Back in the 70s, any time my parents wanted to go out by themselves for a special-occasion dinner, their choice always seemed to be Constantinou's House of Beef, in Wilmington's Trolley Square. Constantinou's was a kid's image of what an adult restaurant should be like -- dress code, heavy rugs and tablecloths, doting service, big steaks, sizable check -- and it still exists, after a fashion, but it's only a shadow of its former self. Times -- and expectations as to one's "fine dining" experience -- change, and the restaurant that Nicky and I have now more or less officially adopted as our designated "special" place is situated in what used to be an old, brick-walled foundry and includes stacked cords of firewood and racks of rusting industrial implements as part of the decor. For both food and service, however, it maintains a Constantinou's level of excellence without the stuffier trappings.
The people who founded Woodberry Kitchen several years ago were greatly inspired by the sustainable-agriculture and "slow food" movements. They advertise their commitment to local growers, and, partially as a result, the restaurant's menu is relatively short, subject primarily to seasonal changes. It might sound as if you're in for a drearily didactic time when you eat there, but the waitstaff do everything they can to make you feel comfortable and welcome. They are particularly attentive to repeat customers, as Nicky and I found when we went to Woodberry this past Thursday for a Valentine's Day dinner. Since we are in the restaurant's database, they know what we've had in the past and are ready with suggestions. This time around, I stuck with my tried and true Springfield Chicken 'N Biscuit with kale -- it's the best chicken dish I've ever had, and I've had a lot of them -- but Nicky decided to experiment and ordered Alsatian Sauerkraut, which turned out to be 25% kraut and 75% all manner of meat products. She admitted, however, that when she smelled the chicken coming, she wished that she could take her order back! We also had some excellent carrot and turnip soup. The restaurant maintains a selection of flatbreads and cheaper entrees (such as a Kitchen Burger with fries) for those who wish to spend a bit less, but you definitely get your money's worth of food, regardless of your choice.
For dessert, Nicky and I shared a pot of decaffeinated French press coffee (which one of the waitstaff, a former student of mine, very generously said that she'd pay for) and also got two of the house's sweet specialties. Nicky got the Peanut Butter Cup, which might be described as a Reese's on steroids, while I had the C.M.P. (above). This is a melange of chocolate, marshmallow fluff, peanuts, and malt ice cream, with the marshmallow topping "scalded" to form a crust. All of our indulgences wound up setting us back a little over $100 (it's a good thing we aren't wine or cocktail drinkers), but it's not as if we go to Woodberry with the regularity with which we visit, say, NY Pizza Company near Stevenson's Owings Mills campus. But that's another dining story for another time.
Aside from being the place to which the two of us now repair on birthdays and other notable dates, Woodberry Kitchen has become the designated "impress-the-visitor" dining establishment when we have house guests. My Mom ate there with us and claimed it was the best restaurant meal she'd ever had. Yes, including Constantinou's. I'd like to think that Mom and Dad would have enjoyed it as a couple as well. They wouldn't even have needed to dress up.