“Stuff” Happens


I  describe my restaurant, Firestone’s Culinary Tavern, as “casual but elegant.” Actually, it’s always casual, in that as long as you’re wearing shoes and a shirt (and pants), you’re  welcome. The elegant part refers to the food, which we take great pride in. Every dish that passes out of the kitchen gets checked by Executive Chef Dave Rusk or Sous Chef Andrew Mayers to make sure  it’s been prepared right, and looks right. In the evening, after food service ends about 9:00 or 10:00, depending on the day of the week, the emphasis swings more to the casual.

Our customer base is broad, but generally the dinner crowd tends to be  middle-aged and, in the early evening, often includes young couples with children, families celebrating an occasion, or possibly a prom party.  As the hour gets later, however, the crowd that gathers, shoulder-to-shoulder, at our long, old-fashioned bar or in our lounge area, tends to be younger, and definitely livelier.  As for me, I am certainly not young, and not particularly lively, but I enjoy sitting at a table on our mezzanine level and watching the action.

As the evening progresses, particularly on a Friday or Saturday night, the action picks up around the bar. On a crowded evening one wades through the room rather than walks. Sometimes there are organized groups such as bachelorette parties, more often just groups of guys and gals out for a night of fun. The bartenders and the person taking drink orders in the lounge are working at full speed.

We always have one or two hefty guys working the front door, checking IDs and maintaining some version of crowd control. Making sure everyone who comes in at that time of day is of legal drinking age is a matter taken very seriously.

For the most part, all this goes on in a boisterous but controlled manner. There are certain days, however, such as St Patrick’s Day and an annual downtown festival known as In The Street, when the meter tilts to the boisterous side. Friendly arguments have been known to break into fights, misunderstandings about relationships have turned sour, and sometimes individual unhappiness causes someone to take out frustrations by trashing a bathroom (could be male or female).

One night a large vase filled with flowers was used as a weapon. Now and then an argument spills out onto the street and the cops become involved. One of the scarier incidents took place recently when a guy was denied entry near the end of the evening when we stop letting new customers in because we’re required to be completely shut down by 2:00. The guy got angry, started a fight with the doorman, and the result was that our guy got pushed through the large pane of glass in the front window. Fortunately no one was seriously hurt, and equally fortunately (for us) there was a cop standing by who saw to it that the troublemaker was escorted to the detention center. Our guys found a piece of plywood and covered the damage.

As the senior-citizen owner of Firestone’s, I am ordinarily home in bed when all this stuff goes on. It’s for younger guys. I admire greatly their ability to monitor situations and calmly deal with them, almost always before they get out of hand. It’s not an easy job.


There was a window there

Here’s to food and fun!





Going Retail


When we opened Firestone’s Culinary Tavern about 15 years ago, we moved in next door to a hair salon named “Finelines.” The building was owned and the business operated by a lady named Nancy Bomango, who lived in the three-story building, as did her son Steve, who worked in the salon also. Steve was a very friendly guy who was also active in  local community theater. Several years after we opened, Steve put on a production of the rock opera, “Tommy,” playing the part of Uncle Ernie himself.

Not long afterwards, Steve went into the hospital for a minor operation , and shortly thereafter, to the shock of all the downtown Frederick people who knew him, Steve died. He was only 47 years old. The cause was never clear. His death clearly shook Nancy. It took the wind out of the sails of a lady who was anything but shy or reluctant to express an opinion. We liked her, even though she regularly told us what we were doing wrong, and loved giving Chef Jack Walker advice. She clearly lost interest in the business she had been running for more than 20 years, though, and began to talk about selling the building. That led to the first step in expansion plans that are still in the works.

Her original ideas about price were a little outrageous, but as time passed her motivation to sell became stronger and the price became lower. Finally, in the summer of 2004, we reached a happy medium and I bought the building. My original idea was to expand the restaurant into the ground floor of the new building, but I soon found that doing so was going to be complicated and expensive….. I still had the building, though, and needed to find something to do with it.

