Tuesday, March 12, 2013

So Long and Thanks for All The Fish... and Crabs... and Bacon...

This is it, the final post!  The last one of the whole damn blog.  It's a weird milestone, but it wasn't a sudden decision. Actually, I decided this somewhere during my madcap overview of state foods, somewhere between Georgia and Illinois (I can’t remember exactly), and well after I realized that I just no longer had the money, time or gas to go back around the Beltway again.  But still, after 6 ½ years (exactly - the first two posts were on September 12, 2006), 1,780 posts, 2,977 comments (as of this posting), about 310 recipes attempted (most of which were somebody else's recipes I was interpreting) and about 810 eateries, festivals, markets and food trucks visited, it’s time to pack it in.  The “blog fatigue” has taken a strong hold, and just like Ray Lewis (RAVENS W00000000T!!!!!!), Tina Fey (30 ROCK W00000000T!!!!!!) and Benedict XVI (zuh? Er, RAVENS W00000000T!!!!!!), I want to go out on a high.

No, not “I want to go out high”.  I want to go out ON A high.  Good grief. 

I’ve learned a lot these past several years of being part of the Baltimore food blogging community. I’ve tried to winnow that down to a list, with items in no particular order.  Some are more particular than others.  To wit:

1. There are a lot of good crab cakes in this city. And a lot of bad ones.  But the bad ones are usually still better than the ones you find elsewhere.

2. You just can’t buy a stand mixer cheap, even from your favorite thrift store.  You just can’t.  Don’t do it.

3. You can really smoke pork barbecue in the slow cooker.  And in the oven.  Beef brisket, too.

4. Eating something you’ve grown is pretty damn satisfying, even if all you got from several broccoli seeds was one head the size of your fist.

5. Restaurants can actually improve, though how much so is debatable.

6. They can also get worse.

7. You don’t have to spend a fortune to get excellent food or service.

8. But you CAN end up spending a fortune and get craptastic service instead.

9. Chinese food in the US is a bit different than it is in the UK or in the Netherlands. Or, especially, in China.

10. You can actually pop sorghum at home.  Amaranth, too.  And while a dome popper (that rotates the kernels) might be preferable, you can get away with using just a stainless steel stockpot.

11. I now know how to make poi.

12. And sushi.

13. And beer.  

14. And New York, New Haven and Chicago style pizzas.  I just need to make sure they stay flat. 

15. There are some good eats from food trucks.  Here and in DC.  And LA.

16. Recipes are there for a reason.  Use them.

17. And read through them first!

18. That said, so long as you know where to improvise (and what to search for on the internet), you don’t have to follow the recipe to the letter.

19. As much as the woman irritates the hell out of me, I have to admit that Sandra Lee’s heart is in the right place in trying to help home chefs without a lot of scratch make something edible.  She doesn’t always succeed (ahem), but at least she tries.  To paraphrase Sophia Petrillo, her heart’s in the right place but I don’t know where her brain is.

20. Still, what’s up with those goddamn tablescapes!?

21. Guy Fieri, on the other hand... I have no friggin’ clue why he’s still on TV.

22. Hooray for the people who thought up Restaurant Week.  And brewpubs.  And Dogfish 90 Minute IPA.

23. I now know that people in South Dakota deep fry raw beef and eat it on toothpicks.  That’s about as All American as you can get.

24. I have grown an appreciation for wine, but I will always be a beer person at heart.  Double IPA please, only one if I have to drive somewhere, and only water until I can drive.

25.  Oh yes, don’t drink and drive.

26. Homemade tomato sauce has totally ruined the stuff in a jar for me forever.  No high fructose corn syrup! (Seriously, look at the ingredients the next time you buy store bought.)

27. Locally sourced really does taste better than the stuff they ship 2,000 miles across three time zones just so we can have cauliflower out of season.

28. Sometimes all you want is a nice, juicy hot dog. Without bacon.  That’s right, I said “without”.

29. Yes, I love bacon, don’t get me wrong.  But everything in moderation.  If you have bacon all the time, it’s not special.  (Didn’t Margaret Cho say that once?)

30. That said, this blog has re-introduced me to the pleasures of cooking with bacon grease.  In moderation.

31. That Bitchin’ Kitchen show is pretty damn strange, and it rocks.

32. Nigella Lawson has such a great way of phrasing things on her shows and in her cookbooks.  It’s such fun to read her.

33. If you have the time to explore food in local places you never get to visit, take it.  Otherwise someone raised in Lansdowne won’t find the excellent hot dogs in Dundalk, fried oysters in Edgewood or Chinese and Japanese food in Overlea that he should be discovering (or the pit beef in Lansdowne and Arbutus that folks in Dundalk, Edgewood and Overlea are missing, too - and yes there is also good pit beef in Dundalk and off Route 40).

34. The internet is a great repository for recipes, but there will always be a place for cookbooks.

35. I wish there were more people out there like Jolene Sugarbaker, the Trailer Park Queen.  Someone at LOGO get her a cooking show, dammit.

36. Seriously, what is up with this ridiculous "throw it up overnight Frozen Yogurt shop" craze? It has to end sometime. So long as the people working all of them find other work. Don't want anybody out of a job.

37. It's El-li-KIT City, not El-li-COT City! Jeez Louise, people.

38. A few things I regret not having blogged about these past few years:
  • Jamaican food, particularly jerk chicken
  • The Charleston, though that one is because I could not afford it. Still can't afford it. Likely never will. Wah waah.
  • How to steam crabs. Sure we all know how to do that here, but I never actually got around to writing an actual how-to post.
  • The Museum Restaurant, now snuggled in the former space where the Brass Elephant used to be.
  • More family recipes, and maybe an exploration of the hallowed Woman's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery.
  • More posts about food, food production and nutrition writing. I've read and/or listened to on audiobook more than a few lately that really deserve more of a mention on a site like this one:
    • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and family
    • The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentleman Farmers by Josh Kilmer-Purcell
    • The American Way of Eating by Tracie MacMillan
    • In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan (also been meaning to check out Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation. That one's next on the bucket list).
39. This city needs more Ethiopian restaurants. And Nigerian ones, too. And barbecue joints.

