Savoring the Sweeter Side of a Foodie Paradise
By April Bartel and Photography by Turner Photography Studio
Food in Frederick is no joke. Folks come from miles around to sample our celebrated restaurants and meet local chefs. Once here, they find a thriving community of passionate culinary artists incorporating local products, seasonal ingredients and beloved favorites.
But with so many delectable choices, diners may be stuffed before the main dish arrives. Who has room for dessert? In this gourmet paradise, missing out would be a tragedy because nothing caps a meal like something sweet—a bite of gooey breakfast Danish, a refreshing gelato after lunch, or full-on chocolate overload with a glass of sultry merlot for an evening repast. For all that’s good, save room, even if you must take half the meal home or order a treat to go.
The Wine Kitchen on the Creek is known for its elevated offerings, courtesy of pastry chef Emma Tilman. In 2019 she joined the restaurant, which boasts an all-scratch kitchen, from burger buns to the quiche crust. Emma estimates 60 percent of guests opt for dessert. She says she’s always hungry to explore new techniques and creative combinations, embracing nontraditional flavor profiles.
“I typically don’t like to repeat a dish twice,” Tilman says, but there are a few that fans request, like her Fall Opera Cake. It mingles flavorful coffee and chocolate with warming spices like cinnamon, cardamom and allspice. Her Maryland Swiss Roll is another winner. That’s velvety chocolate cake rolled with Old Bay buttercream, topped with dark chocolate glaze. She’s also known for delicate ice creams and sorbets such as hazelnut, lemon and lime, or seasonal cantaloupe.
Down Patrick Street, Gladchuk Bros. Restaurant is a highlight of the local restaurant scene known for fresh, lovingly crafted fare. Brothers John, Stephen, and Bobby started the place more than 30 years ago. Fans love the eclairs, chewy puffs of pâte à choux frosted with chocolate and filled with eggy cream. There is also a mean Key lime pie, luscious lemon meringue and cozy bread pudding. For the holidays, the Gladchuks flex their gingerbread skills with a masterful display and bags of grab-and-go cookies.
Dessert devotees shout out Monocacy Crossing’s coconut cake, flan from Cacique, Fratelli’s carrot cake and the super-rich peanut butter pie from Watson’s Carry-out in Jefferson. The Buzz Cafe in Green Valley gets high marks across the board, especially for its scones. At Lucky Corner Vietnamese Cuisine, it’s the Spumoni Bomba. “Madrones has the best chocolate cake,” writes fellow baker Shaye Rudisill. “I get a slice every year for my [birthday].”
Tiramisu is an Italian classic adored by regulars at Cucina Massi and il Porto. At Delizia Café, owners Carmine and Giovanna Varriale make a family recipe. Carmine says there are different versions from Veneto, Emilia-Romagna and Piemonte. Delizia’s is a meticulous preparation with “secret ingredients” that play rich coffee with creamy mascarpone and imported ladyfingers. Giovanna’s family members are well-known bakers in Naples and Carmine’s kin run a Germantown restaurant. His mom whips up the filling that’s piped into crispy cannoli shells. Such house-made pastries, like their ethereal pistachio or chocolate croissants, pair well with luxurious coffees.
This fall Delizia is bringing back sfogliatelle (pronounced “sfol-ya-tel-le”), a frilly, shell-shaped sweet made with semolina and ricotta. Fittingly being added is Delizia al limone, too. These lemon delights are single-serve sponge cakes filled with lemon cream, brushed with Limoncello syrup and covered in lemon glaze and whipped cream. Giovanna nods, “They are absolutely decadent.”
ON THE COUNTER
Bakeries are a hypnotic draw. Bakehouse along Carroll Creek makes it worth getting up early, while the Golden Mile’s Sabor Casero tempts customers with Mexican and Salvadorian specialties. Juno Bakery & Café is the gateway to H Mart’s food court. Chef and owner Houng Jun Kim opened the independent shop in 2017, offering bubble teas and custom cakes to complement a huge selection of indulgences. Shopper Kimya Behpou Sensenig recommends the honeydew melon soboro, gushing, “[It’s] soooo good.” The colorful buns come in varieties like taro, mango and strawberry.
“Our bake style is a combination of Korean and European [traditions],” says Kim. “We try to make our breads and cakes not too sweet and make their texture as soft as possible.” Juno is known for blueberry yogurt cakes and mousse cakes in chocolate, raspberry and sweet potato, and “old-fashioned street doughnuts.” Kim says it’s a dream job. “I can be part of many customers’ happiness.”
Deb’s Artisan Bakehouse in Middletown has its own enthusiasts. Deb King was an avid home baker. “I started making bagels and feeding our neighborhood, which led to pies and pastries and on and on.” She found her niche and a storefront, opening in January 2017. “There is no joy like that of filling someone with something hand-crafted that takes so much time and passion.”