Sometimes you do the right thing for the wrong reason. Stymied on my original plan, I thought “Why not open a little market?” Well, that idea quickly gathered traction, and came together pretty quickly. A big factor in that was Gillian Wasley. Gill, Kathy’s daughter, had recently graduated  from college with a degree in economics and membership in Phi Beta Kappa. She got a job with an investment advisory firm in Washington, and was doing fine at it, but realized after a while that the financial world was not for her. She had some experience in food service and I said “Gill, how’d you like to manage the new market?”

It didn’t take her too long to decide that sounded like a good idea. So, while we had a builder working on converting a hair salon into a market, Kathy, Gill and I headed to a food show in San Francisco to figure out what to put in it. Operating with no real experience, we found things we liked and, with the additional help of some local food distributors we knew through the restaurant, we put in orders, set up shelves and counters, and put out merchandise. In early August of 2006, approximately a week after Gill married and changed her last name from Wasley to Berluti (Gill’s a multi-tasker!), we opened Firestone’s Market on Market (we’re on Market St.).


Market on Market

Lots of things we learned in a hurry! One big thing was that even though we believed we’d bought enough inventory to fill the store it didn’t look like much when we actually got open. Customers are looking for an abundance of choices, and an overall look that makes the store look full to the brim. Gradually we worked on that. Another thing we knew about but couldn’t do much about is that we had no license to sell wine and beer. The liquor laws are complicated, and it took us about two years until we got that problem fixed. It made a big difference.

It took us a while to get used to the fact that, unlike the restaurant, everyone who walks in the door doesn’t necessarily intend to buy something. Even still, we try to “engage” with everyone one who comes in because…..who knows?….they may buy something or they may come back and buy something if they get a good feeling about the place.

In eight years we’ve made a lot of progress based on: steady improvement in our product line; a growing number of regular customers; development of a  selection of wine and beer that reflects quality at reasonable prices; constant sampling of our products; keeping a staff in which faces may change (we can’t offer a lifetime career) but all of whom are friendly and helpful without being pushy. Since we opened, our sales have tripled. I give much of the credit for this to Gill…friendly but efficient, she keeps the store on track, while still finding time for two small kids and her teacher husband.



The story’s not over. As part of our plan to expand the restaurant and make the existing market part of it (we believe it can be done!), I stumbled into another serendipitous situation, discovering that the lawyer who owned the building on the other side of the market needed more space. We talked, and I ended up buying her building, so she could move, and our plan is to move the market into her (now my) building. We’re now in the permitting stage, and so the story will continue.

Here’s to good food,



Why are we here?


What’s the purpose of this blog, you ask?

Well, I’m not sure. The facts are: I like to write, and I own a restaurant. So I decided to write about the restaurant. The place is called Firestone’s Culinary Tavern, it’s in Frederick, Maryland, and I’m proud of being there for more than fifteen years, and of making a lot of people happy over that time.

If that’s all I wrote about, though, it would probably seem self-serving, and also get a little boring, so I hope to be able to be able to find some other subjects, that may or may not be related to food.

I can tell you the restaurant is a good place to eat and drink, but what else would you expect me to say? The fact that people come here once, and then come back again, suggests they would agree, and that certainly is the point of it all. We belong to Open Table, which gives customers an opportunity to report what they think of us. I have to accept the fact that occasionally we’re not perfect, but for the most part we get it right. Some recent reviews read as follows:

  • My wife and I went to Firestone’s for her birthday. It was a completely wonderful experience! The food and beverage were wonderful and we had a second story view of the street and it was a completely wonderful experience. 7/17/14
  • Great service, delicious food, and on Sundays jazz to complete the mood(at brunch).
  • I’ve been to Firestone’s several times now, finding the food, service and atmosphere to be consistently excellent…..the staff are unfailingly helpful, courteous and friendly. 7/17/14

The latter comment is what I am particularly proud of. We have a great staff, both in the dining room and behind the bar (whom customers see), and in the kitchen (whom they don’t see, but benefit from the skill of). Our turnover is low, and the spirit is high.