40. If you want an array of free cookbooks, go to the Book Thing in Waverly. Not just cookbooks but any books: you can take your old books that you don't want anymore and take home with you whatever you want. Granted, the selection skews towards the older stuff (hello, cookbooks for 600 watt microwaves from the early 80's), but it's still a fascinating bevy of cookbooks.

41. You want the essence of "Smalltimore"? When you are out with your friends getting pizza at Iggie's and you see a member of the Ace of Cakes show outside the window, then you mention it on the blog, and then she comments afterwards! Please keep rockin' this town, Mary Alice, and all y'all at Charm City Cakes. That's Smalltimore.

And that’s it.  I can’t really sum up 78 months worth of posts in one post much less one paragraph, so I’m not even going to try. But I will say that I have met a lot of interesting and talented people in this Baltimore food blog community, and made friends and shared experiences I am lucky to have.  Keep reading their food blogs, because they have forged into directions I had only thought about once in a long while, and many have been able to profit off of the experience (some of them have actual books you can buy now).  I am horrified at the thought of forgetting somebody and not going back to correct it, with this being in my final post and all.  So instead I thank all of you in the Baltimore food blog community as a whole. Y’all are awesome (yes, I meant "awesome" :D ), and you make me hungry.

I finish the blog very fortunate to have even had the money to do this. There are so many people in this country and in this world who just go hungry, who don't have access to anything healthy and have to worry about whether or not to buy food for themselves and their families, and here I am blogging about what I ate last week downtown. Reflecting on that kind of puts some things in perspective for me.

I’ve also learned (in large part on my own) a lot that I did not know, and probably would not have made the time to know were it not for this blog.  Eats around the Beltway that the food reviewers don’t often look at when they’re focusing on the finer and kitschier dining options in the city.  Specific foods in specific parts of the country that I’d never even known existed (from three different kinds of Native American frybread, to what a New York chocolate egg cream actually is, to how to make an honest-to-goodness sabayon for your Seattle sea scallops, to how long it actually takes to boil crawfish Louisiana-style).  Ditto for the world (from Papua New Guinea to Tanzania to leading 2010 World Cup contenders.  I’m looking at you, Uruguay).  The variety of festivals in the Baltimore area that are a cheap way to explore the area’s cultural diversity (and food), the original motivation for this blog in the first place back when it started as the Charm City Snacker.  The silliness of live-blogging a cooking competition show in real time, MST3K-style.  

And of course, this:

Ah yes, Aunt Sandy's infamous Kwanzaa cake video. You didn’t think I’d end the blog without slipping that in one more time, did you?

I am incredibly lucky to have undergone this experiment, and I thank everyone who has been a fan these past 6 ½ years, and the hardworking people who make and serve the food I’ve talked about.

So what does the future hold for me?  Danged if I know.  Work, family, hopefully some romance here and there, definitely some food.  I will say this: I am heading to New Orleans for a conference in May and getting some delicious food there, and hopefully in my down time seeing the Southern Food & Beverage Museum (particularly their Maryland exhibit - they do indeed have one).  Plus I’ll be eating locally and growing locally more often than I have in the past.  Most exciting, however, is a trip to Dublin for my birthday (the one in Ireland).  I normally would not do this or even bother to scrounge up the money, but it’s one of those "big" birthdays and I wanted to do something special.  Again, I’m incredibly thankful and lucky that I even get to do this.

Apart from all that, I will just continue cooking food, growing food, investigating recipes from my own backyard and from around the world, but without telling cyberspace about it (alright, I might mention a few of these things on Twitter, but not on here).  Before I decided to finish the blog, I got a hold of my Great Great Aunt Florence’s old recipe book.  I had thought of working through each recipe and seeing how it turned out (there are two crab cake recipes in there, plus one for a Dream Whip Cake).  Maybe I should write a blog about it?

Nah, done that already ;)


And so, this is John, signing off for the last time.  Don't worry - I'm not taking the blog down. It's staying up for the foreseeable future, and probably longer than that. I will check and moderate the comments for a while and maybe add a few jump breaks to some of the longer posts (now that they've bothered to add that capability when I need it the least). Oh, and I should direct you to the newly-indexed State-by-State page to the right.  But I’m not posting anymore.  Seriously, I’m done.  I am pooped. I will miss this blog, but I’m really looking forward to missing it. And finishing it.  Really.

Now what better way to finish than with one of those crazy food haiku?

Time to close up shop.
Bawlmer Snacker is complete.
Now, what’s for dinner? :)

(No the smiley face doesn’t count as an extra syllable!  It’s still a haiku.  Sheesh.)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Revisiting: My First Restaurant Review

For my last restaurant post (and my penultimate post of all), I went back to Tapas Teatro.  I used to go here often but sadly have not gotten around to this place lately.  It hasn't changed: still bustling, still ready with the delicious sangría, still with a dizzying array of tapas for the hungry theater-goer (or the guy who stumbles in off the street).

I re-read my first Tapas Teatro post from way back in September of '06 before heading there, and I have to admit: I like how my writing style has evolved (specifically away from the style I used to write in).  I don't know.  It does seem like I'm being extra-descriptive, something I really don't bother to do anymore.  An example from that post:

When the waiterss came back, I ordered a Guiness [sic] (a favorite beer of mine) and one of my favorite dishes, their battered fried vegetables. A little bit about these veggies: the chefs take onions, eggplant and asparagus and fry it in what seems like a tempura-like batter. The chefs at Tapas Teatro then serve it up hot with a spicy, smooth mango-jalapeño salsa (actually, it's more like a jelly), with pieces of red pepper on the sides. The presentation on a square white plate is also gorgeous.
After another wait, in which I was brought some Italian bread with olive oil mixed with softened baked garlic (mmmmm, garlic), the waitress brought out the veggies and my beer. I bit into the onion first. It was a little soggier than usual, but still tasty. Everything else was nice and crispy, not soggy at all (well, as not soggy as fried eggplant can be). And the sweet and spicy salsa was a perfect complement.
I can't explain why but I want to smack the guy who's writing this.  But then again, I've always been self-critical.

