Food & Drink

Open & Shut: La Cuchara Buys Five & Dime; Judge’s Bench Adds Roof Bar; Pariah Closes

The latest restaurant openings, closings, and recent news.


La Cuchara Takes Over Former Five & Dime Ale House: Ben Lefenfeld, co-owner/executive chef of Meadow Mill’s La Cuchara, announced this week that he and his business partners—wife, Amy, and brother, Jake—purchased the Five and Dime Ale House property on the Avenue in Hampden a few weeks back. Built in 1926, the three-level, 11,4000-square-foot corner spot—historically the site of G.C. Murphy’s five-and-dime store—will get a gut renovation from SMP Architects. Though there’s no word yet on the concept, the team’s new restaurant—which sits just about a mile away from La Cuchara—is projected to open in April 2025.

“The goal for any business owner is to own a building,” Lefenfeld says. “It provides advantages in the marketplace and long-term security. It’s very expensive to rent. Though we don’t plan on leaving La Cuchara, this was just a great opportunity and we can drive back and forth between the properties in about five minutes.”

Land of KushA second home for the beloved downtown vegan destination has been in the works since 2018, when husband-and-wife owners Gregory Brown and Naijha Wright-Brown told us that expansion is “something we’ve wanted to do from the beginning.” Construction delays and COVID-19 caused a hiatus, but the Baltimore Business Journal reports that the long-awaited debut of a new Land of Kush outpost at 801 N. Chester St., near Johns Hopkins Hospital, is finally on the horizon this summer. The owners will convert what was once a Chinese food carryout and a connected vacant rowhome into the restaurant. In 2018, Gregory estimated that the new location will be around 600 square feet larger than the original, offering nearly 75 seats. “We’ll be able to do a lot more,” he said then.


The 3rd Floor Cocktail Club: Here’s a tip if you’re in Ellicott City or are planning to venture there soon: Main Street watering hole Judge’s Bench recently opened The 3rd Floor Cocktail Club on its rooftop. The concept is described as a speakeasy serving cocktails, premium spirits, and small plates, and it officially debuted during Ellicott City SpringFest last weekend. “That was great for our launch, because the deck has a great view out onto the street, so you can see across to the Wine Bin, where they had a stage during all of the events,” says bar manager Elena Johnson, the daughter of owners Mike and Jane Johnson. “You could see and hear live music and get out of the crowd a bit.”

She adds that Judge’s Bench saw a desire for more outdoor space at the pub, especially after the success of the temporary outdoor seating that was in place during the pandemic. But they wanted to offer something different than their selection of single-malt whiskeys and craft beer.

“We also realized that when we’d get limited-edition, really premium spirits, they can get lost in the shuffle with how much is happening downstairs,” Johnson says, adding that a hand-crafted cocktail bar “is something that we don’t see a lot of happening yet in Ellicott City. I think it’s coming, but there’s definitely an opportunity to offer cocktails executed at a really high level.”

Expect a list of signature cocktails and rotating seasonal sips, with fun names taken from one artist’s music catalog (right now you’ll see names from George Michael and Wham! songs.) Small plates are on offer as well—including charcuterie, tinned fish, and a few desserts—as are non-alcoholic cocktails. One of the most popular libations right now is the Freedom, a riff on a gin and tonic with Bayab Gin’s burnt orange variety, lemon tonic, and an herbal liqueur.

3rd Floor is open Friday and Saturdays. With limited seating (about 15-20 seats on the outside deck), reservations are strongly encouraged.

Yebo Kitchen: Chef Sammy Davis, a Food Network Chopped champion, has taken over the space once home to Church Bar in Station North. His new concept, Yebo Kitchen, offers Asian-American fusion dishes with a Southern influence. Plates at Yebo, which is Zulu for “yes,” include lobster rigatoni, teriyaki duck breast served with Asian sweet potatoes and bok choy, shrimp and crab leg fried rice, and misoyaki butterfish. The weekend brunch menu highlights hot cakes, twice-baked challah French toast, and avocado shrimp toast. 


4/27-4/28: Tortuga Deli Spiedie Pop-Ups
This weekend, Davon Pulliam’s Tortuga Deli will pop up along Greenmount Avenue. Catch his sammies on Saturday at the Waverly Commons lot (1-7 p.m.) and Sunday at Jinji Chocolate (noon-4 p.m.) Pulliam will char-grill chicken, beef, and veggie skewers and serve them on hoagie rolls with aromatic sauces and garnishes—also called a spiedie. Expect sides like pickles, chips, and an olive oil herb potato salad. He’ll also offer his Tortuga Kombucha. “My friend from culinary school, chef Matt Collins, will be collaborating with me, so it’s gonna be fun,” Pulliam says. 

4/28: Rey Eugenio Pop-Up at Ekiben
Ekiben is back with another can’t-miss pop-up. This time, the eatery is welcoming local chef Rey Eugenio and his top-notch Filipino fare. Eugenio, most recently of Heritage Kitchen, also popped up for an event at Clavel in March. He’ll stop by Ekiben in South Baltimore this Sunday for a Filipino-meets-Taiwanese collab “of epic proportions.” Stop by from 2-6 p.m. to see what Eugenio and the folks at Ekiben are cookin’ up.


Pariah Brewing Co.: This California-born brewery near Hampden abruptly closed its doors on April 12. “It has been a more than difficult road, and we fought as hard as anyone could,” Pariah founder, co-owner, and brewmaster Brian Mitchell wrote on Instagram. “We honestly should have closed a year ago.” The brewery originally opened in 2017 in San Diego. When it was looking to expand, owners chose Baltimore to strengthen their bi-coastal operation—and because Mitchell hails from Prince George’s County. The Baltimore outpost debuted in 2022 inside the former home of Union Craft Brewing on Union Avenue. Mitchell did not share specific details on the reason for the closure (which includes both California and Maryland operations) in his post, but The Baltimore Banner confirmed that the brewery received a rent-related eviction at its Baltimore space.

Zander’s: Late last year, the team behind Allora in Mt. Vernon took over the historic Alex Brown & Sons investment bank building downtown to revive the restaurant space as Zander’s, a concept that focused on classic cocktails, starters, pastas, and prime cuts of meat. It was short lived. Zander’s debuted in late 2023 and closed this month. This latest closure from Liliahna Hospitality Group—which shuttered its Cross Street Market concept, Velleggia’s, last year—comes as the group faces allegations from ex-employees and vendors that they’ve not been paid.

Additional reporting by Jane Marion