F is for Frugal
Pete's Grill · Trolley Stop · Fazzini's Italian Kitchen · jr. · Rallo's · Mamie's Café · Caribbean Food Carry Out · Silk Road Café · Frisco Burritos · Winterling's · Valley View Inn · Fresh
There is no place in Charm City where one can eat as cheaply or as well as at Pete's Grill (3130 Greenmount Ave.  467-7698). This Waverly mainstay serves up the best $2 hamburger anywhere, period. Char and Lou Sharkey, the congenial owners, make every customer feel like one of the regulars crowding this homey diner's counter and hunkering down to lunch specials like roast turkey with homemade stuffing or pork roast with homemade sauerkraut. Don't miss the thick milk shakes, blueberry pancakes, or the home fries. Don't miss Pete's, for crying out loud.
For high-end fare at low-end prices, stop in at the rustic Trolley Stop (6 Oella Ave., Ellicott City,  465-8546). There's a long list of budget-priced salads, sandwiches, and the like, but you'll want to see the ever-changing dinner menu, which on any given night might feature the likes of prime rib or lobster for less than a 10-spot. It's all good, and it's all served up in a warm, woody, circa-1830s building (which has done stints as a railroad inn and a roughneck bar) just across the Patapsco River from Ellicott City's quaint and antique-y Main Street.
Its suburban strip-mall digs may be less opulent, but Fazzini's Italian Kitchen (578 Cranbrook Road, Cockeysville,  667-6104) can give any Little Italy standby a run for its money foodwise, at about half the cost (or less). Outstanding homemade pasta is the metier of this family-run storefront--a pound (yes, a pound) of capellini, linguini, fettuccine, or rigatoni with choice of sauce will set you back only $7 to $9--but the soups and chicken dishes are worth sampling as well. Bring your own bottle of wine, and if they've got some, take home a box of the ambrosial honey-nut bars.
The rule at jr. (1501 Bolton St.,  462-9064)--a neighborhood bistro run by trendier, much pricier Spike & Charlie's--is that most dishes run less than $10. And even if you do spring for the $12 pepita-crusted salmon with sweet-potato-and-black-bean salad, you're apt to leave feeling like you've gotten away with something. From pastas and pot pies to wraps and grilled pizzas, jr.'s food is creative, carefully prepared, and does parents Spike and Charlie proud.
Good old Rallo's (838 E. Fort Ave.  727-7067) is South Baltimore's favorite neighborhood joint for meeting, greeting and cheap eating. Rallo's offers the classic economical diner breakfast, but the kitchen truly shines in afternoon and evening. Forget the laminated menu: What you want is on the photocopied list of daily specials. Everything is homemade, delicious, and inexpensive, but we especially recommend the super fine fried-oyster sandwich (in season), the meat loaf, or a bowl of any of the café's homemade soups, served with hunks of Italian bread, making for what one devotee we know describes as the best $3 lunch in Baltimore, if not the world. By the way, the answer to "Gravy on the mash?" is "Yes, ma'am!"
When in Hampden, do as the Hampdenites do and follow the crowds to Mamie's Café (911 W. 36th Street,  366-2997), a decorator's nightmare and a cheap eater's dream. Select a dining spot from the eclectic assortment of rooms and chow down with some of the best home cooking very little money can buy. On Wednesdays, snag a lobster or two and savor the taste of Maine at $7 a piece. (Reserve early.) Selected menu items are a buck each on Tuesdays, and then there's Dollar Day on Saturdays until 4 p.m. But save room for red-velvet cake or to-die-for coconut cake--$2 for a huge slice, and homemade to boot.
One of Baltimore's best bargains is lunch at Caribbean Food Carry Out (1725 Eastern Ave., (410) 276-7741), a veritable feast of traditional, home-cooked Dominican and Puerto Rican edibles. For $3 to $7 proprietor Doña Rosa Joseph serves up a heaping plate of various saucy meat dishes, beans, rice, yucca, fried plantains, and salad. It's a tiny place with just a few tables--a favorite midday hangout for Baltimore's Latino community. But even if there's a long line, it's well worth the wait.
The Silk Road Café (3215 N. Charles St,  889-1319) gets a big chunk of its business from nearby Johns Hopkins University, but you don't have to be on a college-student budget to appreciate this little nook of the Blackstone Apartments. Anyone who likes a lot of filling food for a little money will like the Silk Road, where five bills or less will get you a tasty curry, a brimming bowl of hot or cold noodles, a nice rice stir-fry, a hefty sandwich, or an octet of fat dumplings.
Looking for all four food groups in one tasty, convenient, inexpensive package? Frisco Burritos (3 W. Chesapeake Ave., Towson,  296-4004) has plenty of tempting offerings, but most patrons journey to this Towson Tex-Mex for the shop's namesake dish, the tortilla wrap that eats like a meal. The tofu burrito is a new hit. Many veggie-types opt for the classic spinach burrito--fresh wilted spinach lines a tortilla topped with rice, beans, salsa fresca, peppers, and any number of additions. One regular burrito (for $3.25 to $5.00) makes for an ample meal; the jumbo ($4.25-$5.50) will feed two.
Winterling's (3200-2 Foster Ave.,  675-7700) is a little bit high-end and a little bit "What ya' havin', Hon?" Perched amid the east side's Formstone corridors, this landmark lounge sports a trim dining room done up with linen tablecloths. But then, neighborly banter and Tom Jones singles on the juke spill into the space from the adjacent bar. The capacious menu offers a multitude of steak, pasta, and seafood entrées at throwback prices (many, many options under $10). The preparation is more plain than fancy, the hefty portions more he-man than haute.
Valley View Inn (8712 Satyr Hill Road, Parkville,  668-0255) may have had a valley view at one time, but today it sits behind a giant Home Depot. There's not much to look at inside either, except the open kitchen. That doesn't seem to bother the regulars, who dive into specials like tenderloin or veal parmigiana for less than two sawbucks. Don't miss the appetizers, especially the corn nuggets, hot and deliciously cheesy corn fritters we could pop all night. We're just sorry they took the fried pickles off the menu. Folks would order them only once, our sweet server told us, and sighed.
You're thinking, Fresh Fields (1330 Smith Ave.,  532-6700) is frugal? Uh-huh. But forget for a moment the upscale prices on the Mount Washington supermarket's organic/yuppie wares--Fresh Fields is the home of the free sample. Where else can you cruise through, purchasing nothing, and sample a fine goat cheese with imported crackers, sun-dried tomato bread, and pasta salad? There's fine fresh-baked breads for snacking, and the folks behind the prepared-foods counter will let you taste before you buy (or politely demur). Nab a nibble or a nosh, but be careful--there's a good chance you'll find something so good you have to buy some.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201