Well, my tastes have definitely evolved since then.  I've switched form Guinness in a bottle to the much hoppier craft beers (mmmmm, hops).  But I admit that I was a little bit disappointed when I didn't see that same tempura veggie dish on the menu.  I was looking forward to that.  Not a big problem, mind you, since what I ordered along with my friend Eric (sadly the hubby is out of town) was still very good.

So what did we eat during this visit?

True to form, we ordered a variety of things.  We started with the fritura de mariscos plate, a bevy of tender and wonderfully crunchy fried calamari, bass and shrimp.  Normally I might just order this one thing and that would be enough for me.  But no, there was more.

For a little bit of red meat, I ordered the bistec a la brasa, a small but juicy piece of Angus beef with a "piquillo pepper sauce" and a parsley aioli.  I don't eat too much in the way of steak, so this was an indulgence for me.

Believe it or not, my favorite part of the meal was something I don't particularly enjoy: fennel.  I have nothing against it, but I just don't usually find very inspired versions of it.  However, this fried fennel with garlic aioli was a nice surprise: crispy and even a little juicy with a flavorful crunchy breading.  The aioli was a delicious sauce to go with it.  Alongside this dish was the remolachas dish, made of beets and arugula on top of chêvre.  Again, delicious.

Not pictured was our final dish, the plato de España: an arrangement of different Spanish cheese, sausage and ham: Manchego, Cantimpalo and jamón serrano.  This was a nice way to end our dinner - no dessert for us, as we were just too full.  And this was also a lovely way to end this blog: one final post about a restaurant I haven't gotten to in ages, and am reminded why I need to get there again.

There we go, my last normal post.  There is just one left, and it's going up tomorrow!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Revisiting the Beltway: One Last Trip around 695 (for the blog, that is)

As you may know, I finished the State-by-State project I've been posting up here every Sunday morning for the last few years.  For my final Sunday post, I have decided to revisit a previous project one last time: my Snacking around the Beltway series.  Due to crazy gas prices (which haven't really abated) and a total lack of time - in part exacerbated by said new project that lasted the last couple of years - I stepped away from it after examining every few exits around the Glen Burnie section of the Beltway (more or less Exits 1 - 8).

For this post, I summarize a few key spots I have visited throughout the rest of the Beltway.  Yes, I'm squeezing Exits 9 through 44 into one longish post.  This is, I admit, an inadequate way to finish it up, but it is better than nothing.

As I did in my January 18, 2009, Final Assessment post of the original series, I will again divide the Beltway up into six sections:
  • the "Glen Burnie" section of the Beltway (south, Exits 1 through 8A) - I've already explored this one in more detail, so I'm not really coming back to it in this post.
  • the "Catonsville" section (southwest, Exits 9 through 16B)
  • the "Pikesville" section (northwest, Exits 17 through 22)
  • the "Towson" section (north, Exits 23A through 30B)
  • the "Essex" section (northeast, Exits 31A through 38B)
  • and the "Dundalk" section (southeast, Exits 39 through 44)
This will not be a sweeping assessment of eats around the Beltway - I am exploring one, maybe two at the most, restaurants in each aforementioned section.  But these few restaurants hopefully do show the diversity of old and new eats off the Beltway, and will encourage you to further explore for ones I left off on your own.

The Glen Burnie Section (south, Exits 1 through 8A)

As I said, I have a few posts about Beltway eats in Anne Arundel County.  I will refer you to those, with one caveat: the Afghan place across the street from the Glen Burnie MVA is now a Hip Hop Chicken (map here).  I haven't visited it yet.

The "Catonsville" section (southwest, Exits 9 through 16B)

It's kind of silly to say I've "revisited" this part of the Beltway.  This is where I grew up: Lansdowne, which was home for my first 20-odd years, and Arbutus, Catonsville and such, where I got to (and still go to) frequently.  That said, I haven't really visited the newish eating establishments here lately: the new Middle Eastern place in Arbutus (Punjab Kabab & Sweets, map here), the frozen yogurt place along Maiden Choice (And what is up with this new fro yo trend?  Seriously, I don't get it), and the new Lansdowne Station shopping center, home to a Boardwalk Fries, an Italian place (Three Brothers of Lansdowne, the only Baltimore location of sixteen across the state; map here) and, notably, a new Chinese/American/sushi buffet.  That last part - sushi buffet - should send shivers down anyone's spine.

The place in question is the Teppanyaki Grill Supreme Buffet (map here) off Exit 10, near the Office Depot.  My mother told me that she took my sister here a few months ago and thought it would be a nice place to go get a sit-down meal.  Not nice as in "dressy" nice, but nice as in "Oh, you don't see us so often, it would be nice to spend some more time with you, and your sister liked this place" (full disclosure: my youngest sister, in her 30's, has autism, and it's not easy to find places that she likes beyond a set few places, so for her to like any place with Chinese food is in itself amazing to my family).

The place isn't my idea of "inviting": despite the many tables and booths, it seems quite crowded.  The mostly dimly lit interior doesn't help on that score.  Certainly though, the people there seemed to enjoy themselves, particularly the children's birthday party in the separate (and loud) meeting room next to the dessert buffet.

The Teppanyaki Grill has a bevy of the stuff you'd expect to find at a Chinese/Japanese buffet: various fried "Chinese" things, some maki rolls on ice which seemed freshly made at least (with massive amounts of wasabi sitting next to them), a section of "American things" just in case your stubborn Uncle Floyd won't eat "Asian" stuff, and large salad and dessert bars in case you are ever-so-slightly tempted to eat something healthy.


For the price, however, this can't really be beat: all-you-can-eat for all of $7.19 plus tax ($10.39 for dinner instead of lunch; kids eat for less and very young kids eat for even less).  That said, it is a buffet, and as massive buffets go it is pretty average.  You may be thinking "Well what did you expect?" In a word: this.  I expected what I got, so I wasn't exactly disappointed.  But all the same, I don't usually enjoy this sort of thing, so I probably won't head back.  It didn't make me sick - that was a plus.

