So, GM called. And while I never take free shit for this blog (journalistic ethics and whatnot), when someone is handing over the keys to a brand-new, never-been-driven, cherry red Chevy, no questions asked, I couldn’t resist the urge to pocket them and drive all over D.C. And Virginia. And Maryland. (Insert obligatory note about the great gas mileage, XM radio, leather interior, and smooth ride here.)
The weekend’s plans were then nothing but road trips. First, to Shenandoah to hike Old Rag. Then, on Sunday, we bopped north to Frederick, Maryland, to explore the tiny town and have brunch at its most infamous dining establishment, Bryan Voltaggio’s Volt.
Brunch at Volt was extraordinary. There is no other word for it. It wasn’t just one of the best brunches I’ve ever had in my life, it was one of the best meals I’ve had in my life.
It was the service that did it. Phenomenal service means you’re taken through your meal without ever having to worry or wonder. When the service is that amazing, you don’t even notice it.
There are swat teams of waffle-weilding waiters carefully placing your plates before you. They appear magically, all at the same time. Before every course you suddenly have brand-new shiny silver. Your glass is always full. You have a fresh napkin each time you get up. It’s effortless and easy to slip into being pampered that much.
The fun part is that Volt offers up this amazing service with a bit of tongue-in-cheek. The entire staff, for instance, is decked out in black vests and black tuxedo pants—but with brown Chucks. It’s those little hints of personality that make the place. They make you feel like Bryan himself has given it his personal touch.
When we arrived, we were ushered into a lounge area, with plush couches, coffee table books, flower arrangements, and the bar. Above the bar was a plasma screen showing live video from the ceiling of the kitchen. Before we were even seated, we were gaping, open-mouthed, at that kitchen in action.
And then we were seated in the room that adjoined the open kitchen. And that’s when the conversation began to center around the kitchen activity, which was quite extraordinary. A entire team of chefs, sous chefs, assistants, and servers were buzzing about in their Chucks. Some with Mohawks, some with tattoo sleeves, all of them in epic concentration on the masterpieces they were creating.
There are two brunch menus at Volt—a five-course set menu or a three-couse menu with about six options for each course. Both menu option No. 1 and option No. 2 offered beverage pairings and a cheese course for a bit extra. I, of course, went for the five-course set menu. The rest of my Bitches went for their options, orderings from the three-course menu.
Regardless, we each got twelve courses. There was no stopping it. I think they just couldn’t be rude and serve me more courses than the rest of the table, and so we each got at least five courses dropped before us—and then cheese, and then dessert, and then a coffee cake to top it off.
It all started with the fennel and sea salt bread sticks. Four little bread sticks in a shiny silver cup. After that, a basket of amazing breads and pastries was offered up. Pastries that wouldn’t normally be found in some of the most amazing pastry shops in D.C.—sitting in a basket, just waiting to be chosen. There were chive biscuits, cinnamon rolls, chocolate croissants, French bread with sea salt. Which would you like? They asked. Um, one of each?
We ordered cocktails. I had the Betsy, which was the champagne cocktail but ended up being almost all foam—like a beer with lots of head that never went down. Brooke and Joanna both had bloody Marys, which were obviously not a mix and were perfectly spicy. The servers were quick to bring the accoutrements, such as extra olives.
Eric had a spiced apple cocktail with a lemon peel on top. Very tart, but delicious. We all had coffee—which was served in a French press, of course, with steamed milk. We would have expected nothing less.
Before we even started on our main courses, a gorgeous dish with four macaroons was presented. Perched on little spoons, the pink dollops were just enough for a mouthful. Joanna, being the most adventurous, tried one first, and told us all that we would be surprised. She was right. It melted on your tongue—like a piece of chalky candy—but had a distinct, slightly odd taste.
Where to begin on the food? It’s all a blur of endless, amazing plates. The most memorable taste, in my opinion, was also the most unexpected: the maitake steel-cut oats with sea greens and yeast. Sounds atrocious, right? It was a positively extraordinary, and savory. They cooked the oats into a risotto-type creamy mixture, and topped it off with meaty trumpet mushrooms that looked like tree stems.
I had two salads. Yes, two. The kampachi was super fresh. It was served with blood orange, ginger, and fennel. Not everyone likes bold favors, but the vegetables had a tangy sauce that worked well. I love how Volt serves some of its dishes, including the salads, with a bit of crispy pork on the side. It’s a textural contrast that you can choose to include or leave out if you like.
