Best of Baltimore

2013 Best of Baltimore: Food

The best burger, chef and more


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a world where everyone and their Aunt Sheila has a food blog, Kathy
Patterson’s Minx Eats ( 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 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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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,

Tasting menu


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

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

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.