I heard that Gordon Ramsey was going to film a Kitchen Nightmare at Cafe Hon and I could not resist getting a reservation. I really like Ramsey's shows, and I was excited to get a glimpse of the famous chef and try out some of his recipes.
I went with a good buddy of mine, and left the wife with the little one (the main reason I've not been blogging much recently!). We had to wait outside for a while, but were treated to close ups with Chef Ramsey and Terrell Suggs, a Baltimore Ravens American football player. Ramsey said hello to everyone as he was rushed back and forth by the production crew. You could sense everyone's excitment at seeing the Kitchen Nightmares, Hell's Kitchen and Mater Chef star.
The line took some time to die down and for it to be our turn to be filmed entering the restaurant. I doubt we'll be shown on TV as the lady in front of us, turned and waved at the camera. D'oh. But getting on TV wasn't the main reason for going to Cafe Hon.
As I mentioned, I've not eaten at the restaurant before, but I have definitely looked inside and previously I ran the other way. I don't mind kitsch, but before it looked too much. Fortunately, Ramsey's team kept the fun nature of Cafe Hon, brightened it up and refined it. Gone are the dead Flamingos hanging from the ceiling, and other tat that looked like dust traps. There are nice murals on the rear wall, that pay homage to winners from Hon fest. It is a fun place to eat, without being over the top.
Apparently, the recipes are all from the Cafe Hon Chef, with Ramsey simply refining and tweaking them. The Chef has a great story, he is young and grew up in the neighborhood, cooking from a young age at various restaurants in the area. Denise Whiting, the owner, gave the guy a shot and has helped him develop his career. I am glad she did, because the food was great.
I had crab and shrimp rolls for starter. You could really taste the crab, which was highlighted with some lemon juice to give it a bit of acidity. The buns were light and the perfect size. A great Baltimore inspired starter.
While we waited for the main course, the waitress brought some fried Oysters. You could tell these were fresh, they were tender and a delight to eat. Whoever cooked those knew how to manage a deep fryer, not an easy task when cooking a delicate morsel like an Oyster.
It took me ages to decide what to have for my main course, everything on the menu sounded really good. But I chose the NY Strip. The steak was cooked very well, it had a nice charred taste, which I didn't expect. It remained juicy and was accompanied by a nice helping of fries. My friend had fish and chips, and surprisingly he had less chips than I did, which I found a little odd. Hopefully, that was just an anomaly.
The restaurant has a decent selection of beer, I was pleased to see the Baltimore favorite Resurrection from Brewers Art on draft. It accompanied my steak very well. But then again, Resurrection can be drunk at any time.
I hope that this is a rebirth for the restaurant, Denise Whiting has 'given back' the word Hon to Baltimore, after a long scandal when she trademarked the name in an ill-advised business decision. The food makes the place worth a visit, and it's a fun and friendly place to visit.
It certainly isn't a Kitchen Nightmare.