The Fine-Diners

By Jane Marion

Photography by Scott Suchman

Illustrations by JORDAN AMY LEE

The Tastemakers

The Tastemakers: Cindy Wolf & Tony Foreman

The most influential movers and shakers on Charm City's Hospitality scene.

By Jane Marion

hen Tony Foreman and Cindy Wolf arrived in Baltimore from Washington, D.C., in 1995, our downtown fine-dining scene was in the weeds and the concept of an elevated Southern cuisine was uncharted territory. White-tablecloth restaurants were the provenance of only a few local standbys and beyond that, it was slim pickings. “I knew the market and the restaurants weren’t as sophisticated or populated as other places,” recalls Foreman, who grew up in Roland Park and met Wolf while working at the iconic Georgia Brown’s two blocks from The White House. “I wanted to move back to Baltimore because this is my place. I care what happens here.”

In 1997, two years after opening their debut, Savannah, in Fells Point, they ventured just slightly west of Fells. With its vast expanse of warehouses and parking lots, and industrial waterfront, the area now dubbed Harbor East was a diamond in the rough. (At the time, the area was so uncharted that when Homicide: Life on the Street was still filming in Baltimore, Foreman had to drive guest stars Steve Buscemi and Charles Durning to their rooms at the Harbor Court Hotel from Harbor East because no taxi would come to the restaurant.

Where some saw a concrete jungle, the duo had a vision: “It made sense to me that at the foot of I-83—and there’s a location on the water, it’s probably a good location,” Foreman recalls thinking at the time. For Wolf, a place to call her own was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. “In college, when I was supposed to be doing algebra, I was paging through my mother’s old cookbooks,” she says. “I thought about what I wanted my restaurant to look like and be like one day in the way that a lot of women think about the dream house they want to live in.”

That dream house was Charleston. “Savannah was the beginning of the road of what Charleston would become,” says Foreman. With its artful plating, luxury ingredients, flawless service, and sophisticated setting, Charleston ushered in a daring new era of fine dining for Baltimore and became the city’s first true temple of haute cuisine.

As that rare unicorn—a female owner/executive chef—Wolf boldly served and is still serving escargot, foie gras, and truffles as part of a daily, seasonal, and seductive prix-fixe tasting menu—the city’s first—often inspired by her own adventures to Michelin-starred spots in Paris. In doing so, she has become one of the most renowned chefs in the region, earning the city’s first James Beard nomination for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic in 2006, followed by an astounding additional 22 nominations including nods for Outstanding Wine Program thanks to Foreman’s stewardship of the massive European wine list. “People debate over whether cooking is art,” says Wolf, who has been on the line almost nightly since the restaurant’s opening. “I know that it’s art for me.”

Above all, the power pair has shown the rest of the world what locals already know: In a city that sometimes suffers from an image issue, Baltimore has style to spare. With other properties following Charleston over the years, including Petit Louis Bistro, Cinghiale, and The Milton Inn, Foreman and Wolf continue to lead the restaurant revolution by insisting on excellence, from the peerless meat and produce to the luxury tableware to the long-cellared wines to the spotless service. (There was a recent James Beard nomination for Charleston for that, too.) Charleston remains the crème de la crème location for first dates, proposals, anniversary dinners, and even celebrity diners, including Katy Perry and Daniel Craig. As the standard bearers of fine dining in Charm City, nobody does it better.

The Torchbearers

David & Tonya

The Showmen

Alex & Eric Smith

The Sober Ambassador

Ashish Alfred

The Community Activists

Mera Kitchen

The Crab Queen

Nancy Devine

The Team Players

Steve Chu &
Ephrem Abebe

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