Welcome to Baltimore: A Newcomer's Eating Tour
©Jordan August Photography
Photo By: Webster Powell ©All Rights Reserved
Photo By: JihoNation.com ©JihoNation.com
Photo By: Picasa
Welcome to Baltimore
“Crab cakes and football — that’s what Maryland does!” Any Marylanders roaming outside the Old Line State have likely heard the Wedding Crashers line hollered their way. It’s true that Baltimore is good at those things, but there’s so much more that merits mentioning — and eating. Maryland’s largest city is a way-underrated food town, one with accessible traditions, strong chefs and a palpable sense of slightly off-kilter pride. It’s pretty easy to let Charm City charm you, as long as you show up hungry.
Images courtesy of the restaurants (Artifact Coffee, The Food Market, Woodberry Kitchen), Jordan August Photography (Union Craft Brewing), Michael Costello (Ale Mary's), Jihonation (Papermoon Diner), Christopher Keegan (Jimmy's Famous Seafood), Drew Lazor (Hanoori Town, Matthew’s Pizza, Pioneer Pit Beef), J. Christian Parent (Bad Decisions), Rare Bird Photography (Abbey Burger Bistro).
Iconic Spot: Woodberry Kitchen
Plenty of Baltimore restaurants have been around longer, but few have made an impact quite like Spike and Amy Gjerde’s eight-year-old establishment. Usually the first name local food geeks recommend to out-of-towners, Woodberry Kitchen has earned this reputation thanks to its passionate support of the Chesapeake region’s best farmers, watermen and producers. The menu is an unabashed Maryland lovefest — local farmstead cheeses, BaltimOrganics greenery, Tilghman Island crab pots — and the kitchen's knack for elevating native ingredients goes a long way in boosting the state's overlooked cooking heritage. From the house-extruded pastas and wood-fired specialties to the killer brunch plates (don't miss the yeast doughnuts and the rockfish roll), the Gjerdes manage to nail that elusive midpoint between elegance and accessibility.
Seafood: Jimmy’s Famous Seafood
A true Baltimore success story, Jimmy’s has been in the seafood business since 1974, trumpeting its “famous” moniker well before it actually was. Now known citywide and beyond, especially by Orioles and Ravens fans, the house that Greek immigrant restaurateur Jimmy Minadakis built remains a reliable go-to for authentic Maryland-style steamed blue crabs, but there’s much more to the menu than mallets. Crowds pack the place for the crab cakes, Chicken Chesapeake, stuffed oysters, and even steaks and burgers.
Pit Beef: Pioneer Pit Beef
Pit beef, sometimes described as Maryland’s native barbecue, always tastes best when ordered from certain places — a boardwalk stand, a roadside shack, a church parking lot. This smoke-soaked terroir is strong at Pioneer, a literal shed a few minutes outside city limits, where the chimney puffs like a steam machine in an old cartoon. Meatmasters, who always hand over a one-bite sample after you order, oversee rounds of beautifully smoked beef, ribboned on a meat slicer and served on a kaiser roll with your pick of condiments (traditional is raw onion and the mayo-horseradish “Tiger Sauce”). Though beef is the thing here — “nobody does it better,” proclaims the very accurate sign — they also make serious pit ham and turkey. Plan for lunchtime, as they’re open only until 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday.
Korean: Hanoori Town
Don’t be startled by the sharp, successive cracks you hear reverberating through Catonsville’s Hanoori Town. What sounds like Indiana Jones wielding his whip is actually a Korean noodle master, stretching, twisting and thwacking his Chinese-inspired myeon against the counter in the back. That stall is just one of the seemingly infinite options in this bustling food court, a Hangul-heavy setup with something to satisfy every proclivity: baby octopus in sizzling stone rice bowls; sublime platters of grilled galbi (short rib); naengmyeon, buckwheat noodles served in an cucumber-y iced broth topped with fiery gochujang. After you’re done eating, poke around the massive basement shop for Korean cooking tools and kitchen supplies.
Pizza: Matthew’s Pizza
The pizza cognoscenti love organizing their pies into neat file folders, but Matthew’s Pizza in Highlandtown escapes easy categorization. Though sometimes called Greek, it is best (and only) described as “Matthew’s style.” At it since 1943, Matthew’s is the rare institution that lures locals and tourists in equal measure. Baked in pans, their pizzas emerge high-walled, with a crunchy outer crust and a tender, focaccia-like crumb. You’ll want the cheesy crab and the bluntly named “both cheese,” with mozzarella and Reggianito (add basil and garlic for no extra charge). But if you want those to go, you’ll get them in a Matthew’s-style “box” — two disposable plates wrapped in butcher paper.
