No Way Rosé in Federal Hill was one of several high profile openings this year. Photo courtesy of No Way Rosé.

Though 2022 started slowly in Baltimore’s culinary world, by midyear, the local restaurant scene had returned to pre-COVID levels of energy and excitement.

What did we do this year? We dove into seasonal menus, welcomed new spots, said goodbye to old friends, enjoyed collaborations, and raised money for good causes. We went to wine and whiskey dinners and food festivals, cracked crabs and slurped oysters, downed crushes, and experimented with low- and no-alcohol cocktails. We continued to embrace the charcuterie board. We spiced up our lives with Old Bay Vodka.

Here’s a look at the year in food:

Reopening for Real

During the early weeks (and even months) of 2022, the Omicron strain of COVID was surging and restaurants were doing their best to balance hospitality and health.

As the year progressed, though, things started to get back to normal – little by little.

February was a good month for local bar patrons. Early in the month, La Cuchara’s gorgeous bar reopened to customers and with it, happy hour specials were back. Mid-month, The Brewer’s Art reopened its downstairs bar after 697 days of closure and just a few weeks later, Magdalena reopened its bar seating.

In March, Le Comptoir du Vin reopened for dinner service and in April, Pierpoint Restaurant in Fells Point reopened. By June, when Mari Luna in Pikesville reopened for carryout, the restaurant world felt like it had gotten back to its pre-pandemic “normal.”

Big Openings & Closings

After two years of many closings, this year brought more happy news than sad on the restaurant front – though not all of the news was positive.

Dozens of new restaurants opened this year. Across the southern half of the city, some notable new spots include Federal Hill spot No Way Rosé, Midwestern restaurant Little Donna’s, The Copper Shark on East Fort Avenue, Southpaw in Fells Point, Marta restaurant in Butcher’s Hill, and James Joyce Irish Pub in Harbor East, which closed during COVID and was purchased and reopened by Atlas Restaurant Group.

In the central and northern half of Baltimore, there’s  Clandestino, the tequila-focused, speakeasy-style bar hidden inside Zen West, Chachi’s, in the Old Goucher location formerly occupied by Larder (which is now events-only), Church: A Bar (also in Old Goucher), The Royal Blue in Station North and Café Campli in Waltherson.

Unfortunately, there was a flip side to those openings: a handful of longtime Baltimore favorites closed their doors this year, including Little Italy institution Aldo’s Ristorante, Towson favorites San Sushi Too/Thai One On and Kyodai Rotating Sushi Bar, and Fells Point’s icon restaurant Bertha’s Mussels, which will close at the end of the year.

Woodberry Kitchen managed to find itself on both of those lists. While in the spring, contents of the restaurant were up for auction, and for most of the year, its doors remained closed except for private events, late this fall, the restaurant reopened as a scaled down version of its original incarnation, called Woodberry Tavern.

What’s Old Is New Again

Baltimoreans love their old favorites and always mourn them when they’re gone – which is why it’s always especially sweet news when a longtime business gets a new lease on life. That’s happened a few times in the local food world this year.

Velleggia’s, the venerable Little Italy restaurant that closed in the early 2000s, has been reborn, though it’s no longer in its old neighborhood. The restaurant reopened in November as a sit-down spot in Cross Street Market.

The Velleggia family’s reach continues to spread throughout the city, too: family members are behind the popular Mt. Vernon newcomer Allora and have plans to open a restaurant called Zander’s in the gorgeous downtown space left empty with the closing of the Alexander Brown restaurant.

Downtown diner Werner’s, which originally opened in 1950 and closed in 2011, was purchased by Pete’s Grille owner Ray Crum and reopened just before Christmas last year, as Werner’s Diner and Pub. The E. Redwood St. fixture was featured in tons of Baltimore-centric films and TV shows during its initial four decades, from Barry Levinson’s “Tin Men” to David Simon’s “The Wire.”

Lexington Market’s old East Market building celebrated 70 years open this year – and is closing, though the future looks bright for the market as a whole. In September, the new Lexington Market Plaza building opened with tenants representing a mix of old favorites and newcomers – and some companies that are a little bit of both, like beloved Italian market Trinacria, which is new to the market but has been a West Baltimore destination for many years.

Support for Ukraine

Every year, Baltimore restaurateurs give back to the community in ways big and small, from hosting fundraiser evenings to participation in large food-centric fundraisers for nonprofits.

This year, they did all of that – plus a little bit more. In late February, when Russian troops invaded Ukraine, Baltimoreans, including the restaurant community, rallied in support of the country and its people. Local restaurants stepped up to raise funds for humanitarian organizations.

Fells Point restaurants and bars like Max’s Taphouse, Kooper’s Tavern and Slainte Irish Pub were especially active in the earliest efforts, selling Ukrainian products, like Nikita Vodka, and creating special drinks to showcase those spirits (and raise funds), all to support organizations like Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen Chefs for Ukraine program.

In April and May, several restaurants, including Woodberry Kitchen, La Cuchara, and Bondhouse hosted fundraiser events and dinners to raise money for organizations like Razom for Ukraine  and the Ukrainian bakery Bakehouse.

The support extended into the summer. In June, Baltimore Spirits Company released Singularity #10, a spiced honey liqueur based on a recipe shared by Orest P. Hanas, a McCormick flavor scientist and first-generation Ukrainian American. Proceeds benefit Doctors Without Borders. And in July, the Baltimore-Odessa Sister City Committee organized the Bmore for Ukraine Festival in Patterson Park, with proceeds benefiting World Central Kitchen and United Help Ukraine.

Collabs Continue

One of the best things about the Baltimore culinary scene has always been the willingness and enthusiasm of local chefs and restaurateurs to work together – and with other local organizations.

This year, some of the most notable partnerships include H3irloom Food Group’s Juneteenth dinner with culinary historian Michael Twitty, The Charmery’s work with everyone from Justin Tucker to Christopher Shafer Clothier, Foraged Eatery’s dinners with Karma Farm and Black Ankle Vineyards, and EKIBEN’s collaborations with a wide variety of local talent, from the La Cuchara team to the Café Dear Leon crew to their friends at Clavel.

Saying Goodbye

This year, sadly, the Baltimore restaurant community lost two of its most beloved members.

In January, longtime La Scala manager Chesley Patterson was killed during a robbery in Fells Point, while on his way home from work. The restaurant community in Little Italy – and beyond – came together to mourn Patterson’s passing and to express frustration with the crime leading to his death. A suspect was arrested in April and his trial will begin June 2, 2023.

In November, Baltimore also absorbed the sad news that Lenny Kaplan, a pillar of the restaurant community for decades, passed away. Though he was not a Baltimore native, Kaplan embraced the city as his own after moving here after college with his Baltimore-born wife, Gail (Shavitz) Kaplan.

Kaplan’s father-in-law, Leon Shavitz, was an owner of the storied Pimlico Hotel restaurant. It was there that Kaplan’s restaurant career started and after Shavitz’s death in 1977, Kaplan took over operations of the restaurant with a couple partners. Kaplan also went on to own several successful businesses, including The Polo Grill near Johns Hopkins and The Classic Catering People.

Both will be missed – but their professionalism and love for hospitality will continue to influence those in the restaurant industry through 2023 and beyond.

Kit Pollard

Kit Waskom Pollard is a Baltimore Fishbowl contributing writer. She writes Hot Plate every Friday in the Baltimore Fishbowl.

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