The Taste: Founders offers the pursuit of happiness sprinkled with a love for history
Dec 22, 2017 09:00AM
Good Friends, Good FoodBy Rita Calvert // Photography by Tony Lewis, Jr.
A definitive colonial-style governs Founders Tavern and Grille in Pasadena which is what owners and designers, Steve and Janet Sumner intended. “Colonial” is a style which not many contemporary folks lean toward, but Founders decidedly has design flair within! The decor is somewhat of a historical gallery that one should spend time exploring. The huge wooden American flag first catches the eye and Janet explained how local firefighters became her building partners for many of the special touches like the flag, the pallet wood wall, and the clever design of the restrooms. “Repurposing” became the buzzword.
I had a fabulous day with Janet and Steve while we worked on the photography together and then sat down to talk about Founders’ style and history. Janet explained to me, “Our recipes are carried down from family, perfected through years of cooking and a passion for fresh ingredients. We try to represent each of the original 13 colonies.”
How did Founders Tavern and Grille come to be and what was the inspiration behind the name and theme? Give us an overview of the history.
Founders Tavern and Grille is a culmination of all that Steve and I are together. Steve and I grew up in this area and were even high school sweethearts. He initially worked in sales for IBM software and I followed in marketing, accounting, and design with a degree from the University of Maryland. Steve found a much more complementary field in commercial baking and management and transferred to a large bakery in Little Italy where he moved from nighttime baker to plant manager. He was working seven days a week and I became a single parent to our kids. We both decided something had to give. We have a friend and silent business partner who encouraged us to follow our passions.
(Steve chimes in.) I knew I could be true to this concept—simple food and a family place based on a lot of history. Founders is me!
There are clever historical names for food and drink many items on the menu. On what period is your menu based?
Our concept is based on our Founding Fathers and the 13 colonies so our website is Founders1776.com. We’ve had such a creative and fun time with a play on historical names! In the fall, we bring out a hugely popular drink, “Martha’s Rum Punch.” We did a lot of research and found the recipe Martha Washington used, which turned out to be complicated with many of the spices we think of in the fall—cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. [Other names include] The Dolly Madison Salad, 3rd Maryland Regiment Fried Chicken, and the whopping Bunker Hill, which is actually two burgers piled with our house beef brisket.
Your deep-dish apple pie is touted as being huge and divine. How deep are we talking?
Our signature apple pie is adapted from a recipe Steve made in the Little Italy bakery. It is about five inches tall and is actually like an individual torte. We use only Gala apples infused with Grand Marnier and wrapped in pastry. It certainly is enough to share.
It sounds like a large percentage of your food is locally raised and produced? Name the farms you work with on a regular basis.
On our website we say, “The best and freshest food is what’s grown closest to you…we hold this truth to be self-evident!” We use as many local food growers and purveyors as we possibly can but it varies seasonally. In summer, there is an abundance of local produce, but that gets more challenging in winter. We’ll visit farmers markets ourselves and that is part of the fun. We use local microgreens which are available year-round. Our beef is local, as is our seafood and we use Eastern Shore poultry. Some of our partners are: Chesapeake Farm to Table, Bear’s Honeypot, Schillinger’s Farm, Maryland Seafood, Dudek Butchers, and we even get our organic coffee and teas from Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company. Some surrounding bakeries supply us with seasonal desserts.
Do you change your menu seasonally? How do you come up with fresh menu ideas? Can you give some examples?
We let the seasons dictate. Our menu changes two times a year—spring/summer and fall/winter. Produce is just naturally the star for spring and summer while we create homier foods for fall/winter which our customers have come to follow. We tested some of our favorite recipes and developed a beef brisket with very high-quality beef, slow-roasted along with root vegetables which is a huge seller. Our chicken pot pie is another cool weather winner.
What is homemade from your kitchen? Is it true there is no freezer?
We actually have no freezer on the premises. We like to call ourselves a modern American scratch cooking tavern and it’s very important to us to stay true to our mission with only fresh food. We make our own homemade sauces, dressings, desserts. Nothing is frozen. Our pizza dough and bread are made in-house fresh daily from our own unique recipes. We bake our bread fresh every morning.
What prompted you to do the bourbon flights?
From the menu, “We have the honor to offer over 100 whiskey and bourbon offerings for your merriment.” Steve adores bourbon and brings in a highly allocated selection. We started offering bourbon flights and were pleasantly surprised to create a huge following and what became a kind of “club.” Now we even have some customers who meet here every Wednesday night over their bourbon!
The Taste: The Chicken & Waffle
(1 huge serving)
This high and mighty dish is one of our all-time best sellers! Warm Belgium waffles encase a fried chicken breast, smoked sliced country ham, Swiss cheese, and pickles...all with a maple Dijon glaze. Though it looks like a sandwich, its recommended to eat with a fork and knife.
- 2 warm Belgium waffles
- 1 fried boneless skinless chicken breast
- 3-4 thin slices of tavern ham
- 2 slices of Swiss cheese
- Maple Dijon glaze
- Sliced dill pickles
For chicken breast
- 2 cups dill pickle juice mixed with
- 1 cup water
For seasoned flour dredge
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoon seasoned salt
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 1 cup buttermilk
- Canola oil for frying
For maple Dijon glaze
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon ketchup
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon honey
Brine the boneless skinless chicken breast in 2 cups of dill pickle juice and water for 4 hours.
Make maple Dijon glaze by mixing all ingredients together. Mix ingredients for flour dredge and set aside.
Remove chicken from brine, pat dry, and lightly coat in buttermilk. Place the breast in the seasoned flour dredge, and coat completely.
Heat canola oil to 350 degrees. Fry the chicken breast until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees on a meat thermometer. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
To AssembleIf you have a waffle iron, make two homemade hot Belgium waffles or you can use store-bought Belgium waffles as well. Just place waffles in preheated oven for 2 to 3 minutes until hot.
Pile ham and Swiss cheese on top of the chicken breast and place in the oven for approximately 3 minutes, or until cheese is melted. Next, you’re ready for your waffles. Drizzle maple Dijon glaze on the bottom waffle. Place the hot chicken breast from the oven on top of the bottom waffle. Complete with 2 slices of dill pickles and drizzle a little more maple Dijon glaze over top of the chicken breast. Place the remaining waffle on top and serve.