Best of Baltimore

Best of Baltimore 2011

Is it just us or does this town keep getting better and better?

It seems silly, but there are certain markers in life—birthdays, anniversaries, special holidays. For us, the Best of Baltimore issue has always been one of those markers. It’s our way of reflecting back on another great year and seeing just how far we’ve come. We get to celebrate old friends, anoint new favorites, and basically bask in the greatness that is our city. Of course, we always have to change things up a little, just for fun. So this year: Top-10 and Top-five lists! Yup, as an example, we don’t just tell you Baltimore’s best cupcake, but Baltimore’s 10 best cupcakes.

You’re welcome.


By John Lewis

Acquisition: MICA Purchases Globe Collection

Late last year, Globe Poster announced it was closing after 82 years, and it seemed the city would forever lose a beloved institution. Over the years, Globe designed and printed day-glo saturated posters for virtually every African-American musician of note—from Howlin’ Wolf and James Brown to Prince and Tupac—and that legacy and design aesthetic, which was developed right here in Baltimore, was in danger of extinction. At the eleventh hour, MICA purchased Globe’s extensive collection of printing materials for use by their printmaking and design students. And they went one better by hiring Globe co-owner Bob Cicero to teach a graduate printmaking class, thereby ensuring that Globe’s style will be passed along to future generations of printers and posters designers. MICA, 1300 W. Mount Royal Avenue, 410-669-9200

All-Star Curatorial Team: Matt Groening, Gary Panter, and Rebecca Hoffberger

AVAM’s Rebecca Hoffberger scored a major coup when she got Simpsons creator Matt Groening and artist/comics legend Gary Panter to co-curate the What Makes Us Smile? show with her. Besides bringing some very real star power to the exhibition, Groening and Panter contributed some out of the ordinary (even for AVAM) curatorial choices that added a few extra smiles. The dynamic duo’s inclusion of artist Pedro Bell (best known for his classic Parliament/Funkadelic album covers) and a tribute to MAD magazine were particularly inspired and dovetailed nicely with witty and whimsical paintings by local visionary John Root Hopkins and other knee-slappers. Topping it off, Rev. Aitor’s “unflattering” portraits of the all-star curators were quite a hoot, too. AVAM, 800 Key Highway, 410-244-1900

Arts Showcase: Maryland Traditions Folklife Festival

There may be arts showcases that are bigger or fancier, but none of them can match the diversity and scope of the Maryland Traditions Folklife Festival. Held at the Creative Alliance in Highlandtown, it features a staggering array of artists and musicians from around the state. This year’s event included Native-American, jazz, blues, Greek, Irish, doo-wop, rock and roll, and Persian music—the Persian National Music Ensemble is based in Rosedale!—along with dancers, screen painters, storytellers, bakers, decoy carvers, weavers, boat builders printers, and arabbers. They’re all incredibly accessible, giving performances and demonstrations and answering questions from festival-goers. It’s impossible to leave this event without gaining a deeper appreciation of the arts and the important role artists play in all of our communities.

Top Ten: Bands & Musicians

Wye Oak: The most resourceful duo on the local indie scene upped its game with a superbly elegant disc, Civilian, and extensive tour.

Celebration: The band split from major indie label 4AD and began releasing new music via its website with stunning results.

Michael Formanek: A formidable presence at Peabody, the bassist/composer put together an all-star band for his fantastic ECM debut, The Rub and Spare Change.

J Roddy Walston & the Business: They’re still the hardest-working rock band in Baltimore—or anywhere else for that matter.

Rye Rye: The catchy “Never Will Be Mine” single with Robyn was a summer highlight that should rekindle interest in her much-delayed full-length disc.

Ponytail: This is something of a two-fer, with the band crafting its gleefully spazzy art-rock and guitarist Dustin Wong emerging as a compelling solo act, as well.

Manuel Barrueco: One of the greatest classical guitarists in the world, Barrueco releases consistently excellent recordings on his Tonar Music label, including this year’s Tárrega! CD.

Shodekeh: The city’s premier beatboxer continues sharpening his skills through a wide range of artistic collaborations that include Ethel Ennis, Towson University’s dance department, and the BSO.

Arbouretum: You’ve got to love a band that can play a stellar set at the Zappa statue dedication and record a transcendent version of the Jimmy Webb classic, “The Highwayman,” that would make Johnny Cash weep.

Dan Deacon: Deacon hasn’t put out much new music lately, but if you’re scoring the new Francis Ford Coppola film, as Deacon is, you make the list.

Boutique Gallery: End Times Trading Post

Artist Adam Stab has a great eye for detail, and it’s on full display at his Fells Point gallery. Virtually every surface is a piece of art in itself, from the ceiling and floor to the wall stencils, display cases, radiator covers, and counters. Even the locks on the display cases are attention-grabbing, with figures of Indian deities on each of the lock heads. End Times specializes in wearable art—the racks are filled with limited edition T-shirts (some by Baltimore native Aaron LaCrate) and one large case is loaded with custom-painted sports shoes. More of an installation than a commercial space, the shop itself is a work of art. 1709 Aliceanna Street,

Coffee-Table Book: Making History/Marking Art/MICA

This book is an inside job, in that it was produced by MICA to commemorate its long history, which stretches back to 1826. As such, it could be little more than an elaborate promo piece, but this volume far exceeds any narrow-minded expectations. In fact, it raises the bar for all future institutional history books. Doug Frost, MICA’s vice president for development emeritus, did his homework to craft a well-researched, highly readable narrative that traces the school’s evolution from the Industrial Revolution to the digital age. And he examines that evolution within the context of the city’s history, which broadens the scope of the book to make it a must-have for local history buffs. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s lavishly illustrated with tons of archival photos and gorgeously designed by MICA’s Abbott Miller and Jeremy Hoffman.

Exhibition: Material Girls

Featuring work by eight contemporary black women artists, this delightful show at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum succeeds by repurposing everyday objects and materials into stunning artwork. Its many highlights include Chakaia Booker transforming strips of rubber tires into captivating sculpture that coils, curves, and twists into the imagination; Renée Stout turning commonplace furniture, knick-knacks, and charms into sacred spaces and shrines; and Baltimore’s Joyce Scott beading, weaving, and assembling pieces that exude both political awareness and personal truth, pictured. And Maren Hassinger does wonders with pink plastic shopping bags. Reginald F. Lewis Museum, 830 E. Pratt Street, 443-263-1800,

Top Five: Theaters

Everyman: After 20 years, Everyman continues to change and grow—Shipwrecked! was particularly impressive last season—which bodes well for its upcoming move to the Westside. 1727 N. Charles Street, 410-752-2208,

Centerstage: Longtime artistic director Irene Lewis went out triumphantly with an excellent production of Pinter’s The Homecoming, and a new era begins. 700 N. Calvert Street, 410-332-0033,

Single Carrot: Excellent ensemble acting and bold programming have made Single Carrot an essential part of the local theater scene. 120 W. North Avenue, 443-844-9253,

Hippodrome: This gorgeous venue is still the city’s mecca for Broadway musicals. 12 N. Eutaw Street, 410-837-7400,

Strand: With its emphasis on female playwrights and relevant social issues, this company adds another dimension to Station North’s flourishing theater scene. 1823 N. Charles Street, 443-874-4917,

Mixtape: Blaqstarr The Mixtape

Blaqstarr hasn’t fully lived up to his potential over the past year, collaborating with M.I.A. on underwhelming tracks like “Lemme Hump You” and exhibiting a penchant for Prince-like overindulgence as a solo artist (see the Divine EP). But the musician got his groove back with this dynamic mixtape featuring M.I.A., Talib Kweli, Diplo, Mos Def, and Rye Rye, his protégé. It was a welcome return to form that showcased his amped and ample skills as producer, solo artist, collaborator, and DJ—all in one, hour-long blast.