Burger: Abbey Burger Bistro
A friendly bar and grill in busy Federal Hill, the Abbey lures in serious burger enthusiasts with its creative signature creations: the Greek-inspired Lamb Burger dressed in feta and herbed yogurt; B’more-to-the-core patties bathed in homemade crab dip; a teriyaki-glazed Hawaiian option with grilled pineapple. But ask for the build-a-burger checklist if you’d like to flex your inner grill jockey. Unconventional meat options (bison! kangaroo!), a variety of roll alternatives (pitas, lettuce wraps, tortillas), and nearly 50 different sauces and toppings offer plenty of ways to go custom in Charm City.
Brewery: Union Craft Brewing
Active since 2011, this Woodberry operation has distinguished itself in the growing Maryland craft-beer crowd with a simple philosophy and an open-door policy. The team behind popular flagship ales like Duckpin and Anthem also operates a casual, airy taproom, attracting drinkers looking to enjoy the weather, tailgates and intimate brewery tours, plus rotating food-truck fare and occasional live music. Swing by on Thursdays for special one-off cask-conditioned selections.
Hot Spot: The Food Market
Located right in the middle of Hampden’s option-filled “Avenue” (36th Street), Chef Chad Gauss’ electric Food Market can be a tough reservation — but the wait is worth it. Lighthearted in approach but serious in execution, the menu sprints all over the map, culling classic and contemporary influences into dishes that are boisterous and big on flavor. The hearty, high-low approach — Oysters “Carbonara,” Crispy Lobster Fingers with honey-mustard dip; a hulking bison burger with blue cheese and braised onions — covers everyone, so all you really need to bring is an appetite.
Cocktail Bar: Bad Decisions
The phrase “cocktail bar” conjures up intimidating thoughts for the fancy-booze-averse —inaccessible drink lists, haughty “mixologists” in vintage suspenders — but any skeptical shot-and-beer type should feel right at home at John Reusing’s Bad Decisions, a Fell’s Point dive that just so happens to double as a surreptitious clubhouse for unpretentious mixed-drink fans. Request the menu here and you’ll be handed a dog-eared school composition notebook filled with hand-written recipes, both classic and original. They make the drinks quickly, with quality spirits, and charge reasonable prices.
Late Night: Papermoon Diner
Decorated like something out of a John Waters/Salvador Dali/Pee Wee Herman neon fever dream, Remington’s Papermoon is quintessentially Baltimore — a little off, in the best possible way. The huge, hearty comfort-food menu runs the gamut from unconventional breakfasts (Shrimp and Grits with Tasso-Ham Sauce; French toast toad-in-the-hole) to satisfying all-day food, like meatloaf sandwiches and fries topped with espresso-barbecue pork. The lively, diverse and unpredictable evening crowd is just as entertaining as the zany, visually stimulating environs.
Coffee: Artifact Coffee
The Woodberry Kitchen team’s sterling track record is bolstered on the beverage front by the excellent Artifact, a polished caffeine haven with light cafe fare. Coffee — made from internationally sourced Counter Culture beans — is available from the espresso machine or the pour-over bar. In warm weather, go for the Japanese-style cold brew, made super-strong and tempered over ice. The beverages jibe well with the simple from-scratch menu, including an all-vegetable “greenhouse” sandwich on rye; and sage sausage, egg and cheddar muffins with Woodberry’s signature “Snake Oil” hot sauce. Artifact also hosts weekly coffee “cuppings,” or formal tastings, for serious sensory drinkers.
Brunch: Ale Mary’s
It’s not difficult to find a proper pint in Fell’s Point, the undisputed bar capital of Baltimore. But it’s only at Ale Mary’s that you’re going to find that pint decked out in angel wings and a glowing halo. Operating in the cheeky (and somewhat controversial) realm between reverence and revelry, the neighborhood pub is draped in religious iconography, like old Catholic school photos, holy-water fonts filled with peppermint pinwheels and a behind-the-bar monstrance modified with the iconic National Bohemian mascot. The food is always solid and drinking-friendly (they serve more than 600 pounds of Tater Tots a week), but the Bloody Mary-heavy weekend brunch is where the kitchen really shines — look for the infamous Saints & Sinners Sandwich, with sausage, bacon, eggs and cheese smashed between glazed doughnuts.