My second salad was the burrata dish, served with thin slices of country ham, kalamata olives, and basil. The burrata was so creamy it spread across the greens. Brooke spent a good chunk of time marveling at the chefs in the kitchen who were treating the burrata as if it were a gently poached egg. This dish is quite the piece of art.
We each got the ravioli dish, which was actually only a few pieces of ravioli, topped with foam (always with the foam, you crazy chefs). The pasta was filled with goat cheese, and again topped with trumpet mushrooms and parsley root. The goat cheese was the anchor to this dish. We each had mixed feelings about the foam, saying it tasted like different things, but agreed it added a light texture to the pasta.
The sturgeon was a beautiful dish that showed the high points of the fish but didn’t cover up the taste with too many additional flavors. It flaked perfectly onto the fork. It was moist and buttery, and served in a bowl—with a bit of foam, of course. The roasted brussel sprouts and root vegetables (faro, butternut squash) made for a lovely pairing.
Our third (fourth?) course was the lobster omelet. We were all a bit surprised to see a plain omelet with a lobster salad on the side. The salad came with my favorite new vegetable, salsify, which is actually a wildflower (read: weed). There were large satisfying chunks of lobster, so we did not feel cheated in any way. The flavor was perfect for a breakfast item, and the presentation allowed you to mix the lobster chunks with your omelet, or enjoy the salad separately.
There was another omelet on the table, too. The mushroom omelet, which was very rich and made with a lot of butter. The mushrooms themselves almost had the consistency of shredded beef. Filled with gruyere cheese and caramelized onion, this omelet was much heavier than the lobster variety. Plus, the breakfast potatoes it was served with were the most upscale breakfast potatoes I’ve ever had, with a balance of garlic and herbs. Perfectly cooked, of course.
Part of my five-course meal was the beef baby turnip. Three tiny bites of beef tenderloin were surrounded by colorful balls, which I wasn’t entirely sure were turnips, potatoes, chard, or other vegetables. I didn’t care; I popped them into my mouth. The beef was cooked to a perfect pink in the center.
Brooke had hen eggs, which she ordered with beef hash instead of pork belly. When she broke the egg she commented that this is exactly how poached eggs should be cooked. They were creamy and gooey without being cool. When mixed with the hash, this dish is the ultimate gourmet comfort breakfast.
The Belgian-style waffles were stunning, and we were served a double portion. They were a little chewy but crispy on the outside. Topped with cubes of apples, almost like an apple pie filling, they tasted delicious. It was accompanied with amazing fresh whipped cream.
I could not resist ordering the maple glazed bacon doughnuts. I knew it would be too heavy with everything I ordered, and indeed they were rich, but I’m so glad we got them. The three small donuts were perfect to share with the table. They were fresh and warm, and topped with finely crumbled (perhaps shaved) bacon—completely mind-blowing. It was just enough salt to bring out the sweetness of the maple. A slight meaty aftertaste, which was very adventurous for a doughnut.
We started getting delirious when the cheese plate arrived. We were all about to explode from gluttony, but again, the dish was too amazing to resist: five artisan cheeses, big portions, beautiful presentation. Slices of walnut toast were balanced on top of one another on folded napkins. The creamy, pungent cheese flavors—some super stinky, even—were a perfect ending.
Except we weren’t done yet. Apparently we had ordered another dessert dish to share, the chocolate marshmallow. Another piece of art: the chefs had melted a marshmallow and scraped it across a plate of caramel so it became sculpture. It was drizzled with chocolate and little pieces of crunchy peanuts. Served with tiny scoops of ice cream. It was another amazing textural contrast, which this chef does so well.
We ended up spending nearly three hours at that brunch table. It was epic. In hindsight, we should have planned better going into this: fasting all morning and readying ourselves for such an epic meal. We just weren’t expecting it to be so grand; it completely took us by surprise.
Afterwards we rolled ourselves out of the gorgeous restaurant and set off to explore. Adorable Frederick is full of old churches with pretty spires, museums, shops, and bridges over a picturesque canal. We made like a Chevy commercial as we sped out of Frederick and back to D.C., windows down, sunglasses on, completely satisfied from brunch.
The Bitches say: A+ Worth the trip, spend the day in Frederick, prepare yourself and your stomach, and be ready for an unforgettable brunch.
228 North Market Street
Frederick, MD 21701