Museum: The Walters Art Museum

At a time when museums don’t have the cash to mount blockbuster shows, The Walters collaborated with the British Museum and the Cleveland Museum of Art to produce a sparkling gem, Treasures of Heaven. Comprised of Christian relics and reliquaries dating to the 17th century and later, the exhibition, which recently closed, used these ornate and precious objects to explore notions of faith and devotion, as well as the powerful connection between religious figures and their followers. Visitors were encouraged to share thoughts about their own sacred objects—written on postcards that were collected and displayed in a binder—and those writings added a contemporary context by showing how our personal treasures (from locks of hair to old cigarette lighters) evoke similar connections to those from the past. This is the kind of thought-provoking and innovative show that makes The Walters a must-see museum. The Walters Art Museum, 600 N. Charles Street, 410-547-9000,

New Hire: Kwame Kwei-Armah

When Centerstage announced that artistic director Irene Lewis would be leaving after nearly two decades on the job, speculation swirled about who could fill her shoes. After an extensive search, the theater smartly settled on Kwei-Armah, a British playwright and actor who has had work produced at Centerstage (most notably, Elmina’s Kitchen in 2005). Because Lewis is a champion of his work, he brings some degree of continuity to the job, and, unlike his predecessor, he plans to aggressively engage the community at large with a wide variety of artistic and outreach initiatives. Kwei-Armah just might make Marin Alsop look like a slacker. Centerstage, 700 N. Calvert Street, 410-332-0033,

Online Graphic Novel: Steve Ogden’s Moon Town

As the pages and panels of this serialized novel mount, Ogden’s drawing skills, as well as his mastery of lighting and scale, give Moon Town its sumptuous look. Ogden, who’s studio art director at Firaxis Games, sets his story in 2087, when mining companies have reduced the Earth to little more than a shell and turned their attention to the moon. All their high-tech equipment and ships can’t seem to safeguard their ore shipments—or their future, for that matter—but maybe Cassie Quinn, a new security guard, can. The story is still playing out online, as Ogden posts new panels every few days, but Cassie has potential heroine written all over her. With any luck at all, the finished novel will find its way to print sometime next year.

Photographer: Sofia Silva

Sofia Silva’s recent exhibit at the C. Grimaldis Gallery, Meditations on the Landscape of Desire, was one of the best photography shows in recent memory. Devoid of all people and focusing on the artificiality in the environment around us, her panoramic shots of parking lots, shopping centers, housing subdivisions, and industrial parks underscore the beauty and banality of consumer culture. And, like William Eggleston’s best work, they’re simply gorgeous photos, well composed and thoughtfully chosen shots that show us our world in ways that allow us to stand back and actually see it.

Prize Winner: Gary Kachadourian

During more than two decades working for the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts, Kachadourian oversaw the city mural program, planned Artscape exhibitions, coordinated numerous public art projects, and championed local artists with unflagging enthusiasm. Kachadourian, an artist himself, earned the respect of pretty much everyone in the local arts community, before leaving city government in 2009 to further his own artistic ambitions and attend graduate school at UMBC. That move paid off, as Kachadourian refined his large-scale drawings and meticulously designed wall coverings. That work won him one of this year’s $25,000 Baker Artist Awards, a prize that couldn’t go to a more deserving recipient.

Top Five: Writers

John Waters: Waters put a witty and intelligent spin on the memoir with Role Models, a multi-faceted look at his influences.

Laura Lippman: She just keeps getting better, as her new novel, The Most Dangerous Thing, attests.

Madison Smartt Bell: The Goucher prof crafted an unsettling novel, The Color of Night, that wedded the underbelly of 1960s counterculture to contemporary America’s proclivity for mythic violence.

Michael Kimball: One of the funniest guys around wrote Us, one of the saddest and most poignant books that you’ll ever read.

Stephen Dixon: What Is All This?, an enormous, and enormously gratifying, short-story collection proved, once again, that Dixon is a master of the art of fiction.

Public-Art Project: Lighting the Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower

You might have noticed something strange and wonderful happening at the Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower in June. As part of the iconic building’s centennial celebration, artist Kelley Bell projected a fantastic array of shapes and colors onto the clock faces at night. Bell’s piece turned a fixture on the local skyline—one that lots of folks likely take for granted—into an arresting piece of public art that will hopefully inspire similar projects in the future. Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower, 21 S. Eutaw Street, 443-874-3596

Public Programming: Enoch Pratt Library Central Location

Where else could you, over the course of three months, hear financial guru/philanthropist Eddie Brown, Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp, consumer advocate Ralph Nader, rapper Prodigy, poet Andrei Codrescu, National Book Award winner Jaimy Gordon, and Senator Barbara Mikulski speak? For free! Mix in films, family events, music, and various public forums and you have a vitally important community resource, one that’s consistently entertaining and educational. 400 Cathedral Street, 410-396-5430

Tribute Band: Technicolor Motor Home

For years, Steely Dan didn’t tour because their songs were too darn difficult to replicate onstage. And when they did tour, they had something of an orchestra in tow. So it was surprising to learn that a local group was tackling such elegant and beloved pop music. Led by Crack the Sky keyboardist Glenn Workman, the band not only plays selections from every Steely Dan album, it does so with the necessary precision and passion, horns and back-up singers included. TMH proves you can buy a thrill—just check out one of their shows at The Recher or 8×10.


By Suzanne Loudermilk

Barista: Allie Caran, Woodberry Kitchen

Allie Caran makes a mean cup of Joe, but she’s not your typical coffeehouse worker. She’s the head barista at Woodberry Kitchen and knows her beans and blends—the essentials for great coffee. She has the nose and palate of a wine taster and leads coffee lovers, or wannabes, through free weekly “cuppings”—sampling coffees for fragrance, flavor, and more—at the restaurant. In no time, Caran will have you sniffing the grounds, “breaking the crust,” and slurping coffee with the best of them. 2010 Clipper Park Road, No. 126, 410-464-8000.

