Almost Valentine’s Day, yeah, yeah, I know. I got nothin’. While couples are gazing into each other’s eyes over champagne and oysters, some of us will be ordering from the singles menu. And so, a love letter to food, which I adore and suffer from and play head games with as I would any bad boyfriend. In fact I just gained weight while visiting Africa, an accomplishment few can claim. Now back in the bosom of Baltimore I offer a Valentine to favorites from local eateries, which I seem to love as much for what they remind me of as what they are.
1. Huevos rancheros, Atwater’s
Of all influences I absorbed during the 20 years I lived in Austin, Texas, none has been more abiding than my passion for Mexican breakfast dishes, and I am always on the lookout for reasonable facsimiles. When my friend Ken was recovering from surgery in a rehab up north near the Beltway, I used to stop at the Falls Road location of Atwater’s to bring him a latte on the way to visit and thus came to try the non-traditional version of huevos rancheros served there. Three, count ’em three, fried eggs served on corn tortillas with a thick, mild red chile sauce and queso blanco. No refried beans, no potatoes, no jalapenos, no ranchero sauce for that matter, but satisfying in its own way. Or maybe I’m just getting soft in my old age.
2. Cheese steak, The Real Thing, One World
Cheese steak was the signature food of my first husband Tony, born and raised in Philly. He used to go to the Italian market on South 9th Street with his grandma, and if he was good they would stop afterwards for a steak from Pat’s King of Steaks. Indoctrinated early in our relationship into this wonder of the junk-food world, I said farewell to Tony by ordering 100 cheese steaks from a sub shop in Austin for his memorial service in 1994. As you may know, Pat’s in South Philly is across the street from another cheese steak stand called Geno’s, and each has its own passionate fan club. The guy who owns The Real Thing on York Road in Towson used to cook at Geno’s, but we try not to hold that against him. And call me crazy but my daughter Jane and I like the vegetarian version at One World.
3. Tart frozen yogurt, TCBY Belvedere Square, Evergreen Cafe in warmer months
Probably due to my mother’s overzealous policing of my youthful eating habits, I have a kind of PTSD that prevents me from enjoying desserts. Fortunately frozen yogurt was invented after I escaped my mother’s surveillance. My first bite was a life-changing encounter with creamy cold sweetness for me, spawning an immediate fantasy of opening my own fro-yo store. Early frozen yogurt tasted like real yogurt, but soon a bland replica of soft ice cream took over. Only in the past few years has yogurty frozen yogurt come back. R.I.P. Mr. Yogato of Fells Point, a kooky, endearing spot where I first encountered the new “classic tart” flavor. Fortunately it has now caught on widely.