King specializes in laminated doughs, such as croissants, biscuits, pies and puff pastries. Her unique savory creations are wildly popular, too. The menu changes weekly, with brisket croissants, barbacoa hand pies and pot pies lined up alongside hefty cookies, tortes, galettes, buttery rugelach and signature croissant/muffin cross, the “cruffin.” Her pastry is typically 35 percent butter, so it’s no wonder she uses around 175 pounds of butter, 250 pounds of flour and 50 pounds of sugar each week. Do not miss the seasonal salted maple pies.
Self-taught baker and owner of The Hive, a full-service bakery in Brunswick, Rebekah Ontiveros appeared on Netflix’s Sugar Rush: Extra Sweet. This year, she won second place in Novelty Non-Tiered at the National Capital Area Cake Show, but proof is in the pudding, er cake.
Customers love her gingersnap “Sammies,” gluten-free chocolate walnut “Chubbie” cookies and Unicorn Fudge. Ontiveros draws from world travels and family tradition for global inspiration. She makes French macarons, a lavender pound cake, Mexican Chocolate Danish and Persian Love Tea Cakes, saying, “My personal favorite dessert is actually our Cherry Maple Pie that comes out every Thanksgiving or our Sugar Plum Fairy Cupcake at Christmas.” The Hive does custom orders with occasional walk-in hours for major holidays.
AT THE DOOR
It’s a new day for cottage bakers, too. Frederick’s online community has groups dedicated to supporting those independent souls who work from home or “ghost” kitchens. They pop up at farmers markets or make special deliveries. That’s how Terri Rowe started Aunt B’s Angel Cookies in 2001. Her signature Chesapeake collection began with shortbread cookies shaped like crabs. She enrobes them in Ghirardelli white chocolate with Old Bay seasoning. Now she’s added trademarked “crab shells,” potato chips dipped in white chocolate with Old Bay. She glows, “People are crazy about them.”
And she’s crazy about helping other budding entrepreneurs. Rowe founded Maryland Bakes! in 2016, a shared kitchen for “food artists” to make, bake, package, promote and perfect their wares. She’ll help food startups with licensing and planning, too. Since COVID-19, co-op membership surged by more than 50 percent. “Right now, we have 30 licensed companies,” explains Terri, “and a waitlist of eight.”
Affiliated companies include the newly launched Corazoncitos and whimsical Sweets by Caroline, known for custom macarons. Member DaddyBoy Bake Shop earns props for scratch-made hand tarts, breads, scones and pies; Rowe affirms DaddyBoy skips the short cuts, even starting pumpkin pie with hand-selected squash from a local farm.
Michelle Heavner is highly recommended. Her mom was a baker and her dad was a gourmet chef, so she grew up in the industry. The family owned numerous bakeries throughout the years, with baby Michelle toddling under tables. Now, she works with her own daughters in her business, Heavenly Cheesecakes & More. She chose the name because, “I feel like it’s come full circle. I didn’t intend to do this … but I think I am very blessed to have this talent and I’m happy to share.” She sublets a commercial kitchen as needed and hangs photos of her mom, her guardian angel and inspiration, above her workspace.
Her Chocolate Decadence Cake is a fan favorite, with the top three cheesecake flavors being Vanilla Bean Dream, Bananas Foster and Oreo Cookies & Cream. She offers gluten-free and vegan selections as well.
Uncle Ralph’s Cookies started small, too. Now, the 36-year-old commercial bakery churns out thousands of treats per day, delivered across five states and Washington, D.C. Longtime employees Tom Rogers and Richard “Rome” Ramsburg officially took the reins from founders Ralph and Peggy Wight last month. The new owners updated the name to Uncle Ralph’s Bakery to reflect their growing line of goodies.
Ramsburg says, “We have 60 products, from crumb cakes to cupcakes, brownies, pound cake and cinnamon rolls.” And it all started with a cookie. The chocolate chip cookies remain top sellers, followed closely by rich and fudgy brownies.
“It’s a pretty full array of baked goods and they are high-quality, gourmet-level products,” chimes in Rogers, “because they don’t have preservatives.” His favorite is the crumb cake. It comes in 13 varieties, including seasonal fruits and a red velvet. The raspberry version sports a layer of fruity jelly sandwiched between mounds of crumbly topping and delicate cake.
Primarily wholesale, fans can now bring home smaller batches of frozen cookie dough and prepared desserts from their East Street outlet.
Whatever your choice, there are nearly nonstop options for enjoying the sweet life in Frederick County. Rowe says it best: “Life is short. Eat dessert first.”