The warmer weather is like a siren song to Baltimoreans to head outdoors—of course, the result is much more rewarding than what the mythological Greek femme fatales had in mind. Our fresh air promises relaxation and fun. Restaurants heed thelure, too, scattering tables and chairs on any space with access to breezes to accommodate diners seeking alfresco options. We've found 20 places where we think the ambiance and views make the food taste better than ever. We also talked to a local psychologist about the benefits of being outdoors and found out what local restaurateurs do during those inevitable summer showers. Hint: Your meal won't be a complete washout.
- Alexandra's Restaurant
- The Ambassador Dining Room
- Arcos Restaurant
- Blue Hill Tavern
- Bond Street Social
- Café Gia
- Kali's Court
- McFaul's Ironhorse Tavern
- Mr. Rain's Fun House
- The Oregon Grille
- Regi's American Bistro
- The Seasoned Mariner
- Severn Inn
- Tark's Grill
- Waterfront Kitchen
- Wine Market Bistro
- Wit & Wisdom
- Woodberry Kitchen
The ambient sounds wafting across Alexandra's patio are the whoosh of sprinklers and the occasional thwack of a golf ball on the green——unless it's a weekend evening when a jazz ensemble begins tuning up as a member of the waitstaff stops by to mix a pitcher of sangria tableside. Part of a million-dollar renovation of the Turf Valley restaurant——named for the resort owner's first granddaughter——was a new outdoor space dotted with fire pits, cushioned wicker sofas, and comfortable chairs around umbrella-protected tables. But the best part may be Russell Svoboda's food. A veteran of the Great Sage in Clarksville, the executive chef balances fresh salads like the best-selling, seafood-laden Chesapeake cobb with interesting bites like Kobe beef sliders and Cajun corndogs——andouille sausage crusted in cornmeal——a welcome snack after 18 holes. 2700 Turf Valley Rd., Ellicott City, 410-480-2400.
The Ambassador Dining Room
About the only thing more romantic than a winter meal near the crackling fireplace in The Ambassador's elegant dining room is a summer meal in the garden. When the weather turns warm, the walls are literally raised, the flower beds planted, and the fountain cranked up. Those who want to keep the palate sated on a hot day can sip on a cold mango lassi or margarita, or nibble on a raita salad, cool as the cucumbers it's made from. If a bit of heat doesn't bother you, by all means go for a masala or vindaloo. Though the restaurant was named for the apartment building in which it resides, The Ambassador also reflects its namesake occupation: It's a polite and accommodating introduction to another culture. 3811 Canterbury Rd., 410-366-1484 .
There are plenty of Latin American restaurants in Upper Fells Point, but few transport you as successfully as Arcos——though the destination may not be entirely clear. Is it a San Miguel social club or a college-era spring-break bacchanal? Either way, the enclosed brick patio, with its rugged wooden booths and bar tables, walls decorated with wooden carvings, and colorful murals is the perfect place to quaff margaritas, sangria, or cerveza between nibbles of salty tortilla chips, warm from the oven, swirled in perfectly lumpy just-made guac, or slow-cooked, pull-apart barbacoa (barbecued meat) with rice and beans. The courtyard bridges seasons with heaters and a portion covered by a glass roof. But on clear nights, revelers flock to the open-air section, where a live tree reaches its branches from the bricks into the starry night sky. 129 S. Broadway, 410-522-4777.
Blue Hill Tavern
On a temperate evening, the upstairs deck delivers the hip vibe of Manhattan or L.A. with low wicker sofas, streamlined bar stools and kidney-shaped bar, fresh cocktails, artisanal drafts, and smoked oysters. And then there's the view, from the rooftop decks of Canton row houses to downtown Baltimore, or if you're dining in one of the second-floor alcoves, to the water, with the Mr. Boh sign looking over your shoulder. There's also a smattering of aluminum tables surrounded by planters out front along Conkling Street in sight of the busy bar inside with its waterfall backdrop. Blue Hill Tavern's talent is combining down-home charm with upscale sophistication——a place where you can dine on soft-shell crabs delivered fresh from Smith Island, washed down with an elderflower Cosmopolitan. 938 S. Conkling St., 443-388-9363 .
