Baltimore’s culinary scene for many years meant crab from the Chesapeake Bay, red-sauce Italian food in the city’s Little Italy and a smattering of steak restaurants along the Inner Harbor. But in the past 20 years or so, a reawakening has happened in the form of farm-to-table restaurants such as Spike Gjerde’s Woodberry Kitchen and plenty of others that rely on Southern cuisine. Many of the city’s more creative restaurants are found in unusual spots, such as in an old mill, inside museums or even in an old auto body shop.
Situated in the heart of Federal Hill, Spoons (spoonsbaltimore.com, 24 East Cross St., 410-539-8395) is a bustling, family-friendly place, decorated with a wooden carousel horse, that serves enormous breakfast platters. Huevos rancheros ($13.70), fried eggs served on top of a corn tortilla with black beans and salsa, also comes with a generous heap of home fries dotted with herbs. Other great options are cinnamon-roll pancakes with maple-coffee glaze ($9 for three pancakes, $2 extra if you want bacon inside the pancake); eggs Benedict ($12.70); fried oysters and grits ($14.70), featuring chicken-fried oysters, bacon, mushrooms, garlic, green onions and Old Mill cheesy grits; and something called the Beast ($14), which includes a buttermilk biscuit, fried chicken, smoked bacon, American cheese, a fried egg and sausage gravy. I wasn’t brave enough for that one. Tasty drinks include the cafe au lait, made with beans roasted in-house, and a Chinese breakfast tea. On a busy weekend morning, the no-reservations place fills up fast.
Speaking of Gjerde (who also recently rolled out
A Rake’s Progress in the District), an excellent lunch spot is the recently revamped Parts & Labor (partsandlaborbutchery.com, 2600 N. Howard St., 443-873-8887). The meat-centric place — it’s also a butcher shop — in the Remington neighborhood, named for its original role as a tire store and car garage, has playful options such as a sandwich called Dad Bod ($16): smoked ham, pit beef, krakowska (a Polish sausage), onion, barbecue sauce and spicy tiger sauce. Although our waitress suggested the raw cheeseburger ($11) and the chicken soup ($12) served with Carolina gold rice, carrots, leeks and cilantro, we went for the Cuban ($16), a tender combination of smoked shoulder, capicola (Italian salami), lomo (dried pork tenderloin), plus mustard and pickles; and the turkey Appalachian sausage made with ground turkey and cheese and ordered (for another $1 each) with sauerkraut and a roll ($10). To drink, there’s a vast local beer selection, such as a Blue Moon-style Yellow Sudmarine ($3 during happy hour). We didn’t save room for dessert, although persimmon pie was tempting.
Chef Cindy Wolf, a frequent James Beard finalist, opened Charleston (charlestonrestaurant.com, 1000 Lancaster St., 410-332-7373) in the Harbor East neighborhood in 1997 with her ex-husband Tony Foreman, and you can still spot her working the kitchen in her chef whites nearly every evening. Credited with kicking off Baltimore’s current food scene, Charleston is still going strong. Choose from the prix fixe menu — three courses for $79, four courses for $94, six courses for $124, and extra for wine pairings. The emphasis here is on Southern dishes, but with a French flair and an impressive wine list. Our amuse-bouche, for instance, is a light-as-air vegetable broth served alongside puffy gougeres. The waiter touts the chef’s shrimp and grits, although they’re not currently on the menu: I say I don’t like grits, but he assures me I would love these. Instead, we fall in love with shrimp flambéed with rum; pan-roasted scallops on a potato puree with crispy leeks; lobster soup with curry; rockfish ceviche; and tenderloin served with a potato gratin. Desserts — which arrive in addition to the three, four, five or six plates you order — included a creamy passion fruit creme brulee and pistachio panna cotta.
Bruno is a writer based in the District. Find her on Twitter: @brunodebbie.
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