I previously abandoned this post. I thought it was irrelevant, and I wasn’t writing as much as I once had anyways. Lately, though, I have nagging thoughts in my mind that too many people are foregoing permanent posts for fleeting ones on facebook, instagram, and twitter – including myself. While all content may get lost in the shuffle, content on social media is lost forever once it is out of its own recentness. While I am not an expert in Baltimore, I definitely do my research and what I have done could be helpful to the next people of my mindset who go. Plus, it’s an archive that I can send people who say: What should I do in Baltimore?? Here’s what I know:
Baltimore is a beautiful city. Just how I love Woodside because there is no singular defining characteristic and never a PR push, Baltimore reminded me of the humility. I saw Baltimore as a city left to it’s own devices. I saw things created out of nothing, and other things left to nothing. I saw sprouts of kinetic coming from potential, and others floundering. There was this weirdness that can only come from isolation, and also a filtering of that which comes with time circulating unto itself. I saw plenty of character, and ate lots of good, real food. I love Queens, but after my trip here, it became only the 2nd city where I could see myself living (UPDATE: Los Angeles became the 3rd).
Here are some places I went:
Some things just ARE Baltimore. When researching the city, I was thinking how they have such unique displays emanating from the citizens. This led me to google “Outsider art museum” — and then I found this out: THE Outsider art museum in the country is located in Baltimore: The American Visionary Arts Museum (AVAM). I loved it so much, I went TWO times in two days. Later in the year, I joined their Fan Club in hopes it would force me to come back. I didn’t but I still long to go. — And I recommend this Number ONE for anyone who goes to Baltimore.
Baltimore has a complex about who has the REAL Washington Monument. The DC one is cool, but it’s simply a stick. This one has a little more to reveal – and I liked it.
Reminds me of the William Penn on the City Hall building in Philadelphia.
Lonnie’s Pit Beef
There is clearly an “other side of the tracks” in Baltimore, and I was warned at least 5 times a day about this. As usual, I didn’t care, and I rode right through the tracks exploring for food. And let me tell you this: I found some really cool stuff!
Like this Pit Beef inside a laundromat.
Taste? It was okay, but the experience was what I travel for. It was exactly how it seems. Through the laundromat, inside is a bulletproof glass is Lonnie. He concedes to make a pit beef sandwich for me and walks to the alley to put one on his little grill out there. 15 minutes later, I ate in front of the dryers, and the laundry customers only slightly eyed me. I believe I was a rare occurrence of the eater. The sandwich was just as edible as left-overs (which it probably was), so I wouldn’t readily recommend Lonnie’s, but I would definitely recommend Baltimore.
This was during the daytime, so I felt safe. I never traveled in that neighborhood at night, but if I wanted to I would definitely bring a guide. I am always of the nature where if you come in with an open mind and a smile, people will welcome you – and they definitely did with me. But at night on empty streets in an unfamiliar city is another story. I can’t say what it’s definitely like, but many people have strong opinions on it. One guy told me they will knock me off my bike then take it from me. I read the police blotter in the newspaper, it didn’t have any stories about hipster kids from NYC getting mugged, but what it did have (repeatedly) was stories like: argument between two black youth, one shoots another in the head and dies. Sickening stuff.
Cinco de Mayo
Excellent. Just like when I went to Philly, I promised myself I wouldn’t get Mexican food, but I just can’t help myself. On the way to Matthew’s pizza, providence gave me and my couch supplier to Cinco de Mayo, so we went in. In the back of the grocery store was a little hallway of a restaurant. We got 2 tacos (de cabeza, and a carnitas like thing). It was AWESOME. Fantastic stuff.
As I rode around the area the next day, I saw Honduran, Salvadoran, and Mexican places popping up along Broadway. Let me tell you something… this area has extreme potential for growth of immigrant foodstuff. My foodie senses were going off like crazy. It’s a small city, so with my bicycle, I was able to visit about 3/4 of the city. Hampden, the antique shops and the quaint vibe, along with progressive farm to table restaurants – it all adds up to a wonderful mosaic. There is extreme potential here for a food explorer like me.