Bond Street Social
It makes sense that one of OpenTable's top 100 hot spots for 2012 is also a fine place to enjoy the great outdoors. Indeed, the Fells Point restaurant offers all of the necessary ingredients: an expansive brick patio, a harbor view, a convivial party vibe, and, of course, delicious fusion cuisine. The emphasis is on sharing dishes. Savor "social plates" like the piquant chicken Caesar bites, heavenly tuna tartare with wasabi cream, juicy Bond Street burger sliders, and the crunchy Social fish & chips with Old Bay tater tots. For dessert, think liquid. Sip a chocolate or Key-lime-pie martini as you watch the world stroll by. There's no shortage of interesting characters sauntering around the former seafaring village. 901 S. Bond St., 443-449-6234.
The colorful Little Italy bistro adds another dimension to its already impressive dining experience——alfresco meals on a second-floor balcony bedecked with a wrought-iron railing reminiscent of the French Quarter. The view of the row-house skyline in the evening is surprisingly scenic. Who knew Eastern Avenue could be so beautiful? A striped awning, roped in tiny white light, shelters the tables while enhancing the ambiance. The sought-after space is only open for dinner (or special parties), and the 22 seats fill quickly. Chef Gianfranco Fracassetti's menu contributes to the allure, from the antipasto platter and grilled calamari to the bountiful plates of fettuccine alla Bolognese and shrimp fra diavolo. Cap a romantic evening with espresso and the restaurant's signature ricotta cake. 410 S. High St., 410-685-6727 .
A meal under the protection of the permanent tent in The Baltimore Museum of Art's sculpture garden needn't be dependent on an invitation to a Hopkins graduation or a wedding reception——though everyday diners may have to wait till those popular events clear out. There's a reason this sublime spot with terraced fountains, near a collection of sculptures that includes works by Calder, Noguchi, and Rodin, is a highly sought-after spot for events large and small. Chef/owner John Shields, a pioneer locavore, continues to offer Chesapeake specialties, including his famous rockfish, Chincoteague fried oysters, and crab cakes named for his grandmother Gertie. On weekends, the ligh-fare menu is the perfect way to wind down after a stroll through the museum. The Baltimore Museum of Art, 10 Art Museum Dr., 410-889-3399.
Plan ahead if you crave one of the three garden tables at Kali's Court, the luxe Greek restaurant in Fells Point. Kali's honors requests for outdoor seating, but we're told folks who want to dine at 7 p.m. are willing to settle for 4:15 to sit in the lush garden, bursting with flowers and herbs. The owner's mother Kaliope (the restaurant's namesake) is fondly remembered for the wild mountain oregano from her native Greece——used to season the restaurant's famed bronzini——as well as the moon vine, whose white flowers open after sunset, that she planted every year. Guests are also seated at two indoor tables perched near wide open windows at the edge of the garden, and two additional deuces on a New Orleans-style second-floor balcony may just be the best seats of all, with views of the garden below, as well as across the Thames Street cobblestones to the water. 1606 Thames St., 410-276-4700.
McFaul's IronHorse Tavern
LOCH RAVEN AREA
Oh, Sanders Corner, you've come a long way since your ice-cream and early eatery days. The memories may be sweet from the time you were owned by the same family for more than 50 years, but another era has begun with new owners, a massive remodeling, and fine American cuisine being prepared by executive chef Evan Orser. The summer menu includes items like McFaul's crab dip, farmhouse mac and cheese, Albright Farms berry-BBQ chicken, Tilghman Island crab cake, or a pork quesadilla made with local Ferguson Family Farm shredded pork. Perched on the edge of Loch Raven Reservoir, the restaurant is surrounded by greenery, visible from expansive windows. The best place for nature-watching, though, is on the covered wood deck. You'll feel like you're sitting in the treetops. It doesn't get more idyllic than that. 2260 Cromwell Bridge Rd., 410-828-1625.
Mr. Rain's Fun House
A seat on the outdoor terrace at the American Visionary Art Museum's whimsical eatery will put you nose to pinwheel with Vollis Simpson's 55-foot whirligig, positioned at the edge of Federal Hill's sharp slope. A cocktail or two and a plate of small bites mean a few more revolutions of the signature sculpture—giving the balcony the distinction of being a kind of inside-out rotating restaurant. Equally mesmerizing is the restaurant's menu, a balance of levity and earnestness. Fun: the house-made boudin sausage with various sides including chili. On the serious side, there's a rib-eye steak from Painted Hills farm. Mr. Rain's fits hand-in-glove with Baltimore's most quirky, and yes, visionary, museum. American Visionary Art Museum, 800 Key Hwy., 443-524-7379 .