Breakfast: Pete’s Grille

When you’ve got a hankering for an old-fashioned morning meal, Pete’s Grille in Waverly is the place to go for eggs, pancakes, waffles, bacon, sausage, hash browns, and more. It’s been dishing out hearty food you can count on since the 1960s. Waiting for a seat at the counter may take a while, but your patience is rewarded with a satisfying plate of food to rev up the day. 3130 Greenmount Avenue, 410-467-7698.

BYOB: Restaurant Sabor

Chef/owner Roddy Domacassé has found the right formula for his neighborhood restaurant, tucked into a suburban strip center in the Mays Chapel area of Baltimore County—classic food preparations with Latin-American and Mediterranean influences and no liquor. Of course, diners have the option of bringing their own adult beverages, and, if they forget, there’s a wine and spirits shop a few doors away. The best part, though, is that the restaurant only charges one $5 corking fee. “It doesn’t matter if we’re opening one bottle or eight bottles,” we were told. 12240 Tullamore Road, Lutherville-Timonium, 410-628-7227.

Ceviche: Talara

There’s a little corner of Miami right here in Harbor East. Talara, a Nuevo Latino bistro, pulsates with sexy beats, tropical colors, tapas, and large plates. But it’s the dazzling ceviche bar that really puts you in a South Beach mood. There are 10 seafood selections that can be prepared in five different ways. We’re particularly enamored with the Fire and Ice, dolloped onto white ceramic spoons, for the bite of the habaneros paired with the mellowness of the ruby pearls of tuna. Or try the avocado-and-corn ceviche with crab. Don’t stop there. You can mix up the combos every time you go. 615 President Street, 410-528-9883.

Top Five: Hot Dogs

Haute Dog Carte: The plump dogs ($5), grilled to perfection, come in a variety of styles, from the signature black Angus to a Filipino-style dog with ginger miso sauce. 6070 Falls Road,


Polock Johnny’s: A local institution (regular, $2.39; Polish, $3.69), plucked from a flat grill and loaded with sauerkraut and bright neon mustard and wrapped in foil that can barely contain all the oozing goodness.Lexington Market, 400 W. Lexington Street, 410-539-8385 (and others).

Stuggy’s: From the bison frank from Gunpowder farm to the sausage from Ostrowski’s, there’s an emphasis on local ingredients. Top the dogs ($3.99 and up) with enhancements like mac and cheese with crab or pulled pork. 809 S. Broadway, 410-327-0228.

G&A: The Coney Island dog ($2) is a no-frills treat. Douse it with homemade chili or sweet relish. 3802 Eastern Avenue, 410-276-9422.

Ann’s Dari-Creme: The footlong dogs ($3.24) are cut in half to fit inside thick sub rolls. Try the chili cheese dog. 7918 Ritchie Highway, Glen Burnie, 410-761-1231.

Protégé: Patrick “Opie” Crooks, Roy’s

When asked about his nickname, the chef/partner at Roy’s in Baltimore laughs. “It’s the look,” he says of the moniker he’s had since middle school. Indeed, the red-headed chef does look like his TV namesake from The Andy Griffith Show, but this grown-up Opie has left Aunt Bee in his wake when it comes to cooking. The Le Cordon Bleu Atlanta-trained chef started his career at the Roy’s there in 2005. Now, he’s in Charm City, adding his own creative spin to the restaurant’s Hawaiian fusion cuisine. “I got a lot of mentoring from Roy [Yamaguchi, the chain’s founding chef],” he says. “I plan to be here for a good while.” 720 B Aliceanna Street, 410-659-0099.

Chicken Box: Chicken Paul’s

The term “chicken box” may be unique to Baltimore, but, essentially, it just means a container of fried chicken and fries. While KFC offers that very combo, local dives and carryouts have their own versions worth checking out. Chicken Paul’s is just such a place. It’s low-key and unremarkable in appearance, but the crispy chicken and fries satisfy a deep-fried need. The only drawback is that the shop closes at 6:30 p.m., so you have to grab your wings, thighs, and legs earlier in the day. We also like that there is a real Mr. Paul behind the counter, greeting everyone with a friendly smile. 8626 Loch Raven Boulevard, Towson, 410-825-4196.

Chocolate: A. Kirchmayr

The rich aroma of chocolate fills your nostrils as soon as you enter the compact store. Then, your eyes take in the beautiful German chocolates, handmade by Albert Kirchmayr and his staff. Kirchmayr grew up with these candies in his native Bavaria and wanted to share these confections with, lucky us, his adopted home of Baltimore. For more than two decades—he is the granddaddy, if you will, of the gourmet chocolate makers in town—the trained chocolatier has been turning out sensuous truffles and filled chocolates like passion fruit, cognac, and Irish coffee. A four-ounce box ($10) gives you a taste of 11 flavors. 9630 Deereco Road, Timonium, 410-561-7705.

Deli: Toscana Deli and Catering

You may have heard Mickey Cucchiella praise this Italian deli and market on 98 Rock—and rightly so. The subs and salads feature the freshest of ingredients (one of our favorites is the “Al Tomba,” oven-roasted turkey, Swiss cheese, roasted red peppers, lettuce, onions, and Italian dressing on a flavorful roll); a couple of shelves are packed with biscotti made in Brookyn, NY, De Cecco pasta, and myriad Sun of Italy products; and the deli case is stocked with Boar’s Head meats, colorful olives, and delectable cheeses like the made-in-store mozzarella. There are tables if you want to sit and schmooze, or an efficient carryout service from a pleasant staff. 9946 Harford Road, Parkville, 410-661-3089.

Exotic Meats: Corner BYOB

Chef Bernard Dehaene came roaring into town this year with a continental menu—and a penchant for offering specials featuring kangaroo, yak, and python. Black bear and lion may also appear on the menu from time to time. The classically prepared dishes seem a good fit for quirky Hampden, which embraces all manner of eccentricities. The Brussels-born chef has also started an Exotic Meat Club at the restaurant. (E-mail [email protected] to become a member.) If they’re anything like Dehaene’s “Flintstone Dinners” at his former Philadelphia restaurant Zot, diners are in for an adventure. Thai waterbugs, anyone? 850 W. 36th Street, 443-869-5075.

Farm to Table: The Chameleon

Local, seasonal foods are a calling card at many restaurants these days. But we have to congratulate chef/owner Jeff Smith for being a pioneer in the field, so to speak, as well as making the Hamilton-Lauraville area a restaurant destination. When he opened his modest row-house restaurant 10 years ago, “farm to table” wasn’t even a household term. Yet, Smith was at the forefront of relying on local farms and farmers’ markets and growing his own herbs for his award-winning New American cuisine. 4341 Harford Road, 410-254-2376.

Top Ten: Burgers

Kooper’s Tavern: You can’t beat the Elvis Got the Blues burger ($10) with Creekstone Farms Angus beef, Maytag blue cheese, and apple-smoked bacon on a Kaiser roll. 1702 Thames Street, 410-563-5423.

