Hootch and Banter is a gem in the Frederick restaurant scene. The place is popular, and there are no reservations taken. People wait. And they are content to do so. No one seems bothered, and often they opt for drinks at the upstairs bar while they wait and enjoy. Time seems to slow down just a bit when you enter the doors. The space is warm, dark and inviting. The tables are placed closely together. As we sit, my elbow comes near the next table and gives me pause, but soon we have decisions to make on drinks and then appetizers. The initial pause dissipates, and sometime during the course of the evening, we notice the conversations and laughter that have started to flow between the tables, and we are aware that there’s a sense of community here. The conversation is helped by the outstanding food prepared by chef Christian Blouin.
Mixologist Jeff Naylor's cocktails are deliciously eclectic with flavors such as basil and lemon and are a visual treat of vibrant colors in sparkling glassware. Choosing from the offerings on the menu is easy—or not—with choices from crab to steak to wings.
“We wanted a place where you could have a really nice meal but also a place where you could feel that you could have wings and beer,” owner Sherif Salem says. “That was important to us.”
Sherif and his wife, Cherie Nearman, are the owners of Hootch and Banter which opened in November 2015. Sherif is warm and personable and has never met a stranger. Cherie laughs easily and is the one with the decorator’s eye.
“She [Cherie] pulled the place together with all the touches, and she wanted a coffee place. That’s why we’re open for breakfast now,” Sherif says.
Originally from New York with a degree in finance, Sherif worked for years in the restaurant industry. It was while working for a company opening and managing their expanding restaurants that he met his wife. Over the years, he had people in his life who would say, “You should open a restaurant,” but he felt he wanted to continue his career path. It took the right property at the right time to nudge Sherif to take the leap. When 49 S. Market St. came on the market, a friend encouraged them to take a look. Still uncertain, they placed an offer. When the realtor called to tell them they had gotten the property, Sherif said, “I looked at my wife and asked her what we should say. She said, 'Say yes!'”
The place took a bit of rehabilitating, but Sherif, Cherie and their family and friends worked together to transform the old cafe into the hip, modern place they have today. Sherif says that if their focus is on taking care of people, making them feel like they’re in his home, and making sure the food and drinks are excellent, the rest will follow.
Oh, and Hootch and Banter? I asked Sherif about that.
“It’s a nickname my wife and I gave each other. Never put it together until we had the restaurant," he says. "I nicknamed her Banter because she likes to talk a lot, and she nicknamed me Hootch because I like to drink. Turns out, I have turned into the Banter and she has turned into the Hootch.”