Saturday, October 07, 2006

Chameleon Cafe

Who could possibly argue that Chameleon Café at 4341 Harford Road is not by far the best restaurant in Northeast Baltimore? Mrs. Yi and I dine there more frequently than anywhere else in town. I suspect that we would even if we didn’t live in Northeast Baltimore. Chameleon’s unfailingly dependable fare and its ambience define comfort to us.

Responsible for Chameleon are its owners, Parkville natives Jeff and Brenda Smith. With two-year old daughter Gertrude, they live in quarters directly above the restaurant. Jeff is also Executive Chef. If you enter from Harford Road, he’ll be right next to you orchestrating the open kitchen adjoining the corridor leading to the dining room. Jeff graduated from Baltimore International Culinary College and apprenticed for two years at Emeril’s in New Orleans before he and Brenda opened Chameleon Café in 2002. Brenda very likely will be upstairs caring for Gertrude. Her captivating demeanor as a hostess and her skill as a manager have been integral to Chameleon’s quick and enduring success. These days Brenda, a graduate of Maryland Institute, minds not only the books, but the ever changing art exhibits lining the walls of a dining room painted bright orange and also the walls of the corridor next to the kitchen.

Like the art, the menu at Chameleon is ever-changing, just like the color of the lizard after which it is named. Notwithstanding, Jeff attributes the name of his and Brenda’s restaurant to his childhood interest in reptiles.

Whatever is listed on Chameleon Café’s menu is dictated by the seasons. The present fall menu is very Maryland oriented. Among my favorites are the green tomato and crab soup and also Chicken Maryland. The latter is breaded, pan-fried and served with lardons, bananas, and horseradish cream sauce. Inspiration for some of the current menu selection is from the 1941 Escoffier Cookbook, which embraces Jeff’s classic French technique.

Chameleon borrows from yesteryear to provide a kind of cuisine, service and ambience that pretty much bypassed Baltimore’s restaurant scene in its day. More important, Chameleon delivers with everything and more that demanding restaurant-goers have come to expect in the modern age.