Here it is in a nutshell: The soup from Atwater's Ploughboy Soups is worth the drive to Baltimore. Honestly, even without the Inner Harbor and art museum stuff.
Proprietor (and all-around nice guy) Ned Atwater is the soup genius. Born in west Baltimore and raised in Catonsville, Atwater worked in the restaurant business and ran a wholesale bread shop. He loved the bread but missed the people. Atwater was approached at the Waverly Market at 32nd Street about becoming part of the new (and much improved) Belvedere Square Marketplace and eventually jumped at the chance, moving in spring of 2003. The shared area (about 12,000 square feet of wine, sushi, fresh meat, ice cream) has all local vendors. Atwater's soup space included an old oyster bar, so he decided to "keep it simple" and add soup to complement the bread. The soup took off.
At peak hours, folks patiently wait for a table or stool at the bar (my personal favorite.) Menus are printed daily on marigold-colored paper with the day's selection of fresh salads and sandwiches (both $8.50, half-portions available) and the (drumroll, please) four soups ($4.45 to $6.85): one meat, one seafood and two vegetarian. Atwater gathers seasonal ingredients from local farmers markets and an organic co-op in Pennsylvania. He'll prep vegetables the night before (on a recent day, Brussels sprouts) before figuring out the next morning what to do with them. They ended up in a black-eyed pea soup with smoked ham, sage sausage, barley and kale.
On two recent visits, patrons sipped, gulped and chugged soup out of white rice bowls that included roasted pepper and tomato with lump crab and shrimp; saffron orzo, rapini and olives; sweet potato and ginger with Indian yellow peas, bok choy and shiitake mushroom; and a vegetable borscht served with a dollop of dill sour cream.
Atwater's recent addition to the bar: kegged root beer, which is served in ice-cold mugs ($1.50). He's about to switch from a Wisconsin brand to Dominion Root Beer from Virginia, to keep things local.
-- Janelle Erlichman Diamond (January 18, 2006)