Place formerly known as Doobie's
When one loses a favorite restaurant, it's human nature that the next occupant of the space sometimes has one strike against them immediately, because they are associated with the unfortunate circumstances that made the space available. In this instance, I'd like to give the new guy in the space previously occupied by Ras Doobie's a fair chance, and I encourage Chowhounds to do likewise.
In line with that, does anybody know if the new place is open yet, what sort of place it is, and has anybody tried it yet? If somebody has more info than we got in the thread about Doobie's closing, please post.
As much as I miss Doobie's, Baltimore can always use another good restaurant, and if the new place is Chow-worthy, I'd like to see them make a go of it.
First, thanks to KAZ for letting me know the place is back open - I had missed his post on that point in mid June because I was out of town, and this thread had cycled off the first page by the time I got back.
So, today after reading about it, I went back to the old place to sample the new incarnation of an old favorite.
First, the non-food-related notes in bullet form.
The color scheme and decorations have changed, but it's largely the same vibe.
Despite rumors to the contrary, the finely crafted old bar is still there.
New wood flooring has replaced the old carpet.
Carolyn (the namesake of the place in its original incarnation) sold the building and the liquor license to new owners.
Neither Doobie nor Nzinga is now involved with the place, though some of Doobie's recipes and techniques have been passed on.
Francine (spelling?), the plus-sized woman who was running the front of the house after Nzinga, is now running the place on behalf of the new owner of the building, and is at least at present the chef. They had a Jamaican replacement for Doobie for a short time, but while his food was quite good, it seems that his temper wasn't, and he was shown the door. After getting some outside consulting and training on recipes and such, Francine is now manning the kitchen until they can find a permanent chef with the right background, and get Francine back out front.
From what I can piece together of the details of how all the above transpired, the full story would make a good script for one of those overwrought Mexican telenovellas. If you want the details, you're one your own to dig them out! For most of us, it really doesn't matter unless one has friendships with the parties involved.
Now, with the "excess baggage" out of the way, on to the chow!
The food is VERY good. It's not better or worse than Doobie's, just a little different. Old regulars will be able to detect some places where Doobie passed on his knowledge to Francine, and there are some new recipes and techniques from the interim chef and the consultant. Once one judges the place on its own merits, and puts aside old memories, this is a very worthy successor, replacement, evolution, or however you care to think about it. In short, it's still Jamaican food, and it's still quite good. If you got hooked on Jamaican by eating at Doobie's, I think you will find much here to satisfy your Jamaican jones.
As was often the case in the Doobie era, I ended up having effectively two dinners by the time I was done. The veggie medley is familiar, but with some new twists in the amount of coconut milk used, and the seasoning. Okra was simply steamed and very nice - none of the viscous gooey texture that many hate about okra. The beans and rice were also nicely done, on a dish that's often underwhelming. The plantains were lovely, though Francine notes that getting plantains at just the right degree of ripeness is proving to be one of the trickier provisioning tasks.
The jerk chicken is a definite departure from Doobie's. First, there is the choice of two levels of heat, and Francine says that an "extra spicy" level is also possible. I believe that unlike Doobie, she does much of the cookig of the meat separate from the sauce, allowing her to sauce and finish the dish to the customer's preferred heat level. As I said, not substantially better or worse than Doobie's but different. The escoviech (sp?) fish also takes a different tack than Doobie's, but is very satisfying. The citrusy sauce with bell peppers is the thing that makes the dish, with a vey nice balance of sweet and sour highlighting the flavor of the fish without overpowering it. Francine assures me that she can also do a passable rendition of Doobie's style of that dish, for those who prefer it.
For those who liked the food or the "you're family when you walk in the door" vibe of Ras Doobie's (or both), I think I'm safe in saying that the "partially new" establishment is trying to keep the best qualities of the Ras Doobie era, while still moving forward in their own direction. Even the choice to change the name to Penn Street Tavern appears to be a decision that was made out of respect for Doobie, viewing it as "just not right" to play on his name and reputation without the man himself in the kitchen.
I encourage those who liked Ras Doobie's (and the man himself) to give the place a try, and to let the current staff know what you like and what you don't like. I believe that they are making a sincere effort to be the best they can be, and to maintain the standard for Jamaican food that Ras Doobie set.
As for Ras Doobie and Nzinga, both are reportedly still in the area, and I'm told Doobie is cooking a couple nights a week at a place in West Baltimore. I sincerely hope that at some point, we see him back in a kitchen full time in a situation that lets him focus on what he does best - cooking! And if Nzinga ends up in the front of the house, so much the better.