Thank God, that had me worried for a second.

The "Pikesville" section (northwest, Exits 17 through 22)

So much to choose from, so little time... And money...

Unfortunately I don't get around to Pikesville much these days.  The last time I visited was to hit up the Seven Mile Kosher Supermarket off Exit 20 (map here) for some matzah meal a year or so ago.  A few years before that, I was a panelist at the Great Tastes food show, as one of many panelists discussing food blogging in Baltimore.  I had mentioned that I was hopeful that Baltimore would see an increase in the number of West African restaurants in the area, since Charm City is fortunate to have a relatively large and increasing Nigerian-American (and overall West African) community.  Afterwards,  somebody suggested to me that I try out Peju's Kitchen and Lounge off Exit 17 in Woodlawn (map here).  I hadn't gotten the chance until recently, when I finally made the trip for take out one night.  Actually, it ended up being the very last restaurant I will have visited for this blog.  I mean, I don't exactly do these in order here.

Peju's with its large black awning occupies the large corner in the Security Plaza strip mall across from Woodlawn High School.  The plaza also features a South Asian clothing store and several halal buffets and groceries, plus a store-front Islamic center, a driving school, a handful of store-front churches and a halal Chinese restaurant (I've heard of kosher Chinese places, but a halal one is new to me, and certainly fills a niche needing to be filled).  The slightly rusty (not rustic) exterior of the whole building complex belies the gorgeous warm amber interior of Peju's, which serves not just West African specialties like jollof rice (of course), fufu and puff-puff (the West African answer to the donut.  Mmmm, donut), but various Caribbean specialties.  The warmly-lit bar and lounge area open onto the main seating area in the interior.  In other words, this ain't Teppanyaki Grill Supreme Buffet (see above).

Since I was out running errands and had to get home, I opted for take-out.  Though my eyes alighted on Caribbean specialties like jerk chicken and curry vegetable dishes ($10 each, more if during dinner), I eventually opted for the more Nigerian jollof rice with beef (also $10, also more if during dinner).  The jollof rice was certainly better than my one attempt to make it a few years ago, and I loved the thick tangy, slightly spicy tomato sauce that went with it. The two slightly tough pieces of beef I got had a nice flavor, but clearly they were a side if anything: the star of this meal was the big, heaping mound of soft, tangy jollof rice.  A few sweet fried plantain pieces finish off this meal. I will have to go back for more.

The "Towson" section (north, Exits 23A through 30B)

While I hardly get to Pikesville or Woodlawn, I often pass through Towson since I live so close by.  The problem here is that I never get a chance to stop anywhere.  The downtown Towson area has seen a few new places pop up over the last few years even as places like Towson Commons have shut down.  Yes, many old favorites like Kyodai, Kathmandu and Strappazza (just to name a few) are all still in that downtown area.  One that has been around for a while but I haven't had the chance to visit until not long ago was the Towson Hot Bagels (map here), recently voted Best Bagel in Baltimore.  Is this the influx of New Jersey and New York kids at the University making this assessment?  Seriously though, it's an efficient set up.  It has to be, since there are so many of these college kids in there!  The bagels are indeed good: chewy and filling and lovely.  I got an everything with cream cheese the one time I went there with some friends from out of town.

A few storefronts have seen some changes across the street from the library on York Road (map here: they're all close by): the Indo-Chinese place is now straight up Indian (India Cuisine), and I still haven't gotten to the Chinese place next door (The Orient Restaurant) or the 7 West Bistro Grille around the corner, all conveniently nestled not too far from Exits 26 and 27.  One place I have gotten to is the Phò Dat Thành (map here), the phò place near the Melting Pot, and one of three in the Baltimore area (with locations in Laurel and Columbia).  This once was a "pan-Asian" restaurant serving Chinese, Japanese and Thai food.  It finally settled on Vietnamese.  While they have various stir fry options available, you will probably want to go for the phò: a good, large standard bowl of phò at not a very steep price.

The "Essex" section (northeast, Exits 31A through 38B)

Sadly, I don't get around to this part of the Beltway that often anymore either.  I really should just stop between Exits 38B and 39 off North Point Blvd at the Prima Foods (map here).  This is Baltimore's premier stop for all your Greek ingredient needs, including their barrels of olives that you scoop yourself.  Closer to Route 7 and CCBC Essex lies places I have yet to get to, notably the Pizza Rustica (map here) at the intersection of crazy and crashy, er, Rossville Blvd and Pulaski Hwy near Exit 35 (seriously, why is that intersection so accident-prone?).

Ever since I last visited for the Beltway Snacking project a few years ago, I knew that Baltimore's favorite pit beef joint - and apparently the über-annoying Guy Fieri's - was in this area.  It did not dawn on me just how much closer Chaps Pit Beef (map here) is to 895 than the Beltway, so much so technically it shouldn't really be in this post.  But screw it, it's only a few miles away from Exit 35, so it's going in anyway.

For the few Bawlamorons who haven't been to this place - I admit, I was one of them until I went for this post - and for those outside the city who still aren't quite sure what "pit beef" really is, Chaps is not all big and flashing, and is even kind of easy to miss if you're not paying attention.  Plus, there isn't a large parking lot.  It is one of those places that stays small and puts out a quality product.  Okay, a lot of quality products: it's not just pit beef but various types of barbecue.  The menu is as complicated as any BBQ joint I've seen in this or other parts of the country.  But I went specifically for the pit beef sandwich, medium rare (about $6).  The meat is smoky, soft and juicy, and yes, you must bite down to get the slices of pit beef off the sandwich (but hey, that's pit beef for you).  Don't forget the many toppings along the window: horseradish, tiger sauce (horseradish mayonnaise), hots and a pickle chip belong on any pit beef sandwich.  I can't imagine eating pit beef without horseradish.  I just don't want to.

Isn't it better to imagine a nice juicy pit beef sandwich slathered with a big ol' blob of horseradish instead?

