Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Holiday Lunch at Family Meal: Bryan Voltaggio's Retro Casual Eatery

My favorite thing about the holiday season is the way I let myself relax and slow down. I realize this goes against the conventional wisdom: for many, this is a frantic time of year. Too many parties to attend, last-minute gifts to buy, family obligations that must be met, and so on.

But I don't really go in for all of that mania. For the last week or so of each year, I unwind. I only make engagements that I want to keep. I take deep breaths. I cook what I want, when I want. I take long walks with my dog. I enjoy some alone time. And if I'm very lucky, I get to go out for a rare weekday lunch with Poppa Trix.

Well, I  must have been a very good girl this year, because this past Friday Poppa Trix and I went out for a leisurely holiday lunch in Frederick, Md. at Family Meal, the new(ish) eatery from Top Chef's Bryan Voltaggio.

Family Meal is very different from Volt, Voltaggio's upscale Frederick restaurant, which I wrote about two years ago. Rather than meticulously plated modern American cuisine, the dishes at Family Meal are accessible tweaks of familiar retro American comfort foods. This more casual approach fits perfectly with the space, a former car dealership.

Is it world changing cuisine? No, but that's not the point.  Voltaggio has said that he wanted to offer local families an affordable alternative to chain restaurant fare, and the food here is head and shoulders above the dreary, overly salty, and unimaginative sameness of the menu items at the Ruby Tuesdays of the world.

We began (how else?) with cocktails. It was a blustery day and I had the mulled wine.

While Poppa Trix had a mezcal sour.
We decided to be piggies, and began with not one but three appetizers. First, a favorite from my childhood: pimiento cheese. Here it's topped with caramelized onion and bacon and served with pickled vegetables. I loved the cheese, but the bacon was a bit chewy and didn't really work texturally.

This place does not skimp on the pickles. Just look at that goodness.

Poppa wanted the chicken livers. I am not a fan of the metallic taste of liver, but Poppa approved.  They're there, under the frisee, sitting on top of rice and beans.
But the hands down hit of the appetizer course were the chicken pot pie bites. That's right: inside those crispy little nuggets are bites of delicious chicken pot pie. Genius.
For our mains, Poppa went with the buttermilk fried chicken and biscuits. More pickles!
 Not at all greasy, the chicken was moist and not overcooked inside. Poppa revealed that he is not a big fan of biscuits in general, which I found to be a shocking disclosure. Nonetheless, we both agreed that these were moist and flaky, but I did wish for some gravy to slather on them.

I had the burger with bacon and cheddar. Given that the beef was local and grass fed, I had no qualms about getting it medium rare. It was every bit as juicy and satisfying as it looks:

We will never turn down the chance to have some duck fat fries. This day was no exception.
My apologies: this is a really badly framed photo of some really crispy, perfectly seasoned fries. I think I may have been drunk with food at this point.
Alas, I was too full to try one of the spiked milkshakes. Maybe next year.

Happy holidays - make sure to take a deep breath and relax!


  1. All of this food looks delicious and I love the gritty, funky feel of the presentation. fat fries! I'm in!

  2. Sounds scrumptious. Happy Holidays to you too, enjoy family and food time!

  3. I always like your pics....MERRY Xmas to you all...xoxoxox Flavia

  4. Brian Voltaggio seems to be everywhere these days. He just opened up a steakhouse close by our place that I'm anxious to try. And I must say, this place looks like a lot of fun. Best wishes for the new year!

  5. What a great restaurant and theme behind it. Everything looks delicious. Glad to hear you unwind during this time of the year. I too usually end up taking off nearly 2 weeks. Its like resetting for the new year.

    Happy New Year Trixie and all my best for a great 2013!