Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Liquor It Up

Now that Spro Hamdpen is up and running, it's time to at least start to look like we're doing something in the space. And what better way to start than by making our own housemade coffee liquor?

Simply take coffee (in this case the Michicha Sidama Ethiopia from Counter Culture Coffee), grind it and soak it in a bottle of Bacardi White Rum. It's an old recipe taught to me by a Japanese coffee master. Two weeks. Nothing more. Last time, I let it sit for two months thinking that it would improve the character. I was wrong. It was bitter and overextracted.

Normally, I would use our espresso blend but this time I thought we would explore the subtle nuances of the fruity michicha.

I'll report back in a couple of weeks.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bon Voyage, Janet!

Our guests get the party underway.

Janet is leaving for Kentucky this week, so Anisha and I are hosting a dinner party in her honor.

I'm not one who usually hosts dinner parties so it's a treat for me to do some of the planning. Originally, I figured Anisha would do all the food and I would simply be the FOH lackey, but since she insisted that I do some of the apps courses, it was time to step up. Oh crap.

Braised oxtail for the buns

Even the best laid plans are sent off track and since I'm never one with the best laid plans, my tracks are sure to run straight off the road.

Saturday morning we're off to the farmer's market where I'm seeking pork belly to make adobo buns: roasted adobo style belly in gwa pao buns with spicy pickled cucumber and cilantro. First stop: Woolsey Farm where Cindy is out of belly but has some oxtail on hand. I'll take it all, please. Of course, all she has is one whole oxtail. Really? Already I've been waylaid twice and we're just getting started!

Ahi Poke Crostini on Japanese sweet toast

As we scour the farmer's market and our subsequent trip to H-Mart, I find collaborating with Anisha to be quite easy and comforting. There's an easy-going relaxed attitude between us that doesn't mind when plans are waylaid by missing ingredients or having to make things up on the fly and adjusting the menu as we go along. There's none of the rigidity and subsequent panic that accompanies collaborating with other people, simply adjust and adapt. I like that.

By the time we get to H-Mart on Sunday afternoon, we find that they don't have mussels. What to do about all those mussel ingredients we've already purchased? Forge ahead substituting shrimp instead. The real question comes when it's time to select the fish. We want something big and impressive but the white fishes (like Red Snapper) are all a bit too small for the statement we want to make.

Whole Shrimp in Curry Cream Sauce

Oddly enough, there's a massive bluefish in the case that's just the size fish we're looking for. Problem is, neither of us has cooked or worked with bluefish before. A quick peek at Wikipedia on my iPhone doesn't tell us much more than bluefish can be mealy (not good) and that some people just don't like eating bluefish (bad). After debating for a few minutes, we decide to go full speed ahead and go with the bluefish.

Meanwhile, Chuck has come out to help with some of the preparation. He's stripping the oxtails and preparing the buns for assembly.

Grilled Asparagus with Sauteed Mushrooms, blue cheese, walnuts and cranberries

Oxtail Gwa Pao
- Braised oxtails
- Gwa Pao buns
- Pickled Cucumber
- Cilantro

Adobo Braised Oxtails
- Brine oxtails in a solution of water, soy sauce and sugar seasoned with garlic, bay leaf and whole black peppercorns for a minimum twelve hours.
- Sear oxtails in large pan suitable for braising until all sides are browned. Work in batches, if necessary.
- Place all oxtails in pan and cover in a mixture of red wine and beef stock (or water).
- Braise oxtails in the oven or on the stovetop at a low simmer for five hours, topping off braising liquid as necessary.
- Once oxtails have been cooked, chill and refrigerate in braising liquid.
- Strip all meat from bones and set aside, discarding bones.
- Reduce braising liquid on the stovetop until thick and syrupy.
- Reserve some of the reduction for drizzling.
- Mix meat with reduction and season to taste.

Beet & Watercress Salad with Feta Cheese and Blood Oranges

Pickled Cucumber in Cocount Vinegar
- Slice cucumber into thin strips
- Create a pickling solution of sugar, water, fresh dill and spicy coconut vinegar.
- Submerge sliced pickles in solution for minimum one hour.

