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?

5 comments:

  1. Most of my fondest food memories involve my grandmother's cooking. We didn't do much restaurant eating when I was a kid. But, there are some things I remember fondly.

    The New System Bakery on 36th Street in Hampden was our local bakery. We would stop there on Sunday after church for loaves of crusty white bread that my mom would freeze, then reheat in the oven at dinnertime during the week. We'd also bring home a dozen "buns," their square raisin buns, loaded with cinnamon, raisins, and that sticky white icing. Sometimes we'd get fruit or coconut danish - my favorite was the coconut with chocolate frosting. Yumm.

    Lexington Market was another favorite place. My grandmother would take me there during the weeks before Christmas for the fruits and nuts and candies that were always part of the dessert spread after Christmas dinner. We'd stop at Konstant Kandy for fresh-roasted peanuts and hard candies, and at the Rheb's counter for bonbons and creams and nut clusters.

    As for Read's, I remember occasional trips downtown to shop with my grandmother, and we would stop at the soda fountain at the Read's at Howard and Lexington for lunch. Years later, after HS graduation, my first job was working at the soda fountain at the Read's on 36th Street. $1.40 an hour to grill corn muffins for the little old ladies who would come in after church on Sunday.

    Thanks for evoking these memories!

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  2. Most of my childhood food memories involve New England specialties that don't exist down here in the Mid-Atlantic, or that aren't as good down here. Fried clams, for example -- the clam strips they serve outside New England are anemic and tasteless compared with the real fried clams I enjoyed as a child. Most of these specialties still exist up in New England, but since I'm down here, I can't get them unless I take a road trip.

    My family moved to Maryland when I was not quite eleven years old, but my parents never got into the local Maryland specialties, so none of them became old favorites. I've tried and enjoyed stuff like oysters and crab cakes as an adult, but they aren't childhood memories.

    I do recall drugstore soda fountains, both in New England and down here. Root beer floats were my favorite fountain treat. I also have fond memories of going to the drive-in restaurant as a child. And surprise! We've got one a few miles down the road from us. A real local joint, not a Sonic or other chain drive-in. So that's one childhood memory I can relive every summer.

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  3. The place still exists, but the sandwich is gone...Paper Moon's Egg Planet is still one of my all-time favorites. WAAAH!

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  4. Anonymous12:43 PM

    We didn't eat out very much but we used to go to Pappys - which as a kid I loved. Oh, and we loved Berg's for the ice cream on Sunday afternoons.

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