This week offers food lovers the opportunity to celebrate everything from champagne to chicken wings–and oysters, of course, since it’s autumn in Baltimore. Here’s a look at what’s coming up in the local restaurant scene:
Two years ago, fellow food writer Suzanne Loudermilk and I set out on a journey to explore the stories behind the beloved restaurant’s of Baltimore’s past–places that were once hot spots but, over the years, shut their doors for one reason or another. The result was “Lost Restaurants of Baltimore,” which includes the tales of 35 of the most iconic restaurants from Baltimore’s past, from those that came and went in the 19th and early 20th centuries, to those that closed their doors just a few years ago.
Baltimoreans are a notoriously nostalgic bunch, so convincing local restaurant owners, chefs, wait staff and guests to share their memories was a fun experience. We heard stories of favorite dishes, of wild nights in kitchens and of famous faces in dining rooms. We include those stories–and more–in the book.
Below, we’ve shared one chapter from the book, the story of Jimmy Wu’s New China Inn, a N. Charles Street destination from the late 1940s through the early 1980s. Like many of the restaurants featured in the book, the New China Inn’s story has a little bit of everything. Inside the dining room, Jimmy Wu’s inviting personality was a dominant force, while outside the restaurant’s walls, Baltimorean’s tastes and attitudes rapidly evolved.
Hot Plate: Dia de los Muertes at La Calle, fall cocktails at Clavel and Topside, champagne dinner at Charleston and more
The candy is gone and the temps have dropped: It’s November. But it’s not time for turkey just yet. This week in the Baltimore restaurant scene, there’s a diverse collection of events planned, from wine tastings to margarita pitchers.
Here’s a look at what’s coming up:
Halloween is the big news right now, but the week’s restaurant happenings don’t begin and end with fun-sized candy bars. Here’s a look at what’s going on in and around the Baltimore region:
Hot Plate: New menus at Bluebird and Noona’s, harvest festivals, Diaspora Dinner at Ida B’s and more
The weekend is filled with fun events for food lovers, with celebrations of fall flavors, wine and whiskey. Here’s a look at what’s coming up:
Fall festival season is in full swing, but those aren’t the only fun food events taking place this week. From lots of openings to fundraisers, here’s a look at what’s coming up:
What do a moody cocktail bar, a bustling Oaxacan restaurant and mezcaleria, and a chill destination for wine, sake and beer all have in common? They're all the creative products of one of Baltimore's most innovative young restaurateurs: Lane Harlan.
Guests visiting any of Harlan's spots will walk away feeling satisfied, and it's also likely they'll go home with some new knowledge.
As proprietor, Harlan views educating guests as part of her role, and one of her strengths is creating a dining or drinking experience that's instructive but never feels preachy or like a chore.
At Fadensonnen, that means talking with guests about wine and sake. "My generation hasn't grown up in a wine or sake culture," she says. "By making these products made by extremely small producers accessible and providing education, we've been able to reinvigorate a culture of eating, drinking and gathering."
Given the captivating atmospheres of her establishments, it's easy to think of Lane Harlan as a visionary. But she's also a practical businesswoman. It's her attention to detail and sharp business mind that have helped her turn her ideas into successful businesses--along with a lot of hard work and her willingness to build and rely on a solid team.
"Baltimore is filled with opportunity," she says. "I don't mean this in a Hallmark card way."
Harlan sees that opportunity in the many empty or under-utilized commercial buildings scattered around the city. When she and husband Matthew Pierce opened W.C. Harlan in 2013, the building had been on the market for over a year--as a residential property with no commercial licensing. She took a high-risk loan to buy the building and went door-to-door in the neighborhood to gather signatures on a petition to renew the expired license. It worked.
Harlan and her partners are far from finished. Next up: a small bottle shop, Angels Ate Lemons, will open above Sophomore Coffee later this year. The shop will carry items like natural wine and sake, and shoppers can stop in for daily tastings.
Her existing businesses aren't fixed in space, either. "They are continually evolving as we gain more knowledge, inspiration and understanding of our community's needs," she says.
No list of what makes Baltimore great would be complete without a nod to the food made famous by Charm City's favorite crustacean: the Maryland crab cake. Crab cakes and football are what Maryland does, after all. They're part of who we are.
Historical records suggest crab cakes have been around since colonial times, though the moniker "crab cake" is a relative newcomer. Its first appearance in print is in the "New York World's Fair Cook Book," written by Crosby Gaige in the 1930s; he called it a "Baltimore Crab Cake."
Even if Baltimoreans in the years prior to Gaige's book called their crab cakes something else, they probably weren't all that different from today--which means, of course, that Baltimoreans have probably been bickering for centuries about who makes the best crab cake in town.
On this subject, we'll say is that if the crab is fresh and plentiful, the filler is minimal, the spice is right, and the cake doesn't include any egregious ingredients (we're looking at you, green peppers), we'll happily tuck into that meal.
But what we won't do is order a crab cake anyplace outside the Chesapeake Bay region. If an out-of-state menu claims its crab cake is "Maryland-style," don't believe the hype. Even if the restaurant gets the overall recipe right, there's little chance the crab in question actually hails from Maryland waters. Even worse, that crab might be pasteurized. Ew.
We like to spread our crab cake love around, but we do have some favorites here in the city. Some of our crew's picks include Faidley's Seafood (can't beat the history or the Lexington Market experience), Koco's Pub (another tried-and-true cake beloved for its huge chunks of backfin), Friendly Farm (worth the drive to the country) and Conrad's (where we trust that the crab is always local).
Those are just a few of our go-to cakes--and the list is always growing.
DiPasquale's Italian Marketplace
Visiting DiPasquale's Italian Marketplace is an assault on the senses in the very best way.
The Italian grocery and deli is known for both its sandwiches and the plethora of Italian ingredients available in the shop. It smells fantastic; looks wild, with stacks and piles of colorful foodstuffs in every corner; and is guaranteed to make stomachs growl.
From the famous meatball subs to the generous selection of olives and cheeses, to the crusty, gorgeous bread, the regular selection at DiPasquale's is enough to make anyone's mouth water. The market also carries special seasonal items, like a variety of fish around the holidays, when Italian families prepare for the Feast of the Seven Fishes.
Baltimore was a different place in 1914, when DiPasquale's opened in its original location on Claremont Street in Highlandtown. The city's southeastern waterfront wasn't yet fully industrial. And Highlandtown was largely a German neighborhood. But that didn't stop the market's founder, Louis DiPasquale, from opening his grocery--and for that, the city is thankful.
The business experienced some lean times, particularly in the 1970s, when it was open only on the weekends for some stretches. But the family persevered and for decades, it's been more than just a thriving grocery.
While there have been some short-lived satellite locations over the years, the Highlandtown store, with its towers of pasta boxes, scattered bags full of nuts, stacks of wine bottles and cheese hanging from the ceiling, remains the heart and soul--and stomach--of the whole operation.
From fall festivals to new harvest menus to fancy wine dinners and lots of oysters, Baltimore food lovers have many choices this week. Here’s a look at what’s on tap: