Chef Bryan Voltaggio has graced Frederick, Maryland with high-end cuisine (Volt) and an affordable sandwich shop (Lunchbox). Fast forward seven months from the opening of Lunchbox, Voltaggio’s 3rd grub destination has arrived in Frederick. The place is called Family Meal and it follows a diner theme that’s a “modern take on comfort food classics”. I’ll call it a diner with an identity complex that fortunately succeeds in most areas.Why the name Family Meal? According to Wiki, “A family meal or staff meal is a group meal that a restaurant serves its staff outside of peak business hours. The restaurant provides the meal free of charge, as a perk of employment. Typically the meal is served to the entire staff at once, with all staff being treated equally, like a “family.”The restaurant’s own chefs prepare the meal, often using leftover or unused ingredients. A chef may also use the family meal to experiment with new recipes.”
Family Meal is located in one of the rougher looking areas of Frederick, out on 880 N. East Street. The east side of town is on its way to revitalization and hopefully Family Meal will get it kick-started. The restaurant is converted from an old car dealership. According to the Family Meal About page… “Housed in a former Nissan dealership built in the 1960’s, the 3,500 square foot restaurant seats 96 diners, including counter seating for 30 and a large outdoor dining area.” Being that it’s called Family Meal, I figured I should invite some of my family out for lunch and sample the goods. There was 30-minute wait for a party of 4 on Sunday at 2pm, but we then realized they take reservations. Was it worth the wait? Here’s a look at what was ordered:
Chicken Pot Pie Fritters – This $3.99 appetizer consisted of five piping hot fritters. Crunchy coated balls with everything you’d expect in a chicken pot pie on the inside. A bit overly salty exterior, but tasty and apparently one of the more popular items on the menu (and one of the least expensive). I’m interested to see what other kind of fritters they might come up with in the future.
Pimento Cheese – Priced at $5.99, this flavorful pimento cheese spread app is topped with bacon sorghum jam and served with various pickled veggies and slices of andouille sausage. There’s a little tin bucket of sea salt and espelette pepper (way too fragile) crisps to spread the cheese on, but why so few of them? Like the dread that comes over you when the tortilla chips run out before the salsa does. We would’ve liked to see a doubled-up portion of the crisps… although spreading pimento cheese on oddly-shaped pickled veggies was interesting.
Fried Chicken – This was my entree order and was priced very fair at $11.99. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as the description was simply “fried chicken, buttermilk biscuits, pickles, hot sauce”. How many pieces of chicken was I going to get? I was thinking maybe three. When my giant yellow chicken-shaped bowl arrived, I was very happy to see the portion size laid before me. Five pieces of delicious crispy-skinned fried chicken, three buttermilk biscuits some sliced pickles and a cup of roasted jalapeno hot sauce. Apparently the chicken is brined in pickle juice… (and so far it’s the Family Meal’s best selling entree). I loved everything about this meal and only decided to take some of it home for later so that I could leave room for dessert. Two hours after leaving the restaurant, the take-home grub was decimated.
Burger – My brother got this $10.99 delicious-looking beast. Cheddar, bacon and caramelized onion are the only details of the burger on the pretentious, too-simply described menu. Turns out the burger also comes with lettuce/tomato from what I could see. No sauce, so I’m assuming a specific request has to be made. My brother ordered his burger medium-well and I was slightly jealous I didn’t have room to order one for myself. I was eyeing the burgers from behind the counter earlier during the wait for seating and I wanted one bad… maybe next time… definitely next time. Even though the burger was a behemoth, $10.99 for the burger alone and some pickles (pickle theme continues), seemed pretty steep… especially considering the amount of food my fried chicken order came with for just a dollar more. Sides (or Shares as they are labled on the menu) are purchased separately as you’ll see next.
