Life After 'Hell's Kitchen'
Plus, hometown hard cider
CHEF ON THE RISE
The kitchen at Full On Craft Eats & Drinks in Rockville is managed by Michelle Houser Harris. Photo by Erick Gibson.
Ten years ago, Michelle “Mieka” Houser Harris was working at a McDonald’s in a small town in Pennsylvania, uneasy about her future. But life has unexpectedly taken off for the 28-year-old Olney native. In 2011, she graduated from L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, following an externship at Washington, D.C.’s Oval Room, and has since competed on the 14th season of Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen (she was sent home in the fourth episode), conducted cooking demos on local TV, and most recently, was featured in the fall “Women Chefs: Artists in the Kitchen” exhibit at The Mansion at Strathmore.
Harris, one of a handful of young female chefs quietly making inroads, is now kitchen manager at Rockville’s Full On Craft Eats & Drinks, a unique restaurant serving upscale sandwiches, craft beer and wine, with a focus on from-scratch preparations. A small, rustic space in a nondescript shopping strip, Full On features a friendly vibe along with homemade soups, sauces, dressings, side dishes and desserts, plus house-roasted meats.
The chef, who says she “never would have thought any of this would have happened,” absorbed a lot in the process. Here’s what she learned from:
Attending L’Academie de Cuisine: “Techniques, and how to fix things.”
Doing an externship at the Oval Room: “Discipline.”
Applying on a lark for Hell’s Kitchen: “Any opportunity you get, even if you think you might not do well—just do it.”
The intense pressure of being on reality TV: “It’s OK to leave your comfort zone.”
Gordon Ramsay, host of the show: “Do it right the first time.”
Being kitchen manager at Full On: “Sometimes the easy way isn’t the right way. Do everything to the fullest.”
Her mother: “You only get one life. “
Full On Craft Eats & Drinks, 4007-D Norbeck Road, Rockville, 240-669-3875, www.fulloncraft.com
HOMETOWN HARD CIDER
Matt Cimino offers tasting flights of his hard cider in Silver Spring. Photo by Michael Ventura.
Hard cider is hot these days, and Kensington resident Matt Cimino was in on the ground floor of the burgeoning trend. With a doctorate in botany from the University of Maryland, Cimino was doing forensic analysis for government contractors when he decided to switch gears, opening Great Shoals Winery in 2010. By the next year, he was selling Spencerville Red Hard Apple Cider, made from an apple variety from Spencerville, Maryland. Great Shoals now produces more than a dozen varieties of hard cider, as well as a host of traditional and sparkling wines.
While the wines are made in a few locations around the state, Great Shoals’ hard ciders are made right in Silver Spring, in a warehouse at Heyser Farms, where Cimino also runs a tasting room. Great for a weekend activity, even on a cold winter day, the tasting flights range from $7 to $10.
Great Shoals Winery at Heyser Farms, 14526 New Hampshire Ave., Silver Spring, 410-849-9616, www.greatshoals.com. Winter tasting room hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m to 6 p.m. Saturday. The ciders are also served at Denizens Brewing Co. and Urban Winery in Silver Spring, and bottles can be purchased at Fenwick Beer and Wine in Silver Spring, Mom’s Organic Market and King Farm Wine Shop in Rockville and Roots in Olney.
SILVER vs. SILVER DINER
When Chef Ype Von Hengst developed the menu for the snazzy new Silver restaurant in downtown Bethesda, he wanted it to be a brand extension, but not totally different from the eats at Silver Diner, the regional chain he started in 1989 with partner Bob Giaimo. So a third of the menu is the same, a third is new (i.e., tuna tartare, chia banana pudding), and the remaining dishes are upscale, flavor-enhanced versions of Silver Diner classics. Examples: buffalo wings at Silver Diner, chimichurri wings at Silver;
flat-iron steak at Silver Diner, hanger steak at Silver. Look what happened to meatloaf.