City Café: Chef Chad Gauss works wonders with his blackened turkey burgers ($11)—two moist, four-ounce patties on cheddar-jalapeño rolls, each topped with a fried-green tomato and chipotle mayo. 1001 Cathedral Street, 410-539-4252.

Hamilton Tavern: Its signature Crosstown Burger ($11) is a six-inch stack of Roseda Farms beef, melted horseradish cheddar cheese, shredded iceberg lettuce, and onion, all served on a toasted bun. 5517 Harford Road, 410-426-1930.

The Abbey Burger Bistro: There’s a burger for every appetite here, but we relish Harry’s Bistro Burger ($9.50) for its bacon, fried egg, and the nutty taste of the Lincolnshire cheese—all on an English muffin. 1041 Marshall Street, 443-453-9698.

Mother’s Federal Hill Grille: Move over, Mother’s Heart Attack on a Plate burger. There’s another contender on the menu—the Backyard Burger ($8.99), a grilled, eight-ounce Angus slab bathed in homemade barbecue sauce and layered with cheddar, bacon, and crunchy onion straws. 1113 S. Charles Street, 410-244-8686.

Victoria Gastro Pub: The black Angus burger ($10) gets raves for its juicy texture, brioche roll, house pickles, and smoked-paprika fries. 8201 Snowden River Parkway, Columbia, 410-750-1880.

McCabe’s: This plump mound of Springfield Farm grass-fed beef ($11) is a succulent palette for your choice of cheese and extras like bacon, fried egg, and sautéed mushroom on a brioche bun. 3845 Falls Road, 410-467-1000.

Duda’s Tavern: Build your own by starting with a one-half-pound, char-grilled patty with lettuce and tomato ($7.99), and toss on your pick of cheeses. Keep stacking with bacon, sautéed mushrooms, and onions. 1600 Thames Street, 410-276-9719.

Donna’s Café: The fat turkey burger ($11) is a hit with adornments like roasted sweet red peppers and onions. 5100 Falls Road, Cross Keys, 410-532-7611 (and others).

Alonso’s Restaurant: Alonso’s Famous Burger has celebrated its one-pound girth for decades. It’s still worthy—and, now, you can get an eight-ounce version ($10), too. 415 W. Cold Spring Lane, 410-235-3433.

Food Tours: Charm City Food Tours

What better way to get acquainted with a city than by exploring its restaurants and markets? Charm City Food Tours offers guided excursions through several Baltimore neighborhoods, including Fells Point, Federal Hill, Little Italy, and, soon, Mt. Vernon. Participants get to eat and dish about the history of each location they visit. The cost is $53 plus a $2 ticketing fee. Jeff Swedarsky, president of Food Tour Corp., started the walking tours in D.C. in 2007, and has since expanded to eight cities, including ours. “It brings happiness,” he says of learning about local food. “It makes you appreciate what a place is like.”

Grown-up Place to Bring the Baby: V-NO

Some local wine bars chase their infant-toting customers out the door at 6 p.m. That doesn’t happen at V-NO, where owners Mark and Kristina Bachman encourage young moms and dads to roll up to their waterfront haven with strollers and young’uns in tow any time of day. It’s a regular baby hub as the kids gurgle and play while the grown-ups munch on cheeses, pâtés, and French bread while sipping wine. “I’ve seen a child take his first step,” Mark says. “And eat the first solid food with a baguette.” 905 S. Ann Street, 410-342-8466.

Ice Cream: Prigel Family Creamery

For more than 100 years, the Prigel family has been dairy farming in the Long Green Valley. Yet, only recently did they come up with the genius idea of using their cows’ milk to make delicious ice cream. But it wasn’t an easy road to open their retail shop last year. They faced zoning hurdles and legal fees and are still working out some issues. For now, though, visitors can savor ice cream, milkshakes, and ice-cream sandwiches, all made with organic milk on the premises. There are baskets of blankets on the front porch, so you can take one, spread it on a grassy patch, and get sticky with flavors like peachy peach, good ol’ vanilla, and—our pick—butter pecan ($2.95, one scoop). 4851 Long Green Road, Glen Arm, 410-510-7488.

Indulgence: Red Velvet Doughnuts, B&O American Brasserie

On its website, B&O American Brasserie lists its desserts under “The Last Stop” on the menu. Honestly, we think the red-velvet doughnuts with sprinkled sugar on top may be better noted as a first stop. They’re guaranteed to make a good day even better or a bad day suddenly good. The three warm doughnuts ($7) would be fine by themselves, but placate your inner child and dunk them in the satisfyingly sweet potato-cashew milkshake that accompanies the dish. Happy days are here again. 2 N. Charles Street, 443-692-6172.

Menu Makeover: Pazo

The menu at Pazo has been evolving since the Harbor East restaurant first opened in 2004. In the beginning, tapas (almost four dozen choices) were the focus. Over the past year, chef/co-owner Tony Foreman has tweaked the list to include a slate of dinner courses (as well as a selection of hot and cold tapas). “It’s what people wanted,” Foreman says. His chef de cuisine Mario Cano-Catalan turns out Mediterranean-inspired dishes like leg of lamb steak from the wood grill, branzino, and a seafood rice plate that includes heads-on shrimp, mussels, lobster, and more. 1425 Aliceanna Street, 410-534-7296.

Mexican: Miguel’s Cocina y Cantina

Maybe it’s the sangria—a hefty pint glass of Pinot Noir, brandy, and fresh fruit—talking, but Miguel’s backs up its sultry drinks with authentic Mexican food, too. Tucked away in Silo Point, a developing property in Locust Point, the restaurant translates owner Michael Marx’s time spent in Mexico into a fiesta of fresh flavors and colors. From the complimentary chips with two sauces (tomatillo and salsa asada) to the Baja tacos with grilled tilapia to the warm cinnamon churros for dessert, the kitchen strives to please your palate. 1200 Steuart Street, 443-438-3139.

Macaroons: Bonjour Bakery

These classic French cookies are as delicate and flavorful as they look, sandwiching a variety of delicious fillings between two wafers. At Bonjour, you’ll find homemade lemon curd in the lemon, raspberry jam in the raspberry, chocolate ganache in the chocolate, and pistachio buttercream in the pistachio cookies. Gerard Billebault, who co-owns the shop with his wife Gayle Brier-Billebault, has been making macar oons since he was a child in Paris. Today, the pastry chef turns out special orders to keep the sweet confections fresh and crisp. The minimum order is two dozen ($12) for one flavor. 6070 Falls Road, 410-372-0238.

Top Five: Sushi

Joss Café and Sushi Bar: Kobe-beef sashimi and salt-packed salmon nigiri are just two of the intriguing selections, all prepared with speed and aplomb. 413 N. Charles Street, 410-244-6988.

