200 Monroe Restaurant is no secret to the Frederick community. I know this because multiple people suggested I make it the subject of a review and every time I visited its dining space was packed to the brim.
For those who have yet to find this downtown gem, 200 Monroe is a pop-up restaurant that the Hospitality, Culinary and Tourism Institute of Frederick Community College runs every fall and spring.
Under the guidance of instructors, students of both the Hospitality Management and Culinary Arts programs run the restaurant and show off their skills and knowledge as part of their capstone learning experience.
The restaurant is only open on Thursday evenings and reservations are required. Diners are offered a three-course meal — appetizer, entrée and dessert — plus a beverage all for the flat rate of $35.
A better deal has never existed if you ask me. Not only is it incredibly affordable and fun to see students in action, the food is also incredibly good.
For starters there are two choices: Soup du jour, which simply means soup of the day; or the Monroe Salad, which is a plate of mixed field greens, radishes, and shaved parmesan topped with a sherry vinaigrette.
During my first visit the soup du jour was a clam chowder. It was briny, salty and filled with clams. Truly, I have never had so many clams in a cup of clam chowder before. When I got to the end of my bowl there were still about four or five clams that I hadn’t eaten.
For the second course I order the filet mignon and my guest ordered the pan-seared halibut.
There are very few times that I can remember where a steak I ordered was cooked absolutely right and now I can add 200 Monroe to the list of one of those times.
Not only was the filet cooked perfectly to my taste, the meat was soft, tender, and buttery due to the pat of maitre d’hotel butter — a compounded herb butter — plopped on top.
The side was a medley of home-fry style cut potatoes, green beans, and heirloom cherry tomatoes. I will admit that the inclusion of the tomatoes gave me pause, and I ended up eating them separately from the potatoes and green beans, but in the end, I feel whether or not you like the tomatoes comes down to personal preference.
My guest’s halibut was also cooked well with a nice side of vegetable rice with flavors reminiscent of an Asian stir-fry.
For dessert I had the chocolate gingerbread cheesecake and my guest had the sorbet in the flavor of the day, which was strawberry.
The cheesecake tasted like Christmas on a spoon. The spice of the gingerbread crust, with flavors of cinnamon and allspice combined with the rich decadence of chocolate cheesecake, I could have eaten more than one slice. And the slices were huge.
It was so good that on my second visit I ordered it again after I was alerted that another dessert option, the pear almond tart, had run out.
My guest’s sorbet was also fantastic, sweet and a little prickly, just like eating a strawberry, and surprisingly soft and creamy for a sorbet, which often tends to be hard and icy.
During our second visit, I ordered the salad to start and the House-Brined, Smoked Herb Chicken as my entrée.
The salad was simple and somewhat basic, but the chicken was different and the biggest portion of all the entrees.
It’s big, because what you get is half a chicken plus a sweet potato puree and fall slaw, which tasted like a mixture of radicchio, Brussel sprouts and other leafy greens.
Not usually a sweet potato person, I was surprised by how much I liked the puree, which I think was because it was not overly sweet as many sweet potato dishes can be. It had a nice salty, savory flavor from the chicken, which itself was juicy and smoky-sweet just as the menu described.
The fourth and final option for an entrée is the House-Made Potato Gnocchi which is sautéed with wild mushrooms and served in a Stilton cream sauce with a touch of truffle oil.
I’m always weary of mushroom pasta dishes because I’ve often found that mushrooms can become overpowering, giving more of a dirty, earthy taste than anything else.
200 Monroe’s gnocchi however, struck just the right balance. The gnocchi was soft, and the cream sauce was thick and cheesy with the right amount of savory-earthy flavor from the mushrooms.
Besides the food, the atmosphere of 200 Monroe is welcoming and comfortable. The waitstaff is friendly and there are two screens placed around the small dining space that offer a close-up look into the kitchen as the food is prepared.
If the student waiters make a mistake it’s usually small, hardly noticed and immediately corrected. 200 Monroe operates better than a lot of other restaurants but again they are only running one night a week, which must be remembered.
Overall, a visit to 200 Monroe gives diners a high-end restaurant feel with high-end restaurant food, all for the price of what could be one steak at another establishment. It may not be a hidden gem, but it’s a gem that should be experienced before the weeks run out.
Follow Katryna Perera on Twitter: @katrynajill.