2013 Best of Baltimore: Food

The best burger, chef and more

By Suzanne Loudermilk - August 2013

2013 Best of Baltimore: Food

The best burger, chef and more

By Suzanne Loudermilk - August 2013

South Baltimore's Hersh's Pizza -Photo by Ryan Lavine


The Food Market

Crowds have been lining up ever since the Hampden restaurant opened last year to sample chef/co-owner Chad Gauss’s comfort-food menu. But perhaps his biggest stroke of genius was to offer brunch three days a week, Friday through Sunday. You can go traditional with a variety of Benedicts, several omelets, or steak and eggs. There are also twists on the familiar, like Heath Bar pancakes, lobster home fries, and a morning cobb salad. 1017 W. 36th Street, 410-366-0606 .


Bluegrass Tavern

Sometimes, there’s a great burger lurking in your midst that is overshadowed by the more well-known ones in town. But once you bite into this eight-ounce, juicy mound of dry-aged beef, you realize this one deserves to be in the top of the pack. Skewered with a pickled okra atop a milkbread bun, the burger is layered with house-cured bacon and lettuce with piquant tomato jam and mayo on the side. 1500 S. Hanover Street, 410-244-5101.

Chef on the Move

Chris Becker

Way back in 2011, we picked Chris Becker as one of the magazine’s “Chefs to Watch.” At the time, he headed the kitchen at Wine Market Bistro. Little did we know that, fast-forward to 2013, the hard-working Becker would be named chief operations officer and corporate executive chef for the growing Bagby Restaurant Group, which runs Fleet Street Kitchen, Ten Ten, Bagby Pizza Co., and the soon-to-open Cunningham’s Kitchen in Towson. Wonder what’s next for him?

Cooking Classes

Waterfront Kitchen

The Monday evening classes at the waterfront restaurant are a chance to sharpen your cooking skills and meet foodie friends. The hands-on lessons are led by chef Jerry Pellegrino and include tastings and wine for $59 a session, in most cases. Upcoming classes include “A Tribute to Julia Child” on August 19 and “Bacon, Sausages, and Other Pork Products” on August 26. The best part: sitting at a communal table overlooking the harbor and eating the fruits of your labor—and no clean up! 1417 Thames Street, 443-681-5310.


Bistro Rx

Owner Wayne Mahaffey has created a charming tavern that is a draw for the Patterson Park crowd. Even if you don’t live in the neighborhood, check out Bistro Rx for its early-week specials. Banish the Monday blues with flights of wine—three (three-ounce) pours for $7—and flatbreads. On Wednesdays, it’s $8 burger night. But we really like Tuesdays when all the bottles of wine are half price and you get a steak (or fish) dinner for $16. 2901 E. Baltimore Street, 410-276-0820.


Ravage Deli

When our readers start touting the glories of an eatery, we have to pay attention. And we’re glad we did. This gourmet sandwich shop uses all-natural, organic, and local products when possible. We especially like the creative sandwich combos, including The Noble Pig with sopressata, smoked Virginia ham, hard salami, applewood bacon, pulled pork, provolone and cheddar cheeses—wait, there’s more—shredded lettuce, tomato, onion, and romesco aioli, all on toasted ciabatta. Even Dagwood would be impressed. 9636 Belair Road, Perry Hall, 410-529-DELI.

Fish on the Menu

The Black Olive

The endearing Fells Point restaurant (operated separately from the financially troubled Inn at the Black Olive) serves up some of the finest Greek coastal cuisine in the area. We love to watch the servers fillet an assortment of grilled or sautéed fin fish at the tables. On a recent visit, our waitress carefully separated the meat from the skeleton of our St. Peter’s fish before drizzling the delicate white meat with a lemon-olive-oil sauce. You won’t be disappointed from beginning to end. 814 S. Bond Street, 410-276-7141.


La Cakerie

Walk into the small storefront in Towson and your eyes are diverted to the pastry case filled with all manner of deliciousness——croissants, sweet buns, scones, cupcakes, and more. But then, in the front of the store, you’ll notice some examples of the bakery’s specialty cakes——stately, gorgeous confections made for just about any momentous, or ordinary, occasion.Pastry chef/co-owner Jason Hisley is the mastermind behind the array of goodies. At age 24, we see lots more in store for this guy. 49 W. Chesapeake Avenue, Towson, 443-275-4050.

