last summer in Mt. Washington, a block away from the newly re-opened Mt. Washington Tavern. It is a large space (painted sage blue of course!) with a few dozen tables, a long bar, and lots of floor-to-ceiling windows, which create a casual, open feeling. The large, one-page menu offers a surprising variety of choices with a half-dozen starters ($6-12), a dozen sandwiches and burgers (most $9-10, fries or potato salad included), and a dozen entrees (most $13-18).

Located in Harbor East and nestled between upscale Cinghiale and Ouzo Bay, Gordon Biersch has a casual, yet boisterous feel. The restaurant’s layout consists of a lounge and bar area, complete with views of the large copper vats used for onsite brewing and two dining rooms with a mix of booths and tables that have a view of the kitchen.

Alchemy, “a modern American eatery,” opened about two years ago in a former storefront on the Avenue in Hampden. A four-foot-high image of Jessica Rabbit greeted us from the front window (John never did figure out the connection…). Inside, Alchemy has a contemporary feel with a dozen tightly configured, walnut-topped tables, plus a few high-backed booths along one wall. A small dining room with sponged plum colored walls and white tablecloths on the second floor has a traditional arrangement but is only open on weekends or when the first floor dining room is full. Colorful modern art and photographs punctuate the walls.

The Museum Restaurant & Lounge emerged this summer from the remains of what had once been the Brass Elephant. The first floor is very reminiscent of the former occupant—a formal space with chandeliers, ornate sconces, and lots of molding—but with some notable additions: a burly doorman carding patrons, newly installed LCD TVs, a bar protruding into the middle of the main dining room, and an unexpected mix of jazz and new age music which seemed at odds with the traditional atmosphere. The second floor has undergone more changes, completed by white leather, ultra-contemporary high-back settees.

Tony Foreman is the business mind behind the Foreman Wolf restaurants Charleston, Petite Louis Bistro, Pazo, and Cinghiale. He also owns the Bin 604 Wine Sellers in Harbor East and Bin 601 in Annapolis. He took the time to sit down with Gay Life to discuss his past, present, and future fine dining ventures.

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