The Blackwall Barn & Lodge (329 Gambrills Rd, Gambrills, MD 21054) is a fabulous new addition to the Blackwall Hitch chain. This month, I had the pleasure of sampling some of their delicious fares. The Blackwall Hitch chain has three locations (Annapolis, Alexandria, and Rehoboth), but unlike the swanky, nautical theme that we have come to know and love, the new venue located in Gambrills offers more tastefully curated interiors on an even grander scale. It’s the kind of comfort that will bring you back to your childhood.
We started in the “game room” – one of the many segments of the restaurant perfect for hosting an event – with some of the Barn’s specialty cocktails. The Manhattan martini is everything you want from this classic cocktail, accentuated with candied walnuts for good measure. The seasonal sangria was an easy-to-sip beverage with just the right amount of sweetness and effervescence. After enjoying our drinks at a banquet table big enough for twenty in a beautiful room lined with windows and filled with rustic touches, we moved on to what I like to call the chandelier room (picture six stunning works of art hanging above a space big enough to run a marathon in) to dig in on the food.
Executive Chef and James Beard nominee Michael Wagner had a special feast in store for us, starting with their Farmhouse Minestrone. This soup is right on time with dropping temps and will warm you up from the inside out. Presented in an adorable mini cast iron cocotte, what awaits you inside is a medley of tender vegetables simmering in a rich and flavorful house-made vegetable broth. This dish can even be made vegan without the last minute addition of the minestrone pasta and parmesan cheese. Vegan or not, this is one of the best I’ve had – that’s saying a lot from a person who could eat soup every day. (Side note: we ended up getting some of it to go).
Next came the bacon steak. Yes, you read that right. Bacon. Steak. This was my first experience with a two-inch thick slab of bacon seared to perfection and drizzled with a maple bourbon syrup. You have not lived until you have had a taste. It is a literal slab of bacon on a plate. That’s because it doesn’t need anything else. The Manhattan drink was the perfect complement, with the bourbon mirroring every bite of pork belly goodness.
I couldn’t imagine the meal getting any better after that statement dish but my expectations were exceeded with my favorite type of food – seafood in the form of Drunken Prawns. There are few things better than a big dish filled with buttery, garlicky broth you can smell from your seat, giant head-on prawns, and grilled artisan bread to sop it all up. Bread and broth is just a winning combo that will always have a place in my heart. It’s a dish that was perfect for sharing but not too heavy to give the next item on our magical meal it’s proper attention.
Blackwall Barn & Lodge has a selection of savory toasts on their menu, which is something you don’t see everywhere, so I was excited when the next dish that floated our way was their Mushroom toast. Grilled country-style bread from a local D.C. bakery gets an upgrade with an herbed ricotta spread and smothered in sautéed mushrooms, placed on a what’s more of a wooden cutting board than a plate. It’s a simple concept that allows the key ingredients to speak for themselves, and the perfect comfort food to get you through the winter season.
Vegetarians rejoice, this next dish is looking at you. I would consider becoming vegetarian if I could eat the Blackwall Barn & Lodge’s Butternut Squash Ravioli every day. The kale pumpkin seed pesto (mostly kale) tones down the sweetness of the squash while the sage and pumpkin seeds provide a little texture against supple ravioli shells. This is a favorite among many of the Barn’s staff and an absolute must on your visit.
Chef Wagner saved the best for last: The pièce de résistance and one of his personal favorite dishes; the Veal Parmesan. There’s just something about seeing a large, bone-in cut of meat come your way. Just like the bacon steak, this baby comes by itself as it needs no other distractions. You can add a side of veggies and/or starch, or just enjoy the slab of carefully breaded, cheesy, saucy perfection on its own. It’s a dish that would make any Italian grandma proud.
Chef Wagner was not without a sense of humor, leaving my questions for him after this food coma-inducing meal. Wagner had to come up with the Barn’s comfort food concepts in the dead of summer – which had its obvious challenges – but was made easier with a farm to table (to a point) concept. The Barn has partnerships with nine different farms and may source outside of the immediate area, but their ingredients are sourced well. Not only did Wagner come up with Barn’s extensive menu but he is also behind much of the beverage menu and an impressive 50 catering menus. Among the menus includes an option for a bacon bar that sounds too good to be true.
Come enjoy the comforts of Blackwall Barn & Lodge’s menu in a gorgeous space filled with giant fireplaces and cozy throws. There’s so much to explore and even more reasons to bring you back!
Images courtesy of Rhea Torreon and Blackwall Barn & Lodge