It seems that I cannot escape working somewhere in mid-downtown Baltimore. In the last 25 years, I’ve toiled at one job or another within the half square mile bounded by Baltimore, Greene, Eager, and Charles Streets. Over the years, I’ve seen the food scene in the area go from a few random sandwich shops to a veritable United Nations of dining, both high-end and casual.
The area that I currently work in has mostly chain restaurants, but that’s still a huge improvement over what we had only a handful of years ago. But just a few blocks east, there’s a panoply of good eats, starting with the LB Bakery near the corner of Baltimore and Charles. This little cafe in the lower level of the Lord Baltimore Hotel serves Philly-based La Colombe coffee, which is lovely and smooth. Pair your coffee with one of pastry chef Mary Plovanich’s baked goods, or grab a sandwich or salad for lunch. Another dining gem in another hotel is just around the corner on Charles. The B&O American Brasserie is named after the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company, once headquartered in this H-shaped Beaux-Arts beauty. The Brasserie serves as the restaurant for the Kimpton Hotel Monaco, which currently takes up a good portion of the 13-story mixed-use structure. But while one can get an omelet and a side of grits for brekkie before heading to the Convention Center, dinner is my favorite meal at the B&O. Chef Scott Hines and his crew are creative without being weird, serving dishes like oxtail marmalade (a rich and lightly sweet spread for bread) and house-made pappardelle with veal sugo and a delightfully unexpected topping of marjoram and orange.
Continuing north on Charles, you’ll find a couple of notable lunch spots. Delights by Mina offers West African cuisine, with a buffet on Thursday and Friday. A few doors up is David & Dad’s, where, for a couple of years, I got my lunch pretty much every day. While the chicken salad is good, the shrimp salad is fab, but only served on Wed and Thurs. Other specials, like the lasagna and calzones are tasty and reasonable options, but the chicken pot pie is a must.
Up in the next block, on the east side of the street, is Cafe Poupon, sister restaurant to the famed Patisserie Poupon bakery in historic Jonestown, a few blocks away. The Cafe offers a selection of the bakery’s fruit tarts, eclairs, macarons, and other delectable pastries, but also sandwiches and salads with a French flair. (My amazing wedding cake came from Poupon, so they will always have my heart.) Across the street within the complex known as Charles Center, there’s delicious pho to be had at Mekong Delta Cafe, Afghan kabobs at Ariana Kabob Grill, and myriad types of panini at Sugarbee’s. If you’re just in the mood for a snack to nibble while touring the city, stop into the venerable Peanut Shoppe for some of their warm roasted nuts.
The 300 block of North Charles Street used to be called “Jeweler’s Row,” with shops on both sides of the street offering dazzling diamonds and fine gold baubles. Many moons ago, I worked at Nelson Coleman & Sons, the last remaining jeweler on the block before they, too, moved out to the county. In place of bracelets and custom engagement rings there is now food. Cazbar offers Turkish fare, while sister restaurant up the street, Homeslyce, specializes in pizza. They offer both gluten free crusts and vegan cheese, so those on special diets can still enjoy a slice. Additionally, there is an Indian restaurant (Lumbini), a Thai restaurant (Ban Thai), and an Irish pub (Mick O’Shea’s) on that side of the block. Across the street is Maisy’s, a restaurant that has something for pretty much everyone. There are burgers and brick oven pizza, but also pulled goat barbecue, a seafood red curry stew, cola-braised short ribs, and something called an inside-out chicken pot pie. There’s also a smattering of vegetarian items on the menu.
Up in the next block is Sotto Sopra, serving contemporary Italian food in a gorgeous space. Pretty much everything here is delicious, from the pan seared polenta di Riccardo (named after owner Riccardo Bosio) to the pork ossobuco to the house made pastas. I’ve eaten here several times and have never been disappointed. If you’re lucky enough to be around on a Sunday, check their Web site (sottosoprainc.com) to see if it’s one of their famous Opera Nights. A bargain $58 will not only get you 5 courses of delicious food, but also live entertainment. A few doors up is TenTen Ramen, offering –you guessed it–ramen, and other specialty noodle dishes.
The final stop on our tour of Charles Street is Ware House 518. Located in a soaring space that once held the beloved Louie’s Bookstore Cafe, the rear of the restaurant is named the Louie Bar in its honor. The cuisine at Ware House is modern American with a nod to the South; the shrimp and grits are a particular favorite of mine.
But wait, there’s more: next time, we’ll continue north on Charles Street and explore the restaurants of Mount Vernon, above the Washington Monument.
Minxeats Baltimore food blogger and Co-author of the new book, Maryland’s Chesapeake: How the Bay and its Bounty Shaped a Cuisine, plus Food Lovers’ Guide to Baltimore, and Baltimore Chef’s Table.
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