To Assemble:
- Take frozen (now thawed) gwa pao buns and fill with slices of pickled cucumber, braised oxtail and some cilantro.
- Steam completed bun in steamer until hot and serve.

Mom chats with Janet.

Janet and her son Tommy and his wife Amy are amongst the first to arrive, and that's a good thing. It's always nice when the honored is about to meet their celebrants as they arrive. I've only recently gotten to know Janet and I can see why she's so special to Anisha. I just hope that Janet doesn't hate me.

One by one, the guests start arriving and their met by drinks and food, and what better way to be met than by friends, drinks and food? The apps are out, the greens are out and I'm ferrying the dishes from across the street where Anisha is putting the finishing touches on the main courses.

Roasted Bluefish stuffed with Japanese Wild Rices and Roasted Chickens

Here's the menu:

- Ahi Poke Crostini
- Braised Oxtail Gwa Pao
- Whole Shrimp in Curry Cream
- Mixed Greens Salad
- Watercress & Beet Salad with blood oranges and feta cheese
- Grilled Asparagus with sauteed mushrooms, walnuts, bleu cheese and cranberries
- Roasted Potato Medley with fresh baked buns
- Woolsey Farm Whole Roasted Free-Range Chickens
- Roasted Whole Bluefish stuffed with Japanese Mixed Rices
- Bread Pudding
- Red Velvet Cake

- A selection of wines by James and Austin
- Iced Tea
- Mexican Coke
- Dewar's Whiskey
- Bacardi Rum

James and John confer over their selections.

Finally, the main courses are ready to be brought over but the problem is the fish. It's so darn big that we don't have a platter big enough for it. But it will fit on the marble slab Anisha uses as a cutting board. As I lug it into the back to clean it off, it's a monster. The thing weighs a ton. Crap. There's no way I could wrestle this marble beast flat, with a large roasted fish on top, all the way across the street by myself. No way.

Luckily, Chuck and Jeremy are at hand and we ferry the chickens and the fish out the door, down the stairs, across the street, through the rain and into the party where delighted guests await the final presentation.

The Spread.

From there, it was relatively easy peasy. Let everyone mingle, eat, drink and hopefully have a good time. Anisha and I invited her friends, Janet's friends and some of my friends. Crafting a list of invitees to something like this is a bit of a challenge. How do you balance the guest list so the party is filled with agreeable people meeting each other for the first time?

Classic Anisha and her food.

But, from the feedback I've received from our guests, the party was a success. Janet and her family had a good time and everyone loved Anisha's food.

And isn't that what it's all about?

Bon Voyage, Janet!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Dude, You're Shit's On Fire...

Vanessa works her way through the assortment of kimchee and others.

Emily calls me the other day to see if I wanna come out and eat Korean with our crew of usual suspects. Hmmm, Korean galbi and bulgogi, with bibimbap for good measure? How can I say no?

So out to Shin Chon in Ellicott City I go where we feast on another large meal of meat, meat and more meat, but this time I make the mistake of ordering the seafood bibimbap. Not that the seafood bibimbap is bad, it's not bad, it's very good. The only problem is that I was thinking of the bibimbap with the fried egg on top and the seafood does not have egg. Bummers.

Gerry fights with Isabella before the fire.

As most things go, it's a relatively uneventful evening out with friends. Little Isabella is determined to have me win a trophy on her Mario Cart for Nintendo DS. As I whip the little go kart around the track, I'm reminded of years past whipping my trusty Volkswagen GTI around the streets of Baltimore - before they suspended my license...

Between bouts of Mario Cart and bites of assorted grilled meats, Isabella starts telling me: Fire! and pointing in the general direction of my rice bowl. Fire! she says, and I spot that I've left some soy paste on my pristine white rice.

Fire!, she continues and I'm wondering just what is this little girl talking about.

I figure she's talking about the soy paste rice and taunt her with the bowl, threatening to smush it in her face.

No uncle, there's fire!

It's about that time that I notice a little flickering light under the table next to us where Gerry, Ryan, Marissa and Emily are sitting. That's odd, I think to myself.

