Feb 26, 2014 03:04PM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
Arriving early, I decided to take a seat in the foyer while perusing the walls draped with award after award—for dining, catering, dessert, breakfast, takeout, and wedding cakes—from What’s Up? Annapolis, Bay Weekly, and The Capital. All plaques attest to Main Ingredient’s popularity year after year.
With the proliferation of franchise eateries, Main Ingredient has remained an independent café for more than two decades. Federal House Catering purchased the cafe and catering operation six years ago, making it the sister operation of Federal House Bar and Grille. In two words, friendly and fulfilling seem to perfectly define the food, atmosphere, and service.
When my friends arrived, we were seated in a cozy booth in the back room. John, our waiter, was friendly and attentive, thoughtfully explaining the preparation of many items on the menu while patiently answering our extensive questions.
Starting with beverages, we noted that the evening’s special Menu for Two included a $15 full bottle choice of the house Napa Sycamore Lane Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, White Zinfandel, Merlot, or Cabernet. My group chose Pinot Grigio, deeming it neutral enough to pair well with a variety of dishes. Interestingly, the wine arrived served with bulbous stemless glasses. This style takes some getting used to for sipping and holding. For a red wine meant to be held at room temperature, they’re fantastic. Our vote is still out for keeping a chilled white cool, though.
We learned from John that three items make up a trio of private house recipes—translation: secret. The first, maple champagne vinaigrette, graced my café salad with a subtle pleasant essence so as not to weigh down the winning pear, candied pecans, and gorgonzola mixed greens combo. We ordered secret recipe number two, the Hungarian mushroom soup, by the bowl with several spoons to provide tastes for the table. Dark, rich and comforting, the meal-in-a-bowl was filling and homey, fragrant with dill. Meanwhile, the famous pumpkin muffins, the third secret recipe, are the perfect complement to one of the varied and flavorful entrée salads on the menu.
As a first course, the crab avocado quesadilla is irresistible, with the signature ingredients sandwiched between fl our tortillas, then grilled to meld into a rich filling with a crispy top and bottom and a drizzle of Old Bay remoulade zigzagged across the top.
Dinner choices were challenging with so many options—ranging from casual fare to 11 different entree salads to a wide range of ethnic offerings and “short plates,” or smaller portion sizes. Then there are the Main Ingredient Traditions, the “keep ‘em coming back” entrees that include meatloaf with choice of sauce, lasagna of the day, crab cake, and Salmon Pisano.
Our aficionado of Indian food shared samples of Bodhi dal, a thick stew-like concoction of tomatoes, squash, zucchini, chicken, and lentils simmered in a traditional Indian yellow curry and served with steamed jasmine rice. The dish had an average heat level tamed by the rice and crispy grilled pita triangles.
Our third entree was chosen from the Two for $30 Dinner Special. The famous meatloaf was bathed in Hungarian mushroom sauce similar to the soup we had previously devoured. Mashed potatoes and fresh zucchini with hints of red bell pepper rounded out the substantial platter.
Being a seafood lover, I ordered the citrus scallops. The golden-crusted, pan-seared sea scallops were sauced with a light lemon glaze with jasmine rice alongside. The fresh grilled asparagus lent a crunchy smoky texture to the smooth scallops.
I was told the menus are being redesigned for seasonality. However, the traditional dishes will remain. Scallops will stay on the dinner menu but possibly with a more wintery treatment. We had to pace ourselves with the abundant portions, but, of course, we left room to sample those famous desserts. John presented the dessert tray with a description of each dense slice; “dense” meaning these are real ingredients, not air-whipped shortening concoctions. Then there is the portion size...one slice of layer cake could easily serve three.
We learned that the pastry chef rolls in at 3 a.m. every morning. Main Ingredient is famous for an assortment of changing gargantuan layer cakes, pies when fresh fruit is in season, cupcakes, muffins, and cookies. It is not unusual to see an entire cake go out the door packaged for a special event.
Our top dessert choice was raspberry mousse cake, a tall slice of golden cake with a tart raspberry mousse yielding flecks of the berry and enrobed with gentle lemon buttercream icing. Meanwhile, the Butterfinger layer cake held crispy pieces of the Butterfinger candy bar within cocoa frosting between the cake layers, with smooth cocoa buttercream blanketing the top and wrapping the sides. Oreo cheesecake—smooth, dense, and creamy, save for the chunky bits of Oreo cookie—became the winner for our cheesecake buff.
As Main Ingredient rolls well into decade two, you know the kitchen is paying attention to its customers. The same inviting food, substantial portions, and loaded breakfasts continue to serve the many Annapolitans and visitors who gravitate to the comforts of homestyle cuisine.
With nearly three decades in the food, media production, marketing, and public relations fields, Annapolis-based Rita Calvert has created myriad programs, events, and cooking sessions on national television, and at The Annapolis School of Cooking. She has partnered in writing cookbooks and product lines to showcase the inspiration, art, and nourishment of food.
914 Bay Ridge Road, Annapolis