Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Things a Baltimore Foodie Must Try

Sun columnist Elizabeth Large prompted readers to submit ideas for her list of "100 things area foodies must try." The only rule was that they be "quintessentially Baltimore." Some of the suggestions included:

"Eat the pumpkin appetizer at the Helmand" (so no other Afghan restaurant in the world serves kadu bouranee?)

"Eat a Wockenfuss caramel apple!" (I can make them at home, even if I didn't live in Baltimore.)

"Thin crust pizza! Iggies and Joe Squared." (I don't think thin crust pizza was invented in Baltimore.)

"Chicken salad from Graul's Market!" (Used to be that the chicken salad at the Woman's Industrial Exchange was called the best. I like it from Mary Mervis in the Lexington Market. The stuff at the UMMC hospital cafeteria is pretty darn good, too. Hey wait - does this mean that other places sell chicken salad? I hear they sell it in other states, even!)

"Have a special occasion dinner at Charleston. Ask Chef Cindy Wolf to fix what she thinks is best that night." (The restaurant is called
Charleston, for crap's sake!)

"Change your mind about vegan/vegetarian food at Liquid Earth" (Why leave out one of the only other notable vegetarian restaurants in town, the Yabba Pot?)

"Try the charcuterie at Clementine." (Cured pig parts are eaten the world over, and probably in greater quantities outside of Baltimore.)

"Sit at the bar at Cinghiale and order anything. Talk to Rob about wine when Tony isn't in town." (Cinghiale is relatively new and hasn't had time to become "quintessentially" anything yet.)

"Eat sushi in Towson." (Ok, that's just plain dumb. Charles Street downtown probably has as many sushi restaurants. And if you think sushi is a Baltimore thing, then you're hopeless.)

"Smith Island Cake, but only from Sugarbakers." ("Smith Island Cake" by its very name, is not Baltimorean.)

It's not that I disagree that foodies should experience most of the things on the list, I simply think that many of them can be found in some form in any major city. That would include good deli, roasted vegetables, diner food, hand-made ice cream, and the non-food related "making fun of hipsters." Hell, I do that while surfing the Internet - no comestibles required. In other words, they're not "quintessentially" Baltimore. (Not quintessentially anything, really.)

Things that I do agree that a Baltimorean should try at least once (foodie or no) are Berger cookies, lake trout, pit beef, coddies, and all things crab: crab soup (both varieties), crabcakes, soft shell crabs, crab imperial, stuffed shrimp, etc. And Old Bay. Apparently some of the best (or only) examples of those foodstuffs can be found in the Baltimore area, and on Maryland's Eastern Shore. (My condolences to those who are shellfish-intolerant.)

Older folks, like myself, should have eaten at Haussner's, Maison Marconi, Mee Jun Lo, Danny's, Connolly's, and Martick's. While they're still around, young folks should stop into Jimmy's (on Broadway), Chiapparelli's and Sabatino's, Attman's, and Trinacria. Not that any of the restaurants mentioned are unique to Baltimore, but because they were and are Baltimore institutions. And that's just as important a consideration as quintessential-ism when it comes to making lists of "must dos." Those new-fangled farm-to-table, hipster, restaurants serving "New American" cuisine that have been popping up all over the place are as much Seattle, New York, or Chicago as Baltimore. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at things), that seems to be the way that things are headed, the new generic that is replacing the "Continental" food restaurant of decades past.

So forget the county sushi and the roasted vegetables, and go find yourself a restaurant where the veteran, apron-wearing waitresses call you "hon" and have yourself a plate of crab imperial before it becomes a memory. That's a must-do Baltimore foodie experience.


Kate said...

Breakfast at 2 am at the Sip 'n' Bite. There's nothing more Bawlmer than that place. Is the White Rice Inn still open? That was the other Chinese joint we used to frequent back in the day (before I knew you, even). I miss Mee Jun Lo's. A dump with great food. Another quintessential: Faidley's raw bar at Lexington Market.

kristin said...

Interesting post. A lot of the items on that list are a bit silly and certainly not what I associate with Baltimore.

Berger cookies would be at the top of a list I'd make, and Old Bay is certainly up there. I am very allergic to shellfish, so many of the things that I'd associate with Baltimore are out of the question. I'm glad to see breakfast at Blue Moon Cafe came up, as did Bertha's. I have to say, though, I went to Chiapparelli’s once and was pretty unimpressed--my mom makes a significantly better penne alla vodka.

I'm kind of surprised that Little Italy isn't on the list anywhere...maybe some tiramisu (