Get to Know Baltimore's Food Scene
Restaurants and bars are giving fresh life to industrial spaces in three Charm City neighborhoods
R. House, a food and drink hall in Baltimore’s Remington neighborhood, is in a refurbished 100-year-old automobile warehouse.
Three contiguous neighborhoods in northern Baltimore have gone from hardscrabble to hipster. Remington, Hampden and Woodberry—roughly five miles from the Inner Harbor—were known for their mills in the 18th and 19th centuries; the area went from grinding flour to being the world’s largest supplier of cotton duck, the material used to make sailcloth. The mills eventually gave way to warehouses and other factories, which slowly disappeared as the city saw a decline in population and industrial jobs in the 20th century.
Pastries at Artifact Coffee in Baltimore’s Woodberry neighborhood
Over the past 20 years or so, and more intensely in the past five, the three neighborhoods have been undergoing renewals, and with them have come a host of unique, artisan-driven restaurants and watering holes. Some are housed in defunct factories and industrial spaces, so you get to eat well in engaging and repurposed surroundings. Here are the highlights of each neighborhood.
Upscale housewares or secondhand goods, a wine bar or dive bar, kids toys or sex toys, tacos from a takeout window, or a chic six-course supper. They’re all available on or near Hampden’s West 36th Street, aka “The Avenue,” a stretch that’s packed with independently owned stores and restaurants.
Orange cream goodies at Charm City Chocolate
The Charmery’s ice cream often includes Baltimore-made ingredients.
For snacks while strolling, head to Charm City Chocolate, where husband-and-wife chocolatiers Todd and Michelle Zimmerman sell their homemade sweets in a bright shop. For a real local taste, try the “Chesapeake Crunch,” a savory milk chocolate bark studded with peanuts and laced with just the right touch of Old Bay. The seasoning also adds a spicy finish to “Old Bay Caramel,” an ice cream option at The Charmery, a popular parlor a couple doors down that makes its creamy treats with dairy from Pennsylvania’s Trickling Springs Creamery. The shop specializes in unique combinations, often incorporating Baltimore-made ingredients into its ice cream flavors, such as “Berger Cookies & Cream” and “Otterbein Sugar Cookie.” At Ma Petite Shoe, you can browse and snack at the same time, as the store carries two of life’s necessities, shoes and chocolate. There’s a large, fashionable selection of both, including the Baltimore-made Mouth Party caramels, soft, sticky pillows spiked with sea salt.
Ma Petite Shoe pairs chocolate with footwear.
A popular spot since it opened in 2014, The Food Market is in a dark industrial space that turns lively at dinnertime and serves up innovative American food; the menu covers “little” and “small” plates, and “big” and “in between” dishes. Or, just have a drink at the bar and some nibbles, such as yellowfin tuna meatballs or hot mixed nuts, which are emboldened with rosemary, duck fat and cayenne.
The Food Market’s bar offers nibbles such as yellowfin tuna meatballs.
Three restaurants made splashes when they opened in 2016—the tiny and charming Polenta Café, which celebrates the gluten-free cornmeal dish in multiple guises; Five and Dime Ale House, a tavern and sports bar in a handsomely renovated five-and-dime store that’s run by 206 Restaurant Group, the owner of Oliver Brewing Co., one of Baltimore’s first craft breweries; and Paulie Gee’s, a franchise location of a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based chainlet that specializes in wood-fired pizza, with vegan options and creative names for its pies (i.e. “Brian DeParma,” “Arugula Shmoogula” and “Dollop Parton”).
Charm City Chocolate 809 W. 36th St., 443-449-5164, www.charmcitychocolate.com
R. House’s food offerings include a breakfast BLT from Ground & Griddled.
The revitalization spotlight has been aimed most recently at Remington, a diverse entrepreneurial community adjacent to Johns Hopkins University. Foodwise, the hottest newcomer is R. House, a 50,000-square-foot food and drink hall that opened in December in a refurbished 100-year-old automobile warehouse with roll-up garage doors and funky seating for 370, inside and out. Ten up-and-coming chefs proffer their handcrafted specialties, ranging from Korean barbecue to fried chicken, Hawaiian poke and Venezuelan arepas. “It’s a cool food court run by chefs,” says R. House’s general manager, Peter DiPrinzio.
R. House’s food and drink hall houses 10 chefs in 50,000 square feet.
Parts & Labor, which occupies space built in 1924 to house and repair Model T’s, and later to sell tires, opened in 2014 as a restaurant and butchery from James Beard Award-winning chef Spike Gjerde. A consummate locavore, Gjerde also co-owns Baltimore’s Woodberry Kitchen, Woodberry Pantry, Artifact Coffee, Grand Cru and Bird in Hand. His first foray into Washington, D.C., is a restaurant and coffee shop in The LINE, an Adams Morgan hotel slated to open this year.
Parts & Labor’s meat-focused menu includes coppa, Lebanon bologna and aji dulce salami.
In Parts & Labor’s squat green-and-pink building on North Howard Street, butchers break down huge hunks of locally procured animals in an open kitchen. Steaks and chops are sold in a shop in the restaurant’s vestibule, along with small batch products such as Snake Oil, a hot sauce made by Gjerde from heirloom fish peppers. Not surprisingly, the menu leans heavily toward meat, which you can watch the kitchen staff grill and plate as you sit on a sheepskin-covered chair (from a local farm, of course). At lunch, the corned beef tongue and braunschweiger sandwich, a mouth-gaping load wedged with onion and hot mustard on rye bread, will leave you fortified for the day. Or choose from six types of grilled sausages—fat, crusty and juicy links set in warm hoagie rolls. Thin ham-like slices of grilled bacon, called rashers, are smoky and lean in the RLT (rashers, lettuce, tomato and herb mayo), which is especially good served on thick and wheat-y grilled spelt bread.
