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Troubles at Woodbury

I should preface this post by saying that for several years I have been a huge fan of the Woodbury Kitchen in Baltimore. For me, it has been a fabulous experience – fresh, ever changing food backed by really amazing, impeccable service. For the last several months I have eaten there as often as once a week with groups both large and small.
I am not sure of the precise date but sometime 4-6 weeks ago they lost their floor manager and several servers left along with him. It also seems like there have been changes in the kitchen. I ate there tonight, and after a string of four disappointing meals in a row, I unfortunately have to admit to myself that something fundamental has changed at Woodbury.
The main problem is the service, which has become slow and unresponsive. I was recently there for brunch and someone in our party needed to run before we got our food because it took more than 90 minutes to come. In the past, the server would have been highly apologetic. No, actually, in the past this would simply not have happened. There used to be a cool vibe to the place backed by picture-perfect service. Now the plates comes slowly and you spend long periods of time waiting. Tonight, I actually needed to get the check and leave before two dishes arrived because they were so slow in arriving.
There are other issues: I recently ordered an Old Fashioned with the specific request that it be made traditionally and not too sweet. When it arrived it was much sweeter than any Old Fashioned I'd ever tasted so I asked the server if he would mind having it re-made since he did specifically request from the bartender that it not be too sweet. A replacement arrived several minutes later that was identical to the first. There are all kinds of other, disappointing experiences as well. They all add up to a place that is going through a difficult time.
I hope that Spike will wake up and make the personnel changes necessary to get Woodbury back on its previous footing. I was chatting with someone tonight who said it's just the way of the world – restaurants go through periods of strength and decline. It's a shame. I was hoping Woodbury would be the exception but I guess not.

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  1. "It also seems like there have been changes in the kitchen."
    ^ Other than the delays in getting the food to the table, has the food itself changed in some way?

    1 Reply
    1. re: crackers

      The food has also changed. There are so many issues that I wasn't able to get everything into a single post. They recently took on two new people who are developing dishes and plating food. Their approach is different – their preparations are very precisely plated, often with decorative drizzles around the perimeter of the plate. There's nothing inherently wrong with the approach but it leads to wild inconsistency in the dishes. You might order one dish that is hearty and rustic and another that is artful and precise. There's no way to know what you're getting from the menu. Right now, Woodbury is all over the place.

    2. I have yet to write my blog post on this, but it was PROBABLY my most disappointing meal of 2012 so far. Food, save for one dish, was really good but the service was absolutely horrible - particularly compared to an amazing visit to DC and Philly in the surrounding weeks.

      http://endoedibles.com

      1. I wholeheartedly agree with the original poster that Woodberry Kitchen has been declining - though I would say it has been going on much longer than a month or so. I have been 3 or 4 times this calendar year, including New Year's Eve and have to say that both the service and the food have been a letdown. I can go into more detail on specific dishes some other time... but more than one has been flat out bad. Most annoyingly to me is when the servers act as if the diners are mistaken when a complaint is made. So sad - I hope they straighten out the problems - it was a favorite.

        1 Reply
        1. re: foster

          I live in Seattle and come to Bmore a few times a year for the last 2 years. Last time was around Sept 1. I go to this place each time and haven't noticed any changes. Each time the service and food have been fine.The experience has been the same each time. We get comped each time with a little something or other. My biggest complaint is that it isn't in Seattle! PS.

        2. I keep coming back to Woodberry for the sublime moments: great cocktails, the awesome flatbreads, really good seafood, charcuterie and available offal. Woodberry keeps driving me nuts with slapdash service, a kitchen that can't pace and gets in the weeds with startling regularity, management that doesn't care, and a pedestrian, overpriced wine list. Over time, the balance sheet is starting to swing to the minuses. All these glaring flaws were forgivable, even endearing, when the restaurant was young, but years later, they're just sad.

          2 Replies
          1. re: chefdilettante

            Who cares as long as it's on the "trendy" top restaurant of Baltimore list, and folks continue to follow the list and go there. Why change if business is still good? Follow the crowd. I find that with many of the "popular" places in Baltimore and am having better food with more established, less trendy choices.

            1. re: cfoodie

              Yeah-chiefdilettanta--I agree with you whole heartedly. I have mostly stayed away from all of the newest, trendy places to dine. I want to spend my dining out dollars at established, long term restaurants where I know I will get my money's worth. Years ago, when I was in a much more affluent position, it didn't matter trying out a new comer restaurant--even if it was disappointing. Presently, I want to go with our Baltimore "institutions"--Prime Rib--Tio Pepe's--Sotto Sopra-Kings Contrivance-Elkridge Furnance Inn-Oregon Ridge-Fleming's--even places like Olive Grove and Sunse (for weeknight casual dining). No trends or pretentions. I've given up on Charleston--way too expensive. Years ago--correct me if I am wrong--but the restaurant offered an a- la carte menu. My husband and I dined there monthy--often taking business associates and friends. Once the restaurant initiated the pris fixe (correct my spelling please) menu-we haven't been enticed to dine there as often--and not at all in the past year or so. It's not as much a matter of pricing--in fact--when we used to dine there--after ordering multiple courses our tab used to certainly surpass the fixed price menu that has now been imposed. Often-we wanted to dine there on a week night and not feel that we had to break the bank to enjoy fine cuisine. We would order an appetizer and two entrees and save the big nights of dining for the weekends.

              Perhaps I am wrong--but have all of you noticed that even the franchised restaurants are now offeriing bar-menu menus--very favorable prices--enticing patrons to dine in more frequently with more lower priced options. Not imposing full scale dinner pricing/dining. And, the selections are quite good, if not exceptional. Just my food for thought(s). FoiGras

          2. The reports of Woodberry's decline seem to correspond with the the opening of their new (old) offshoot - Artifact Coffee. I can see how Spike and his team can be a bit burned out at Woodberry and throwing a new place on top of that would naturally lead to a decline. Our latest visit left us underwhelmed also. We couldn't necessarily put our finger on why. We have family visiting in a week and for the first time in a few years we are looking for somewhere else to take them.

            1 Reply
            1. re: otter69

              I wholeheartedly agree with all that's been said about Woodberry. My husband and I had been devoted fans, putting up with all the trendiness just to get the food. We admit that it's sometimes incredibly annoying to go there since the staff acted like you were gracing them with your presence--it was so hard to get in. We went on a recent weekend night and were wholly disappointed by the food; something had changed. I didn't know about the staff changes so it was revealing to read this. I recently saw Spike at Artifact and it seems he's not minding the store at Woodberry. And there were very few people in Woodberry, which was surprising. I think everyone has shifted allegiance to the Food Market in Hampden.

            2. Tom Sietsema disagrees. He just compared it to Chez Panisse in his Fall dining guide.