Sushi Hana: This longtime favorite offers perhaps the largest maki sushi selection we’ve seen. Chefs bestow careful treatment to every piece of fish. 6080 Falls Road, No. 11, 410-377-4228.

Matsuri: A user-friendly menu (complete with glossary) and good sushi are why this spot remains popular after all these years. 1105 S. Charles Street, 410-752-8561.

Yama Sushi: Generous cuts of fish and the use of interesting ingredients, like mango and soy paper, make Yama special. 4725-G Dorsey Hall Dr., Ellicott City, 410-997-3688.

Green Leaf Restaurant: Southeast Asian influences and a rotating list of daily sushi specials produce a mélange of flavor and textural combinations. 11313 York Road, Cockeysville, 410-771-0030.

New Chef: Tae Strain, Demi

The Howard County native hadn’t planned to become a chef. He was anticipating going back to school to become a social worker after he graduated from McDaniel College with a sociology degree. But he started working in the kitchen at Iron Bridge Wine Co. in Columbia and found he was drawn to cooking. He eventually headed to New York. “I wanted to be challenged,” he says. “It’s the premiere cooking city in the nation.” But Dan Chaustit, chef/owner of Crush, had worked with Strain and wanted him to head up his new restaurant, Demi, located inside Crush. “It was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down,” says Strain, 28. “I feel fortunate to establish my identity.” 510 E. Belvedere Avenue, 443-278-9001.

Pastry Chef: Aja Cage, SALT

On her path to becoming a graphic designer, Aja Cage got a job in a restaurant, working in Mt. Airy, then Pittsburgh, and Chicago. Along the way, she attended Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts in Pittsburgh. Today, the Columbia native is showcasing her baking skills as the pastry chef at SALT near Patterson Park. You’ll find tempting sweets like a chocolate angel-food cake with salted-caramel sauce with milk-chocolate sorbet and poached pineapple. (Yup, that’s all one decadent dish!) She’s also known for her homemade ice creams in flavors like strawberry jam and white-chocolate lemongrass. “I’m really happy,” she says. “I get to do the pastries on my own.” 2127 E. Pratt Street, 410-276-5480.

Reinvention: The Point in Fells

For a while, it looked like the former tavern called Miss Irene’s was going to join Baltimore’s phalanx of jinxed restaurant buildings. Then, Erica Russo and her parents Edie and Jimmy Chin swooped in a year ago to save the troubled spot. They brought in accomplished chef Jacob Raitt and fashioned a New American menu that appeals to diners with its emphasis on local, seasonal foods. Now, they’re packing them in, whether in the upscale, second-floor dining room, the downstairs bar, or the outdoor tables. Irene Glyphis, the beloved proprietor of the original Miss Irene’s who was known to single-handedly break up barroom brawls, would be pleased—even if she wouldn’t recognize the place! 1738 Thames Street, 410-327-7264.

Sandwich: Cubano, Havana Road Cuban Café

At Havana Road Cuban Café, owner/chef Marta Ines Quintana has turned a suburban storefront into a tiny, tropical oasis with lively music, photos of her home country, and wonderful renditions of her native food. While we are always happy with the arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) and ropa vieja (braised brisket), we return for the Cubano sandwich ($9): Chunks of slow-roasted pork, ham, Swiss, mustard, and pickles are pressed on crunchy bread. Traditional mojo (a citrus, olive-oil-based sauce) is served on the side with fried plantain chips. Delicioso! 8 W. Pennsylvania Avenue, Towson, 410-494-8222.

Smoothies: Zia’s Cafe

Everyone is getting in on the smoothie craze these days—even McDonald’s. But we’ve found our favorite, thank you, at Zia’s Cafe. Watch as a young staff member cuts up organic fresh fruit and twirls it around in a blender with ice until it’s a smooth, cold, thirst-quenching concoction. The Lucky 13 smoothie ($4.48, 16 ounces)—pineapple, mango, organic shredded coconut, and apple-lemon juice—is just the boost we need after several sun salutations at the nearby yoga studio. 13 Allegheny Avenue, Towson, 410-296-0799.

Soup: Dan Dan Noodle Soup, Sam’s Kid

Sam’s Kid is a California-casual bistro serving an array of Pan-Asian tapas, sushi, and large plates—from Vietnamese spring rolls and vegetable dumplings to pad Thai—in the heart of Fells Point’s pub zone. The menu also lists several noodle soups, including our favorite, dan dan ($8.95). The fragrant broth (for some weird reason, you pay $1 extra for the liquid!) is laden with shreds of spicy Szechuan pork, peanut-sesame flavors, spinach, napa cabbage, bok choy, bean sprouts, and tender egg noodles. 811 S. Broadway, 410-522-3663.

Top Ten: Cupcakes

Midnite Confection’s Cupcakery: These confections ($2.75-3) are rife with whimsy, like the cream-filled “Hostess” cupcake with its white squiggle on top or the dollop of strawberry jam in the PBJ cupcake. 1051 S. Charles Street, 410-727-1010.

Hamilton Bakery: These cupcakes ($2.95) are decorated to hint at what’s beneath the frosting: a tiny buttercream carrot on the carrot cake; a pink rose on the red velvet. 5414 Harford Road, 410-254-0797.

Dirty Carrots: These dense and rich cupcakes ($3) are frosted with finger-lickin’ flavors like salted caramel, and cinnamon with a punch reminiscent of Red Hots. Baltimore Farmers’ Market & Bazaar.

Woodlea Bakery: The “gourmet cupcakes” ($1.95), available on weekends, come in such tempting varieties as “s’mores,” (topped with marshmallow and dusted with graham crackers) and “éclair” (cream-filled with chocolate frosting). 4905 Belair Road, 410-488-7717.

Sweet Sin: The gluten-free cupcakes ($2.75)—made with a blend of rice, tapioca, and potato flour—are dense and delicious, especially the chocolate with peppermint frosting or raspberry-filled with a swirl of ganache on top. 123 W. 27th Street, 410-464-7211.

Charm City Cupcakes: We’re charmed by these sweet morsels ($2.75), like the Black-Eyed Susan (a yellow cake with a chocolate-mousse center and fondant flower on top) and a black-bottom cupcake with cheesecake and a smattering of chocolate chips inside. 326 N. Charles Street, 410-244-8790.

Caroline’s Cupcakery: The cupcakes ($3) come in festive colors like pink (strawberry flavored) and lavender-buttercream, depending on the whim of the staff. Or enjoy the “death by chocolate,” which needs no explanation. 1433 E. Fort Avenue, 443-220-0070.

Oh, What a Cake: We love the jumbo yellow cupcake ($3.25) with swirls of strawberry filling and lemony frosting as well as the almond-cream-filled cake with white buttercream icing. 6656 Dobbin Road, Suite K, Columbia,


Roland Park Bagel Co: These oversized cupcakes ($2.25) come wrapped in paper cups that barely contain the mounds of frosting: mocha drizzled in chocolate sauce, a chocolate-chip cookie wedged into a “cookies and cream,” and a tangy Key lime slice on a yellow cake. 500 W. Cold Spring Lane, 410-889-3333.

