Hampden’s 36th Street, aka The Avenue, is perfect for aimless afternoon wandering. Sometimes I like to start out with a scoop of ice cream–yes, Old Bay Caramel!–from the Charmery on the corner of Chestnut and 36th, then poke around in various shops on my way down the street. Like Charm City Chocolate, a few doors down from the Charmery. A purveyor of good old fashioned candies like chocolate-covered molasses sponge, turtles, and cordial cherries, this small shop also does a version of peanut bark with a soupçon of Old Bay Seasoning that they call Chesapeake Crunch. I tell ya, that Old Bay stuff is versatile!
Right next door is the Baltimore Chef Shop, a cooking school aimed at all skill levels and ages. Classes are small, maxing out at 16, and include both basics (knife skills, eggs 101), and more complex techniques like making dim sum or puff pastry. There are also classes geared specifically toward couples and to kids and parents together. If this sounds like something you might enjoy doing during your time in Baltimore, be sure to check out their web site, well in advance for class descriptions, schedule, and availability.
As I continue down 36th Street, I might check out the other businesses on the same side of the block. There are several vintage/antique shops that are worth a visit: Whatnots Antiques; Sturgis Antiques; Parisian Flea; Strawberry Fields; Millbrook Antiques & Prints; and Milk and Ice Vintage. Charlotte Elliott and the Bookstore Next Door is a trove of both used books and vintage goods, which includes fossils, tribal arts, and antiquities. There’s also Wild Yam Pottery for great handcrafted gift items. I don’t need souvenirs, but I might stop into Baltimore in a Box anyway. Patriotically painted like the Maryland flag, this shop sells 5, 7, or 10 item gift boxes that include locally produced apparel and food products, including Zeke’s Coffee, Goetze’s Caramel Creams, Fisher’s Popcorn, and–you guessed it–Old Bay Seasoning! One can also order crab cakes and steamed crabs from Jimmy’s Seafood that they will ship for free within the US.
When I start feeling a bit peckish after rummaging through the tchotchkes, old jewelry, and other goodies, there are two coffee shops and a juice bar among the shops. Common Ground offers Annapolis-based Ceremony Coffee and Baltimore-based Zeke’s, while Spro has its own roastery in town. The former also serves breakfast and lunch, and the latter has beans and roasting devices for one’s home-coffee-brewing pleasure. And pastries, too. Blend Juice Bar and Lounge is a cool spot to enjoy an all natural juice or smoothie while resting tired feet for a while.
If I want a more substantial meal, I head across the street, where there are five restaurants and additional shops. Over near the corner of Chestnut and 36th is Dangerously Delicious Pies. You may have seen Rodney “The Pie Man” Henry competing on the Next Food Network Star. Even if you didn’t, I’m here to tell you that he has serious pie-making skills, both in the sweet and savory pie departments. They way to do it at Dangerously Delicious is to order a slice of savory pie as an entree, then follow that with a slice of something sweet. The savory pies verge on the esoteric, with varieties like the Polka Pie–an homage to the many Polish immigrants that settled in Baltimore around the turn of the last century–filled with kielbasa, sauerkraut, potatoes, and cheese. There are both vegan and steak chili pies, and a familiar and homey chicken pie. Quiches, too, because they are technically pies. For dessert, I might grab a slice of apple, mixed berry, or coconut chess pie, salted caramel, or chocolate cream. Or I go full Baltimore by ordering arguably the most famous Dangerously Delicious pie–the Baltimore Bomb. It’s a variation on a the sweet custard pie known as a chess pie, one loaded with a local specialty known as the Berger Cookie–a soft cake-like cookie piled high with fudge frosting. (Unfortunately, there is no Old Bay in a Berger Cookie, at least not at this time.)
If I’m not feeling like pie, I might feel like Daniela’s Sardinian cuisine. Daniela serves varieties of pasta you may never have heard of (and can’t pronounce), like culurgiones, a Sardinian ravioli stuffed with potato flavored with mint and aromatics, or another ravioli-type filled pasta called saccottini. There are more familiar pasta dishes like lasagna and gnocchi, and meat and fish dishes, too. I don’t like to pass up on dessert there, particularly the shell-shaped sfogliatelle stuffed with orange-scented ricotta cream.
The Verandah offers what they refer to as “the best darned Indian street food west of Mumbai” but only from 11:30am – 4pm Monday through Thursday and Saturday. If I’m in the area on Friday, I can get their yummy samosas, chaat, spicy beef kababs, and mango lassi until 9pm. But I might be more in the mood for an Italian sandwich, which means I go to Luigi’s for hot panini (filled with porchetta or marinated eggplant) or a cold sub like the smoked prosciutto/cucumber/cream cheese/red onion combo called the Sollozzo. I think I’ll get the Sonny this time, essentially a Caprese salad on focaccia.
Last on today’s tour of the good stuff on Hampden’s Avenue between Chestnut and Elm Streets is the Corner Charcuterie Bar. Dinner at Corner starts at 4, as does Happy Hour, so even if it’s a weird time of day, I know I can find enough things to do in the neighborhood to kill time before I can feast. It’s somewhat hard to categorize Corner. They kinda specialize in exotic meats, and when I say exotic, I mean like cow penis (yes, I realize cows, being female, do not have penises) and pig head. Those items are both on the menu as I type this. The cow penis is crispy, if that helps any, and the pig head is coated in secret Peruvian spices (so sayeth the menu!) and served with limes, crispy greens, and a sweet and sour cucumber vinegar dipping sauce. I know what you’re thinking. “Hey, weirdo, maybe I don’t want to eat freaky body parts for dinner.” I understand completely. Perhaps you’d prefer pork tenderloin done up like a Cuban sandwich with bacon, gruyere, pickles, and a Dijon mustard sauce? A Niçoise salad topped with quail and quail eggs, mayhaps? Crostini with head cheese? (Sorry–weird body parts again.) I know just the thing! A bowl of Belgian-style fries, called friets, topped with crab and seasoned with….Old Bay. Ok, I know some of the items on the menu seem a little exotic, but I tell ya, I’d eat pretty much anything at Corner. I’d even try the cow penis. The drinks are good at Corner, too, from their classic and not-so-classic cocktails, to what could definitely be called a “carefully curated” wine list, being that it’s not particularly large. Don’t miss it.
Check out part 1 of the best places to eat in Hampden Baltimore. In our next installment, we’ll take a look at stuff on the other side of Elm Street. I hope you’ll join me in a couple of weeks.
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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