The "Dundalk" section (southeast, Exits 39 through 44)

Since family, work and friends are all in other parts of the area, I almost never get to Dundalk anymore.  And like with the Rosedale / Hamilton area it is easy to find pit beef in Dundalk.  Even easier since Merritt Blvd lost the wondrous Weenie World, one of my favorite hot dog places around the Beltway.  In its place is the Bullpen (map here), with the tagline "You can't beat our meat" (errrrrmm...).  Like Chaps and the nearby Bada Bing Bada Beef (which I did get to last time), this is also a pit beef and BBQ joint, and I will have to try it out next time I'm back down that way.

As with my much-delayed visits to Peju's and Chaps, I did finally get to the Boulevard Diner (map here).  Guy Fieri also stopped by here (my God, how many of these places has Guy Fieri infected with his presence anyway!?) for his DD&D show.  The Boulevard is your quintessential diner - nothing much different about that, except for the massive illustration of Ray Lewis (W0000000000T!!!!!) in the entryway.  Inside, it's no-nonsense but friendly and quick service.  And it has all the diner classics: the Mediterranean stuff, the burgers, the meatloaf, the desserts, and the all-day breakfasts.  I hadn't eaten lunch that day but was in the mood for pancakes - not many, but pancakes all the same.

I have my fat group, my carb group and my sugar group!

I got the short stack of two massive pancakes ($5) with two sausage patties (an extra $2).  I can't think of much else to say: they were typically tasty diner pancakes. The sausage was a little gristly but nothing I haven't enjoyed eating before.  And of course, I bathed the whole thing in butter and syrup, as you are supposed to do with diner pancakes.  Yum.


Had I decided to continue the blog - and had gas prices fallen again - I might have liked to get around the Beltway again.  I'm not sure I would've had the time, though: the one thing I remembered while doing the research for this post was how much time it took the first time around. So revisiting these various joints around 695 is just something I will have to leave to others.  Every exit has something worth eating (and probably something that is best left alone).  Search it out, folks.  I may not be writing about it, but I will certainly be searching for it nonetheless.

Places I visited

Boulevard Diner (diner) - 1660 Merritt Blvd, Dundalk, MD 21222; Phone: (410) 285-8660
  • Would I eat there again? Yes
  • Would I go out of my way to eat there again? Yes, why not?
Chaps Pit Beef (pit beef & BBQ) - 5801 Pulaski Hwy, Baltimore, MD 21205; Phone: (410) 483-2379
  • Would I eat there again? Yes
  • Would I go out of my way to eat there again? Yes, and I'd have to
Peju's Restaurant and Lounge (Nigerian / West African / Caribbean) - 1724 Woodlawn Drive, Wodlawn, MD 21207; Phone: (410) 277-9779
  • Would I eat there again? Yes
  • Would I go out of my way to eat there again? Sure, especially since it's the only Nigerian restaurant in the area.
Phò Dat Thành (Vietnamese) - 510 York Rd, Towson, MD 21204; Phone: (410) 296-9118
  • Would I eat there again? Yes
  • Would I go out of my way to eat there again? Maybe
Prima Foods (market / Greek) - 51 Kane St  Baltimore, MD 21224; Phone: (410) 633-5500
  • Would I shop there again? Yes
  • Would I go out of my way to shop there again? Sure!
Teppanyaki Grill Supreme Buffet (buffet / Chinese / Japanese / American) - 3551 Washington Blvd, Lansdowne, MD 21227; Phone: (410) 242-5887
  • Would I eat there again? Probably not
  • Would I go out of my way to eat there again? Um, no
Towson Hot Bagels (bagels / breakfast) - 16 Allegheny Ave, Towson, MD, 21204, with locations in Timonium and Canton
  • Would I eat there again? Yes
  • Would I go out of my way to eat there again? Hmmm...
Places to visit later (though I must leave others to write about them)

The Bullpen (pit beef & BBQ) - 1099 Merritt Blvd, Dundalk, MD 21222; Phone: (410) 288-3529

Hip Hop Fish & Chicken (fried chicken / fast food) - 6604 Ritchie Hwy, Glen Burnie, MD 21061, with various other locations in the area; Phone: (410) 766-1515

India Cuisine (Indian) - 321 York Rd, Towson, MD 21204; Phone: (410) 583-7770

The Orient Restaurant (Chinese / Japanese) - 319 York Road, Towson, MD 21204, with locations in Bel Air and Perry Hall; Phone: (410) 296-9000

Pizza Rustica (pizza / Italian) - 8805 Pulaski Highway, Rosedale, MD 21237; Phone: (410) 682-8640

Punjab Kabab & Sweets (Pakistani / Indian) - 5313 East Dr, Arbutus, MD 21227; Phone: (410) 737-7773

Seven Mile Supermarket (kosher / Jewish) - 201 Reisterstown Rd,  Pikesville, MD 21208; Phone: (410) 653-2000

7 West Bistro Grille (American / bar) - 7 W Chesapeake Ave, Towson, MD 21204; Phone: (410) 337-9378

Three Brothers of Lansdowne (pizza / Italian) - 3611 Washington Blvd, Lansdowne, MD 21227, with sixteen locations statewide; Phone: (410) 536-1080

Friday, March 08, 2013

Best Of: Posts

As I've done with the restaurants I've visited and the recipes I've interpreted and/or created, I tried to hone down my 1,700+ posts into 10 favorites.  I failed utterly.  So below, in chronological order, are my favorite 25ish posts of this blog.  Okay, I know you're thinking "John, damnit, man, winnow this down a bit!"  To which I say, "Well, I would but this blog only has a few more days to go, so what the heck, why not do more?"  Besides, I've never been all that decisive anyway.  So here, in chronological order, are my favorite posts from The Baltimore Snacker.

"Trailer Park Cooking Special with Jolene: Pinto Bean Fudge" (published December 10, 2006) - Why the hell doesn't Jolene Sugarbaker, the Trailer Park Queen, have her own cooking show on LOGO yet?  Or at least the Country Music Channel?

A spray of hons - not in the post mentioned below.  I just liked the photo.

"Baltimore Festivals: Festival-a-Go-Go! Part III - Honfest" (published June 10, 2007) - Not my most interesting writing, but I am amused by the people I snapped shots of while there.