Sugarbakers: A cupcake ($2) here is the perfect way to get your small fix of red velvet, carrot cake, or yellow cake. Special ordering is best. 752 Frederick Road, Catonsville, 410-788-9478.

Salumeria: La Scala Ristorante Italiano

When La Scala’s chef/owner Nino Germano closed his tiny grocery Il Scalino a few years ago, he thankfully continued to sell the imported meats and cheeses at his Little Italy restaurant. His salumeria menu tantalizes the palate with cheeses taleggio and formaggio di capra and hand-cut meats like prosciutto di parma, pancetta fumigata, and mortadella. You can eat them there or get carryout to enjoy these delicacies at home. 1012 Eastern Avenue, 410-783-9209.

Tapas: Centro Tapas Bar

Whenever we go to this charming Federal Hill restaurant run by owner/chef George Dailey, we vow to return more frequently. Its Spanish and South American tapas are always delightful—from the sautéed spinach studded with chickpeas and dates to the succulent, heads-on Marvesta Farms shrimp with ajillo mayo. You get off to a good start with fresh-baked bread (beg for the raisin) and an assortment of wines served in short glasses, reminiscent of a Spanish tasca, or pub. It’s this Latino flair and hospitality that makes you want to stick around for another glass of sangria. 1444 Light Street, 443-869-6871.

Tater Tots: Sticky Rice

Remember Tater Tot Day in the school cafeteria? Well, even if you don’t, these golden nuggets seem to stir up excitement when available at local restaurants—especially at Sticky Rice, where they’re served in a large bucket ($8) for noshing with friends. This may seem like an odd offering at a place that has Pan-Asian dishes, noodle bowls, and sushi, but it works. There’s something fun about grasping a hash-brown tot with chopsticks and coating it with the restaurant’s “world-famous, secret” sauce. Even though Sticky Rice isn’t sharing the recipe, we’d compare the dip to a spicy, Thousand-Island dressing. We’ve certainly come a long way since Ore-Ida introduced the kid favorite in 1954. 1634 Aliceanna Street, 443-682-8243.

Up-and-Coming Food Blogger: Eli Knauer

Last August, Eli Knauer, now 10, sat with his laptop at his Parkville home and penned his first post: “I want to be a food critic when I grow up so that’s why I created this blog.” Then, he excused himself: “Dinner’s going to be ready soon. So, bye, for now!” He’s been writing about food and restaurants ever since at Adventures of a Koodie. And he’s not shy about his assessments, giving stars for quality and kid friendliness. Eli, who will be going into fifth grade at Oakleigh Elementary School this fall, says he doesn’t have favorites: “Everything is good.” But if he has to choose a place for dinner, it’s Pizza Hut—for its stuffed-crust pizza with bacon. If Eli likes it, it must be good.

Vegan: Great Sage

Meat lovers, pay attention. You will enjoy this Howard County vegan restaurant, too. On our last visit, we devoured the Southwest ranch “bacon” wrap ($10)—a marinated portobello mushroom with roasted corn, chopped romaine, avocado-ranch dressing, tempeh “bacon,” and tomatoes in a grilled flour tortilla—never missing animal protein. Other menu items include fare like the Maryland crab cake with an artichoke-tofu “crab” patty and the adult mac and cheese, an exquisite mix of rigatoni and veggies in a vegan Mornay sauce. Even the kids have their own menu, complete with a “pepperoni” pizza. Just don’t tell them it’s made with soy “pepperoni.” 5809 Clarksville Square Drive, Clarksville, 443-535-9400.

Welcome Back: The Grille at Peerce’s Landing

Marylanders love a comeback story. And Peerce’s­—with its storied tradition of hosting birthday celebrations, prom dinners, and special occasions—couldn’t have been better poised to tug at nostalgic heartstrings than with its rebirth under owner Joe Bivona. Now called The Grille at Peerce’s Landing, it’s bringing in the Valley crowd—this time with a more casual menu and most entrees under $20. The place, which reopened as a restaurant last October, has been spiffied up with a classy wine rack, new carpet, and bare tables, but diners will find a comforting old-fashioned feel from the white brick walls to the wood bar. 12460 Dulaney Valley Road, Phoenix, 410-252-7111.

Worth the Drive: Soup ’R Natural

This sweet restaurant in the Hereford zone is a family affair for the Heneghans. You’re likely to find mom and dad overseeing the kitchen and seating diners and their four daughters waiting on tables. They take pride in serving dishes using herbs and vegetables from their garden or eggs, meats, and ice cream from area farms. The menu changes seasonally, but there’s usually one constant—carrot cake, a freshly made version of Dan and Nell Heneghan’s wedding cake. Other regular items include the portachoke salad with diced portobellos, artichoke hearts, green beans, and mixed greens tossed with a tarragon Dijon vinaigrette, and the Proud American, a classic grilled cheese sandwich. 17114 York Road, Parkton, 443-491-3464.


By Jess Blumberg and Amy Mulvihill

Bar Makeover: Red House Tavern

The Red House Tavern’s crimson building has been a staple in Canton for decades. But when Ron Singer bought the space and reopened it earlier this year, he turned it into a sleeker version of itself. Singer restored the bar and fireplace, adding comfy armchairs, polished high-top tables, and an electric jukebox. He also renewed the live entertainment license, and the bar now features jazz and blues performances. The menu is more upscale, too, with fare like duck nachos and glass noodles. But Singer hasn’t gone all fancy: During Orioles games and happy hours, Natty Boh drafts are just $1.50. 2239 Essex Street, 410-522-0015.

’Burbs Bar: An Poitin Stil

The Stil will celebrate its 12th anniversary in September. To last that long among the transient strip-mall establishments of York Road in Timonium means you must be doing something right—and, in fact, the Stil does many things right. Looking for an evening of drinks with friends? The outdoor patio is always hopping and the nook-and-cranny-filled inside rooms will provide cover for furtive tête-à-têtes. Want to celebrate a special occasion? Grab a table near the fireplace and enjoy surprisingly sophisticated pub fare like venison au poivre. In the mood to kick up your heels? There’s live music every Wednesday through Saturday, and an open-mic night every Monday. And, oh yeah, it’s an Irish bar, so you know the beer is good. 2323 York Road, Timonium, 410-560-7900.

Cocktail: Strawberry Martini, Vino Rosina

Drink trends come and go, but the fad of infusing liquors seems here to stay. The process—letting ingredients steep in alcohol for days at a time—keeps popping up at our favorite bars. The best example we’ve found is Vino Rosina’s Strawberry Martini, a blend of chopped rhubarb, sliced strawberries, and basil leaves that is immersed in Prairie organic vodka for 3-5 days. The result (served in a chilled martini glass) is a perfect balance of tart and sweet flavors with an aromatic punch of basil. The infusion subdues the alcohol taste, letting all of the flavors really shine. But be careful, this one goes down a little too easily. 507 S. Exeter Street, 410-528-8600.

