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Eat Feature

My Favorite Things

A Professional Eater Picks Her Restaurants of Renown

Jefferson Jackson Steele
El Salto II
Jefferson Jackson Steele
G. Karabelas Cuisine
Jefferson Jackson Steele
JJ's Everyday Cafe
Jefferson Jackson Steele
Perring Place Restaurant
Jefferson Jackson Steele
Koco's Pub
Jefferson Jackson Steele
House of Kabob
Jefferson Jackson Steele
Malibu Grill
Jefferson Jackson Steele
Mamie's Cafe
Jefferson Jackson Steele
Jefferson Jackson Steele

Eat Special Issue 2001

Who Let the Chefs Out? Where Baltimore's Restaurateurs Go When They Go Out to Eat

Who Let the Chefs Out: The Poll Notes on scoring: Restaurants were awarded points based on where they placed in respondents' surveys...

Who Let the Chefs Out: The Unabridged List "All the Employees"Tyson Place1) Nacho Mama's2) Rusty Scupper3) Hilltop Carryout4) Yung's5) Phillips...

My Favorite Things A Professional Eater Picks Her Restaurants of Renown | By Susan Fradkin

Old World Remembering the Glory Days of Deli on Corned Beef Row | By David Jackowe

American McHistory Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation Is About More Than Just Burgers and Fries | By Kathryn Eastburn

Eat 2001

By Susan Fradkin | Posted 2/28/2001

My 10 favorite restaurants? Only 10? That's a tall order for a woman whose professional responsibility is to wolf down 50 restaurant meals a year. How to approach the task? Forget taking notes between bites, forget monetary constraints, and lead with your gut. Not literally, of course, although the love of food is a basic requirement. Fill the belly, sure, but feed the soul. I'm looking for that additional dimension--call it ambiance, gestalt, or vibe--that compels me to go and, once there, makes me want to linger. Ask me next week, of course, and this list might be different. But at the moment . . .

1. El Salto II

8816 Waltham Woods Road (North Plaza Mall), Parkville, (410) 668-3980
The sound of Spanish around the tables oughta tell you something--believe me, these folks aren't here for the strip-mall ambiance of this remodeled Wendy's. They're here because the grub tastes the way it does back home and nothing on the menu costs more than $10. With some 30 combination dinners, 20-plus specials, and assorted sides, one could eat a different meal here every night for a couple of months, all at fast-food prices. And the food is fast--it arrives with lightning speed, blazing hot, and gets off-loaded by some guy or gal sweet enough to converse with you in your best high school Spanish. Try that at a French restaurant.

2. G. Karabelas Cuisine

318 S. Broadway, (410) 675-0755
Karabelas may be located in Fells Point, but the feel is pure Mediterranean--all cool blues, breeziness, sun, and clean, classical lines. The beautiful surroundings are made even more attractive by the fabulous food, attentive service, and moderate prices. Expect the unexpected (broiled quail, mussels saganaki, boiled dandelions), and the expected served in unexpected ways. Start with melitzanes, rounds of perfectly fried baby eggplant, and char-grilled octopus. Then go for the rockfish or snapper, grilled whole and hanging off the plate. If you've no fetish for fish, try the lamb, by the kabob, chop, or whole rosy rack. For dessert, Greek coffee and galactobourico, a lemony custard in a honeyed phyllo dough.

3. JJ's Everyday Café

2141 York Road, Timonium, (410) 308-2700
The name says it all. This is the kind of place where you can drop in, any day, in your everyday clothes, clutching your bottle of everyday wine. The food, however, is anything but everyday, so you may have to wait (which I do happily because there's a discount bookstore next-door). Once you're shown to your table, start with a cup of the lobster bisque, then move on to a beautiful pan-fried filet of rainbow trout garnished with very good fries and a tangy slaw. Sure, I'm tempted to try the sautéed shrimp, scallops, broccoli, snow peas, and mushrooms in a tamari ginger lime sauce, tossed with whole-wheat pasta and topped with scallions and toasted sesame seeds. But that's a whole different kind of everyday.

4. Perring Place Restaurant

2305 Cleanleigh Drive (Parkway Crossing), [410] 661-0630
"Old age isn't for sissies," Bette Davis once said. While I'm not yet a bluehair--more like a youngish boomer--I do like to bask among the elders occasionally, to admire their fortitude, their appetite for life, and the comforting '50-vintage vittles (split-pea soup, sautéed calf's liver with bacon and stewed tomatoes, and the area's best coconut cake) dished up by the soothing, sensible servers at this Northeast mainstay. Here, on this island of civility, wait staff freezes, trays in midair, to let patrons pass. These diners may have come for the value, but they get the royal treatment. And even a whippersnapper like me can appreciate that.

