When we last met here on the City Walker blog, we chose (ok, I chose on your behalf) to continue our walk straight down to the end of Thames Street and visit the Waterfront Kitchen, rather than hanging a right onto Caroline. Today, we’re going to explore that other option.
Yes, that first block of Caroline Street is mostly parking lots and apartments, but the next one shows more promise, at least intellectually. On the water side of the street is a Living Classrooms campus, where young people can get hands-on education and job training via natural, urban, and maritime resources. The BUGS (Baltimore Urban Gardening with Students) Greenhouse is located here, helping kids from underserved communities learn about gardening, cooking, and other skills that can lead them on the path to better grades and improved behavior. Additionally, the Greenhouse provides an amazing variety of fresh produce to Waterfront Kitchen. Cool, huh?
Once you’re past Living Classrooms, take a left onto Lancaster Street and head west. Restaurants will start popping up now. The first one you’ll encounter is RA Sushi, a rollicking rock-and-roll sort of sushi bar with fun specialty rolls and great happy hour specials. Mussel Bar & Grill is next door, specializing in, yes, mussels, but with a full selection of meat and seafood dishes and raw bar items and other good stuff. Brunch, too.
The next block of Lancaster has two of the more expensive restaurants in the area. Ouzo Bay, which has garnered rave reviews since it opened, is a fine place to get seafood straight from the water. (The Mediterranean Sea, not the the Patapsco River out front.) Their high-end Greek cuisine features all the favorites like spanakopita, saganaki, and avgolemono, plus beautiful charcoal-grilled dourade, bronzino, and other fish. They also have sexy grilled Norwegian langoustines, colossal head-on prawns, and lobster. During lunch and brunch they offer interesting riffs on the gyro, including duck, grilled octopus, or a vegetarian version with three kinds of wild mushrooms and truffle honey ricotta. Save room for baklava or custard filled galaktoboureko afterward.
It can be argued that Baltimore’s culinary Renaissance started in the late 1990s and it began with Charleston. During the 20 years it’s been around, Charleston has earned nationwide accolades, five James Beard Award nominations for chef/owner Cindy Wolf, and is one of the two most-recommended restaurants in the area. (The other being Woodberry Kitchen, which has probably already been recommended to you.) Chef Wolf combines the best of French technique and the Low Country cuisine of South Carolina into an elegant menu with four prix fixe options, with or without wine pairings. Those wine pairings, like the whole wine list, are carefully selected by Wolf’s business partner Tony Foreman to enhance the cuisine. The menu reads like the most fancy-pants menu of your dreams, with players such as Hudson Valley foie gras, grilled sweetbreads with cognac cream, grilled magret of duck, and rich lobster soup with curry. The menu changes all the time, so while these particular items might not be available the day you visit, be assured your gustatory wet dreams will still be fulfilled.
In the next block there’s another Foreman/Wolf joint called Cinghiale, with high end Italian cuisine. The restaurant has two sides, the more casual Enoteca (wine bar) and the more elegant Osteria (dining room) but the menu is the same. Housemade pasta is the speciality de la casa, and it often comes in unusual forms like casunsei or marubini, both stuffed pastas that are different from the more familiar ravioli or agnolotti. The all-Italian wine list boasts some 600 choices to whet your whistle, and there’s a goodly number of aperitifs to enjoy after your meal, perhaps as an accompaniment to an all-Italian cheese course.
At the corner, Lancaster Street becomes President Street. Also at that corner is Lebanese Taverna, one of my favorite restaurants in the whole Harbor East area. Oh yeah, you left Fells Point a while back and have ventured into a whole new neighborhood. One that didn’t even exist 20 years ago. I mean, it was there, but it wasn’t called Harbor East. And before all the hotels came to town and the restaurants opened, you wouldn’t have wanted to walk around the area anyway. Now, it’s a terrific place for a stroll, particularly if you have money you are itching to spend. There are cute shops and eateries around every corner, and we’ll get to them eventually. But first, back to Lebanese Taverna. It’s part of a DMV chain. “Wait, what’s DMV?” you ask. It’s hipster local speak for DC-Maryland-Virginia, although those of us who are not hipsters and who are also of a certain age are only reminded of the acronym for the old Department of Motor Vehicles (now the Motor Vehicle Administration). Anyhoo…. I love Lebanese Taverna for several reasons: the dining room is elegant enough to seem fancy, yet works perfectly well for a casual supper; they have outdoor dining in the warmer months; and, most importantly, the food is delish. I’ve always found appetizers to be much more interesting than entrees, so a restaurant that serves lots of mezze/tapas/small plates makes me happy. An ideal meal to me consists of the shawarma rolls or kibbeh (beef/lamb fritters), smoky baba ghanoush, a dish of shakshouky (eggplant and tomatoes with pomegranate molasses), and a pile of their puffy pitas, warm from the oven. There are lots of vegetarian selections at Lebanese Taverna, and if I were of that inclination, this place would get my vote for dinner.
If you’re more in the mood for an old-school seafood restaurant, a branch of the Oceanaire Seafood Room is on the other end of the block, on President Street. It can be a bit spendy for a full meal, so I like to hit up happy hour in the bar area. Or, as they call it, “Admiral’s Hour.” For about twenty bucks I can get blackened fish tacos, fried calamari, and a prosecco sangria, or a grilled shrimp quesadilla and two mugs of Guinness. Sounds like a plan for later today.
Next time: More Harbor East – and there’s plenty of it.
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.
Editors Note: One thing we like to do when launching in a city is to partner with local writers. This is a key part to the City Walker experience, we don’t only want our app (iOS and Android) to have a local prospective, we want our blog to have it too! This gives the authentic personal prospective that no one other than a local can offer. We are honored to have MINXEATS be a guest writer for City Walker in Baltimore.