There's fire.

I decide to peek under their table to see what the flickering light is all about. Maybe it's just a reflection of one of the light fixtures above there heads - that's when I notice the foot long flame emanating from the gas line fitting and snaking it's way under the granite top table.

It takes me a moment and a second glance to comprehend and process what I'm seeing. At first, I think to myself that perhaps that's normal and that it's some sort of relief valve/fire - like the fires you see burning at the tops of oil refineries in New Jersey.

There's fire!

That can't be right and I glance under our own table to see if we have a similar fire emanating from our gas line. Nothing. That's when I realise that perhaps we could be in trouble. That perhaps in a moment, the pinhole leak in their gas line will rupture and cause a serious fire, burning my friends and bringing the entire house down.

That would be bad.

I mean, the fire is snaking along the underside of the table and between Ryan and Gerry. It's riding alongside their legs but I'm surprised they haven't noticed any extra heat on their legs. Maybe this little fire is normal?

After the fire: Isabella roping Ryan into Mario Cart.

For one brief and fleeting moment, after I've realized that this is a problem, I think to myself that maybe, just maybe, I won't say anything and in some sick, sadistic sort of way, I'll get to watch some sort of horrific pageantry unfold before me. Evil. Pure Evil.

There's fire.

That's when I say to Gerry: Dude, you're shit's on fire.

It takes more than a moment for Gerry and Ryan to comprehend what I'm talking about. So I say it again:

Dude, you're shit's on fire!

In a flash, there's a flurry of activity as Gerry and Ryan scramble away from the flame and the staff rushes over trying to figure out what to do and how to put the fire out. Within moments, the fire is extinguished and their table grill is shut down. Disaster averted, all because of Isabella's call of fire.

With the fire out, Gerry's leg singed and things settling down, it's time to turn back to my soy paste littered rice and our own table's sizzling mound of meat...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Stress of Choice

It's been a long week.

I'm tired. I can't sleep.

I been living with a certain level of anxiety that constantly makes my heart feels like it's racing and about to explode.

And on top of all that, we finally opened Spro Hampden.

Once upon a time, I used to live a different life. One filled with the glamour of the movie business (shah, right) and months spent abroad doing not too much in particular. Today, I've been home for more than four months straight. It's the longest stint at home that I've done in years. Oddly enough, I think it's been by choice. And my friends, who by now are more than used to my lurid, outlandish and downright rude tales seem utterly shocked and dismayed by what I've been telling them lately.

Last night, some friends came to town and wanted to eat tapas. Tapas sounded good, but with the level of anxiety I've been feeling lately, I thought the sangria sounded even better. Pitchers of sangria at the tapas place, more wine at the Spro for a late-night drinking binge and I didn't go to bed until nearly 3am, only to get up at 5:30am. Guess the drinking didn't help.

Like I said, I'm not sleeping much.

Lots more to follow up on about the past week. I'll get to it eventually.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Butter In My Cherry Blossoms

Sharing her butter with me - a breakthrough?

Tonight we're in Virginia for Ashley Hirabayashi's coronation ball as the Hawaii State Society's Cherry Blossom Princess at the Officer's Club in Fort Myer.

Anisha and I end up doing quite a lot of things together but there's not too many occasions where we dress up for it - well, maybe the more accurate statement is that there's not too many occasions where I dress up because that girl always looks good.

Ashley dances hula for her guests.

Joining us at the ball are Dai and his wife Eleni and the two of them look absolutely stellar. Seriously classic. Seriously JFK and Jackie. In fact, Eleni looks straight out of the Kennedy White House. I've never seen them look so good.

Anisha and Eleni have only met casually before but it turns out that surprise lurks in the shadows. Soon they's talk of tattoos, rock 'n roll, muscle cars, motorcyles and secret rituals. I think Dai is about to have a heart attack. Heh. Me? I'm still in mild shock that she shared her butter with me...

It's an evening filled with catching up with old friends whom I haven't seen in a while. Hard to believe so much time has passed since all of us used to get together on a regular basis. But it's good because by now, Anisha has met just about all of my friends in the region. To meet any more, we're gonna have to start traveling.