As for me, I hang out there every day, not to “check up” on things, but just to feel part of the team. I like them all, except when they beat me at fantasy baseball! We have a little specialty food market right next to the restaurant, and I particularly enjoy working there.

When I’m home, I like growing vegetables on my small farm, especially tomatoes and basil.Here’s a little Caprese salad I made for myself, with home-grown tomatoes and basil, and some mozzarella chees from the market.


Homemade Caprese

Hope this doesn’t read too much like a commercial, even if that’s what it is. I’ll try to think of something else to write about next time!

Here’s to good food!




Food for the soul


Last week I took a trip to Colorado. It was a brief vacation to a ranch that my son-in-law’s parents have owned for about 50 years. They raised their own children there, taught them about work, taught them self-reliance, and taught them to appreciate the wonders of nature. On this trip, I joined three of my own children, who now have children of their own. In addition to my daughter’s twenty-one-year-old daughter, there were seven others, all seven years old or younger.

The recipe for  life on this ranch involves a healthy dose of work, mixed in with fun. The kids, as well as the grownups, get involved in projects. One of our projects was building a dam, the purpose of which was to redirect the flow of water in a small stream. Everybody collected rocks, shoveled dirt, and piled it all up so as to send the  water flowing in a new direction. My experience with kids tells me that work is not often a high priority. Remarkably, a project like this becomes a challenge that takes on a life of its own. The kids get enthusiastic. It closely resembles fun.


Building a dam

Once the dam got built, we all felt pretty proud.  It was fun watching the water choose its own new course.

On another day we went looking for cattle. During the summer, the animals, who are free to wander, look for pasture up on the mountain. Later on, when cold weather hits, they return to lower ground. Led by my son-in-law, Tim, we rode the ranch’s four-wheelers up rocky trails. In truth, our main purpose was to have fun, but it’s also also important to find these animals, count them, and see that they’re healthy.

Search party

Search party

We wound our way up the mountain along trails heavily wooded by aspen and pine, passing through one area (pictured above) that had been clear-cut several years ago by the forest service, to provide a fire break. The ruggedness of the terrain was balanced by the beauty of wildflowers and lush grass. High up on the hill, we encountered the herd, calmly grazing among the trees. They seemed curious about what we were doing there, but  not much bothered by our presence, or the noise of the four-wheelers.


“What are you guys doing here?”

We spent time admiring the animals and the scenery, while Tim made an effort to count them (although this is difficult to do precisely because they are scattered through the trees) and then we headed back down the mountain, hoping to beat the thunderstorm that was a daily afternoon feature while I was there. We didn’t, but I still  couldn’t resist stopping to get pictures of the wild flowers that bordered the trail. In particular, columbine is the state flower of Colorado, and grows profusely during the spring and early summer.



Since this is a food blog, I should describe how we ate. Breakfast and lunch were pretty much free-for-alls, with young and old (except for the very young) attacking refrigerators and cupboards to pull out Fruit Loops, granola, yogurt, and eggs (for breakfast) and ransacking the refrigerator to make sandwiches for lunch. The nearest market was about 25 minutes away, requiring careful shopping. At dinnertime, the moms took care of their own little ones, while my daughter and her mom put together a meal for the grownups,with a major assist from Tim at the barbecue. One of my sons operates a commercial bourbon distillery in Texas, and that definitely helped put everyone in a good mood before we sat down to eat.

We ate well, but in actual fact what we ate was probably less important than the fact we were eating together. As a family, we are pretty spread out and don’t get together often. Though food is always an important element in togetherness, the most important ingredient in the recipe is the togetherness. That’s what will stick with those little kids. That’s the food for the soul.



