Veteran’s Day is a bittersweet holiday. We celebrate the brave soldiers who have honorably served our country, while we pause to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. This year, Veteran’s Day was a little more sweet, a little less bitter, thanks to Mission BBQ in Glen Burnie, and Charm City Cakes in Baltimore.
As Steve Newton, owner of the restaurant with partner Bill Krauss, tells it, a mutual admiration society between Charm City Cakes and Mission BBQ began when the bakery –made famous for their Food Network reality show Ace of Cakes and the charmingly offbeat antics of Chef/Owner Duff Goldman, executive chef Geof Manthorne, and office manager Mary Alice Yeskey– made a cake for a friend’s birthday party. So impressed were they with that creation, Newton and Krauss requested something spectacular to celebrate Veteran’s Day 2011 at their Glen Burnie location, which opened on September 11th of that year. That cake was a model of Bam Bam, the restaurant’s signature “Mission Mobile” – a retrofitted “deuce and a half” Army truck, complete with its own grill and smoker. The truck is famous locally for its appearances at catering events, parties, tailgates and fundraisers.
Mission BBQ responded to the overwhelmingly positive response by later sending some BBQ up the Baltimore Beltway to Charm City Bakery, which is located in a converted church on Remington Street near Druid Hill Park. The two businesses work well together. Mission BBQ works tirelessly to honor American heroes; Charm City spends countless intense hours forming culinary works of art that represent their client’s greatest memories and emotions.
When Steve and Bill approached Geof and Mary Alice this year, the creative team at Charm City, decided to commemorate Veteran’s Day 2012 with a huge cake that would feed 400 people. The cake is composed of a large platform topped with an exact replica of the famous Joe Rosenthal photograph of United States Marines raising our country’s flag on top of Mount Suribachi. Rosenthal’s work immortalized the month-long Battle of Iwo Jima, fought from February to March 1945, on a remote Pacific island. The battle resulted in more than 26,000 American casualties, including 6,800 dead, and was an important event in the eventual end of the war in the Pacific.
Work on the creation began Friday, when the layers of brownie, chocolate espresso and chocolate-peanut butter cake were put together on a large sheet. While Geof worked on the cake, Elena Fox continued work on the military medallions that would decorate the base of the cake, as well as the sculpture that would top it.
Original sketch of Iwo Jima cake
The medallions are made of chocolate and intricately decorated with royal icing. The concentration and steady hand required for the lettering alone must have been incredible.
Replica military medallions await positioning on the cake
Crafted of stiff wire and wooden dowels, the cake topper is an exact replica of the Iwo Jima Memorial. The soldiers and flag are formed of white chocolate moulding clay tinted a muddy grey tone. The chocolate it formed over the wire, then carefully and painstakingly detailed. When the cake is complete, battles from United States history will be laser etched by hand along the outside rim, the sculpture will rest on a pedestal, and the medallions will be aligned along the front of the creation.
While Geof kneaded the fondant to warm and then roll it, Steve and Mary Alice watched the proceedings with their steadfast and welcoming good humor. Mary-Alice is clearly at home in the bakery, completely at ease and not at all affected by her five years on Ace of Cakes and promotion to Marketing Director. “It’s very important for us to thank [American soldiers] for their service,” she said, as Geof draped the cake with a thin layer of fondant. Steve explained that although he did not serve, Kraus’ father did, and his son is on active duty now. “The restaurant’s mission is to honor those who serve our country, so Veterans Day is very important to us,” he said. “Who’s more deserving than the soldiers who fought for our freedoms?” Indeed.
Although the staff at Charm City spent more than 50 hours working on the cake, it wasn’t finished until just before delivery Monday morning. In fact, said Steve, he visited the bakery around 9 am and saw the cake wasn’t yet put together. “I was a little nervous. But Charm City pulled it off beautifully.”
When I arrived at Mission BBQ for lunch on Monday, veterans and their families were lined up through the restaurant and out the door for complimentary sandwiches, and the cake rested beautifully on a table near the entry. At noon, the festivities were hushed as a United States Marine sang our National Anthem. Bill Krauss spoke briefly, expressing his great appreciation for heroes such as Bill McNatt, who served in the Army and is a member of Annapolis VFW Post 304, Command Sergeant Major William Powell, also of the Army, who served in Vietnam and Korea, Burch Sihwabling, who was born in 1921 and served in the 32nd Mechanized Calvary for the duration of World War II and Claude Phelps, a feisty ninety-one year old veteran who served in the 94th Infantry during World War II.
Proud United States Veterans
Veterans of all ages and from every branch of the military filed slowly through as lunch progressed, each enjoying Mission’s fabulous sandwiches and signature coleslaw. The staff at Mission was clearly proud to serve their special guests, and everyone was very excited by the presence of so many television cameras and reporters. The cake must have been delicious, because it was readily consumed!
While the restaurant’s noble mission is to honor local members of the armed forces, fireman, police officers and rescue units, it doesn’t sacrifice flavor or fun in the effort. The menu is a curated conversation about old-fashioned, American barbecue. It features brisket, pulled pork, sliced turkey, sausage, chicken and ribs as well as variety of sandwiches. Signature sauces such as Memphis Belle, St. Louis Red, Texas Twang, and even Maryland Bay-B-Que appeal to regional preferences. Sides like mac-n-cheese, green beans with brisket or bacon, creamed corn and French fries are made from scratch. “While they spent 50 hours on the cake, we spend 14 on a brisket. I’ll take that any day,” laughed Steve.
Mission BBQ’s owners donate part of the restaurant’s proceeds to the Wounded Warrior Project, which provides programs and services to severely injured service members as they transition to civilian life. Kraus says that recognition of Wounded Warriors, a popular and important organization, along with the restaurant’s menu, attracts people from all over the area. The restaurant was voted Best BBQ in Baltimore, and is successful enough in Glen Burnie to open another location in Perry Hall this month. “There’s nothing more American than barbecue,” Kraus says. “What we’re finding is people are very passionate about our food and they’re very emotional about our story.”
Don’t wait until Veteran’s Day next year to visit Mission BBQ. Go any day. Marvel at the original memorabilia on the walls. Check out the shiny, stainless steel open kitchen. Enjoy the food. If you visit around noon, be prepared to stand up, right hand over your heart, and proudly sing the National Anthem in honor of anyone you ever knew who had the courage to serve others before themselves.Feel free to share...