For now, I wish all parties the best, and hope that the future brings each of them great success in their respective endeavors.
And lastly, thanks once again to KAZ for pinging me about trying the place again. Persistence is a virtue, at least in this case!
Thanks Warthog for the full details. My first visit was apparently under the short regime of the interim chef (Francine was working the front of the house). His jerk chicken was fantastic. I went back again for a second trip last week and Francine was in the kitchen. I had the curry this time and was underwhelmed. It was a tad bland (particularly after the jerk chicken I had last time which lit me up). My big beef was that the curry was cooked with carrots, but one could tell right away it was those carrot niblet things you can buy by the bag in the grocery store; my personal pet peeve. Regardless, the plantains were so good it convinced me that a return trip is necessary.
I'll continue to try to work my way through the menu and post back.
Yeah, there were "baby carrots" used in the veggie medley, rather than my preference of slices of "real" carrots, but I figure that if that's my only beef as time goes on, I can live with it. I can see how some time-saving measures might be desirable for Francine under the current circumstances.
I remain cautiously optimistic going forward, and I'm hopeful that when they do find a permanent chef, he will meet all expectations. I'm told that the owners already realize that they need to find a "real Jamaican", which is promising.
Just a quick update. I was back tonight for dinner after a long time without a visit, and have these items to report.
1) Francine is still cooking - they've not yet found another chef, and I'm not sure if they are still searching, or if Francine is it.
2) Based on the food, I'd say Francine has gotten comfortable letting her own instincts come through. Some dishes retain very strong traces of Doobie's recipes (the jerk chicken, for example), other are more clearly Francine's own spin (an example from tonight's meal would be the curried tofu - more of a green curry, with soft tofu and slices of multi-colored bell pepper)
3) The place has a new color scheme and has a less cluttered look, though still retaining much of the old vibe.
In short, I can still recommend the place on its own merits. I think that if one is looking for Jamaican food in particular, or even just good ethnic food at a reasonable price with a friendly vibe, it's still very much worth a visit. I miss Doobie and his cooking as much as anybody, but this place deserves to be seen as worthy in its own right, not just as a second-best substitute for the meals of our memories.
I hope that Chowhounds who liked the place as Ras Doobie's, and those who have not yet tried the place will all give it a try. I, for one, think this is the sort of place and the sort of people I want to see make a go of it. Good food, an interesting cuisine, and a good value.
I finally have some news to report.
The place formerly known as Doobie's is indeed open and called Penn Street Tavern. Its tag line is "Baltimore's Finest Caribbean cuisine".
I will preface this with saying that the former restaurant in this location was held in high esteem and that judging the new place in any residual light left from Doobies would not be fair to either. Ok, disclaimer done.
I went to the Penn Street Tavern today for lunch. The first thing I noticed is that the interior was not changed substantially. It is being run by a former employee of Ras Doobies. (Warthog, I believe the new operators still have a line to Ras Doobie if you are interested in re-connecting). It was initially planned that Ras Doobie would return after the renovation, but this obviously did not happen. I was assured that the new cook is very good regardless.
The service is still ultra friendly, but not in a pushy, played up sort of way. I ordered the jerk chicken, plantains and rice and beans. And here's the important bit: it was FANTASTIC. I may not be an expert on Jamaican food, but that was one tasty plate of tucker. The jerk chicken was spicy but flavorful and the chicken was cooked to perfection.
Granted this place may not fill the void in some, as that may not be possible. For most of us, it picks up right were Ras Doobie's left off: a very friendly, comfortable place to get very good Caribbean food.
Here's some details:
Penn Street Tavern
213 Penn Street - 410.752.5858
Closed Sunday and Monday
Tues - Thur 11 - 9
Friday 11 - 10
Saturday 1 - 10
Chicken dishes - $11
Goat, oxtails - $13
Fish, seafood - $13- $20
all come with two sides
I just found this post, thanks to your mention on another thread. I'll have to check it out, and report in. It's gonna be a little weird though, because I don't want to compare to the past, and yet eating Jamaican food in that space, with presumably at least one familiar face on the staff (whoever is running the place that used to work with Doobie), it's going to be hard to be objective.
Oddly enough, just this week I had the pleasure of the second-best Jamaican food I've ever tasted. The bad news is that it was in Carlsbad, CA! If anybody is heading out that way, see the California board for details.
Ras Doobie's is now known as Penn Street Tavern (on Penn St half a block south of Pratt) - no sign yet, but it's open. I just happened to be walking past and wondered why this little place had an "open" sign , but no indication about what it was. Don't know the open hours; perhaps someone else will report on it.