I recently wrote about Chef Jeremy Hoffman and Michelle Hoffman’s new restaurant in Annapolis, aptly named Preserve.
It opens today at 164 Main Street in the historic district downtown.
At first glance, Jeremy and Michelle appear to be—well, frankly….young, clear-faced and unassuming. Jeremy exudes a sort of farm-boyish, aw-shucks nature, a description he may not at first appreciate, but which does make sense, since his grandfather was a one time potato farmer and since as a teen he helped his dad manage several acres of farmland in Pennsylvania.
But Jeremy is not your average Pickle, and neither is Michelle.
Both are seasoned, well-regarded professionals of the highest caliber with resumes boasting positions in some of the best restaurants and culinary companies in the business. And for the record, I think their friendly, unassuming air will serve them well in Annapolis, where people care less about your resume and more about if flip-flops are OK, if the dog can wait outside and if the food and drink are served with a hefty measure of genuine welcome.
Preserve’s moniker came about through Jeremy’s love for pickling and fermenting, a talent he first discovered as a kid. His grandfather and aunt made a wicked sauerkraut, evidently. After working at Nobu and Per Se in New York (!!!) he moved to Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, where he re-discovered his love for that sweet, sour, umami combination. He does pickles, but elevated, as one would assume he would. For example, quick pickled veg show up on the Preserve menu with a hint of cumin, garlic and peppers.
“When I was working at Eve, we started making pickles and sauerkraut for the menu, and I realized that I really love making pickles”, Jeremy told me. “Then I found kimchi at Korea-town in New York and kombucha, so I started playing around with fermenting. When I was thinking about a restaurant and thinking about a concept and incorporating those loves and building that theme, Preserve was the obvious name.”
There has been a recent resurgence of pickling, with new craft brands popping up all over. Some of my favorite pickles are Gordy’s Pickle Jar from DC and FreshCrunch Pickles from Virginia. I found them at the FreshFarm Market at DuPont Circle in DC. Increasingly, pickle makers are finding local, even organic products, herbs and spices for their concoctions, and finding great flavors to supplement and enhance the produce they are trying to preserve. Yes, even pickles have been gentrified. Eventually, Jeremy says he would like to launch his own line of pickles.
Fermentation is another bag of tricks from quick pickling, which is basically marinating produce in a warm bath of vinegar and sugar. While pickling is a relatively easy method of preserving seasonal produce (excluding some types of pickles, which take days and weeks to make), fermentation takes more care. The process uses salt to create the perfect environment for beneficial bacteria to grow and proliferate. The bacteria, mixed with yeast, create that sour/umami flavor inherent to fermented dishes (sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, beer, kombucha). The salt draws out moisture, which allows wee bacteria buggies to survive. Those bugs are good for you though–fermentation results in plenty of lactobacillus, the beneficial probiotic that helps with gut health. Cultures around the world turn to fermentation for added flavor and nutrition, and there’s a reason besides the funky yumminess: it’s those probiotics that studies show boost immunity, improve digestion and even contribute to mental health. Jeremy is quick to note that fermented foods, especially when made with tamari instead of soy, are great for Vegan, Gluten Free and Paleo diets, as well as for people with MS, ALS and Celiac Disease.
Michelle explained that to get a consistent fermented product, the chef creates a Mother, much like a sourdough starter. A little of the first batch is added to the next and on down the line. She’s a mom, a parent, so she gets how cool this idea of creating, bearing and nurturing is, especially when the process transforms tea into something so cool as kombucha. That’s got to be sentimental to both Jeremy and Michelle, as they jar and serve each batch, recalling all the work it took to open Preserve.
Besides pickled and fermented and jammed foods, Preserve will also feature the best of Jeremy’s rich and comforting dishes, like Chicken Pot Pie, Ribeye Steak, Broiled Oysters, Gnocchi and a filet of fish served over a ragout of beans (my favorite).
Jeremy wasn’t going to include dessert on the menu (HORROR) but Michelle convinced him to, thank gawd. He makes a wonderful lemon bar, which he served alongside a cake with Peanut Butter-Chocolate frosting and bread pudding. I want to tell you these home-style desserts were the best course, but I did love those oysters, and the fish….and the pirogues….and the gnocchi. I also loved that the coffee was served in individual French presses. A nice touch I’ve seen many times on the West Coast but not here….
Michelle wears many hats at Preserve, including sommelier. Her menu offers a few choice house-made sodas and regional brews and a strong list of cocktails. My favorite was the Scrumpy’s cider from Michigan–it is light, refreshing, not too strong, perfect as we head into spring and summer.
Preserve is open for Lunch: Wednesday – Friday from 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., with an abbreviated menu that until dinner service from 5:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. The restaurant will be open later on Fridays and Saturdays. Starting April 22nd, the restaurant will offer brunch on Saturday – Sunday from 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. Preserve is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays so the Hoffman’s can spend family time with their little boy Parker.
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