"Artscape - in haiku" (published July 25, 2007) - My first Artscape trip. / Felt the urge to blog about / it all in haiku.  Blogging in poem format has been one of the sillier things I've done, and I get a kick out of it.  Other silly notable examples include one memorable trip to Rehoboth Beach (in haiku), one live blog of an episode of The Next Food Network Star season 5 (also in haiku format) and 2008's Great Tastes Show (not in haiku this time, but enclosing rhyme quatrains!)

"Amsterdam Trip Part Vijf: Wagamama" (published March 28, 2008) - Ever since some friends living in London introduced me to Wagamama during a New Year's visit in 2006/07, I've been eager to try them out wherever I can find them.  I dragged my friend Jim to the one in Amsterdam when we visited a few years ago.  Since then I've been waiting for them to expand their stateside offerings to just more than the three they have in Boston.

"NFNS4 Live-Blogging: Finale!" (published July 27, 2008) - Today we have a ridiculous bevy of cooking challenge shows, from celebrity wanna-be chefs to amazing food truck races to CUPCAKE WARS!!! (the phrase "cupcake wars" should not exist).  Way back when there were really only three to speak of - Top Chef, Iron Chef and the Next Food Network Star - I enjoyed snarking over the Top Chef show in live blog format.  I enjoyed it so much in fact that I decided one day in June 2008 to do the same to season 4 of the Next Food Network Star.  Yes, the same season that gave us Aaron McCargo and his long-forgotten Big Daddy's Kitchen, silly man Adam Gertler and the incredibly perky!!!1! Kelsey Nixon (now on the Cooking Channel, still incredibly perky!!!1! too).  And runner-up Lisa Garza?  She is a restaurateur in Dallas.

"Rebuilding the Enchanted Forest" (published July 15, 2008) - When I finally got to Clark's Elioak Farm in Ellicott City, a flood of childhood memories came rushing back.  So many of the iconic monuments that had once lay decaying Life After People-style somewhere off Route 40 were now in a farm in Howard County that anyone with a few bucks could go visit and recapture some of that youthful magic that Baltimoreans of a certain age lost when the original Enchanted Forest burned down in 1990.  Plus there are baby goats, because, well, baby goats.  I kid you not.

"Cochinita Pibil" (published August 3, 2008) - Ah yes, that favorite Yucatecan cousin to pork barbecue, which I have eaten so much of in Mexico and the US.  I tried to recreate it using a Rick Bayless recipe, with satisfying results.

"Semi-Homemade Halloween Craziness 2008" (published October 27, 2008) - Watch as pseudo-chef-lebrity Sandra Lee dazzles as a bevy of various historical queens for her 2008 Halloween special.  Thrill as she gets drunk off crappy cocktail after crappy cocktail, and makes some sort of strange ham ball appetizer.  Oh yes, and somehow I interject RuPaul into all of this. She actually topped herself in 2011 with this hour-long Alice in Cray-Cray-Land Halloween special, which I gave the same treatment a year later.

"I should not be allowed into Wegman's, like, ever" (published November 25, 2008) - I got a little pissy after a pre-Thanksgiving visit to Wegman's.

"Snacking around the Beltway - Final Assessment" (published January 18, 2009) - I didn't rank any particular Beltway Snacking post as a favorite.  How could I?  Each was a piece of a larger project that just can't really be parsed apart.  The final assessment is a nice summary of the whole project and really sums up my attitude towards it.

I must have written my best stuff in 2009 from the looks of it...

"Kitchen Experiments: Popping Sorghum" (published March 19, 2009) - Easily my most popular post with those who don't follow me on a regular basis (31 comments as of this writing), it seems like my initial failed attempt to do this attracted a lot of people trying to do the same.  All because of Andrew Zimmern's Ethiopia episode of Bizarre Foods.  My recent follow up post was much more successful.

"How to Pack Beer and Wine into Your Luggage" (published June 3, 2009) - Back before New Belgium hit the Chesapeake region, I had to resort to this to get it at home.  Also works with other beers we can't get back here.

"Georgia on My GPS Part 3: Moon River Brewing Company / Savannah Candy Kitchen" (published June 27, 2009) - Dang, I did a lot of traveling that summer of 2009, didn't I?  When I was visiting my sister and her family, now firmly ensconced in Savannah, we hit up the Moon River Brewing Company for some grub.  Apparently, it's haunted.  I didn't see anything. I was too busy with my microbrew sampler to notice.

"LP Steamers... and several local food bloggers" (published July 26, 2009) - Crabs, friends, colleagues, crabs, oysters, beer, crabs...

"On 'Julie & Julia' and the act of food blogging" (published August 14, 2009) - I think Julie & Julia - the legendary American chef who made French cooking accessible and really the first true food blogger in America - affected a lot of food bloggers in different ways.  The post ended up being more about Powell's observations in an article in The Atlantic about how the movie "Julie" is not the real life Julie.  She also writes a bit about food blogging being a narcissistic venture.  That's not meant in a bad way, but I had to agree with her that it is, in part, exactly that for all of us - otherwise, why write about what you are doing?  I still haven't gotten around to making boeuf bourgignon, but that's a task for another day.

"Moon Pie vs Whoopie Pie: The Taste Test" (published October 1, 2009) - The Yankees have truly invaded, as the favorite dessert of Maine has swept across the country in spectacular fashion. I remember prior to 2008 I thought a whoopie pie was some kind of Moon Pie.  Maryland is still Moon Pie country, but I had to taste the two to find out the difference.  I must admit I have eaten a larger share of whoopie pies since, though a good Moon Pie is rarely something to pass up.

"Bacon Cook-Off: Bacon & Pancetta Wot" (published June 3, 2010) - Thanks to Dara Bunjon for this experience.  This was fun.  I was in a bacon cooking contest at the Great Grapes Wine Fest with Kathy "MinxEats" Patterson and Kit "Mango & Ginger" Pollard.  I combined two things that just don't get seen together - pork in various formats and Ethiopian food (Ethiopians for the most part do not eat pork - not Jewish, Muslim or Orthodox Christian Ethiopians).  The result was delicious. I think I came in second or something.  I won some wine from Boordy.