Food Blogger

Kathy Wielech Patterson, Minx Eats

In a world where everyone and their Aunt Sheila has a food blog, Kathy Patterson’s Minx Eats (minxeats.com) stands out for its topical range, humor, and restaurant and cooking info. You’re likely to find a cookie giveaway; a Food Network show recap; and a recipe for enchiladas elegante (which we can’t wait to make) in the lineup. (The prolific blogger also pens other blogs, including alltopchef.com.) Patterson, who started Minx Eats in 2005, is a graphic designer when she’s not immersing herself in the food scene. She and her husband Neal, who live in Rodgers Forge, also co-wrote Food Lovers’ Guide to Baltimore, a compendium of restaurants, farmers’ markets, specialty food shops, and more. If it’s happening here, Patterson knows about it.

Food Truck

El Cuervo

In the past year, El Cuervo—Spanish, oh-so-appropriately, for “the raven”—has been leaving its edible mark in a growing field of Baltimore food trucks. At June’s A Taste of Two Cities competition between local and D.C. trucks, the mobile eatery racked up second-place for overall best food truck and also snared an award for best sandwich. The sleek black vehicle with the dramatic insignia of a white Aztec bird turns out flavorful Mexican tacos with fillings like smoked brisket and tempura avocados and tortas, including the popular twice-fried Korean chicken sandwich. The truck can be found roaming the area at such downtown spots as Hanover and Pratt streets as well as the Hampden and Mt. Vernon neighborhoods. @elcuervotruck.

Coffee Shop

Artifact Coffee

The cafe—owned by Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen—is full service, offering freshly prepared breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a chic, rustic setting with sweet servers dressed like hippie peasants. The restaurant’s Counter Culture coffee is treated like fine wine. Sure, there are lattes and macchiatos, but we especially like the pour-over coffee. Hot water is poured over ground beans in vessels that are a cross between a funnel and a coffee cup to coax the maximum flavor. A good introduction to Artifact’s coffee program is the free “cuppings” held on Fridays at the restaurant. You’ll soon be “breaking the crust” with the best of them. 1500 Union Avenue, 410-235-1881.

Hot Spot


After it opened last year, it didn’t take long for word to spread about Birroteca (named for a beer version of an Italian enoteca or wine warehouse). The restaurant was an immediate draw for diners who wanted to sample the decadent duck duck goose pizza and heavenly pastas being turned out by executive chef Cyrus Keefer. Reservations were a must. We don’t see that changing, even with Keefer’s departure to The Fork & Wrench. The new head chef, Davide Rossi, comes to the kitchen with some serious creds under his belt, including Sotto Sopra and Pazza Luna locally as well as stints in Italy and the Caribbean. The Milan, Italy, native should fit right into owner Robbin Haas’s concept of creating interesting artisanal pizzas and Italian dishes. 1520 Clipper Road, 443-708-1934.


Chazz: A Bronx Original

You can’t get more Italian-American than actor/restaurant partner Chazz Palminteri and his coming-of-age movie, A Bronx Tale, for which the restaurant is named. You need only step through the doors to see that the décor and menu reflect Palminteri’s New York roots and his favorite foods. A focal point is the “pizza altar,” delivering a variety of impressive coal-fired pies. But chef/co-owner Sergio Vitale also focuses on interpretations of classics like spaghettoni Bolognese, eggplant Parmesan, and veal Milanese, using pasta that is made fresh daily. Your only worry is to save room for one of the restaurant’s house-made desserts. The lemon-honey ricotta cheesecake will have you singing along with crooner Frank Sinatra on the sound system. 1415 Aliceanna Street, 410-522-5511.

New Digs

My Thai

It was a sad day when, in December 2010, the popular My Thai was displaced by a five-alarm fire that destroyed the historic Mt. Vernon building where it was housed. But owners Varattaya “Pui” and Brad Wales, pictured, and their son Jirat Suphrom-In were hopeful they would reopen the restaurant at some point. They did just that in January, moving across town to the refurbished Tack Factory along Central Avenue. The restaurant is now set up in a minimalist expanse with nearly twice the floor space of its previous location. 1300 Bank Street, 410-327-0023.


Old School


Located in blue-collar Greektown, the popular BYOB restaurant delivers a bountiful taste of the old country in a no-nonsense dining room with cheerful murals and friendly, T-shirt-wearing servers. 600 Oldham Street, 410-675-5292.