Anisha and Eleni, all dolled up.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

ph: Friends & Family Menu

Here's a look at todays menu. Some offerings from Counter Culture, Stumptown and Caffe Pronto. Then, if things get really busy, we've also got a little Intelligentsia stashed away somewhere.

Add in some croissants from Anisha and cupcakes from Mom, lots of family and friends from all over and I'm thinking it should make for a fun preview of Spro Hampden.

Come join us if you can!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

ph: 9 and 5

As ready as we'll ever be.

Nine months and five days.

If you had told me back in June that we wouldn't finish project hampden until March 2010, I might have laughed. Had you assured me that numerous delays and poor decisions on my part would guarantee a March 2010 opening, I might have cried.

Tomorrow, after nine months and five days of blood, sweat and tears, project hampden will cease to exist and become Spro Hampden.

In many ways, it's hard to believe. Since we set the opening date last week, many people have been asking me if I'm getting excited about opening. But it wasn't until this evening that I really started getting excited.

The brewing stations.

Even up to the last minute, forces conspire against us. I mean, what good is the opening of a coffee joint if there is no coffee to serve? Our usual shipment from Vancouver was delayed by US Customs. The delay of our normal coffee shipment has caused Towson's inventory to be completely depleted, forcing Arianna to hijack the Ecco Caffe order destined for Hampden. At the moment, there isn't a single bean of the Hines Espresso between the two locations.


Luckily, our shipments from Counter Culture and Intelligentsia arrived yesterday, but we're still faced with the no espresso quandry. No espresso at the place named after espresso? How foolish we could look in the morning: "Hello. Welcome to Spro. You can have anything you want as long as it doesn't have espresso in it..."

That could be worse than my nightmare about eating french fries.

Spro Hampden: T-minus 12 hours and counting...

With UPS and FedEx already having made their rounds, we're faced with still no espresso to speak of. A plan is conceived to drive to the nearest coffee roaster and create an ad hoc blend for espresso. Not the best solution but one that might work. That's when Jess chimes in that she might be able to swing a couple of bags from another local roaster that does some pretty good stuff down in Annapolis. It's a chance since they supply another local coffeeshop not too far away and even though we're friends with the roaster, I'm sure their reticent to supplying the shop down the street from an established client.

Later, as I sit in the near empty shop I start to get excited. There's still much to do before the morning but I'm relieved that we're going to open and start making a living for our baristas. We're working with some of the most amazing purveyors of coffee, pastry and ingredients in America and combining that with some truly promising baristas and I can't imagine it starting off better than this.

If you have the time between 9am to 5pm tomorrow, please come visit us.

Spro Hampden
851 West 36th Street
Baltimore, MD 21211

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Designing a New Fetco

For those of you not in the coffee biz, a Fetco is a type of coffee brewer. Most of you will be familiar with the "drip" style coffee brewers that are everywhere in America. They're ubiquitous. The Fetco Extractor is arguably the best of the lot. Programmable brew parameters, flow rates, shower rates, etc. means that the Fetco brewer can work wonders for your coffee.

Lately, the trend in the niche specialty coffee market that we toil has been with manual, by-the-cup brewing. Things like the vac pot, chemex, aeropress and more has given the baristas of late a whole new game to play. Along with these by-the-cup brew methods has sprouted people and companies who are designing hot water boilers with all sorts of fancy control systems to help you brew the "perfect" cup of by-the-cup coffee.

Recently, some friendly chaps invited me to come to a preview screening of one such water heating device and I've been hearing through the grapevine of a few more hot water heaters doing similar stuff. Essentially, these devices heat water to a very specific temperature and dispense the water into your, let's say, pour over drip brewer in a controlled manner simulating the pour from a hot water kettle.

These are all fine and dandy ideas but the first thing that comes to my mind is: how many of these hot water devices do I need to buy and install in order for my baristas to keep up with the morning rush? I mean, one can only brew a cup of coffee so fast.