The Oregon Grille
Jay Gatsby and Daisy would love it here. Dining on The Oregon Grille's bluestone patio is akin to attending a ritzy party in the Hamptons. The service is seamless, the menu refined, and the setting pastoral. Diners are seated at white-cloth-covered tables amid a profusion of flowers, lush vegetation, and shade-producing green umbrellas. Unlike the dining room, jackets are not required after 5 p.m. in the courtyard. So relax and chill with a glass of wine or a perfect martini. Savor chef Matthew Siegmund's seasonal menu from the lovely lobster bisque to filet mignon and Key-lime pie. If you can, sneak away from work for lunch Monday-Saturday. A baby-spinach salad or a burger will never taste so good. And don't forget Sunday brunch either. You'll be living the grand life whenever you visit. 1201 Shawan Rd., Hunt Valley, 410-771-0505.
Regi's American Bistro
Regi's in Federal Hill offers urban dining at its best on a covered patio fronting busy Light Street. Neighbors walk by, greeting friends who've managed to score a precious outdoor seat. Everyone is so friendly, including owner Alan Morstein, that you'll feel like a resident even if you aren't. We like sampling the farm-to-table fare in the late afternoons before the crowds start roaming the area. The comfy rattan chairs and ceiling fans whirling lazily provide a respite while you enjoy New American cuisine and signature cocktails like the Stoli Strawberry Fields with muddled berries and champagne. For munchies, don't miss AJ's tater tots, the smashed veal meatballs with provolone and marinara sauce, and one of the most awesome cream-of-crab soups in town. 1002 Light St., 410-539-7344.
The Seasoned Mariner
Forget Ocean City. There's a beach a whole lot closer for your dining pleasure——in Dundalk, no less——with Bear Creek serving as the postcard backdrop. Reservations are strongly recommended to nab a table on the restaurant's deck, where a sandy expanse, palm trees, and a wood pier make you feel like you're on vacation. There's also a playground for kids, so mom and dad can enjoy adult beverages in relative peace. The mostly seafood menu fits the scene. Enjoy items like crab cakes, fried oysters, Smith Island stew, and shrimp-salad sandwiches while being lulled by the lapping water or watching the motorboats chug past. 601 Wise Ave., Dundalk, 443-242-7190.
When diners go in search of food in Annapolis, they usually are drawn to the touristy eateries near the city dock or other establishments across the Spa Creek drawbridge in Eastport. But there's another option——Severn Inn, a fine-dining waterfront restaurant with an extended deck that stretches into the Severn River. It also offers incredible sunsets with the Naval Academy in the background. These prized seats go fast, so definitely make reservations. Seafood reigns here. While soaking up the view, dip into the Southern-style crab bisque, oysters on the half shell, "no filler" crab cakes, or wild rockfish. Wash it all down with wine from a well-represented list. And if you're lucky, you may see Shakira the duck, the restaurant's unofficial mascot. 1993 Baltimore Annapolis Blvd., Annapolis, 410-349-4000.
Adorned with French wicker chairs and close enough to the docked sailboats you could reach out and grab one (but, please, wait till after dinner to satisfy the craving for a boat ride—and jump aboard the Water Taxi, just steps away, instead), the patio spreads from the Harborview restaurant's dining room along the harbor itself. On a summer Friday, as the concrete is cooling down, a jazz trio might be warming up to accompany a diner's voyage through the Mediterranean-inspired menu of grape leaves and tabbouleh salad, calamari in chili sauce, or crab meat with saffron aioli heaped on a half avocado. The obliging wine list offers similar warm-weather treats, from a glass of sparkling Cava to a bottle of crisp German Riesling. Warning: This place is insanely popular for waterside weddings on weekends, so call ahead to avoid becoming a crasher. 500 Harborview Dr., 410-727-3663.
