As any seasoned group chat veteran can attest to, the most difficult college endeavor is getting five friends to agree on a spot to wine and dine at on a Saturday night. It’s hard enough to burst the Hopkins bubble without a half-dozen stomachs and palates negotiating a balance between the K-BBQ cravings of one and the Whole30 ambitions of another.
Thankfully, Lane Harlan and Matthew Pierce, two accomplished Baltimore creatives and hospitality professionals, have a solution. Last year, they helped convert an 1850s carriage house in the historic Old Goucher neighborhood into a hub of Charm City food and wine. They call it Socle, and it’s far more than another iteration of the now-ubiquitous food hall.
As some glowing pieces in Bon Appetit recently pointed out, this complex, the third endeavor for the co-owners of Clavel and W.C. Harlan, can be far better described as a collaborative restaurant. It’s an innovative approach to hospitality that offers opportunities for all kinds of diners and industry professionals.
On the east side, there’s Fadensonnen, which pours natural wine and sake upstairs and small-production beer and cider downstairs. The candlelit rooms are vaguely Nordic in their decor, implying a comforting escape from the harsh outdoors.
The beverage lists offer the opportunity to explore insistently trendy (but always delicious) options from the world over, including collaborations between the Fadensonnen team and local and international producers. On a recent visit, the team pushed a pair of bottles they’d developed with Old Westminster winery in Maryland and an innovative Spanish vineyard.
If you’re stopping by during the day, enter from the Maryland Avenue side to caffeinate with the experts at Sophomore Coffee. Or, if you need something more substantial, stop by Larder, where they’ve somehow crafted a menu of uber-healthy grain bowls and local vegetable soups without the typical air of pretension.
Best of all, you and your crew are more than welcome to experience all these concepts at once. Grab a pint of the delectable Maine Beer Co. “Peeper Pale Ale” from the Biergarten and an “All-Day Frittata” from Larder while your friend ports a plate of housemade lacto-pickles and warm sourdough bread down from Fadensonnen. Meet in the courtyard (don’t worry, it’s generously outfitted with space heaters) and devour your treasures together.
But Socle shines brightest during its frequent pop-up and culinary collaboration events, which bring together chefs and beverage producers from Baltimore and across the country. This past Saturday, the folks at Larder and local star chef Steve Chu of Ekiben teamed up with Deuki Hong, a nationally regarded chef known for his work with Korean American cuisine. The menu highlighted fan favorites from all three contributors, with a focus on promoting Hong’s new cookbook Koreatown.
After grabbing a couple glasses from the wine bar and placing an order at the permanently parked food truck on 23rd street (which served as one of many kitchens for Hong and Chu), my date and I planted ourselves in the center of the action, the courtyard, to observe the buzz of the evening.
Servers flurried out the Larder door with Korean and Japanese-inspired dishes. Scallops, mushrooms and chicken topped off an oyster chawanmushi (a traditional steamed Japanese custard). Sunchoke was an unexpected addition to a savory okonomiyaki pancake. A miso-chocolate-sweet-potato tartlet went à la mode with help from black sesame ice cream.
Hong, perched on footstool and donning a seasonally appropriate beanie, deftly flipped skewers of char siu steak bites and sticky wings over an open fire grill. The generously applied, especially sweet sauce on the beef almost obscured the smokiness of the charcoal, but a cilantro relish draped on top restored the dish’s promised complexity.
The only vegetarian option on Chu and Hong’s menu, a kimchi fried rice, paired exceedingly well with the aforementioned Old Westminster piquette, whose bracing acidity balanced the dish’s almost greasy (in the right way), homestyle richness. And of course, Chu was sure to include a pulled-pork–topped version of his famous steamed bao buns.
When we arrived just after the event’s kick-off, we had no trouble getting our order in and finding a spot to claim in the al fresco dining area. But by the time we were ready to head out, the entire collaborative was packed with eager Baltimore food fanatics crushing local brews and piles of grilled meats.
So the next time you find yourself arbitrating an escalating debate between pizza and ramen, throw Socle into the mix. Oh, and did I mention it’s well within Blue Jay Shuttle range?