New School

Ouzo Bay

The glitz and glam of this year-old Harbor East restaurant——named a top U.S. hot spot by OpenTable——draws a parade of diners who want to sample the elegant fare and fancy bar drinks, including Greek wines and plenty of ouzo. 1000 Lancaster Street, 443-708-5818.

Kids’ menu

Miss Shirley’s Cafe

The restaurant’s regular menu has lots of options for children: pancakes, waffles, sliders, and sandwiches. But, as any patron knows, the portions are huge. To keep the servings more manageable, the restaurant started offering Kids Crazy Boxes for its younger diners, ages 10 and under. The bento-like boxes are $7.77 each. Kids can choose from breakfast options like French toast, mini Belgian waffles, and a bagel with cream cheese. For lunch, choices include grilled cheese, benne-seed fried-chicken pieces, and a turkey-and-cheddar sandwich. The multi-course mini meal also includes a packet of crayons and a menu for coloring. Now, mom and dad can enjoy that extra cup of coffee. Several locations, including 513 W. Cold Spring Lane, 410-889-5272.


Maggie’s Farm

Jeff and Brenda Smith, the couple who lovingly infused a locavore ethos into their Lauraville restaurant The Chameleon, should be pleased with its rendition as Maggie’s Farm. The farm-to-table spirit is alive and well as interpreted by chef/co-owner Andrew Weinzirl, who took over the space last year. Menu items are subject to change based on the harvest. A green-tomato gazpacho with rings of jalapeño peppers was a recent inclusion, as was just-from-the-waters soft-shell crabs and Maryland rockfish. If you go on Tuesdays or Thursdays, when a prix-fixe menu is offered, be sure to make reservations. Word is out about this spot. 4341 Harford Road, 410-254-2376.


Hersh's Pizza

We like all the food offerings at this South Baltimore corner restaurant, but the reason we keep going back is the wood-burning, Neopolitan-style pizzas. The 12-inch pies, with a slightly charred crust, come in various combos—from a simple margherita or marinara to a salsiccia pizza with homemade mozzarella and sausage, sopressata, and wood-roasted red peppers. You can also customize a pizza with different toppings. Brother-and-sister owners, chef Josh and Stephanie Hershkovitz, have fashioned a friendly neighborhood restaurant in an area of industrial warehouses and urban homesteading. On a recent visit, families with kids, couples, and singles took up the tables surrounding the bar. A good time was had by all (cover photo above). 1843-45 Light Street, 443-438-4948.


Fleet Street Market

A year after its opening, the boutique grocery store is bustling with activity and lots of seasonal produce, local and specialty goods, coffee and teas, and gourmet sandwiches and salads. (We especially like the French turkey with Brie, apple jam, mayo, Dijon, and spring greens on a baguette.) There’s a cheery vibe among the customers whether they’re grabbing lunch or loading up on supplies for the night’s dinner. 2001 Fleet Street, 410-342-0008 .

Middle Eastern


This Federal Hill restaurant is as unassuming on the outside as it is in the modest dining room. Don’t be misled. You’ll find some of the best Lebanese food around town here. Operated by Sami and Hala Tabet—who do everything from cooking to clearing tables—the small eatery offers Middle Eastern fare that is flavorful and well-prepared. The chicken shawarma platter, stuffed grape leaves, hummus, baba ghanoush, and baklava are particular favorites. 1033 Light Street, 410-209-2495.

New Chef

Bradley Willits, B&O American Brasserie

During the downtown restaurant’s four years, it has gone through a couple of chefs. Now, Bradley Willits, the restaurant’s former chef de cuisine, steps into the lead role in the kitchen. At 31, he has quite a track record. A Florida native, Willits has already worked at several top-notch places, including stints at McCrady’s and FIG, both in Charleston, SC. Given his Sunshine State background, it’s no surprise there’s an emphasis on seafood on the menu. Meat lovers aren’t left out with offerings like steak frites and smoked pork shoulder. 2 N. Charles Street, 443-692-6172.

Chef: Old School

Brian Boston, The Milton Inn

The chef fits right into the formal setting at the posh, historic restaurant. His upscale menu tends toward classic entrees—and he’s one of the few chefs we know who still wears a toque. 14833 York Road, Sparks, 410-771-4366.

