If you haven't been to Baltimore, Maryland, in a while, you're in for a tasty surprise. The city has a slew of new restaurants, great products, and creative chefs offering a unique spin on local ingredients and old "Bawlmer" favorites. Charm City has never tasted so good.
1. HAPPY SPOON AT PABU
Chesapeake oysters are a Baltimore seafood staple, and usually, I simply enjoy the local bivalves on the half shell with a squeeze of lemon. But then I discovered the Happy Spoon, and my oyster notions were thrown out on the bay. Nestled into ceramic spoon is a single Chesapeake oyster, a pinky of uni, a small puddle of ponzu creme fraiche, and a crown of salmon roe and tobiko. It's one salty, creamy, very happy, briny mouthful.
725 Aliceanna Street
2. "TELL TALE DARK" ICED COFFEE AT ZEKE'S
Although Baltimore might not be the first name you think of when you imagine a coffee town, several great cups are trying to change that, at the forefront of which is Zeke's. I first encountered them at the sprawling Baltimore Farmer's Market and fell in love with their signature Tell Tale Dark bean blend. Brewed Guinness dark, chilled, and then napped with house-made simple syrup and South Mountain Creamery's lush half-and-half, sipping it was like wearing an air-conditioned cloak on my steamy shopping expedition. Zeke's also has a year-round location on Harford Road where you can buy their small-batch roasted beans (try the Oriole's loyalists favorite Black and Orange blend) and cups of Joe to go.
4607 Harford Road
3. MARYLAND BLUE CRAB DEVILED EGGS
Crab is king in Baltimore: Hard shelled and doused in Old Bay; soft-shelled and battered and fried; chunks of soft meat combined with bread crumbs to become cakes. At Wit & Wisdom they've found a new way to indulge in blue shells: Creamy deviled eggs, seasoned with peppery Old Bay, and stuffed plump with jumbo lumps of sweet crab meat. I dare you to eat just one.
Wit & Wisdom
200 International Drive
4. MOJITO SORBET AT PITANGO GELATO
Fresh, organic, handmade—overused catch words perhaps, but all true of Pitango's tantalizing gelato, and boy, does it make a difference. Although custard lovers line up here for the Crema gelato, colored a sunny-day-yellow from free-roaming eggs and enriched with fresh cream from Spring Wood Organic Farm, for me nothing could top the Mojito sorbet. With its thrashings of fresh mint, bracing lime juice, and just a hint of sweetness it's the perfect (alcohol-free) summer refresher in a cup.
802 South Broadway
5. COMPRESSED CUCUMBERS AT BLUEGRASS TAVERN
Many restaurants have close relationships with farmers, but Bluegrass Tavern is the only place I've dined where farmers actually handed out vegetables at my table. The hip neighborhood bistro doubles as a CSA pickup for One Straw Farm, and the convivial farmers chat with patrons and then offer whatever produce isn't claimed at the end of dinner to diners free of charge. I took home the most flavorful garlic I've had in years, along with some potatoes and parsley, thoughts of vichyssoise swirling in my head, but nothing I conjured for myself was as tasty as Bluegrass chef's Ray Humm's innovative creations. For a salad that's anything but simple, Humm creates "compressed" cucumbers with a vacuum sealer that simultaneously infuses the fruit with mirin, then serves them with gem lettuce and a spicy peanut emulsion. (On a separate visit, I tasted Humm's compressed watermelon infused with Crystal hot sauce and served with arugula, cantaloupe, and buttermilk dressing that I still think about constantly.)
1500 South Hanover Street
6. BERGER COOKIES
Less a cookie and more a mound of fudgy chocolate piled atop a cakey wafer, no visit to Charm City is complete without a Berger. A black and white cookie turned on it's head with quadruple the chocolate, berger cookies trace their ancestry to Germany and are now made by a single manufacturer, DeBaufre Bakeries. You can get them sold by the boxful in local supermarkets and convenience stores—making them a perfect take-home souvenir.
Available in local groceries and shops throughout the Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia areas