Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Baltimore Food Memories

This article by Jacques Kelly, longtime writer for the Baltimore Sun, reminisces about foods distinctive to Baltimore once upon a time. I remember some of the things he mentions - the soda fountain at Read's is an especially fond memory.

There was a Read's drug store around the corner from us on Broadway in Fells Point. My favorite sections were the toys (natch), the magazine section near the front door (I was a precocious boy-crazy reader, demanding Tiger Beat and 16 before I started school), and the soda fountain area, which stretched along the left wall and featured hard Formica booths as well as a counter with high swivel stools. Occasionally I could connive my father or grandmother into buying me a cherry Coke or - even better - a hot fudge sundae. Even today, the smell of maraschino cherries makes me nostalgic for the best-ever sundae of my childhood.

Best ever, until I had the hot fudge at Marconi's. By that point, I was well out of my childhood. My mother had started this early Saturday dinner thing that involved the family heading out to a particular restaurant week after week until she got tired of it, at which point we switched to a new one. For a few weeks, it was Maison Marconi, and I never missed the opportunity to order the rich vanilla ice cream with it's own trough of deliciously grainy hot fudge. I wish that Mr Minx had the opportunity to experience it, but Marconi's is gone forever, along with sweetbreads three ways and Lobster Cardinale.

Kelly also mentions Panzer's pickles and sauerkraut. Their plant was once located on the 500 block of South Ann Street in Fells Point, next door to my grandmother's house. When I was growing up, it was a tank-cleaning outfit called Goodhue's, but my mom always called it Panzer's. Coincidentally, a panzer is a German tank, but not the same kind of tank in which Goodhue's specialized.

I never did eat a Panzer's pickle, but consumed many from the barrels at Jack's and Attman's on Lombard Street's "Corned Beef Row." My first bagels came from Jack's, and no bagel since then has been quite the same hearty rib-sticking experience. Attman's corned beef is fortunately still available, and some of the best I've ever eaten. Folks who have only eaten corned beef (or pastrami or roast beef) from a supermarket deli are doing themselves a disservice. Real Jewish deli meats, made with brisket, are superlative.

I left a comment on Kelly's post (which he mined extensively for this follow-up article - not sure whether to be flattered or to charge him) mentioning my memory of Levin's bakery, on Patterson Park Avenue. Every Sunday, without fail, we would head to Levin's after church to buy a loaf of seeded rye bread. Once home, dad and I would fight over the heel, which we slathered in butter and devoured while reading the Sunday paper. Several slices would get wrapped and taken downstairs to grandma, and the rest of the loaf would last us for the week. I didn't eat a sandwich on "box bread" until adulthood, unless it contained bacon and/or eggs and was toasted for breakfast. Rye bread was our daily bread, and to this day I have never had a rye as good as Levin's.

I could go on and on, but it's your turn. What are your favorite memories of local delicacies long gone?