Drovers Grill & Wine Co. opened in early November in Mount Airy, about two-thirds of the way to Frederick from Baltimore. Located at a historic Maryland crossroads, Drovers occupies a fairly plain-looking structure that was most recently the home of the Kettle Kitchen.
Drovers is running a season-following, local-minded menu. Chef Kevan Vanek is enthusiastic about the menu, and especially his homemade stocks and sauces: "I love broths, I love soups, I love sauces. I'm more of a sculptor than an engineer. Put me in a saucier position, and I'm happy."
Vanek uses his own fish fumet for one of his signature dishes, his version of the cioppino and bouillabaisse, which he calls the "Pot O'Wellness." He's also proud of his Black Angus Platter, which showcases his skills and management of prime and subprime cuts — a duxelles accompanies a sirloin, the filet mignon is served simply; and other cuts are dry-cured, smoked and sliced and served with Vanek's own Sauce Robert.
But Vanek is even more enthusiastic about his Maryland wine program, which features what he believes to be the largest selection of Maryland wines carried by a restaurant. Not only is it extensive, it's exclusive. Drovers stocks only Maryland wines. To help introduce customers to his wine selection, or at least soften them up, Drovers offers what Vanek refers to as complimentary wine service throughout the evening. A server will bring an appropriate or interesting wine to the table and offer diners tastes.
The response to the program has been "very positive," Vanek says. "They'll always say, 'I didn't know Maryland had this many wineries.'" Vanek, an indefatigable father of seven who built much of Drovers' interior himself, adds that "word of mouth has been great" for the restaurant in its first months of operation. "I want customers to have the experience they might have in Tuscany, or in France, where the restaurant they'd go to would serve the local olives, meats and breads."
Vanek has a most interesting resume, too. It includes separate careers in ballet (as a youth) and in opera (much later, after studying government policy at the College of William & Mary), stunt work in movies filmed in Israel starring Kirk Douglas, Brooke Shields ("very down to earth") and Pam Dawber (whom he kind of asked on a date).
On occasion, Vanek's operatic background will slip out and customers will ask him to sing. He will, for special occasions, sometimes accompanied by one of his servers.
"But," he says, Drovers "is my theater now. I'm here to give them beautiful atmosphere and delicious food."
Drovers Grill and Wine Co. is at 17004 Frederick Road, Mount Airy. Call 410-489-7717 or go to droversdining.com.
Around the Corner Owings Mills has a new Mediterranean joint. Hummus Corner, open since Jan. 12, is owned and operated by Carla and Johnny Mattar (he's the chef), and this is their first go at a restaurant in this area.
I asked Johnny Mattar about the secret to a hummus good enough to name a restaurant after. He told me that it starts with the chickpeas. Mattar uses the largest chickpeas available, the hard-to-find 14-millimeter variety. Most of the chickpeas we see in stores are 8 or 9 millimeter. He also uses a white sesame paste and fresh lemon juice. That's for starters; the rest is in how he puts it together.
A native of Lebanon, Mattar has spent most of his professional life in Dubai, where he first was manager and later director of catering for the Lebanese restaurant in the five-star Grand Hyatt Dubai. Carla Mattar is a Goucher alum, and the Mattars relocated recently from Dubai to Baltimore to be closer to their families and open their restaurant.
Also on the Mediterranean menu at Hummus Corner: falafel, kebabs, fattoush and schwarma.
The counter-service restaurant is open 10 a.m.-9 p.m. daily. It's at 9201 Lakeside Blvd.; call 410-363-6033 or go to hummuscorner.com.