Top Ten: Festivals

Artscape: The July culture-palooza—now celebrating its 30th year—manages to unite our diverse city with its joyful mix of art, music, crafts, theater, food, art cars, and more. Plus, it’s free! Mt. Vernon and Station North, 1-877-BALTIMORE.

Maryland Renaissance Festival: For nine consecutive weekends, you can let ye olde freak flag fly at this massively popular late-summer event, which recreates a 16th-century British village complete with jesters, jousting, and jugglers. 1821 Crownsville Road, Annapolis. 410-266-7304.

Maryland Film Festival: What started as a humble regional film fest has blossomed into a major destination on the indie circuit. Wrote The New Yorker’s Richard Brody: “The center of cinematic gravity had shifted from wherever you’d usually look for it (Hollywood, New York, Paris) to Baltimore.”

Beer, Bourbon, and BBQ: What better way to kick off spring than with two whole days of beer guzzling, bourbon sipping, barbecue grubbing, and music listening? Timonium Fairgrounds.

Hot August Blues & Roots Festival: This music festival gets special props for its pastoral setting, relaxed vibe, and stellar lineups, which have included everyone from John Hiatt to Keb’ Mo’. Oregon Ridge Park, 13401 Beaver Dam Road, Cockeysville, 877-321-FEST.

Greek Heritage Festival: Of all the city’s ethnic festivals, this one feels the most authentic—with delicious gyros and dolmades, costumed dances, and tours of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church. 520 South Ponca Street, 410-633-5020.

HampdenFest: This feels like the quirkiest fest on The Avenue, with toilet races, mustache championships, and live local music all day. 36th Street and Falls Road.

The Baltimore Book Festival: Since we are “The City That Reads,” it’s only fitting we should have a superb book festival—and we do. Year after year, The Baltimore Book Festival attracts local and national talent in genres ranging from Maryland romance writers to children’s lit. Mt. Vernon Place, 410-752-8632.

EcoFest: To kick off Baltimore Green Week, EcoFest annually promotes local organizations that provide sustainable goods and services. But it’s fun, too, offering free belly-dancing and yoga classes, a children’s play area, and lots of yummy food. Franklin and Calhoun Streets.

Transmodern Festival: The Transmodern Festival is where the city’s counter-culture comes out to play—through live concerts, experimental art, and cutting-edge performances.

Dance Night: Save Your Soul, Lithuanian Hall

If it’s the first Friday night of the month, chances are that MICA students and dance lovers alike are making their way down to the Lithuanian Hall in the Hollins Market neighborhood. The hall has hosted various dance parties throughout the years, but Save Your Soul seems to have it all. First off, it’s cheap—admission is $5, shots of the honey liquor Viryta are $2, and drafts are a buck. Second, the music is perfect dance-party material. DJs Action Pat, King Gilbert, and Robert Fearless spin ’50s and ’60s R&B, rock, and soul. (Think Little Richard and Otis Retting.) And finally, the party has a fan in John Waters. Hard to top that. Lithuanian Hall, 851 Hollins Street, 410-685-5787.

Day Trip: St. Michaels

If some vacation destination hasn’t already trademarked the slogan “So close, but a world away,” we totally think St. Michaels should call dibs. Just on the other side of the Bay Bridge, St. Michaels is as quaint a bayside hamlet as you could hope to find, full of history, yes, but also a progressive culinary scene that is embodied in establishments like Bistro St. Michaels, 208 Talbot, Harbor Lights, and the town’s annual springtime food and wine festival. The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum celebrates the region’s ties to the bay with numerous exhibits and events all year long, and the picturesque Inn at Perry Cabin provides world-class accommodations and the pampering services of the Linden Spa. Just knowing that all this is a mere 90-minute drive away is comforting.

Eccentric Sport: Bicycle Polo

Baltimore loves its quirky sports. From roller derby to duckpin bowling, people in this town are all about finding weird and wonderful ways to entertain themselves. We thought we’d heard it all, but even we were perplexed when we found out about the hardy souls playing bicycle polo at Northwest Park in Mt. Washington. Bicycle polo? Is that even a thing? Turns out, it is. The sport—pretty much exactly what it sounds like: polo on a bike—is over 100 years old and was even an exhibition sport in the 1908 London Olympics. Interest stateside has picked up in recent years as young urbanites look for further usages for their mountain bikes. The Mt. Washington club—the only one in the area—currently fields about 13 players who scrimmage on Sundays from early spring right up until Thanksgiving. Giddyup! 2101 W. Rogers Avenue.

Fitness Class: Body Jam at Merritt’s Downtown Athletic Club

It’s good for you! You’ll feel better afterwards! It boosts endorphin levels and metabolic rates! We’ve heard it all—and we know it’s true—but exercising still always feels more like a chore than a pleasure. The bi-weekly Body Jam classes at Merritt Athletic Club’s Mt. Vernon gym might be the exception to the rule though. There are no medieval contraptions to wrestle with, no grueling routine to memorize: All you need to do is bring your inner 16-year-old self and dance. That’s right, remember how you used to boogie to your favorite tunes in your bedroom after school? This is a slightly more productive version of that, with (hopefully) less hairbrush singing. 210 E. Centre Street, 410-332-0906.

Top Five: Off-Leash Pet Parks

Downs Park Dog Beach: Yes, dogs allowed! At Downs Park Dog Beach, Fido can romp and swim to his heart’s content. 8311 John Downs Loop, Pasadena, 410-222-6230.

Locust Point Dog Park: Baltimore City’s newest dog park is friendly, fun, and clean. Southeast corner of Latrobe Park, near 1627 E. Fort Avenue.

BARC Park at Hannah More: A godsend for suburbanites, this park consists of a 1.5-acre park for large dogs and a .75-acre park for smaller ones. 12035 Reisterstown Road, Reisterstown, 410-887-1142.

Quiet Waters Park: There’s plenty of room for pups to play in fenced-in areas at this Anne Arundel park. 600 Quiet Waters Park Road, Annapolis, 410-222-1777.

Canton Dog Park: Plans are afoot to update the city’s first canine park with new surfacing, improved drainage, a water feature, and added shade and benches. But, in the meantime, the dogs are still having fun. Toone and S. Bouldin Streets.

Karaoke: Nevin’s Cross St. Station

There is nothing fancy about Nevin’s, but that suits us just fine. We don’t necessarily want pristine surroundings if we’re going to do something as potentially embarrassing as sing karaoke. We want the lights low. We want the bar to serve cheap, strong drinks. And we definitely want our fellow revelers to be as loopy as we are. Nevins ticks all those boxes and more, offering karaoke six nights a week. The staff and patrons are so used to amateur warblers singing everything from Sinatra to Journey that they won’t bat an eye when you hit a bum note—or two. 31-33 E. Cross St., 410-468-4078.