5. Koco's Pub

4301 Harford Road, (410) 426 -3519
You gotta have a favorite crab cake in this town, and this is mine. Get it for a bargain price of $11.95 on Thursday nights ($13.95 other nights; eat-in only). It's big, it's browned, and it's beautiful, creamy and chock-full of sweet white lumps. Get it solo, on a bun or a cracker, or frame it with fries and slaw--Koco's answer to the question "What are vegetables?" (And that is their final answer.) Ignore the recent signs of renovation (newly painted exterior, real plates and silverware, and menus) and remain food-focused. If you can resist a jumbo cake, try the Koco burger (topped with ham, bacon, and cheese), the Key West club (shrimp salad, turkey, ham, cheese, and bacon), the baby-back ribs in Jamaican glaze, or the chicken wings in a raspberry jalapeño sauce, which are good enough to make you forget all about Buffalo.

6. House of Kabob

8025 Harford Road, (410) 663-0211
C.C. logged quite a bit of time in Iran in her youth, and over the years she has educated me in the joys of juicy kabobs and perfectly rendered basmati rice. Thus, we try to make the acquaintance of every new joint that threads meat on skewers. Yet we come back, time and again, to this pretty little storefront Mecca of down-home cooking, Persian-style. While the kabobs and classic stews are fine, I especially love the House's hearty peasant soups and appetizers. My favorite is the sweet dolmeh, the most unusual stuffed grape leaves you'll ever see. Pair them with coutlet (fried beef-and-potato patties) or salad olovieh (a chicken-laced potato salad) for a fully satisfying meal. Or just stick, as I sometimes do, to the kashko bademjan (eggplant dip topped with dried yogurt, frizzled onions, and mint). Slather it over a Frisbee-shaped round of just baked flatbread and feast, Rubaiyat-style.

7. Malibu Grill

10215 Wincopin Circle, Columbia, (410) 964-5566
OK, it's part of a chain, it's in artificial Columbia (beside an artificial lake), and dinner will set you back 16 bucks. Now the good news: You can eat till you bust. This Brazilian-style barbecue restaurant features a smorgasbord of 30-odd hot and cold items before you get to the main event. Fill a plate or two with seafood, polenta, plantains, and Brazilian stews, but save room. See that little wooden thing on your table? Turn it green side-up when you want the skewer-bearing servers to stop by, red side-up when you need a rest. From skewer to you comes beef tenderloin and short ribs, pork loin, bacon-wrapped turkey, chicken, sausage, and lamb, as much as you want for as long as you want. Did I forget to mention the fillets of salmon? My mistake.

8. Mamie's Café

911 W. 36th St., (410) 366-2996
If I didn't have to get around for this job, every Wednesday night would find me in Hampden, chilled BYO bottle of sauvignon blanc in hand, salivating for my taste of Maine. These aren't your chicken lobsters (pound and a quarter or less), but big beauties at only $7 apiece. I reserve two or three the day before and, upon arrival 24 hours later, ask the server to bring them on sequentially. To them I invariably add a couple of the $2 sides: salad, so I can feel virtuous, and corn fritters, so I can feel good and hush up my whiny inner child. Of course, Mamie's offers more than lobster, but why would you eat anything else on a Wednesday night?

9. Atlantic

2400 Boston St. (The Can Company), (410) 675-4565
What, you think I don't like to kick up my heels once in a while? Trip the light fantastic? Put on the dog? Of the many restaurants in Spike & Charlie's armada, the one I'll set sail on any day is the good ship Atlantic, dedicated to the bounty of the deep. Sure, the food is good and it comes with all the bells and whistles the Gjerde boys are known for (house-made condiments, exotic breads, elegant desserts). But what draws me to Atlantic is the look and feel of the place, the golden-age-of-sea-travel motif. Water playing in the gleaming fountain below, I ascend to my table, imagining that I'm strolling the first-class deck. Then, one by one, a series of courses is set before me; salmon tartare followed by "filet mignon" of tuna with applewood-smoked bacon, scallion mashed potatoes, and red-wine reduction, followed by flourless chocolate cake or house-made ice cream. Everything is fresh, innovative, visually stunning, and palate-pleasing. I never want this voyage to end.

10. Charleston

(1000 Lancaster St., [410] 332-7373)
If this is low-country cooking, you can have the high road. I love this pricey showcase for chef/owner Cindy Wolf and husband/partner/wine biggie Tony Foreman, Baltimore's gustatory Ginger and Fred. A meal here is artfully choreographed, from the plush setting to the elegant service. (You can tell when a wait staff has been well trained. For starters, they don't ask, "So, how you guys doin'?") The food is familiar, but the presentations aren't. A plate of heirloom tomatoes or cornmeal-crusted oysters is a good start, though I can't resist the fried green tomatoes. Mosey on to roasted duck breast with pecan-sweet onion stuffing, grilled wild rockfish, or grilled bacon-wrapped beef tenderloin. Desserts are as pretty as a picture and have a Southern accent.

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More from Susan Fradkin

Naming the Parts (2/28/2001)
In Search of the Real Haussner's

Lunching With Ghosts (9/13/2000)
How Sparrows Point Has Fed Hungry Workers for Generations

A Shellfish Out of Water (9/15/1999)
One Family's History of Breaking the Dietary Laws

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