"Food Network vs Cooking Channel" (published July 31, 2010) - Here I lay out why I pretty much stopped watching the Food Network and made the switch to the eminently more informative Cooking Channel (both made by the same folks): one emphasizes its personalities, the other its food.  Update: I barely watch the Food Network anymore, but often cannot get away from the Cooking Channel.  Here's to Nadia, Ching-He and Chuck, and yes even the aforementioned Kelsey the Perky!1!!! and Bobby Dean trying to slim down Mama Paula's recipes.

"Food Truck Crawl on the Miracle Mile in LA!" (published May 25, 2011) Move over, Portland!  LA has some awesome food trucks, too, serving up everything from Korean-Mexican fusion tacos to samosas to hot dogs to frybread, and soooo much more.  And what better place to shill all this stuff than across the street from the gorgeous LA County Museum of Art?

"Snacking State-by-State: Illinois V - She Fed Me... with Science!" (published June 2, 2011) - I could do a list of my favorite State-by-State posts alone.  This project easily lasted about a third of the blog's entire lifespan, and most of the posts in the last year have been specifically tied to this series.  Why did I choose this post instead of the one where I bought myself a nice 12" cast iron skillet to make Chicago deep dish pizza (also Illinois), or the one where I peeled crawfish to make a buttery, silky étouffée (Louisiana), or the one where I taught myself how to make poi of all things (Hawaii)?  I chose this post because it taught me a thing or two about molecular gastronomy.  Using a free sample of tapioca maltodextrin, I turned olive oil into something almost dry and powdery.  While this experiment didn't go quite the way it should have, by the time I got to the ensuing mashup recipe I made a truly successful nutella powder.  I'm going to have to explore this stuff some more.

"Snacking State-by-State: Maryland I - Crab cakes like mah great-great-aunt used tah make, hon" (published August 28, 2011) - After digging out my Aunt Florence's hand-scrawled ledger book filled with recipes (some were probably not hers, others probably were), I had to try out one of her two crab cake recipes, which ended up tasting just like one my mother ate often as a little girl.  And I got to go back in time with food.

"Wedding in Provincetown I: Civil Marriage is a Right" (published September 20, 2011) - Sure, same-sex marriage is now legal right in my own backyard, but my friends Alan & Eric didn't have that luxury when they decided to finally tie the knot a few years ago.  They wanted to go to where it all first became legal: the Bay State, and the gayest, most lesbiany city in America, Provincetown.  It really was a beautiful wedding in a lovely gay resort I had never visited before, and hopefully can again.  But when the time comes (meaning when I land myself a man.  Still looking...) I probably won't be going all the way to New England to do it.  I won't have to.

I didn't have a lot of favorites from 2012 it seems.  A few of those are covered in the recent best of recipe post.  But a few of the posts I remember fondly from the last twelve months include:

"Snacking State-by-State: North Carolina I - East Is East, West Is West, Never the Twain Shall Meet" (published March 11, 2012) and "Snacking State-by-State: North Carolina II - It's All About the Lexingtons" (published March 14, 2012) - Out of all the barbecue recipes I've done for the State series and not, I choose these two together because with this I learned how to convert my slow cooker into a food smoker.  Honestly, it can be done.  This is best for the things that have to smoke for a very long time.  You can also transform your oven into a food smoker, as I did for these Kansas City and Memphis ribs (Missouri and Tennessee respectively).  Plus, it's pork barbecue!

"Austin City, Unlimited Part I - Of Barbecue and Barbacoa" (published June 5, 2012) - I went to Austin for a conference and came back with a few extra pounds, as would anyone.  While I didn't find the heat that bad (Palm Springs in August: now that's bad, and I lived with that sort of heat for several summers in my life), I was happy to get indoors nonetheless and experience some of the delicious Texas barbecue and Mexican / Tex-Mex barbacoa the city had to offer.  Someday I will return, Austin, oh yes.

That was difficult - as many posts as I have mentioned above, it was still pretty tough to winnow down the list to just a few of these favorites.  But this is a good representative sample of the stuff I wrote that I remember most fondly from these past 6 1/2 years, and it works for me.  Besides, this post is long enough as it is.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Best Of: Restaurants

I have had a lot of great experiences eating out these last few years, and it's difficult to winnow this list down as well.  What were my favorite eating out experiences during The Baltimore Snacker?  Well, I could not list all of them, but I tried to list about 20-to-30-ish in the Baltimore area (plus a handful of others elsewhere).  They're in alphabetical order by type of cuisine, and I try to do one of each type of eating establishment for variety.  Also note: yes, I am missing a lot of places, in a lot of neighborhoods.  This reflects my favorites.  That doesn't mean yours isn't any good.  Believe you me, I may not have even gotten to eat at your favorite in all the years I've been writing this blog.

Favorite African: Dukem (Ethiopian - Mount Vernon, with another location in Washington, DC; featured in the post "Dukem #2", published December 17, 2006) - Always a good place for some filling beef wot and lamb fitfit.  Get an Ethiopian lager or stout while you're at it.

  • Honorable mention: The Yabba Pot (vegan/soul food - Station North/Charles Village - apparently it's now closed); Peju's Kitchen & Lounge (Nigerian / West African / Caribbean - Woodlawn); I'm still meaning to try Tam Tam (Senegalese - Rosebank) on York Road.

