Letter from the Editor: Becoming Baltimore - Charm City Food Hits It's Stride Vol: 114

August 2014

Baltimore is my hometown and it’s changed dramatically since I was a little girl. Neighborhood by neighborhood, the old port city of has gentrified during the last 15 years. But even though almost all the colorful row houses are renovated and the inner Harbor is now a major tourist destination, the Charm City has lost none if its character and grit. That’s because the spirit of Baltimore—unpretentious, unafraid, eccentric—is in the people. And Mobtown chefs, somms, and mixos are no exception.

Pickle pops. Yes, pickle pops. Where historic, bar-filled Fells Point meets Canton—just past the Sip & Bite—Bartender Shana Leachman is serving salty, replenishing licks of summer alongside slugs of whiskey at Fork & Wrench. In addition to pressing the refresh button on the pickle back, Leachman is putting the deep freeze on classics like the Boiler Room: whiskey, house brandy cherry juice, chocolate bitters, and stout ice cub. Fork & Wrench pastry chef, Janae Aiken, is summoning the spirit of every hospitable, warm-hearted Balmer grandma with her irresistible cakes, like apple-oatmeal upside down and gooey butter. And while the big, wooden distressed tables and coke-bottle chandelier harken back to a thoroughly working class Baltimore of the ‘30s and ‘40s, Chef Cyrus Keefer’s food is thoroughly modern, from mesquite bone marrow with crab and uni to a new take on pig trotters.    

On the tree-lined streets of Hampden, with its vibrant, multicolored row house porches, store fronts, and funky shops, Roaster Jay Caragay of Spro Coffee is injecting new meaning into the lyric “good morning Baltimore!.” He’s brewing coffee that’s distinctive as the neighborhood itself. Some of the other Hampden businesses are selling vintage clothing. Caragay is selling coffee by vintage. That is the green beans are aged for anywhere from seven months to seven years before Caragay roasts them and the nuanced joe hits your unsuspecting palate.

Influential Chef and Restaurateur Spike Gjerde is continuing to the lead the Charm City food scene. At Gjerde’s Shoo-Fly Diner, Chef Opie Crooks’s superlative fired chicken is wipe-your-chin-on-your-sleeve-and-dive-back-in good. And the rockfish, sourced from the Chesapeake, makes you want to slap the table. This diner done right is also a late night bar, where sourcing is taken just as seriously as in the savory kitchen. Can you make a whiskey sour without citrus? Bartender Stephanie Griber can. See her adept sourcing skills in this week’s Weekly Mix. And at Gjerde’s butcher shop/restaurant Parts & Labor, Chef George Marsh is grinding out charcuterie using whole animals and recipes specific to the region, reminding us why bologna is important (and addictive).

Baltimore somms like Julie Dalton are livening up night life with off-night events such as Dalton’s “He Said Beer/She Said Wine” dinner series, the spectator’s sport at Wit & Wisdom. This weeks Crush is a how-to guide by somms for making slow Monday and Tuesday services into a boon and a blast. And in our Whipped column, we see that bean to bar chocolate has hit Baltimore, in the raw. Jinji Fraser’s Pure Chocolates by Jinji are a healthful take on treats for mind, body, and soul.

From Thomas Herrmann’s gorgeous, effortless baby vegetable salad in a to-die-for aioli at Cunningham’s to the parsley-dandelion kombucha at Hex Fements, and the fresh juices and smoothies at the Inn at Black Olive we found the new Baltimore food scene to be as wide ranging and colorful as the street art that dots neighborhood after neighborhood. In the coming months, as we move on from Baltimore, we’ll be traveling to Boston, Chicago, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. Send us your nominations and get real-time updates on what we’re eating by following us on Twitter and Facebook. And get your tickets for ICC 2014 here. 

Antoinette Bruno