When we last caught up with Bryan Voltaggio in September, the chef was candid about making the decision to close a number of his comfort food-inspired Family Meal locations scattered throughout the region—one of which was situated on Pier V in the Inner Harbor.
“It’s unfortunate, nobody ever wants to close a restaurant,” he explained. “But on a business level, it just didn’t materialize the way we thought it would.”
Though the tail-end of 2016 was tough for the Frederick-based Top Chef alum, this year, things are looking up. With two up-and-coming restaurants, a newfound partnership with his brother, and multiple charity efforts in the works, Voltaggio has plenty on his proverbial plate.
“I’m staying busy,” he says. “That’s all you can do when you go through a period of time where a project wasn’t successful.”
Earlier this year, Voltaggio added to his restaurant empire—which currently includes two Aggio locations in Baltimore and Ashburn, Virginia; fine-dining den Volt and the Family Meal flagship in Frederick; and spinoffs Range and Lunchbox in Washington D.C.—when he unveiled Voltaggio Brothers Steakhouse inside the brand new MGM National Harbor Hotel and Casino. The restaurant marked the first joint venture between Voltaggio and his brother, and former Top Chef rival, Michael.
“We share a lot of the same opinions and ideas about what we do, so it’s very collaborative,” Voltaggio says. “But it’s also really refreshing to work with someone who speaks the truth. If I’m showing a subordinate a dish they might have a tendency to go, ‘Oh yeah, that’s the greatest thing in the world, chef.’ He’s not going to hold back his opinion.”
Since its opening, the steakhouse has generated buzz for its Maryland-inspired dishes including local oysters and blue crab imperial, as well as a variety of steaks paired with sides like potato gratin and broccoli with charred lemon.
But the duo isn’t stopping there—the brothers are joining forces to open yet another spot this summer. This time they’re moving south, targeting Florida’s new mixed-used railroad station development MiamiCentral, which will soon boast an express train from Miami to Orlando.
Voltaggio feels a strong connection to the area, saying that he often visits his parents (his mother lives in Orlando, his father in Tampa) and travels to Disney World with his children.
“There’s authenticity behind it,” he says. “We’re not just popping up somewhere that’s a destination. We’re going to be there frequently.”
The restaurant, named Monger, will anchor Central Fare, the district’s massive food hall, which Voltaggio compares R. House and Mt. Vernon Marketplace. Speaking of local spots, foodies might remember the announcement that Voltaggio would be introducing an additional Family Meal location at BWI Marshall Airport this year. While his team is still working toward the opening, Voltaggio says that the project has been halted indefinitely.
“Those things come and go,” he says. “Everybody puts their name in the hat for them and we thought we were finalized, but didn’t quite get all the way through.”
In the meantime, the chef continues to focus his attention on Aggio, his modern Italian concept in Power Plant Live. Voltaggio says that one of his favorite things about being a part of the Charm City food scene is the opportunity to gather with other area chefs to host events that benefit organizations like No Kid Hungry and Moveable Feast.
On the horizon is The Supper, a charity competition that pits local chefs against one another to raise money for the St. Agnes Foundation. During last year’s inaugural cookoff, Voltaggio enjoyed the experience acting as a host, rather than a competitor.
“I’ll be honest, I’ve kind of hung up my hat,” he says with a laugh. “It’s nice to be on the other side of the table.”
Voltaggio will return to emcee this year’s competition, which is scheduled for April 21 at Loyola Blakefield. This time around, the tournament-style cookoff will task chefs Chris Becker of Bagby Restaurant Group, Mark Levy of Magdalena, and reigning champion Zack Mills of Wit & Wisdom with creating dishes using a mystery ingredient.
“Sometimes that’s what it takes bring the community together and get to know people a bit better,” Voltaggio says of local events like The Supper and Chefs Behind Bars. “It’s nice to be a part of something where you can see change happening in your own backyard.”