Organic Bison Truffle Meatloaf at Silver, $20
Fresh spinach is wilted with organic garlic olive oil.
Mashed Yukon Gold potatoes get a drizzle of basil oil.
Meatloaf made from organic ground bison is mixed with chopped truffles and topped with demi-glace; sautéed chanterelle mushrooms and roasted pearl onions nestle alongside.
Black Angus Meatloaf at Silver Diner, $14.99
Sliced meatloaf, made from Black Angus ground beef, gets topped with a brown gravy and crispy onion straws.
Side dishes include buttered corn and steamed fresh broccoli, cauliflower and carrots.
Mashed potatoes are made from russets.
Gusto Italian Grill
Yet another fast-casual take on make-it-your-way, this time Italian-style. That means customized pasta, flat- bread and salads with an array of proteins (meatballs, chicken, steak, porchetta), sauces (such as classic tomato, pesto, Alfredo) and toppings (olives, artichoke hearts, sweet and spicy peppers, pancetta and more).
Takeaway: Homey, hearty fare that will leave you satisfied, not gushing with gusto. Porchetta (pork shoulder slow-roasted in herbs and spices) is done well here.
4733 Elm St., Bethesda, 240-396-6398; 8512 Fenton St., Silver Spring, 301-565-2800, www.gustoitaliangrill.com.
A longtime Northwest Washington institution—known for its dependable, high-quality eats—expands its dominance over the Spring Valley Shopping Center with a casual restaurant, opened in October. The company already runs a deli and small market in the center, plus Pitmasters Back Alley BBQ, in an alleyway behind it.
(It also owns a sizable gourmet market on New Mexico Avenue NW, and catering, importing, school lunch and custom cake businesses.)
Takeaway: The glass-enclosed dining area is pretty spare, and uncomfortable metal chairs will take a toll on your tush. But the overstuffed sandwiches can compete with the best in the Big Apple, and the crab cake—with chunks of jumbo lump meat, two veggies and a salad—is a delicious steal for $17.
4855 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, D.C., 202-363-5698, www.wagshals.com.
Jamaican Mi Crazy
Food truck operator Naya Radway, the daughter of Jamaican parents, gets a brick-and-mortar gig at Westfield Montgomery’s dining terrace.
Takeaway: Tender oxtails and brown stew chicken are better bets than the meek chicken or goat curries.
Hot heads will like the tear-jerker jerk chicken.
7101 Democracy Blvd. (in Westfield Montgomery mall), Bethesda, 202-505-2447, www.jmccurbside.com.
COMINGS & GOINGS
Following his foray into upscale hot dogs, hamburgers and doughnuts, Bethesda’s Bold Bite owner Alonso Roche is going back to his culinary roots with a tapas bar. Roche is shooting for an informal, lively venue called De Tapas, to be opened sometime this spring in a portion of the former BlackFinn pub, right next to his Bold Bite eatery.
At press time, Maki Bar, a sister restaurant to Bethesda’s Maki Maki sushi place, was getting ready to open at The Shops at Wisconsin Place on Wisconsin Avenue, right below Trader Joe’s.
After less than a year in business, Silver Spring’s Sligo Café changed ownership and, in November, was transitioning from American comfort food to casual Korean.
Benny’s Bar & Grill also changed hands, when the Potomac restaurant was sold in October to the owner of the Irish Inn at Glen Echo. Not surprisingly, a traditional Irish restaurant is in the offing, estimated for arrival in January.
Also in 2016, construction will begin on a 15-seat bar at La Ferme restaurant in Chevy Chase; replacing a small private party room, it will offer drinks and small plates as well as the regular menu.
In big closing news, Chef Geoff’s on Rockville Pike, which opened in 2012, couldn’t make a go of it, shuttering in early November. Owner Geoff Tracy told Bethesda Beat that he was unable to generate the necessary revenue and was losing a lot of money at the location.