Written By Cari Pierce
Marina Cuisina Cafe Found: A Captain’s Table in Eldersburg
Marina Cuisina” could translate as “a happy family that cooks together,” because that is what you will find in this hidden-away caf in Eldersburg.
The true success of Marina Cuisina Caf and Creative Catering, however, is how it thrills its customers. Co-owners Barbara Hanis, the head chef and primary proprietor, and her daughter, Kelli Flickinger, the catering manager, know they have a good thing going.
“The challenge for this place is-definitely-it’s secluded,” said Barbara. “It’s a destination location and people who find it are very loyal and they just come back.”
“The challenge is finding it,” said Kelli. Her mom agrees: “You hear this over and over again, ÔI didn’t know this place was here.’
It’s a find.”
Tucked behind Harper’s Kitchens & Appliances and across from Rippel’s Florist on Liberty Road in Eldersburg, this hidden gem of fine food and wine is only open Thursdays through Saturdays for dinner and Sundays for brunch.
“We do two different specials every weekend,” said Kelli. “We do try to use seasonal ingredients. I think we try to keep up with a lot of the trends.”
“We go to farmers markets to get fresh herbs,” said Barbara. “We try to be as creative as we can.” The creativity of the menu items and specials is rewarded by demands for available seating. Without a reservation, it is likely that a walk-in won’t get you a table in the 1,400-square-foot caf.
So the phone rings daily with calls from customers making weekend reservations to enjoy the caf’s lobster bisque, spinach salad, Cajun jambalaya, Maryland crab cakes, signature apple torte, cannolis and other unique dinner and brunch dishes.
Not unexpectedly, the cafe’s name generates some confusion.
“Some people thought we were an Italian restaurant, so we added more Italian dishes,”
said Kelli. “Some people think we’re all seafood,”
“Actually,” said Kelli, “We’re a little bit of everything.”
Opened in 2004, Marina Cuisina started as
a gourmet takeout and catering service for
boats and yachts in the Annapolis area; hence
“We owned a boat and we had it parked in Pasadena,” said Barbara. “It was in front of a restaurant and we just thought that this would be a great thing to do.”
After finding the rents too high in Annapolis and Pasadena, the family settled on Eldersburg as a halfway location between their Randallstown and Finksburg homes. The dine-in caf was a natural fit when establishing the catering kitchen, and the name, Marina Cuisina, just stuck.
“When we do cater to boats, it’s a very long haul,” said Barbara. “It’s the price we pay right now because of the location, but our goal is to be established enough to go to the bank and say we’re opening a second place; I would have to say within two years.” She envisions the second location as being closer to the Chesapeake Bay and to the caf’s boat-owning customers.
Marina Cuisina’s atmosphere is laid back, intimate, and somewhat nautical, with paintings of boats on the wall and knotted roping above the cash register. According to Barbara and Kelli, the customers come as much for the cozy, family-style ambiance as they do for the food and boutique wine selection.
“It’s definitely a caf,” said Barbara, “It has a European flare.”
“Many people have said to us, ÔIt’s incredible that you’ve done this. This is like one of the very few times my husband and I talk.’ “If you can bring that to someone in today’s frenzied world, I think it definitely means something.”
Another customer offered a different kind of testimony to the caf’s quality: she wanted to keep the place to herself.
“I went over to her,” Barbara said, “and I asked, ÔIs this your first time here?’ And she said, ÔYes, everything was absolutely wonderful.’ I said, ÔWell, the highest compliment you can pay us is to tell your friends.’ And, the woman looked at her husband and she said, ÔI don’t think I want to.’”
Barbara comes from a large family that has always been in the restaurant business, so she is confident and comfortable in the kitchen. “My mom is one of 13 children,” she said, “so when everybody gets together, that itself is a catered event. She has some formal training from the Hospitality Culinary Arts and Tourism Institute at Anne Arundel Community College and was one of the founders of a gourmet club in northeastern Pennsylvania. Cooking has always been a love for her.”
Obviously, Marina Cuisina is a family affair. Barbara’s husband, Tom, a computer programmer, manages the restaurant’s web site, and her sons, Mark and Robert, are the beverage managers. Kelli’s boyfriend, John Remmel, helps wherever needed, as does Mark’s fiance.
The family and a staff of 12 employees, including vegetarian chef, Laurel Hummel,
keep everything running smoothly. When they’re not serving tuna wraps, Portobello mushroom salads or eggplant parmesan dishes in the caf, they’re catering weddings, birthday and anniversary parties and holiday gatherings for
up to 150 guests.