Next to tomatoes, my favorite thing that grows in the summer is sweet corn. I’ve tried to grow it in my garden a few times, but gave up because to grow enough corn to amount to anything requires a lot of space, and keeping under control the weeds and bugs that inevitably come along requires a lot of work. The fact is, good corn is readily available in markets and road side stands, and the price is right.

One of my best corn memories, though, does not involve sweet corn. It goes back to when I was in summer camp, at the age of about twelve. The camp was on a farm, and the farmer grew corn to make into silage to feed cows in the winter. We campers were expected to help. The process was not exactly mechanized in those days, at least not where we were. The tall corn stalks were cut down by hand, loaded onto wagons, and then unloaded into a machine that chopped them up and blew the pieces to the top of a silo, from which point they fell back down inside. Our job was to stand  in the silo, with this blizzard of chopped corn falling on our heads, and spread it out so it wouldn’t all pile up in the middle. It was fun, and I still have a vivid memory of the sweet smell of it all. Of course, that smell didn’t linger as it fermented and became silage.

Getting back to sweet corn, there are of course lots of ways to use it. The simplest way is right off the cob. The fresher, the better.  At home, I husk the corn, gently boil it for about five minutes, and eat it with butter and salt. My neighbor and friend, Kathy Wasley, likes to soak it in water with the husks on for 15 minutes or so, and lay it on the barbecue grill, turning frequently, for about 10 minutes. The husks and silks then easily come off, and it’s ready for butter and salt.

A dish I like a lot is a salad made with cooked corn kernels, halved cherry tomatoes, and basil, tossed in a vinaigrette dressing made with cider vinegar, olive oil and salt.

More complicated, but delicious, are a couple of corn-based dishes we serve at Firestone’s Culinary Tavern, sweet corn bisque, and corn pudding. The recipes, courtesy of Executive Chef Dave Rusk and sous chef Andrew Mayers:

Corn Bisque


3 Tbsp butter

1 Quart corn kernels

1 Cup Vidalia onion (chopped)

1 Cup leeks (chopped)

2 corn cobs

1/2 Cup sherry

1 Quart chicken stock

1 Cup heavy cream

2 sprigs thyme

3 dashes Tabasco

Salt and white pepper

  1.  Melt butter in large pot
  2.  Add corn kernels, onion, leeks, and corn cobs to pot.
  3.  Cook until onion is tender.
  4.  Add sherry, chicken stock and cream. Bring to boil.
  5.  Reduce to simmer and add thyme.
  6.  Cook on medium heat about one hour. Remove cobs.
  7.  Puree in blender until smooth
  8.  Season with Tabasco, salt and white pepper

The soup can be served plain, garnished with a little parsley, or made a little fancier by adding a small handful of lump crab to each serving. (serves 6)

Corn Pudding

2 Tbsp canola oil

2 1/2 Cups corn kernels

1 Cup chopped white onions

8 eggs

1 quart crumbled corn bread

3 Cups shredded cheddar cheese

1 quart heavy cream

salt, pepper, paprika

  1.  Saute corn and onion in oil
  2.  Combine all ingredients in baking pan
  3.  Bake at 350 degrees in water bath for two hours

Divide the pudding into serving sections and use as a side dish with chicken or pork.

corn pudding

Corn pudding with roasted chicken

The pudding would go very well with a nice cold, crisp white or rose wine. Or, you could skip the corn part and just have the wine!

Here’s to good food,


Tomato Time


Some time about the middle of April I begin to think about planting tomatoes. Tomatoes don’t like cold weather, though, so no matter how eager you might be to get started it’s important to restrain yourself. Maryland weather is unpredictable. You might end up with a lot of dead tomato plants.

When the time finally comes to start putting them in the ground, they look small and lonesome, but you can see the  potential. Then the work begins. They need diligent care to make sure they are watered, weeded, possibly given a little shot of Miracle Gro, staked up, and generally protected from the elements.The payoff is worth the trouble. In late June or early July,finding ripening tomatoes on those little plants you put in the ground about two months ago is almost as good as finding Christmas presents under the tree, maybe better. Those tomatoes are even better than finding one more sweater or tie you don’t need!

