Johnny’s Downstairs: Classic cocktails, killer pancakes, Beaujolais and more
First, let me say I’m a fan of Foreman Wolf restaurants. Petit Louis is a ‘go to’ of mine. The roast chicken? Perfection. Tartare? Yes, please. I tend to go to Louie for lunch a lot more than dinner, mainly because I work down the street and the pre-fixe lunch is always a hit. Overall, the menu changes a lot, based on what’s in season – the soups tend to be my favorites. And okay – yes – it’s a bit loud, the tables are close together and it’s not a cheap date. Maybe it’s because my best friend lives in Paris and I miss her (and Paris) so much, but to me, Petit Louis is just plain good and I like to splurge a bit there. It feels like a treat. I could say similarly positive things about Cinghiale and Baltimore Magazine just gave PAZO’s new menu a rave. Check it out – nice work, Jane!
And then, in 2012, here comes Johnny’s. There were majorly high expectations on this one, especially since the dining options in Roland Park are quite limited. I have to say, I loved the old Roland Park Deli, which was in the space before Johnny’s. It was old and comfy and you always saw someone you knew. I often took older folks there for lunch (my mom included) and the BLT and fries were my jam. And a fountain soda. Big treat! (I avoid sodas, because they are so sugary and addictive….but God love a Fresca.) So, when they closed the deli and I heard Foreman Wolf was opening something in the space, I was excited but wondered how it would turn out. When it finally opened, all of North Baltimore came to see. Jaws on the ground. The simple, chic space is unrecognizable as the deli and realtor’s office. And it is huge. As you enter, to your right is a bright, beautiful room that houses the coffee bar with several tables and Lindsay DiFabbio behind the bar making some of serious business coffee. They serve Ceremony Roasters coffee and host cuppings, latte art throw downs and more. Lindsay is so talented and she feeds me large amounts of caffeine. And she is one of the funniest, nicest people I know. Follow her on Instagram.
As you walk into the dining room, the word that comes to mind is cellar. It is technically called Johnny’s Downstairs, and here is where that is evident. Big comfy booths, pale, cool blue tones and did I mention that it’s big? As you walk back past the small bar and then you see the kitchen on the right, along with tons of guest seating. Thick walls and carpeted floors help keep the noise to a minimum. When it fills up, it’s certainly not quiet, more like lively. Fun.
To me as a diner, Johnny’s shines most brightly at breakfast. I recently had breakfast with a friend who’s from Baltimore and now lives in Nashville. He’s a musician and travels quite a bit, but his parents still live in Roland Park and when he comes home, they often head to Johnny’s. At breakfast, he leans over to me and says, “My mom follows your blog and she said to tell you to get the pancakes. But she said you probably know about them.” I did not. So, yeah, I got the pancakes. (Thank you, Billy!) They were thick, fluffy, buttery, filling and I was very happy. Clean plate club. On my most recent visit, I discovered truly one of my more memorable dishes in Baltimore – Chef Kiko’s fried rice. I tried to be polite and share with my friend, but honestly, I housed it. We got it with a poached egg on top. DO THIS.
The location – just a few minutes off 83 and between downtown and the suburbs – is a really great thing. You can easily get in and out, there is parking and when I’ve been, the service is quick but not rushed. They host a lot of large parties of guests for everything from family breakfasts, business lunches, networking events and more. Chef Kiko makes everything fresh daily in-house from the spring rolls and thyme sea salt chips and burgers, to that crazy fried rice and more.
And, have you heard about their Monday happy hour? It’s crazy. I mean…crazy. From 5:00-6:00pm at the bar, they offer a weekly throwback cocktail for just 55 cents. They offer simple complimentary snacks, as well. Drink limit = two per person. I mean, how many drinks can you drink in one hour? The happy hour idea was a collaboration with Eddie Jacobs, whose shop is just up the walk from Johnny’s – and he sometimes comes in for happy hour, too. It’s nice to see folks in the neighborhood forming these kinds of fun little partnerships. Nice one, Tony.
Soon, it’s time for Beaujolais Nouveau – Thursday, November 20 to be exact – and Johnny’s will host an all-day FREE tasting. Also, Petit Louis will offer a pre-fixe Beaujolais dinner and details, including the menu can be found on the Petit Louis website.
For more info on both events, contact Johnny’s and Louie.
Also, check out the weekly specials at Johnny’s.