Midway through dinner at Salt in Baltimore’s Butchers Hill neighborhood, sisters Erin and Alexandra “Xani” Podolny swap plates.
Turns out it’s a family tradition for the bloggers behind Black Coffee and a Donut, a home cooking and dining out blog, who also happen to be lawyers.
The Podolny family is made up of food and law lovers, including the sisters’ parents, who both practice law and occasionally pitch in with guest blog posts. The four have passed plates around the table at some of the area’s finest dining establishments, including at Charleston in Harbor East, where the plate-passing raised eyebrows.
And no one eats before photos of each dish are taken to post on the blog. That got a little tricky the last time they ate at Salt — the restaurant’s bold green lights don’t do much to make food look appetizing in pictures.
The sisters’ shared love of cooking and eating and a desire for a creative outlet got them thinking about blogging in 2007, while Erin was in her third year of law school at the University of Maryland.
On an annual family trip to Detroit for Passover that spring, Xani, now 32, announced that she drinks her coffee black so she can have a doughnut, and the name and tagline for the blog were born. “Actually, I heard that there is a coffee-and-a-donut dessert here, which we’re totally getting,” says Erin, 28, a lawyer for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the General Counsel.
And they do indulge in the goat cheese doughnut holes drizzled with lavender honey — an item they say is “hot right now” — served with a tiny cup of rich coffee ice cream.
They declare it “delicious.”
“That’s one of the biggest challenges with blogging, is how many different ways can you say ‘That was awesome’?” Xani says. “Or say ‘That was the best “X” I ever had.’? You can’t use that too often, because then people won’t believe you.”
Another stumbling block is making time to write thoughtful — and often silly or witty — blog posts about the food they’re making or enjoying at restaurants.
“It’s a challenge,” says Xani, an associate director at the University of Maryland, Baltimore Center for Health and Homeland Security.
“The blog doesn’t pay us any money, so it’s hard to prioritize it over work or other commitments, and there’s only so much time and energy and sometimes the blog kind of falls to the bottom of the list and then our friends are, like, nagging us, ‘You never blog anymore.’ ‘Well, you never pay me to blog, so, sorry buddy,’” she says.
Unlike lots of other bloggers, the Podolny sisters have jobs unrelated to blogging. Erin also spends five nights a week swing dancing around Baltimore. If they never had anything to do but cook, eat and blog, the sisters say, they would do it all the time.
“I’m sure that’s how it is with lots of people with hobbies — you know, sometimes you don’t have time to build a ship in a bottle,” Xani says, sending Erin into a fit of giggles.
When they do have time to dine out, they don’t always blog about it. It all depends on whether the food was good and whether they have anything new to add to the conversation.
Lately they’ve been trying to eat healthier fare, which they say is less fun to read and write about. How much can you really say about lettuce?
When the sisters aren’t watching what they eat, their go-to restaurants in Baltimore include the B&O American Brasserie and Woodberry Kitchen. They differ on their favorite pizza — Erin likes Iggy’s and Xani is partial to Joe Squared’s — but both agree that when pizza is involved, you can’t go wrong.
French fries, especially those made with duck fat as they are at Salt, are also tops on their list. At Salt, they admire the black truffle aioli, one of three toppings served with their fries.
At heart, the Podolny sisters are foodie fan girls, clapping when their dishes arrive and chattering excitedly after Salt’s chef-owner, Jason Ambrose, comes out to greet them, “Hi, blogger ladies.”
“That never happens to us,” Erin says, then launches into a story about the time she dined at The Helmand, an Afghan restaurant in Mount Vernon, when the blog first started.
“So I’m trying to take pictures and they thought I was someone really important and they whisked me off to the kitchen and they’re like ‘This is where we make our bread,’” she says. “They call this poor man’s name, and they’re like, ‘Hold up the bread’ and it’s like scalding hot. And I was like, ‘My camera’s taking forever.’ It was ridiculous.
“I’m totally not cool enough to pull that off,” Erin says.
The sisters’ legal and food lives often intersect at their parents’ home outside of Cambridge on the Eastern Shore, which they have dubbed “Blackacre” in honor of the traditional land in property law hypotheticals. Conversation often turns to their two favorite subjects.
“It’s funny, we’ll go down to our parents’ house and … we’ll be sitting in the pool [and I’ll say,] ‘So, I think it was contributory negligence,’” says Erin.
“We wonder what other people talk about,” Xani says. “We talk about food and the law.”