There are so many things you can do with fresh garden tomatoes. They are good enough to take a big bite of just like an apple. Slice them up and put them on just about any kind of sandwich, and you have a better sandwich. Put juicy red (or yellow) slices on a plate of scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast and you have a better breakfast.

One of my favorite ways to use tomatoes is in a caprese salad. There are lots of ways to put one together, but they generally involve tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, basil, and possibly a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The tomatoes can be sliced or cut into chunks. One great version, developed by Chef Dave Rusk and served at Firestone’s Culinary Tavern, contains chunks of tomatoes, burrata cheese, basil, chunks of toasted challah bread seasoned with olive oil and salt, and diced pickled red onions.


Firestone’s Caprese Salad

The burrata cheese in this version is a slight departure from the straight mozzarella  cheese usually found in a caprese salad. It’s actually an outer shell of mozzarella with an inner core of cream (or it could be butter). “Burrata” means “buttered” in Italian. This gives it a soft, creamy texture. The toasted challah gives the dish a little crunch and the pickled onion adds a bite, although I personally think it’s fine without it!

As I say, good tomatoes can be used lots of ways, many of them very simple. Here’s a picture I took of a breakfast I put together at home recently.

Breakfast at Home

Breakfast at Home

By the way, here’s a picture of the garden where these tomatoes got started.


Stay tuned for more tomato news!


My Food Scene


I’m back! Technical difficulties behind me (at least some of them).

Thought I would throw in a little background on my restaurant, Firestone’s Culinary Tavern in Frederick, Maryland.

When we first opened in early 1999, we became the second restaurant to occupy the building we’re in. It was built in 1921, and for many years operated as Shipley’s Department Store. The building still carries the Shipley name, embedded in the brickwork high on the façade.

In 1983, Donnelly’s Irish Pub, owned by brothers Mark and Mike Donnelly, opened in the building. I understand the food was pretty good, but beer and rowdy fun were its specialties.

The  Restaurant

Firestone’s Culinary Tavern

When I bought the building, my total restaurant experience consisted of five years as the active owner of a small yogurt and sandwich shop in a strip mall. Quickly I found out that running a full service restaurant was a different kettle of fish, so to speak. Our kitchen was (and is) in the basement, food is delivered to tables by a team of “runners,” and the servers  are connected to the kitchen by a computerized ordering system. None of that is particularly unusual, but our initial problems involved questionable communications piled on top of inadequate training.

That was the negative part. The positive part was my determination, a longtime business associate named Kathy Wasley who could charm people into getting things right, and a chef named Jack Walker, who stepped in to help right the ship in the kitchen after the first three months. Gradually we developed a functioning team, and though there have been changes over the years, we have held on to the team spirit.

A young man named Chris Teryela, who started with us as a food runner and bartender, is now general manager. Chef Jack stayed with us  for about fourteen years before leaving for a job with a food distributor, but his sous chef, Dave Rusk, stepped right into the job without missing a beat.

My management style is to stay out of the way and let people who know what they’re doing do their job. I’m in the restaurant every day, however, and I like to feel that my presence adds something positive to the team spirit.

I eat lunch in the restaurant just about every day, and have dinner there three or four times a week. We have great steaks, pork chops, housemade pastas, duck breast, and delicious scallops, but my own choices tend to be from the changing fresh seafood dishes we always have on the menu. For appetizers, some of our staples are raw oysters, crab dip, a charcuterie plate, and various special creations such as the tuna tartare pictured below.

Tuna Tartare

Tuna Tartare

With all this elegant food at my disposal, why would I eat anywhere else? Well, the fact is I like to cook, and my own home cooking ain’t too bad! So, sometimes I just want something simple, or I just want to play around a bit. I’ll come back with that side of the story later.

Here’s to good food,