Chef: New School

Jesse Sandlin

Whatever she’s cooking, the former Top Chef contestant—who is involved with the new Oliver Speck’s Eats & Drinks in the former Vino Rosina spot—sports vivid tattoos with her chef’s jacket. Forget the traditional tall hat. 507 S. Exeter Street, 410-528-8600.


Bonjour bakery

The building’s purple exterior with the yellow trim is a whimsical beacon on busy Falls Road and a colorful lure to the fantastic pastries that await inside. The case at the fragrant shop is filled with an array of temptations—various croissants (almond is popular), éclairs, cheese-filled Danish, honey buns, fruit tarts, cinnamon twists, and more. There’s no doubting the French pastries’ authenticity. Bonjour’s chef Gerard Billebault, who owns the shop with his wife Gayle Brier-Billebault, has been baking since he was a child in Paris. 6070 Falls Road, 410-372-0238.


Teresa Marconi, Thames Street Oyster House

This gregarious waitress with the million-dollar smile could sell you shoe leather stewed in harbor water if the situation called for it. Thankfully, the restaurant offers stellar edible fare that doesn’t require any snake-oil shakedown. Marconi’s gift is that she describes chef Eric Houseknecht’s food so deliciously that you’ll want to order everything on the menu. The recitation of the daily specials is like a dramatic reading of a page-turner. You can’t wait for the next chapter. And don’t even think about leaving without getting dessert. When Marconi goes in depth about the day’s warm fruit cobbler, you can practically smell it baking in the kitchen (and know you have to have it). 1728 Thames Street, 443-449-7726.

Small plates

Bond Street Social

Executive chef Neill Howell presents a variety of “social plates” that are meant to be passed around the table. It’s a communal experience that’s fun whether you’re in a big group or on a first date. Recently, we nibbled on tuna tartare, chicken Caesar bites, Bond Street burger sliders, and Social fish & chips. We, indeed, felt socialized. 901 S. Bond Street, 443-449-6234.

Sweet Treats

The Best of Luck Candy & Gifts

As if a store lined with shelves of candy, including retro temptations like Mary Janes, Goetze’s Caramel Creams, jawbreakers, and Tootsie Rolls, couldn’t get any better, it does. It adds hand-scooped ice cream by local Taharka Bros. in flavors such as vanilla bean, Key-lime pie, salty caramel, and honey graham, packed into waffle, cake, or sugar cones, or cups. Visitors will also find sodas, slushies, coffee, and popcorn at the charming Inner Harbor confectionery. 601 E. Pratt Street, 410-752-2500.

Tasting menu


With so many tempting items on the menu, we like the restaurant’s “satori” menu—a six-course feast that offers a good sampling of what the kitchen is doing. The price, at press time, was $49.88 per person plus an additional $24.88 for optional beverage pairings. The offerings can include selections like the “happy spoon” appetizer—an oyster adorned with uni, salmon roe, tobiko, and ponzu crème fraîche——a variety of charcoal-grilled skewers, nigiri sushi and hand rolls, and desserts like rose mochi ice cream and mango panna cotta. 725 Aliceanna Street, 410-223-1460.

Waterfront Deck

Ruth’s Chris Steak House Pier 5

This may be the least-known deck around the harbor, which makes it a great place to head on a beautiful summer evening to enjoy drinks, food, and soothing water views. A full dinner menu is available. But you don’t want to miss happy hour between 4-6:30 p.m, Monday through Friday. A variety of small plates are $9; select wines and cocktails, $7. Seared ahi tuna and a glass of Pinot Noir never tasted better. 711 Eastern Avenue, adjacent to Pier 5 Hotel, 410-230-0033.

Worth-the-Drive Restaurant

Manor Tavern

The restaurant—long a gathering spot for the horse-country folk—now offers a reason for outsiders to drive through the winding roads of north Baltimore County. The long-time restaurant, under new ownership, has taken its connection to the pastoral land seriously with on-site gardens producing fare for the kitchen and by developing a relationship with local farms to source much of the menu. The dining rooms still exude an old-fashioned, refined aura, but the menu choices, courtesy of executive chef Travis Szerensits, are as modern as they come, including a Gunpowder Bison burger with white truffle oil, Creekstone Farms coulette steak, and beer-can chicken. 15819 Old York Road, Monkton, 410-771-8155.

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South Baltimore's Hersh's Pizza -Photo by Ryan Lavine

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