And it's something I've been thinking of quite a bit lately as we prepare to open project hampden. How do we handle a rush if we're brewing everything by-the-cup to-order? Take the pour over method, as an example. Let's say that our best barista operating at her optimum speed in the best of conditions can dose, grind, prep and brew a 12z coffee at her fastest. That's a minimum of four minutes and thirty seconds. Any less and you've cut a corner somewhere that's going to seriously impact the cup quality.

If we're brewing that pour over with hand kettles, we can stack brew the coffees in a simultaneous chain, which can reduce the customer wait time to two minutes (if we're on the money). With that kind of efficiency, we can brew coffee for customers without an inordinate wait. Let's say there's six people in line, that last person might have to wait twelve minutes or so.

But take those same six people and put them in a line waiting for these new, digitally-controlled hot water heaters doing the pour over work and it's a minimum of 4.5 minutes per cup and that sixth customer's wait time has increased to a minimum 24 minutes. That's way too much time in anyone's book.

Compare that to the Fetco Extractor brewer whose parameters you can set to deliver a really delicious cup of coffee - and you can brew 1.5 liters in four minutes.

Makes me wonder if these chaps aren't simply taking the long route towards building a time-consuming, pricey hot water delivery system that is unable to beat the Fetco...

Losing My Poker Face

I've always been good about being able to separate things in my life. In many ways, I feel there's a need for me to always maintain a composed and confident outward appearance. No matter what may be bothering me personally, I've always tried to keep that hidden in the background.

And I think I'm starting to lose my poker face.

For weeks, people have asked me when we're opening project hampden. Now people ask me if I'm excited. They want to know that I'm excited. But I don't think that I am.

Perhaps more accurately, I can no longer tell if I'm excited. I know that having such a great crew of baristas is exciting to me and that we're going to be doing some truly progressive stuff, but everything else feels out of focus in my world, making it nearly impossible for me to get excited about opening.

When I was a child, I used to have nightmares about alien creatures. Last night I had a nightmare about binge eating McDonald's french fries as though it were live and in real time. My neck muscles are tense. I constantly feel like puking. My stress levels are at a all-time high and my heart feels like it's racing and about to explode.

I've always heard about stress killing people, and for the first time in my life, I can see how. If I drop dead soon, don't be surprised, I won't be.

Spro Hampden opens this Friday.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Souring Sinigang

Carm tends the pot.

There are times when I wonder if we ever can really make traditional foods as good as our parents.

Sous vide onglet? No problem. Hydrocolloid that? Not a big deal. But toss me into the pot with traditional Filipino food and I might just screw it up.

With nothing left to do on a Sunday evening and me not really being in the mood to be alone, I head over to Chuck and Gen's swanky new house in the rolling hills outside of Westminister where Carm is preparing a pot of sinigang.

For the uninitiated, Sinigang is the sour broth standard of the Philippines. It can be prepared in a variety of different ways but it's always soured by the leaves of the tamarind. And since tamarind leaves can be a bit tricky to come by, there's always Mama Sita.

Sort of almost there.

Think of Mama Sita as the Hamburger Helper of Philippine Cuisine. In case you don't have the time or inclination to hunt down the elusive tamarind leaves, Mama Sita has a powder mix just for you. Most importantly, Mama Sita has somehow deduced the proper amount of sourness in the mix and it tastes just like your lola used to make.

Maybe I'm just stubborn. Maybe I'm just that "hardcore." Or maybe I'm just foolish enough to cling to some sort of arcane "must only be made from scratch" philosophy, but I've never used Mama Sita's mixes. I'm certain I've eaten dishes made by Mama Sita, but I've never used Mama Sita to make my dishes.

Then again, I don't cook Filipino food that often. But I should.

Indian tamarind paste. Not ideal for sinigang.

By the time I arrive, things are in full swing. Carm has already been to the market to gather ingredients but did not see the Mama Sita's so she went off-book and picked up a bottle of Indian style tamarind paste.

I should note that I like tamarinds. Give me a ripe tamarind and I'm gonna eat that sucker down. This Indian tamarind paste is tartfully sour but it's a paste made from the unripe fruit, not the sour leaves. It may sound like no big deal but the leaves don't impart color to the dish, leaving the broth clear. The brown paste of the tamarind fruit is slowly discoloring the broth into what could be beef stew.