New Bar: Johnny Rad’s

When this skate-punk tavern opened last year, it was obvious that it filled an Upper Fells Point void: a chill spot to grab a good, inexpensive meal and stay for drinks. Johnny Rad’s has unique bar fare (try the fried edamame!) plus an eclectic selection of beers, from canned Dale’s Pale Ale to hearty Sam Smith Oatmeal Stout. Combine that with the delicious pizza, pop-punk soundtrack, artsy skateboard décor, and easygoing staff, and it’s hard to remember where we ever went before Johnny Rad’s. 2108 Eastern Avenue, 443-759-6464.

Nightlife Victory: Tiki Barge

In March, things were looking shaky for Tiki Barge, the harbor’s popular floating pool bar. Residents of the nearby HarborView and Ritz Carlton condos appealed to the liquor board to revoke the bar’s license due to the allegedly disruptive behavior of the clientele. Complaints ranged from illegal parking to one patron’s “simulated sex with a potted palm tree” (!). In April, the board ruled to suspend the bar’s license. But, one month later, it reversed its decision, providing the bar pay a $3,000 fine and beef up its security. The Tiki Barge promptly posted on its Facebook page: “Come on down and celebrate with us . . . but please remember to be respectful!” 500 Harborview Drive.

Oriole: Matt Wieters

Talk about pressure. When Matt Wieters came up to the majors in 2009, fans acted like it was the second coming of Christ (or at least Cal Ripken Jr.). And with all of that build up came an inevitable let down. ( even called him one of “the most disappointing prospects of all time.”) But, the naysayers should think again. This season, Wieters—–the O’s lone All-Star—–has emerged as the best defensive catcher in the league. He leads, by far, in caught-stealing percentage, fielding percentage, and is the only catcher to not allow a passed ball. His defensive skills have inspired YouTube montages and T-Shirts bearing his silhouette that read, “Don’t. Run. Ever.” Good advice.

Place For Outside Drinking: Nick’s Fish House & Grill

Sometimes it’s nice to escape the bustle, pollution, and car horns. It’s even nicer when we can do that without actually leaving the city. With its multi-level decks overlooking their marina, Nick’s Fish House in Port Covington is about as scenic as you can get inside 695. On weekend nights, the deck features live music from steel drum, blues, and acoustic acts. But we take pleasure in the little things when we’re at Nick’s, like munching on an order of plump fried oysters, sipping on a delicious version of a frozen rum runner, and watching the sky turn peach during sunset. No wonder they have such a popular happy hour (4-7 p.m.)—there’s a lot to be happy about. 2600 Insulator Drive, 410-347-4123.

Top Five: Happy Hours

RA Sushi: RA is always hopping Monday through Saturday from 3-7 p.m. And it’s easy to see why: sushi rolls are half off and hot sake is $2. 1390 Lancaster Street, 410-522-3200.

Little Havana: A day of stress can be easily washed away at Little Havana’s happy hour (4-7 p.m.). Enjoy a $10 pitcher of margaritas on the waterfront deck and breathe easy. 1325 Key Highway, 410-837-9903.

Jack’s Bistro: We appreciate that Jack’s has a late-night happy hour for we night owls. Appetizers and drinks are $2 off from 11 p.m.-1 a.m. 3123 Elliott Street, 410-878-6542.

J.A. Murphy’s Tavern: With $1 shots, foosball, and a Wheel of Fortune-type drinking game, what’s not to love about this 4-7 p.m. happy hour? 1703 Aliceanna Street, 410-753-4420.

Holy Frijoles: You’d be hard-pressed to find a better deal than Wednesday nights at Holy Frijoles, where tacos are $1 and margaritas (strong as ever) are just $3. 908 W. 36th Street, 410-235-2326.

Pool: Swan Lake Swim Club

Wedged on a triangle of land between Perring Parkway and Woodbourne Avenue, this modest neighborhood pool club in Northeastern Baltimore might be one of the city’s best-kept secrets. There’s nothing particularly fancy about the facilities (one adult pool, a kiddie pool, a shaded grove of picnic tables, a sandy volleyball court, changing rooms, and a snack bar), but the place practically oozes a sense of community. Hours are long, particularly on Fridays when the pool doesn’t close until 10 p.m., and the calendar is filled with movie nights, cookouts, and other special events. It is the kind of place where good summer memories are born. 2030 Woodbourne Avenue, 410-426-9887.

Raven: Terrell Suggs

A good friend is there when you need them most—and that goes for great football players, too. Last season, Ravens veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs had one of his best years ever, and he came through when it counted. In the three games against the Steelers, Suggs recorded 5.5 sacks. (Three were in the playoff game.) Including the post season, Suggs compiled 78 tackles, 16 sacks, three forced fumbles, and two pass deflections. He was named AFC Defensive Player of the Month in November and, once again, was selected for the Pro Bowl. All we can say to Terrell is, thank you for being a friend.

Winery for a Day Trip: Boordy Vineyards

More so than any other local vineyard, Boordy has embraced the concept of Winery as a destination. Of course it offers the de rigueur tastings and tours, but there’s also a summertime farmers’ market on Thursdays, live music every Saturday night, special events like a Father’s Day picnic, and the Autumn Wine Fest on Sundays in October offering grape-pressing demos, wagon rides, and craft vendors. It makes you wonder how they find the time to actually, you know, make wine. 12820 Long Green Pike, Hydes, 410-592-5015.


By Christina Breda Antoniades

Body Ritual: Chas Spa & Salon

For an invigorating self-service treatment you can enjoy solo or with others—and, surprisingly, without breaking the bank—head to the Oasis Room at the über-luxe Chas Spa. Your 45-minute, $80 journey starts with your choice of therapeutic mud. Slather it on and move to the steam room, where eucalyptus-infused vapors will open your pores and a fiber-optic light show will add a little New-Age kick to the experience. After that, it’s on to the rain-shower room for a refreshing wash with a raw-sugar scrub. Make the most of your visit by relaxing in the meditation garden, which is open to all guests. 801 Key Highway, 410-625-CHAS.

Bridal Salon: Scene 217

If you’re the kind of bride who wants the focus to be solely on you for your wedding day (who better?), Scene 217 will definitely be your scene. The cozy boutique—just enough room for four chairs—means that when your bridal party arrives, the place is all yours. Owner/stylist Debbie Ingrao, who started her career as a makeup artist with Estée Lauder (but has been taming tresses for more than a decade), gets an assist from a first-rate staff, including bridal specialist Candace Parrish, who has a knack for sculpted updos and extensions and whose work has graced the pages of Glamour magazine. And though your party may have Scene 217 to itself, you’re not alone in choosing the place—the salon doe