Women's Industrial Exchange
The Women's Industrial Exchange has got to be Baltimore's oldest restaurant. It's by far the most genteel, serving pinkie-hoisted ladies luncheon fare like tomato aspic and Charlotte Russe that disappeared from most menus around the end of the Eisenhower era.
The food is simple but good. The chicken salad plate ($6.75) is an exercise in restrained excellence: a modest mound of perfectly prepared chicken salad, lightly seasoned, and accompanied by a deviled egg, wedges of tomato aspic (like acerbic, briny jello), lemony homemade mayonnaise, and a wonderfully airy dinner roll. A crab cake sandwich (market price, $7 during my visit) is served fried; the motherly waitress doesn't offer the option of a broiled cake. This is crab cake like I remember from childhood: tall and fat, with a crunchy brown exterior. It's full of crab and flavor, and completely different from the pale lump backfin cakes now in vogue. You want brown mustard to go with this.
Finally, dessert (all baking is done on the premises, and the sweets are superb). Get the cake ($2): spice cake with whipped cream, chocolate layer cake with marble icing, humble yellow cake with chocolate icing. The cake selection changes daily, but each day's offering is eternally marvelous--kind of like a metaphor for the WIE. How sweet it is.