Had a bismarck. Fantastic.
Went to the touristy section, along the water. Watched a performer, and it was humorous how regular she was. Later, when a local tattooed guy let out an F word, she went conservative on him and asked the nearby police officers to remove him. I was astounded!
The curser was part of a big element of tattooed people in Baltimore. So distinctive, this group, that as I was looking at posters of musicians later in the week, I was reminded of one of the coolest performers I have ever seen - Daniel Higgs, player of the mouth harp. I had a strong feeling about this, and later it was confirmed – Yes, Daniel Higgs is from Baltimore. There definitely is a feel about Baltimore.
Bruce Lee Wings
This was a recommendation from chowhounders. The business card says “we kick ass!” – how awesome is that? And how were the wings? Pretty damn good. They are smaller wings, which are more sought after by wing aficionados, and are heavily breaded with a sweet and very soy sauce. Good stuff – though I’d rather come just for the market Bruce Lee is located inside.
Another interesting experience was at Eastern Takeout (1927 Eastern Ave). This was seemingly a nothing store, but the whole time my foodie senses were tingling. Filled with regulars of questionable sanity, this tiny counter shop had only Mama working there. The Korean owner has been behind the counter for almost 30 years. With the most humble cooking and refrigeration apparatuses, it was definitely an experience. She was crazy and she treated me like a neglected son. I can’t say it’s a destination, but I will say it’s an experience and after it’s imprint on me, I would definitely come back if I were ever in town again.
And leave it to ol’ JO to find the only street food in the city.. Bean Pies. I had never heard of this before, and in this little corner just outside the Lexington Market, that unknowledge was out of this world. Here was this well-dressed man selling pies beside a rack on wheels filled with newspapers. 3 dollars each, of course I got one. It was sweet, with a great texture from the bean mixture. I asked him if it was a Baltimore thing; he said Nope, it’s all over the place. Later I looked it up, and found out its association with the Nation of Islam. They sell them to fund-raise and strike up conversations to spread the word about the religion. Was I offended that he didn’t try to convert me? A little. I liked the bean pie though.
Great Middle America stuff. Some people love it, some hate it. I loved it. The sausage was excellent.
One of the things which made me feel so at home was the seafood culture. Every third spot you look are signs of oysters and crabs. One woman I saw in a market had a crab tattoo on the outside of her hand between her thumb and her pointer finger. I went wild over that.
A group of Chowhounders invited me on a trip to the legendary Grace Garden. Chinese is another cuisine I promised myself I wouldn’t try in another city… but I did. On their urging, I let go. It was excellent. This small restaurant had a quality and passion that made it such a rarity. It doesn’t matter if there is a big Chinese community or not, if it is run by a skilled and passionate person, it is worth the trip – and they have a steady number of clientele who agree. See exhibit A:
The cost at Grace Garden was actually more expensive than what I’m used to in NYC. The chef does go out of his way, for example the $30 (or so) duck he gets from a local farm because it is so much better than from the market, and it is priced as such. I was fine with that.
Speaking of markets, I’m going to write about this in another blog post. It’s a unique thing about Baltimore, and it deserves much more attention from tourists. The experiences held in these markets are pure Americana, pure Baltimore. This is my only other MUST SEE part of Baltimore – the Markets. There are five of them – here is a run-down.
Baseball is so essential.
Camden Yards is such a beautiful stadium. Walking around the grounds gives you great views of the city; it’s completely open air. Wonderful stuff. I’m so glad I caught a game.
Real Baltimore experience. Here I had an encounter with scrapple, which is pretty much a less expensive name for boudin. Excellent tasting food, real people. sweet staff. If I were a foreigner, I would definitely come here.
Sunday Farmers Market
M&J’s Soul Food
Hip Hop Fish & Chicken
Bill’s Terrace Inn
Crab Cake Review
And look forward to my follow-up rundown of the markets.