Having never made sinigang before, I'm cast into the mix because the flavor balance has gone slightly pear shaped and we're trying to figure out what to do. The sourness is there but it's not bold enough. Maybe if we boil it down and reduce the broth the flavor will pop.

My peasant sized serving.

After about an hour of reducing, the broth still hasn't popped. Time to add more ingredients. More tamarind and the broth gets darker. How about a little more fish sauce for saltiness? Then some lemon juice for acidity? Ooops - crap. Now there's too much acidity. More Tamarind.

After quite a bit of errors and calculations, we finally get the sinigang to the right sour balance and sit down to eat. The extra cooking time has rendered the pork super tender and it's actually not bad - even though it has that unfortunate brown color.

Next time we won't have to invite Mama Sita - so long as we get the right leaves.

ph: Friends & Family

The Friends & Family Invitation.

After eight months of planning and working, on Thursday, March 18th, project hampden ceases to be and Spro Hampden will emerge in its place.

We invite all of our friends, family and readership to join us on this day anytime between 9am to 5pm to enjoy a coffee on us.

Spro Hampden
851 West 36th Street
Baltimore, MD 21211

Saturday, March 13, 2010

ph: The Last Saturday

Kimmy sets up the POS.

It's the last Saturday at project hampden and there's still much to do: install the POS register and get a bunch of miscellaneous stuff in order. Pretty soon we'll be making coffee for real.

Looking out from The Pass.

No can do on the 12z Cappuccino? My kind of register!

deBuyer Carbon Steel Pan

Custom tamper by Reg Barber.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

ph: Last Looks

The Baristas of Spro Hampden: Lindsay, Ilenia, Kimmy, Rebecca, Jess, Devlin and Jeremy.

As project hampden marches towards its final week as "project hampden", it's time to assemble our crew for one last photo shoot.

Years ago, when I used to shoot film and do stringer work, I used to tear through rolls of film. Better to burn the film and capture the image than try to selectively shoot and miss that one crucial moment. With my old Canon F1-N and motor drive, we burned through more rolls of film than I can imagine. Back then, I used to think that if I could pull one great image off a 36 shot roll then I was onto something.

Times have changed and the advent of the digital camera is both a curse and a blessing. With digital, it's much easier to delete any sort of incriminating image. Film was permanent. You had to destroy film. With digital, you just press a button and whatever you were capturing never happened. That is the one thing about digital that I dislike the most.

When shooting film, one had to carry rolls and rolls of film with you. You had to be fast and efficient at changing the rolls. You had to do it on the fly, running down the street with the camera back open, pulling out the old roll and spooling the new roll into place. Then you had to process the rolls, print contact sheets and only then could you really see if you got anything at all, or just screwed it all.

In the digital world, seemingly hundreds of rolls worth of images can fit on one memory card. No more fumbling with rolls or trying to load them properly in the rain. Which means I can fire away at high speed with little concern about changing rolls or running out of film. In many ways, digital is very liberating.

Because of this, I'm confounded by shooters I know who treat each shot so preciously, as though they've only got a 36 roll of film. For me, I'm looking for that little nuance. That brief moment when something real comes out of the subject. Many people pose or maintain self-consciousness when they know their picture is being taken, but most people can't maintain that for long. As they become used to the clicking of the shutter, they loosen up and forget that their photo is being snapped. That's when the magic happens.

Next week, project hampden becomes Spro Hampden when we open our doors to the public at 7am on Friday, March 19th. And today was the last day that I would have our crew together before the opening. So what better way to celebrate the opening (and Rebecca's birthday) than with a little Japanese beer to toast with and a few shots of everyone together?

ph: Beck's Birthday

Jeremy, Ilenia and Becks enjoy baguette, camembert and sopressata.

After a long winter of sub-zero temperatures and six feet of snow, today was the first really nice day in Baltimore. And what better way to celebrate Rebecca's birthday than with a little al fresco drinking and dining?

Some Hitachino White Ale and Diet Coke for toasting and baguette, camembert and sopressata for noshing. It was a nice way to spend a couple of hours with the baristas of Spro.