For a latte after lunch, walk across the street to Charmington’s, a coffee shop that serves organic coffee and locally produced food and was the site of a 2015 meeting hosted by President Barack Obama. (The Baltimore Sun reported that he was promoting a proposal for paid sick leave, which the café already gives its staff.) The neighborhood hangout is made even more interesting by the fact that it’s located in Miller’s Court, the former site of the H.F. Miller & Son Tin Box and Can Manufacturing Plant, where the seamless tin box was invented. The renovated complex now houses the offices of nonprofit organizations and offers $300-a-month discounts on apartment rentals to Baltimore’s K-12 teachers.
A meatloaf sandwich is a good bet at Papermoon Diner
Two old standbys in Remington are also worth a visit. The Papermoon Diner’s foyer is flanked by glass-enclosed shelves holding hundreds of PEZ dispensers, and the dining areas are packed with jumbled displays of action figures, doll heads, mannequin parts and more. As my mesmerized 8-year-old niece put it, “Everything here is either broken or naked.” The comfort food plays second fiddle to the surroundings, but you can’t go wrong with the meatloaf sandwich, a sizable slab topped with melted cheddar and roasted red peppers.
The wild décor at Papermoon Diner is legendary.
Fans of pastry chef Duff Goldman, whose Ace of Cakes reality show ran from 2006 to 2011 on Food Network and who currently hosts and/or judges four of the network’s programs, will want to check out his Charm City Cakes headquarters, a short walk from the diner. The cavernous bakery is primarily a work studio for orders, and is only open to the public on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, when you can buy cupcakes, see a display of elaborate (but fake) cakes, and buy Charm City Cakes merchandise.
R. House 301 W. 29th St., 443-347-3570, r.housebaltimore.com
Sip a brew in the Union Craft Brewing taproom
Just a few minutes from West 36th Street, down the hill on Union Avenue, Hampden merges into Woodberry. Adjacent to the Interstate 83 overpass, the Waverly Brewing Co. occupies an unassuming blue building. Inside, you’ll find a cozy taproom paneled in multicolored wood, and a lounge with red and green vinyl sofas. Despite its small size, the 2,500-square-foot brewery—opened in 2015—turns out a sizable variety of brews. Ten or so might be on tap for tasting; if the oyster stout is available, go for it. Made with the shells and meat of Maryland oysters and poured from a nitro tap, it has a super smooth and milky finish.
Beer drinkers should head farther west on Union Avenue to Union Craft Brewing, which opened in 2012 and now produces 10,000 barrels a year. Repeatedly named the city’s best brewery by Baltimore’s City Paper, Union has a spirited taproom and informative brewery tours on Saturdays, and there’s a fun parking lot scene with food trucks, picnic tables, a beanbag toss and other games.
Tour the facilities at Union Craft Brewing.
For those with a hankering for the hard stuff, Blue Pit BBQ, a whiskey bar and restaurant on Union Avenue, pours more than 80 American bourbons, 40 brands of American rye, plus other American and non-American whiskeys. To soak them all up, husband-and-wife owners David Newman and Cara Bruce offer 18-hour pit-cooked pulled pork, brisket rubbed with locally roasted coffee from Zeke’s, and bratwurst made with Union Craft Brewing’s Anthem ale.
Blue Pit BBQ’s Big Dawg comes with chopped brisket, sausage, red chili mayo slaw and pickles.
After all that beer and booze, Artifact Coffee—Spike Gjerde’s rustic café in a former sailcloth mill—is just the ticket for an espresso or pour over, each made with Counter Culture beans. The locale, which more recently manufactured model train scenery and Styrofoam coolers, serves soups, sandwiches and salads, plus pastries made at Gjerde’s signature eatery, Woodberry Kitchen, a few minutes away.
Artifact Coffee’s pastries are made nearby at sister restaurant Woodberry Kitchen.
A dish of scallops, crab fritters and Hassleback sweet potato from Woodberry Kitchen.
Opened in 2007 in a former mill and iron foundry, Woodberry Kitchen is still going strong. And no wonder: Its ever-changing Chesapeake-centric menu, the attention to delicious detail, the easygoing service, and the hip, countrified setting add up to a memorable meal. Start with a crock of smoked rockfish dip and spelt crackers, an amalgam of smoke and creaminess that’s also terrific smeared on house-made sourdough bread. Always on the menu is the mega-moist, crisp-skinned chicken breast, cooked in a cast-iron skillet and served with a biscuit and honey butter to sop up the herbed pan sauce. It’s the ultimate comfort food. Ditto for the apple tart, accompanied by oat ice cream, graham cracker crumbles and caramel drizzle.
Located in Woodberry’s Meadow Mill complex, the hip new La Cuchara transports you to the Basque regions of Spain and France, albeit from an old London Fog coat factory. The large space is divided into four intimate dining sections, with a spacious bar in the middle and a busy wood-fired grill in the back. The intriguing seasonal menu focuses on bar bites called pintxos (try the sardines or the jamón croquettes) and small plates (the patatas bravas and the charred octopus are must orders), but there are also appealing main courses. Homemade breads are standouts, particularly the smoked pumpernickel, with its whisper of molasses, or the nutty slabs made with spent grain from Union Craft Brewing. You can buy whole loaves to go, ensuring that you’ll bring a slice of Baltimore back home.
Woodberry Kitchen’s Chesapeake-centric food is prepared in an open kitchen.
Waverly Brewing Co. 1625-C Union Ave., 443-438-5765, www.waverlybrewingcompany.com
Contributing Editor Carole Sugarman lives in Chevy Chase.
Illustration by Mary Ann Smith