In the Kitchen

In the Kitchen

Jones Makes Biscuits with Own Personalities

Two women stood with noses pressed to the window at Stomping Ground on Mt.

Vernon Avenue in Del Ray. "Oh, no," one of them said. "I didn't know it was

closed on Monday. I've eaten here three times since they opened in May. I love

their salads; they are so fresh." Disappointed, they head down the street looking

for a second choice.

Nicole Jones, chef at Stomping Ground, said, "the Farmer's salad is different every day

made with what's fresh at the market." The front window advertises a crab cake sammie

(their nickname for sandwich) on a house potato roll with homemade tater chips and

pickles. But the mainstay of the menu is biscuits — with homemade peach jelly or plum

jam, with sorghum butter, pimento cheese or nutella, all made by the house. Or "The

Favorite" made with organic eggs, Benton bacon from Tennessee and Hooks cheese

from Wisconsin. She said by using the best ingredients they can focus on the basics

and don't need a lot of special sauces. On the other hand, her own favorite is the "Not

So Classic" which has fried chicken with za'Atar spices, honey, hot sauce, red onion

and benne seed tahini.

Jones measures flour into a large aluminum bowl. "I use white Lily cake flour. Southern

grandmothers won't use anything else." She says she spent her formative years in

Georgia. She uses equal parts butter and Crisco. The secret is to have it really cold.

"The colder it is, the higher they rise." Jones uses both baking powder and baking soda.

"One mistake people make is to put in too much baking powder to help it rise. But then it

has a weird metallic aftertaste."

One fat goes in first and her hands squeeze it between her fingers until it breaks down it

into pea size pieces. Jones said, “I like to feel it. With a pastry blender you can't. The

only way to describe it is to smudge it — I guess I just invented a new cooking term."

Next Jones makes a well in the flour mixture and mixes in the buttermilk with a wooden

spoon. “The wooden spoon is important. I don't know why. This is a critical juncture

where the liquid hits the gluten; the clock starts ticking." Then she turns the dough twice

and forms it into a rectangle about 1­1/2" thick. Carefully pushing down an aluminum

form, she cuts out the biscuits side by side. "This is another place people screw up; they

turn the cutter. You have these nice flaky layers, called laminating the dough, and the

last thing you want to do is pinch the dough by turning the cutter. "We're always fighting

the tough."

Jones said making biscuits can be different every day. If it feels on the tacky side you

add more flour; if it's humid outside, you add less buttermilk. It can depend on the

thickness of the buttermilk, the weather, the amount of patting you do. She said this can

be difficult for restaurants that are in the consistency business. In the beginning the

menu was more extensive, but then Jones realized she was just coming up with novel

ideas for the sake of making dishes. Now she is focusing on her original goal: good food

and good service. She says she encourages the wait staff to sample everything so they

can translate it to the customers. She said, "Good food can't save bad service." The

menu has now expanded to dinner and includes one­dish community dinners on

Thursdays and Fridays, fun things like a low­ country boil.

Jones spends a lot of time educating. "I take that really seriously." But she said, "I walk

a line between the excited, living and breathing food to something that doesn't land well

with the public." For instance, she tried sorghum butter with the biscuits. Sorghum is a

Southern substitute for molasses and goes back to the slave trade, as do many

Southern foods. Cassie Meddis, the manager, said, "They freaked out (in a good way)

about the sorghum butter honestly. I love the South. I miss it." But they have tried to

transplant Southern hospitality to Del Ray.

Peach jam cooks all day on a burner next to the biscuit counter. "It's been all about

peach this year because the peaches have been so good." On an average day the cook

makes 400­600 biscuits in small batches so they can be served fresh and warm. Jones

says everyone's biscuits look different but “we're very comfortable with them if they look

unique.” Her grandmother in Lithuania, who made Jones fall in love with food used to

say, "You can learn a lot about a person from their biscuits."