Catering makes up about 40 percent of the restaurant’s business, but with increased event bookings and a recently acquired statewide catering license, greater opportunities have presented themselves.
The caf seats 35 people for on site catered events and regular dinner and brunch service. But from May through September, three tents can be erected in the parking area to accommodate larger groups for jazz nights, food and wine pairings, and cooking classes.
A food and wine pairing explores the synergy and balance that can occur when the two have been properly put together. It is also a social event, about enjoying wine, sampling good food and enjoying the company.
The last food and wine pairing featured a Mediterranean theme and took place at the restaurant, although pairings can be scheduled as private home parties.
“We bring the experts in,” said Kelli, “and we usually are sold out. People are really into wine. We usually do about five samplings that we pair. People love them. And by the end of the night, they want to know, Ôwhen are you going to do this again?’”
The cafe’s regular wine lists boasts labels from California, Washington, New Zealand, Australia and Germany, along with a 2002 Marina Cuisina Cabernet Sauvignon, bottled for the caf by the Emilio Guglielmo Winery in California.
A regular Thursday night special at the caf is half-price glasses of wine or $3 off a bottle. Because the establishment does not charge a markup on its wines and has a retail sales license, enjoying one of the boutique selections is always affordable whether you’re dining in or buying a bottle for home.
For 15 years, Barbara worked 12-hour days in the corporate world managing large 401(k) plans. It was hard work that she didn’t always find fulfilling, so she threw in the towel, trading a desk for an apron.
“I just said, I want to do what I want to do,” she said, “You know, I just didn’t want to waste my life working and have no rewards at all.
“Working as a family together is wonderful. It’s definitely a gift. It’s a common goal. We want it to succeed because it’s definitely a passion. You have to have a passion.”
And passion she has. From the Cajun seasonings purchased in New Orleans for the jambalaya to only the best filet mignon used in the beef tips and mushrooms, and from the super jumbo lump crab meat stuffed into the low-calorie fresh flounder with Swiss cheese and wine sauce to the crisp field greens of the red raspberry salad, the passion is as evident in the food Barbara prepares as it is in the enthusiastic way she describes her dishes.
“We do a really, really great roasted red pepper sauce,” she said. “It’s a cream sauce. It’s very versatile and it’s not intimidating. It’s a winner.”
Spring, with Easter and Mother’s Day, brings larger brunch crowds. “Those are our busiest brunches, actually,” said Kelli. Reservations are a must. “Especially those holidays. We have to do two seatings because we’re so full.”
For Barbara, spring and summer mean an abundance of fresh ingredients to play with in the kitchen. “When the peaches are really fresh, we’ll do fresh peach-stuffed croissant French toast,” she said.
As they scout for a second location, Barbara and Kelli hope to expand the Eldersburg caf with a waiting area, additional seating and a wine bar. The biggest challenge?
“We are time-deprived,” said Barbara. “Definitely.”
Meanwhile, mother and daughter are having fun and staying focused. They believe that you always do well at what you love to do.
“I’ve worked harder at this job than I ever have in any job I’ve ever had,” said Barbara. “It’s like huge entertaining in your home.”
Marina Cuisina Recipes
Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
4 tablespoons butter
2 cups milk or half and half
2 teaspoons flour
2 tablespoons Madeira wine
3/4 cup of roasted red peppers, store bought or roasted at home
1/2 cup marinara sauce store bought or your homemade
Melt butter on low heat, pour in milk or half and half, stir in flour and continue stirring until a thicker consistency has been reached. If you roast or sear the peppers at home over the burner of a gas stove or on the grill, peel off the skin after roasting and chop into coarse pieces. Add roasted red peppers to the sauce mixture and heat thoroughly. Add Madeira wine and marinara sauce. Roasted red pepper sauce is excellent over chicken, fish or pasta.
Marina’s Crab Supreme
8 ounces super jumbo lump crab meat
1 cup of Swiss cheese
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup milk or half and half
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup combined red and green pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon fresh-squeezed lemon
1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning, or more according to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine crab, cheese, bread crumbs and mayonnaise. Once blended, add the milk or half and half, celery, red and green pepper, onion and lemon. Then slowly add seasonings and adjust to your taste. Grease or spray shortening in casserole or individual rarebit dishes. Spoon in mixture. Top with toasted bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Can be made ahead of time and heated just before serving. Serves four.