Duck Fat Fries – This was listed under the Share section of the menu. $3.99 got us a decent amount of fries to pick at amongst the four of us and it came with two dipping sauces. My gripe with the menu continues with the Duck Fat Fries as it doesn’t detail what the dipping sauces are. We had to ask the waitress 10-minutes later, “What exactly is this white one?”. One was obviously ketchup and the other… I guess some sort of garlic mayo concoction. It turns out it was tartar sauce. I would’ve liked a little more info from the waitress as the food came out since the menu was no help. A third option dipping sauce would’ve been perfect with the fries. I enjoyed the fries even without the aid of dipping sauce, but a house-made ketchup shouldn’t even count as a dipping sauce, so I was hoping for something more.
Grilled Chicken Club – My mom is a chicken club connoisseur and everyone who knows her knows that she’s likely to order one if it’s on a lunch menu. Like the burger my brother ordered, the Grilled Chicken Club was also was a hefty size, but again $10.99 seemed steep for a sandwich alone and some pickles. If a smattering of fries or something else joined the sandwich on the plate, a slightly higher price wouldn’t even have me noticing how much it cost. My mom was a big fan of the apple wood smoked bacon. The honey wheat bread is triple stacked like a true club should be and coated with an herb aioli.
Salmon – My dad ordered the salmon entree, priced at $16.99. What you see below is an example of what I referred to earlier as a “diner with an identity complex”. This one looked awesome, but far from what I’d expect to see come out of a simple diner. The salmon was topped with crispy shredded collard greens and served on a bed of diced chorizo and fava bean succotash. Mom hooked dad up with half of her club sandwich by the way (I’m not as nice with my food sharing).
Smith Island Cake – We saved room for dessert and ordered a few. Smith Island Cake is the official dessert of Maryland (news to me). Priced at $4.99, this slice of white cake features eight-layers and is painted with coffee syrup, layers of ganache, cinnamon and crushed Heath candy bars. I may stop by for a cup of coffee and a slice of this again in the near future.
Lemon Meringue – Topped with blueberries and served with a scoop of blueberry ice cream. Like all the desserts available, the Lemon Meringue was also priced at $4.99.
Banana Split – Not my first choice, but I ordered the $4.99 Banana Split for myself. My first choice was the Brownie Sundae served with caramel ice cream and spiced peanuts that was listed on the days menu yet unfortunately wasn’t available. The Banana Split was so-so and kind of sad/uninspired looking. Seemed like a kids dessert to me… bit of a letdown.
So now that I’ve shared a semi-detailed rundown of the grub that graced our table, I’ll wrap this up with a few extra thoughts and impressions.
- The drinks. Beer, wine and interesting looking cocktails are available (including alcoholic milkshakes for grandma). As for soda, just get a fountain soda machine please. Sure the $1.99 a piece single glass bottles of Mexican Coke are kind of cool and my McCutcheon’s Root Beer was nice, but it just doesn’t seem practical from a price standpoint in the long-run. My moms Diet Coke was in an 8-oz bottle and priced at $1.99!
- I know it’s only week two of being up and running, but Family Meal needs to flesh out the menu a bit and have something semi-current to look at online. The menu is subject to change on any given day.
- Something else worth pointing out, there’s a mini chef’s garden of tomatoes and other edible plants on site lining the back corner of the building to use in the cooking and additionally taking advantage of local farms is always a positive for the community.
- The staff was friendly and accommodating.
- Bryan Voltaggio was in the restaurant and he was one of the first people I saw.
- I hope to see frog legs on the menu next time I’m in because they are mentioned on the Family Meal website.
- There is outdoor seating, but it was around 97 degrees outside.
There you go… for my local readers, hope you found this informative and if you’ve been to Family Meal, leave a comment with your impressions. For those of you who cannot relate to this, well… just know that the break from the Taco Bell and Subway posts was like therapy for me. Hope you at least enjoyed the tasty pics. Family Meal is a nice change of pace and I hope it sparks some change in how you might perceive a diner to be. We’ve got a Denny’s, we’ve got an IHOP, Cracker Barrel, Bob Evans… yeah that’s all more of the same, the list goes on and on. The typical diner just got more interesting with Family Meal and I’ll be anxious to head back to try a little bit of everything. If you’re in the area, it’s worth the stop.