I'm looking forward to more afternoons just like it.

Drinks of Choice: Hitachino White Ale and Diet Coke

Can Jeremy open the Hitachino with the Diet Coke? No!

Jess, Devlin, Ilenia and Kimmy.

ph: Installing Refrigeration

No matter how much I plan, I can't seem to get things "just right." In spite of my careful drawings, plans and measurements, sometimes a plan just doesn't come together. Take the espresso bar, for example. Lots of planning went into it to fit a freezer, 48" refrigerator and drawer fridge, but the placement of the floor sink wasn't as far to the right as I wanted, the back reefer was deeper than originally anticipated and the legs supporting the granite counter were 1/4" off.

What a pain in the butt.

Oh, it doesn't quite fit.

Luckily, the legs are easy enough to move. The only concern is that the counter doesn't droop while moving the leg, resulting in a cracked counter. That would be bad. Worse yet, our entire support calculations could be off and I'll be crushed to death as the weight of the espresso machine and grinders causes the granite slab to crack and collapse. That would be really bad.

Happily, none of that happened and my life and limbs were spared for yet another day. Since the floor sink is too far to the left, preventing the drawered fridge from moving any further to the right, there's no way to scooch the equipment to the right and somehow fit the freezer into the corner space it was designated.

On top of that, for some reason, I ordered the freezer with a left opening door, completely negating the possibility of using it in that corner anyway. Next time, I'm going with custom solutions so I don't have to worry about fitting stock pieces.

I'm just glad the rest of the install went smoothly.

Ice machine

How long have I wanted one of these?

Finished and installed.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

ph: Paper, Porch & Product

Our paper goods order arrives. Ouch!

Jess and Jeremy install vertical slats in the deck railing.

Lindsay, Nick and Matt working...

Red Velvet Cheesecake

When it comes to baked goods for Spro Towson, I generally let my mom do whatever she pleases. Truth be told, there's really no telling my mom what to do, she just does it and like a dutiful son, I try to go with the flow as much as possible.

When she told me that she was going to try something called Red Velvet Cheesecake, I envisioned some sort of red velvet flavored cheesecake. What I found was what you see above. Instead of the usual Red Velvet Cake she normally bakes, this one is layered with cheesecake. The cake itself is huge. The slices were immense. I can't imagine how any one person could finish a slice in one sitting.

Normally, I don't eat our own product. To my mind, it isn't eating cheaply for our cost on the item, it's the lost revenue. If I eat it, the company makes nothing. If I suck it up and go without, someone else buys the product and the company makes money. But this one looked too good to pass up and I had a slice.

Woah, pretty darn good. But it's still huge. I start wondering how this would be as a mini-cake individually sized for $4.75 - or if we tool hydrocolloids to create a cheesecake ribbon that we braid with red velvet strips...

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

ph: Asking Permission

Stacks of papers to file with the City.

I'm pretty sure I've lamented this before, but after building four facilities prior to project hampden, this one has by far been the most difficult. Filled with every kind of delay, problem and obstacle that one could face when opening a new shop - save for historical register sites.

This week is (what I hope will be) the final push towards opening. All work has been completed, everything is in order, the menu and HACCP plan has been approved, I'm just hoping it goes smoothly.

Food operators fear this window.

But since this is Baltimore City, they want to throw a few more obstacles at you. With seemingly reams of paper in hand, I make my way through the state and city bureaucracy in an attempt to make it happen. Oddly, the City Health Department will not accept a corporate Certificate of Good Standing issued by the state. They want to see a certified copy of the actual corporate filing. Luckily, the people at the state are friendly and accommodating, and with the help of a sympathetic messenger, I've secured my copies and am on my way.

The City wants to see not only corporate filings but copies of the lease agreement, pest control contract, approved permits and more before they will issue a Food Permit. But once you've got all those in hand, all it takes is another $350 and you're on your way. Finally.

I would start dancing in the streets with my eyes filled with tears of joy, if only I didn't know that we still have occupancy inspection, occupancy permit and a trader's license application to endure first.

I can hardly believe we got it.