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Our Foodie’s Wish List for Baltimore in 2005

Christopher Myers

By Richard Gorelick | Posted 12/29/2004

Some wishes came true last year. Now, when someone tells me they want to take their out-of-town guests to a foursquare and not crazily expensive seafood restaurant, I can tell them about Canton’s Mama’s on the Half Shell and South Baltimore’s rapidly improving Nick’s Fish House. New wine bars, wine cafés, and wine markets cropped up all over town, too, and Baltimore finally has its own anarchist coffeehouse, Red Emma’s, which, you’ll find, is a more welcoming and useful coffeehouse than any other in town.

Toward the end of the year, one smashing-looking restaurant after another opened, as though Baltimore were slimming down for some big I-95, creative-class, cosmopolitan cities ball. Coming up, what I’ll be waiting to see is whether this sophistication in décor will be matched by real innovation and flair in the kitchen. And on the micro level, I have in mind some changes to the landscape I’d like to be able to reflect upon 12 months from now:

Good food on the run. I want there to be sprinkled throughout the city reliable and cheap noodle shops, dumpling joints, taquerias, and falafel stands. I’m thinking of those clean-enough stores all over other major cities where you can walk in and order a bottomless bowl of pho, six golden-fried pork dumplings, two greasy tacos, or a groaning pita sandwich, hand over a five-dollar bill, and get change back—and in the case of those dumplings, a whole lot of change. Right now, the best place to find fare like this is at the city’s municipal markets—check out the exemplary new noodle shop in Cross Street Market opened last summer by the wonderful Japanese restaurant Nichiban, and go out of your way for the fine falafel sandwiches from Mount Olympus in Lexington Market.

More Asian restaurants with some boogie. Pink tablecloths make me sad. There’s a starched-napkin stiffness about too many Asian joints that puts me off my feed. What I’m picturing instead is a moderately priced Thai or Vietnamese restaurant with even a mild hipster attitude; a cool, carpetless bistro setting, with a packed front bar, some good music playing on the satellite system, basically someplace where I might want to linger with friends for five minutes after the meal’s over. Eurasian Harbor, and the bygone Café Asia, are even a little more than what I’m asking.

Appetizers come back. Listen, I happen to love “small plates,” whether it’s the Spanish model, where taverns provide modest garlicky tapas to see their life-loving patrons through prolonged evenings of itinerant wine drinking, or the Greek ideal, where putting out for your guests a variety of savory mezethes is an established and honored custom, which is reproduced expertly at Kali’s Court Mezze. But bandwagon-jumping restaurants that glibly repackage their appetizers as “small plates” is noisome, especially when prices and portions aren’t adjusted to make the accumulation of “small plates” plausibly affordable.

Dessert. Ever since Louie’s Bookstore Café closed, irreplaceable Louie’s, there hasn’t been anyplace to go after the movies or a Peabody concert with friends and wind up with a plate of french fries, a plate of stir-fried seaweed and tofu, and a treat from Mobtown’s most beguiling dessert display—a slab of white chocolate pound cake, maybe, or real strawberry shortcake. The place where everybody shows up, not just your ex-girlfriend, but maybe her parents, and your therapist, too.

Site-specificity. Someone needs to get into that old Buttery space on North Charles Street and open a modest everyday cafe for all of the crazy people of Mount Vernon. Fells Point needs, please, midpriced tavern fare or, as a friend describes it, a place where you’d spend less than $40 a person but more than $4. Little Italy lacks a family pizza parlor. And if someone doesn’t get serious real soon about opening up the old Chesapeake site near Penn Station, what say we upend that Male/Female sculpture and batter it through the front doors?

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Under the Table (8/15/2007)

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