Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 21, 2024

On Monday evening, we journeyed from the Homewood campus to the streets of the flamingo-dotted Hampden.

Café Hon is named in honor of Baltimore's old stereotype for its working class women, a woman in bright clothes, eccentric glasses, with an elaborate beehive hairdo! In this light, it's only fitting that Café Hon be full of character itself.

Café Hon was unmistakable not only because of the massive flamingo plastered to the outside of the building but also because of the trailers, camera crews, and crowds that surrounded its perimeter. Reality television and a celebrity, Gordon Ramsay, have infiltrated this neighborhood staple and revamped the spot.

When we heard that Kitchen Nightmares would be filmed there, right near campus, Hopkins' biggest foodies knew we had to take a trip to Café Hon. We arrived giddy with excitement and surrounded by lights, commotion, and a casual sighting here and there of Ramsay himself in a crisp white chef's coat. (We saw him four times, NBD!)

Upon seeing our names at the top of the list on the check-in table in front of the restaurant, we approached the people behind the desk and pointed to the neon green clipboard baring our names.

A little too over excited, we failed to realize the line that ran down the building in front of us and were immediately directed down the block.

The majority of our fellow queuers were local families, excited to see the new and improved Café Hon and maybe even sneak a peak of the curse-loving, but highly entertaining Chef Ramsay. We waited in line under bright spotlights and in front of trailers as crewmembers spoke into walkie-talkies.

As we got closer to the table, the delicious smells coming from the restaurant's kitchen got our stomachs speaking. We were in line for about 45 minutes.

Just in front of us there was a family who had some connection to the show, so every few minutes, a member of the Kitchen Nightmares crew would stop by and talk about filming the show.

We also were quite occupied with people watching and were fortunate enough to spot Terrell Suggs, linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens. Needless to say, there were cheers from the crowd upon his arrival because of his team's impressive victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

We finally made it to the neon clipboard and once we gave our names, the bouncers did double takes and brought out special papers for us to sign: CRITIC RELEASE FORMS! We kid you not. These Kitchen Nightmare people must have been warned prior to our arrival that we are legitimate reviewers with very sophisticated stomachs and highly trained taste buds.

Ready to go to experience the restaurants hustle and bustle, we started walking around the corner, but were directed to yet another line, where we were instructed by a crewmember things to keep in mind while dining at the restaurant.

We were told: 1. Don't look into the camera because it's weird and it makes the home viewers feel awkward. 2. If the camera does come to film your table, only talk about the food or the restaurant. No personal matters such as break-ups will be featured on the show. 3. Do not approach Chef Ramsay for an autograph. He's really busy running the restaurant.

It was also in this second line that we gave multiple different poses to a camera pointing straight at us. It was basically our own personal photo shoot. Except the camera wasn't on. . .

After our photo shoot and some more specific details regarding our critic release forms, it was time.

The place was bustling. It was bright, colorful, and lively; we felt welcome right away. The hostess came over at once, took our reservation, and showed us to our table.

As we walked through the room, we immediately noticed the themed decoration of the first room. It was 50s themed, with comfortable booths, pink and blue colored decorations and a few waitresses donning classic hon hairdos. Everything was perfect – the bright colors, bright lights and smiling people – it was as if we walked into Tracy Turnblad's favorite restaurant. Instead of being seated in this room, however, we were led to the next one.

This room had a different vibe, a bit more intimate with cheetah couches, leather stools at the bar and Grecian tables along the wall. Each wall seemed like it could be in a different restaurant. One wall had bright pink and green wallpaper, one was dark brown with a big brown clock, one was orange with an ornate mirror and the last was white washed brick.

Although questionable at first, we realized that the mix the wallpaper matched the wide variety of the menu perfectly. We couldn't help but notice the overall crisp feeling of the restaurant's decoration – everything was spic and span and although the decoration change was noteworthy, it wasn't distracting or overwhelming.

After taking in our surroundings, we turned to the menu. After much deliberation, we decided to start with the crab dip. We are in Maryland after all, and this state is known for its crab.

Our server was very attentive and friendly, and she came over for our orders right away. It was a good starter, very heavy but the perfect feel-good comfort food, especially when eaten in Café Hon's bright and cheery space. It was cheesy and delicious, served with crispy and buttery slices of baguette. Our favorite part was the big chunks of crab.

Following this appetizer, we had a feast. We were already full, but that didn't stop us—Ramsay's new spin on the Café Hon menu left us too many delicious dining options to resist. We shared a chicken pot pie, a staple on the Café Hon menu and in keeping with the comfort food and diner quality of the place, and a salmon dish, a new addition to the menu and one of the most popular according to our waitress.

These main dishes were solid, yet we'll be honest—we weren't blown away either. The chicken pot pie was somewhat bland, but we definitely noted the fresh ingredients that the Café Hon chefs prepared it with—fresh chicken and fresh vegetables (not your typical frozen ones). Perhaps we were only underwhelmed out of personal preference; we like a lot of seasoning and lots of chicken.

The small cubes of ham added unexpected flavor and made a nice addition to the potpie. As for the puff pastry, it was delicious, flavorful, flaky and there was just the right amount. Frisée greens on the side turned out to be surprisingly noteworthy with delicious lemon vinaigrette! As for the salmon, it was fantastic. Perfectly crispy on the outside yet tender and not overcooked on the inside, it must take an expert to make. Furthermore, it came with such delectable green beans on the side that sent the two of us raving about these vegetables to anyone that would listen—our waitress, the cameramen, and the owner as she walked by.

Our only disappointment surrounding this dish was that it was not diner food; we felt it didn't quite fit with our meal nor did it fit in with the experience and the surroundings of Café Hon.

We wonder if Café Hon has lost a bit of its charm in the aftermath of its makeover. We finished our meal with a phenomenal brownie sundae, recommended to us by the owner herself, and fashioned with homemade hot fudge and homemade brownies. It was the perfect end to a great meal in Hampden (and hopefully on TV too!).

We'd recommend this restaurant to anyone interested in a night in a quirky neighborhood (there's a "Hon" gift shop across the street) and looking for fun décor and comforting food in a friendly atmosphere.

Our experience was most enjoyable! Chef Gordon Ramsay and his team have given Café Hon a chic, fun diner atmosphere and transformed its menu with gourmet twists on old time favorites that we are certain you will enjoy even more.

 


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