Eat The Decade
In honor of our 2010 EAT dining guide, tucked inside this issue all glossy and stuffed with restaurant info, we polled our main foodies--Michelle Gienow, Henry Hong, and Mary K. Zajac--about noteworthy food experiences and personalities from the '00s. We compiled their lists and came up with some intriguing answers. We're especially proud that their favorite local food is a beer. (Anna Ditkoff)
That's right, a beer is the top local food. Allow me to save potential decriers a web search or two: "food is any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink . . . to maintain life or growth." Oxford English Dictionary, bitches! And, of course, beer isn't endemic to this hemisphere even, but hey it's brewed in Baltimore, right on Charles Street for crying out loud.
Ah Resurrection, copper-hued beauty, perhaps the prettiest, most balanced, and, dare I say, easiest to drink of the Brewer's Art house beers. Though described as made with lots of sugar it is only slightly sweet, satisfyingly malty but not treacly, and with a shade less CO2 than usual, which facilitates swift, low-friction passage down one's gullet. Most endearingly it doesn't punch you in the face with over-emphasized fancy beer attributes. It's just real good, even to non-connoisseurs.
Not mention it has that near-magical ability that all Brewer's beers seem to have of knocking you on your ass much faster than normal. Oddly, this effect is noticeably diminished when consumed from a non-Brewer's tap, but the upshot is that the only thing better than a Resurrection is an ice-cold Resurrection, which you won't get at Brewer's, proper Belgian-style beer being a bit on the warm side.
So how is it that Resurrection, a beer, bested even the mighty crab cake on this list of ours? Well, we Baltimorons really like our booze. And maybe, just maybe, we're finally ready to move on from Natty Boh, which let's face it, is pretty crappy and hasn't been brewed in Baltimore for over 30 years. Sure it's cheap, but I'd wager one Res has the same drunkening power as three Bohs any day, while tasting better and being a true Baltimore brew.(Henry Hong)
2) pit beef
3-5) pierogies, crab cakes, coddies (tie)
6-7) Zeke's coffee, smearcase
8) jelly pies
9-10) Old Bay seasoning, Binkert's sausages (tie)
How many Baltimoreans does it take to screw in a light bulb? A: All of them--one to screw in the new bulb, and all the rest to talk about how much better the old bulb was. Yes, it's true, we are a city of people who give directions using landmarks that have been gone for decades: we are doggedly loyal to the past. And the previous decade or so took away some true Baltimore dining landmarks, including Louie's Bookstore cafe, the restaurant that basically introduced brunch to Baltimore. Hell, we miss it so much, it took the number one spot in our little poll despite closing in late 1999.
Louie's was famous for its Crab Louie's--eggs Benedict with crab meat tucked under the hollandaise sauce--and other sophisticated, super fat-o-licious breakfast treats like grits cooked in an unconscionable amount of cream. The restaurant also was an early adopter of the revolutionary idea (revolutionary to Baltimore, anyway) of dining to live music--string quartets and jazz combos with brunch, sometimes more experimental choices during dinner, but, just like the city itself, always lively and at least interesting, if not exactly world-class.
Louie's was equally famous for the indifference, if not downright hostility, of its staff. Servers were definitely artists or writers or musicians first; refilling your water or, say, delivering your meal was clearly much, much lower on their list of personal priorities. Maddening as it could be to signal desperately and repeatedly to a waiter more interested in studying his fingernails than bringing the check, we always went back to Louie's. Everyone who lived in Baltimore during the restaurant's 18-year tenure has a Louie's story, whether they worked there, had a life-changing first date there, or just experienced a bizarre run-in at the bookstore. For many years, it was the best brunch in town and, heck, browsing books plus a few of the always-strong house bloody marys took the sting out of the waitstaff's superiority complex. Other restaurants have come and gone in that space--most recently and enduringly Ixia--but none have had Louie's resonance. Perhaps, the next one will. (Michelle Gienow)
2) Maison Marconi
4) Martick's Restaurant Fran?ais
5) The Buttery
6) Baltimore Brewing Co.
7-8) Bicycle, Hampton's (tie)
9) Shogun 10) the old Women's Industrial Exchange lunchroom
When the Chameleon cafe opened in 2001, Baltimore had three nominally French restaurants and no one knew where Lauraville was. Since then, Martick's and Jeannier's have closed, and Lauraville has taken off as the new mecca of hipster foodiedom, the latter due in no small part to Jeff Smith and Brenda Wolf Smith's groundbreaking decision to open a restaurant that features the best of Maryland cooking under the auspices of French influence, smack dab on Harford Road next to the Safeway. Smith, a quiet, self-effacing barrel-chested man, has made his mark on the local dining scene not by grabbing a media spotlight or opening a string of restaurants, but by making high-quality, soul-satisfying food every day.
