Bistro Tuesdays Bring Taste of Europe to Mason Avenue
By CLARICE MACGARVEY
Cape Charles Wave
January 21, 2014
Chef Timothy Brown of Hook-U-Up Gourmet has ambitious culinary goals. He intends to elevate the level of dining on the Eastern Shore, and establish some new benchmarks for quality and good taste, both locally and region-wide.
A talented and innovative chef, Brown’s credentials include teaching at the Culinary Institute of America and operating the 5-Star restaurant, Myriah’s at Tower Hill. He opened Hook-U-Up, a gourmet dine-in/take-out café-style restaurant, in April 2012, and began introducing Bistro Tuesdays, a more upscale dining experience, this past November.
My first visit to Hook-U-Up Gourmet’s Bistro Tuesdays event indicates that Chef Brown is taking the right approach, and that there is plenty of great dining ahead for epicureans living on, or visiting, the Shore.
Located at 227 Mason Avenue in downtown Cape Charles, the venue is small and intimate, with only six tables at the front. The kitchen is within view. My companion and I arrived at 7:30, and although the dining space was packed, our server, also named Tim, seated us and took our drink orders right away. My first surprise was finding some of my favorite wines listed at very reasonable price points. The bottle of Hess Select Chardonnay we enjoyed, for example, was only $22.
For appetizers, my companion ordered the Salmon Mousse served with chopped egg, red onion, and crème fraiche. It was so creamy and delicious, I couldn’t keep my fork away, even though I had a lovely appetizer of my own: Sauteed Local Crabmeat en bouchee, finished with sherry, butter, and country ham.
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The soup course, Oyster Stew with a creamy polenta for my table mate and a silky Lobster Bisque for me, proved outstanding. Perfectly prepared, and served piping hot, both soups were lush with seafood. The oysters in the stew were plump, juicy, and plentiful, and the Bisque was nicely packed with Lobster meat.
I skipped the salad course, while my companion enjoyed a Caesar Salad in a parmesan basket that he rated as excellent.
That evening’s menu also featured a Warm Spinach Salad with a Pancetta, Port wine vinaigrette that I was tempted to try. Glad I did not. When our main dishes arrived, the portions were so generous we both ended requesting “to go” boxes. And let me add, my dining companion is a very large individual with an equally large appetite. There is often a perception that gourmet or fine dining restaurants tend to serve smaller, more delicate portions. Frequently, this is true. Chef Brown seems quite happy to fill plates to the edges.
I intended to order the Shrimp, Gator Tail Filet with Andouille Sausage for my entrée; however, my companion beat me to it, so I selected the Slow Roasted Quail stuffed with poached oysters and fennel. Other entrée choices for that night included Braised Center Cut Pork Chops over mushroom risotto and sautéed spinach, Mustard and Dill Rubbed Mahi, Pan Seared Beef Tenderloin, and Local Crab Cakes with a dill remoulade.
The Quail seemed very popular that night — and with good reason. It was expertly finished, although a tad undercooked for my taste. The potato galette and braised collards were lovely. Sampling my friend’s Gator dish, I found it to be imaginative — served over jalapeño, roasted garlic, and goat cheese ravioli — and well prepared with big chunks of meat and a spicy sauce. A word about the ravioli: yum!
Two yums for the desserts. The selection was limited to three choices that evening, and the flan captured my attention. Just the right texture and delicate flavor.
Note that Chef Brown creates everything fresh, using local ingredients when available. The breads and pastas are prepared by hand, as are the desserts. The staff, who know how to be attentive without hovering, are friendly and cheerful.
The Bistro concept is well-conceived and nicely executed. I did feel transported to Europe — or at least NYC or back to Miami — for the night, via both the atmosphere and the menu. In addition to Bistro Tuesdays, Hook-U-Up-Gourmet hosts Wine Dinners on the weekends (check the Facebook page for dates, times and menus), highlighting the wine regions of the world. As a wine lover, I mentioned there were no local labels on the list. Chef Brown says he is working on adding some Eastern Shore vintages from Chatham Vineyards. I would love to have attended last week’s Wine Dinner featuring Classical French wines; however, they were “sold out” — a good indication that the Eastern Shore is more than ready for the level of upscale dining that Chef Brown intends to serve up.
Hook-U-Up-Gourmet Bistro Tuesdays are weekly events, with service starting at 5 p.m. Standard restaurant hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Closed Sunday. Reservations for Bistro Tuesdays and the Wine Weekends are recommended. Phone 757-331-2275.
Well worth a visit for Bistro Tuesdays, or any day of the week.