Ahem, there are rules for the patio: First come, first served; no reservations; a requested two-hour limit to hogging a table (our words, not theirs); and no smoking. The flagstone courtyard with the stone fireplace is busy and lively enough to demand such guidelines. Indeed, the place is hopping from lunchtime through after-dinner drinks. But that doesn't mean the staff isn't sweet and congenial. They make sure you don't feel rushed and pace your meal accordingly. Nosh on appetizers like seared rare ahi tuna and fried local oysters before deciding whether to indulge in a full-fledged dinner of crab cakes and baby-back ribs or light fare like a salmon BLT or "Tark's Custom Blend" burger. If you stop by for lunch, we can't say enough about the shrimp-salad sandwich. It's as wonderful as the surroundings. 2360 W. Joppa Rd., No. 116, Lutherville-Timonium, 410-583-8275.
The restaurant's harbor view shouts Baltimore——albeit gently. From tables on the raised wood deck to the lower promenade, diners have a panorama of the old, still-working Domino Sugar plant across the waterway, the refurbished Bond Street Wharf building etched with the signature letters, a Water Taxi stand, and myriad passersby, walking, jogging, pushing babies, or dragging curious dogs. The waddling ducks are a bonus. It's a glorious vantage point for the seed-to-table fare dished out by chef de cuisine Andrew Kopp. Enjoy appetizers like a plate of three local cheeses, dried fruits, a splatter of honey, and crisp crostini, or charcuterie featuring duck-breast prosciutto and chicken-liver mousse. Entrees range from Springfield Farm organic chicken to Chesapeake Bay rockfish filet. Or simply delight in a Tuesday-Friday happy hour from 2:30-6:30 p.m. with specially priced drinks and nibbles. Either way, there's no charge for the vista. 1417 Thames St., 443-681-5310.
Wine Market Bistro
The patio is a dozen tables captured in the quiet center of a repurposed forge at the gateway to Locust Point, meaning a breezy spot even on steamy nights. August, says owner Chris Spann, is actually the restaurant's busiest time. Summertime diners flock to the outdoors, fortified with wine from the adjacent shop or plucked from the wine list (its minimal markups giving bargain seekers cause to smile). The menu lightens up for warmer months with offerings like shrimp and octopus salad, chilled soups, braised pork cheeks, and fruit desserts. Weekend brunch might start with a smoked-trout salad or pea soup with rosemary-bacon foam and progress to eggs Benedict with cornmeal-fried oysters. The patio occasionally hosts special summer events like grilling and beer tastings. 921 E. Fort Ave., 410-244-6166.
Wit & Wisdom
A Tavern by Michael Mina
Harbor East's waterfront became a little bit swankier since the Four Seasons Hotel restaurant opened its red-brick patio in May on a swath of landscape that probably has the most riveting view in town. Skirting the public promenade, the 12 tables, 12 seats at the outdoor bar, and scattered couches overlook the harbor, the Baltimore skyline, a nearby bustling marina, and Pier Six Pavilion. Huge, wind-resistant umbrellas provide cover whatever the weather. This is a place you'll want to linger as you savor cocktails and appetizers or executive chef Clayton Miller's full menu. For this reason, the restaurant will take requests for outdoor seating and accommodate diners whenever possible. The food, much of it cooked over an indoor wood-fire grill and rotisserie, is as captivating as the surroundings. How can you not be spellbound by wood-roasted bone marrow, wood-fired lamb loin and leg, and award-winning pastry chef Chris Ford's delectable desserts? Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore, 200 International Ave., 410-223-1456.
When you eat outside here, you may be seated near one of owner Spike Gjerde's preservation efforts. After all, summer is not only a time for the dedicated farm-to-table chef to fill plates with luscious seasonal bounty, it's also a chance to stock up for the colder months. A solar dryer, resembling a tipped pinball machine, may contain a stash of heirloom tomatoes or fish peppers, even as diners nibble on the fresh-picked versions at a table near towering cornstalks. Woodberry's outdoor offerings include meals served on the gravel patio (which itself seems to resemble a raised vegetable bed) or cocktails and small plates around the fire pit, roaring when the weather warrants. As one manager puts it, "We just keep cold water and cold cocktails coming." Of course, there are also plenty of grilled meats, seafood, and loads of Chesapeake Bay oysters. 2010 Clipper Park Rd., 410-464-8000.