G is for Guilty Pleasures
Anne's Dari-Creme · Howard's Delly · Maria D's · Johnny Rockets · Thrasher's · Steak Out Express · New System Bakery · Krispy Kreme
You might not know it, but at this very moment you're being targeted by tubesteak. Yes, hot dogs are evil incarnate in this era of carcinogen-conscious consumption, but there's no escaping them, so tie on a blindfold and accept your fate. It's not your fault. Anne's Dari Creme (7918 Ritchie Highway, Glen Burnie,  761-1231) has got you covered with its famous foot-long, twin- barreled double dog, a pair of meat missiles in a full-bun jacket available with all the usual trimmings.
On the mean streets of Baltimore, Howard's Delly (900 Cathedral St.,  539-2828) fires the lethal weapon of frankfurters, a kosher dog enrobed in bologna, best endured with mustard and relish.
You stumble out of a show at the 8 x 10 with ringing ears, or saunter out of America's Pastime after a couple of hours of showing that batting cage who's boss. There's one more stop before your evening of youthful pleasures in Federal Hill is complete. Maria D's (1016 Light St.,  727-5430) makes terrific, overstuffed sub sandwiches, and their greasy cheese-steak is particularly fat and sinful.
Sure, Johnny Rockets (Harborplace [Light Street Pavilion],  347-5757) is a national fast-food chain, but as national fast-food chains go, it's got personality--even if that personality is lifted intact from some mythical '50s malt shop. It's also got food good enough to be in a real mom 'n' pop malt shop, including those greasy burgers with the mysterious spicy red sauce (kind of a ketchup-plus, or maybe salsa for beginners). Nice touch: The way the wait staff nurturingly pours the ketchup for you when they bring your fries.
It's not quite the authentic Ocean City boardwalk experience--no shaking the sand off the french fries, or defending them from dive-bombing sea gulls--but Thrasher's (Harborplace [Light Street Pavilion],  837-1325) brings the vinegar-splashed, salty seaside treat to these mean streets--or, well, mean food court.
Never mind McDonald's--did somebody say "cheese steak"? Mmmm--meat, cheese, drippy toppings. If this is what you're jonesing for, make a beeline for Steak Out Express (1201 W. Pratt St., [Mount Clare Junction Shopping Center],  727-3410. The Express serves up tender, judiciously seasoned steak slices slathered in cheese and served in a crusty sub roll. The meat is melt-in-the-mouth tender--not that stringy shoe leather that dumps out in your lap with the first bite. As a bonus you might a get a floor show, courtesy of west-side wandering minstrel Donald "The Singing" Bush, who's been known to belt out a ballad or two at this scrubbed take-out nook.
Just as it has for 80-some years, New System Bakery (921 W. 36th St.,  366-6964) is still serving up delicious doughnuts, danishes, and assorted pastries at remarkable prices. For our money, though, the best reason to visit this institution on Hampden's The Avenue--or the best reason to avoid it, depending on how strictly you're sticking with that diet--is the obscene cinnamon nut log, a dense, mammoth creation so good you almost don't want to chew it, but rather let it dissolve on your tongue into a warm puddle of sugar, icing, raisins, and nuts. We manage to live with ourselves by consuming it in two shifts, halving the guilt and doubling the pleasure.
There's always a long line at Krispy Kreme (8010 Belair Road, Perry Hall,  663-5255), and we have a theory to explain it--the famed Krispy Kreme donut is better than sex. Consider this: The last sweet ring of goodness you devour is as fabulous as the first--even during our biggest binge, we've never detected diminishing returns. You can get as wild as you want--try the absolutely decadent raspberry-filled variety or the (oooh) cream-filled--or stick with the tried and true (the heavenly glazed). Either way you're guaranteed a sensual thrill. There's visual stimulation too. Just stand in line and watch the doughnuts being made--you'll feel more lust in your heart than Jimmy Carter ever did. And Krispy Kreme doughnuts are available at the drive-thru 24/7. Find a lover who can offer that.
Forget Valium and Prozac: The surest route to instant smiles we know of is the Resurrection Ale at the Brewer's Art (1106 N. Charles St.,  547-6925). A dose of the sweet, malty, "dubble"-style Belgian ale is always good for what ails us--although we've also been known to find solace in a tall glass of this Mount Vernon brewpub's hoppy pale ale and a big plate of garlic-rosemary fries. In extreme cases, we find the rich, creamy pumpkin ravioli works wonders, whether consumed in the funky basement bar or the gorgeous upstairs dining room.
Maybe it's the sprightly interplay of fiddle and guitar. Maybe it's the lyrics about things like losin' yer love or yearnin' for old Dublin or getting crushed by the goddamn English, words that make your life not seem so bad. Whatever it is, Irish music--as played in raucous pubs, anyway--sure makes us feel better. Mick O'Shea's (328 N. Charles St.,  539-7504) offers up copious doses of the stuff, from stalwart locals like Donegal Xpress and O'Malley's March or the occasional national act (erstwhile MTV faves Black 47 show up now and again), along with one of the smoothest pints o' Guinness in town.
Before they became legends, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, and their gang liked to gather in the high-class restaurant of the Algonquin Hotel, pool their money, and split a couple of orders of eggs. They needed to save the rest of their money for the accompanying libations, which they wanted to enjoy in a classy place. In Baltimore, the Algonquinites would have come to the Brass Elephant (924 N. Charles St.,  547-8480). Best known for its pricey and pretentious food, this Mount Vernon institution also has a wonderful upstairs bar where the less-than-loaded can toss back a few in the presence of dark, polished wood and hushed conversation.
The faux nostalgia of the Speakeasy Saloon (2840 O'Donnell St.,  276-2977) might inspire you to dress like a flapper, but the drink prices will whip you back to this decade. Whoa, daddy-o! Still, we've had a couple of near-perfect martinis at this Canton joint, and those are priceless. Keep the Speakeasy in reserve for those special-occasion happy hours--you'll likely find yourself dining there as well, feasting on daring pasta combinations and eclectic interpretations of meat and seafood.
The theater crowd likes to dine at the Calvert House (347 N. Calvert St.,  539-3627), two blocks south of Center Stage; the rest of us crowd into the bar, where we can sit at the counter and watch the corner television, or squeeze into a booth for more privacy. During happy hour, most drinks are full price, but they always have a dollar draft and the popcorn's free and unlimited.
Nick's Inner Harbor Seafood Co. (Cross Street Market,  685-2020] is an anomaly. How and why the young-professional set came to embrace a beery raw bar within a workaday city market as a happy-hour hot spot is a mystery. But embrace it they have. And Nick's has hugged the flush white-collar mob right back. Over the years the venerable fishmonger has reduced its display of iced fish and increased its display of iced beer. Nick's even added a wine bar, for chrissakes. Of course, you can still slurp down plump fresh-shucked raw oysters and clams. And it's still a long way from genteel: The cement floor's puddles of dirty water haven't gone anywhere. Wear appropriate shoes and plunge in.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201