As evidence of Smith's love of French cooking, sauces at Chameleon are excellent, from the Sauce Robert that often graces steak to the remoulade that accompanies cornmeal-encrusted oysters or the house-made lemon mayonnaise that coats broiled bluefish, a recipe Smith adapted from his mother's. Smith also makes his own charcuterie and rillettes, both time- and labor-intensive activities that most kitchens avoid.
Most importantly, though, at Chameleon cafe, using local ingredients is a practice, not just a concept. The choucroute garni may be Alsatian in origin, but the sausages are from local purveyors. Summer tomatoes inevitably come from George's produce market further north on Harford Road, and you can find Smith at the 32nd Street Market during high season toting a case of produce on his shoulder. And in late summer, Smith pays homage to Maryland culinary history with a Maryland menu featuring not only crab cakes and rockfish but chicken Maryland, a historic dish of chicken fried with lardons and bananas, and desserts featuring local black walnuts and figs.
After nine years, the Chameleon cafe has maintained its consistency, its cozy space, its community feel, and its culinary integrity. The Chameleon is a place we never tire of or tire of recommending. (mary k. zajac)
2) Woodberry Kitchen
3) Grace Garden
4-5) Pazo and Rocket to Venus (tie)
6-10) Hamilton Tavern, Joe Squared Pizza, Mekong Delta cafe, The Parkside, Tortilleria Sinaloa (tie)
In 2002, we called him "The Cake Guy" (Best of Baltimore, Sept. 18, 2002), this young rocker in baggy shorts, wielding a blowtorch and making the craziest cakes we'd ever seen. Four years later, he was the Ace of Cakes, starring in his own Food Network TV show about Charm City Cakes, his cake shop in Remington. At the shop, Goldman makes cakes that look like everything from Wrigley Field to the Millennium Falcon to a bushel of crabs with Old Bay and a mallet, as likely to use a saw or a sander as a pastry bag. He's raised fondant--the edible sugar paste used to cover cakes for decorating--awareness and taken any perceived stuffiness out of baking. Watching him ping pong around Charm City Cakes on the show, churning out gravity-defying concoctions makes baking seem less like something your grandma would do and more like an art project.
But what really, brought Goldman to the top of this list, past some of the city's premiere restaurateurs, is that he put Baltimore on the culinary map. No small feat: Despite a truly impressive assortment of excellent restaurants (see the EAT guide), Baltimore isn't considered a dining hot spot. But for eight seasons now, Ace of Cakes has been letting the world know that there is more to Baltimore than bullets and beehives. Instead, it shows viewers a slice of the artsy, edgy but fun side of Baltimore we know and love. So for that, we raise our forks to Baltimore's cake guy. (Anna Ditkoff)
2-3) Cindy Wolf (Charleston, Petit Louis, Pazo), Tony Geraci (Baltimore City Public School's Food and Nutrition Services Department) (tie)
4) Hugh Sisson (Clipper City Brewing Co., Cellar Notes on WYPR-FM)
5) Joan Norman (One Straw Farm)
6) Spike Gjerde (Woodberry Kitchen)
7-8) John Shields (Gertrude's), Michael Tabrizi (Tabrizi's) (tie)
9) Donna Crivello (Donna's cafe)
10) Mo Martick (Martick's Restaurant Fran?ais)
When it comes to trends,Baltimore often lags behind other cities. We're just a little cautious about embracing new things is all. Perhaps that's good when it comes to ridiculous flashes-in-the-pan like molecular gastronomy and that whole lo-carb madness--wait long enough and we pretty much miss 'em. There are a few keepers that have come along, however, righteously embraced by a grateful city. The steadily growing number of tapas restaurants, for example, is a wonderful thing.
Tapas Teatro, TapaBar, Tapas Adela serve actual classic Spanish dishes like serrano ham with manchego cheese, sardines, and chorizo. Kali's Mezze offers a mix that spans the Mediterranean, heavy on the Greek. And innovative small-plates eateries like Red Maple go global on tapas--citrus scallop on fennel pancakes, anyone? Pazo plays both ends, serving old-school tapas punched up with trendy ingredients like pomegranate seeds. Most city neighborhoods have some sort of small-plates place, and the trend is so well established in Baltimore that Harborplace now has its own tapas joint (La Tasca) and Charleston, the queen of local fine dining, switched to a small-plates menu. No matter where you dine these days, it's clear that Baltimoreans have a passion for a little bit of this and a little bit of that. (Michelle Gienow)
2) Local food
4) Latino restaurants
5) Martini menus
6) "Crush" drinks
7-9) Creative burgers, cooking at home, molecular gastronomy (tie)
10) Rise and fall of low/no carb, decline in public markets, and mac 'n' cheese (tie)
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201