Favorite African-American/Southern/Barbecue: TIE: Reginald F. Lewis Museum Café (Little Italy/Downtown - first featured in the post "Not a Festival - Reginald F. Lewis Museum", published July 10, 2007) and Miss Shirley's (various locations and food truck - first featured in the post "Food Truck Fight!!!!!", published June 26, 2012) - The café at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History is one of the best museum cafés I've ever eaten at: some of the tastiest fried catfish and macaroni and cheese in the area.  As for Miss Shirley's, they have lovely grits, especially with the unexpected addition of mascarpone.  Fascinating.
  • Honorable mention: Andy Nelson's BBQ Restaurant (Cockeysville - surprising enough, I've never blogged about this one either); Blacksauce Kitchen (food truck, often at Waverly farmer's market - not blogged about this one either.  I'm slackin'...)
Favorite American/Eclectic/"New American" (the last of which could be anything really, since nobody knows what the hell it means): The Food Market (Hampden - first featured in the post "The Food Market in Hampden") - Chef Chad Gauss used to be at the City Café, which had some wonderful food while he was there.  Sure the food there is still pretty good, but Gauss definitely took the best stuff with him to his new Hampden location.  It's pricey and super-busy, so go on a weeknight, preferably during Restaurant Week.
  • Honorable mention: City Café (Mount Vernon); Owl Bar (Mount Vernon); Mount Vernon Stable (Mount Vernon); Rocket 2 Venus (Hampden)
Favorite Baked Goods: Iced Gems Baking (cupcakes - Reisterstown & food truck; first featured in the post "Iced Gems Baking", published May 13, 2010) - Love their English rose cupcakes - with real rosewater, I might add - and their vanilla chocolate, chocolate vanilla and vanilla vanilla offerings.
Favorite Brewpub: Heavy Seas Alehouse (Little Italy - first featured in the post "Random Bites: December Edition", published December 26, 2012) - My sister and her husband just loved this place when they stopped here from Savannah over Christmas.  So many good recommendations from the waitstaff, and so many good beers, made right in Halethorpe, I might add.

Favorite Burger: Alonso's (Roland Park; first featured in the post "Exit 25: MD-139 (Charles Street, to area colleges)", published February 22, 2008) - This was a tough one to winnow down, and the ones in the "Honorable Mention" category were justthisclose to being at the top.  But I have to go with the easy choice: their one pound burger is definitely one to take home and finish later, but it's still a yummy burger.
  • Honorable mention: So, sooooo many: City Café (Mount Vernon); Gino's (Towson); Marie Louise Bistro (Mount Vernon); Owl Bar (Mount Vernon); Shake Shack (various locations, including Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York, and Downtown, Washington, DC); Sláinte (Fells Point)
Favorite Candies: Rheb's Candies (Violetville; first featured in the post "Rheb's Candies", published December 8. 2007) - Family lore has it that my grandmother worked there for a short time in the 50's.  Such wonderful candies they have there, all homemade, hon.
Favorite Central Asian/Middle Eastern: The Helmand (Mount Vernon; first featured in the post "The Helmand", published September 23, 2006) - I wasn't sure how to formulate this category.  Where to put the Helmand: South Asian?  Central Asian?  I settled on this.  Or I could just create a category just for Baltimore's favorite Afghan restaurant.  Wonderful pilau, shawerma and my favorite dish of course, the kaddo borawni.  This was the second restaurant I ever blogged about, by the way.
Favorite Chinese (Americanized or otherwise): TIE - Asian Court (Ellicott City - first featured in the post "Asian Court", October 1, 2011) and Golden Gate (Catonsville/Arbutus - first featured in the post "Exits 12B-C - MD-372 (Wilkens Ave., East and West)", published September 12, 2007) - Asian Court is one of the few (but becoming more common) places to find food that would be recognizable as "Chinese food" in China.  Wonderful dim sum.  Golden Gate is a more Americanized Chinese place, with the reliable old orange chicken (my favorite of theirs), though they, too, are starting to make more "Chinese Chinese" dishes available to the public.
Favorite Crab Cake: G & M (Linthicum; first featured in the post "G & M", published April 5, 2007) - Yes, I went there.  I chose a favorite crab cake place.  I've had other good ones in this city but there's a reason why G & M keeps making Top 5 lists all over Bawlmer: big ass crabcake with so little filler it'll amaze you how they got it so big.  Complete with cole slaw and those bright red pickled apple slices that are so ubiquitous in Charm City.
  • Honorable mention: Faidley's (Lexington Market); Lansdowne Inn (Lansdowne - No, it's not the best crab cake, but it holds a very special place for me since my father often walked there from the house to get himself and Mom crab cakes.  Again, not the best crab cake in the area, but they are a sentimental favorite of mine.  Plus we held Dad's wake there after his funeral.  We had spaghetti that time though.  Again, sentimental favorite.).  
  • Avoid: Royal Farms Crab Cake (seriously, Royal Farms?)
Favorite Deli: Attman's Delicatessen (Little Italy/Corned Beef Row - first featured in the post "Trekkin' around Little Italy and Corned Beef Row", published October 13, 2008) - A Bawlmer institution that I've been lucky to know since childhood, when my father would drag my sister and I there to get a few pounds of kosher dogs, lots of bologna and corned beef.  Oooooh, I can still taste it.
Favorite Diner: Towson Diner (Towson - first featured in the post "Exit 26A and B: MD-45 (York Road, to Lutherville and Towson)", published March 6, 2008) - Snappy, friendly service and good, filling pancakes, Reubens and the like.  Still haven't ventured to try the mile-high cakes yet.  So much cake.

Favorite Farmers' Market / Local Food (Farm-Affiliated) Store: 32nd Street Farmers' Market (Waverly; first featured in the post "Waverly Farmers' Market", published June 7, 2008) - Open every Saturday (except, maybe, in a snowpocalypse), they've got good stuff there - not just the myriad of fresh veggies and fruit but so much more!  Everything from buffalo (Gunpowder Bison) to meat pies (Curry Shack) to milk, butter and so on (South Mountain Creamery).
Favorite Gay/Lesbian Bar: The Club Hippo (bar/gay & lesbian - Mount Vernon; first featured in the post "The Hippo", published October 11, 2006) - With a wide selection of beers on tap (DeClaw, Dogfish, New Belgium, Leininkugel, Shiner, Natty Boh, all the usual suspects) plus a big dance floor (that I never use 'cuz I can't dance, and don't ask me) that doubles as the scene for many a drag or leather competition, this is my go-to place in Mount Vernon.  See it fill up Monday nights for RuPaul's Drag Race or Wednesday nights for BINGO!
  • Honorable mention: Grand Central (across the street - are we really everywhere or just at the corner of Charles and Eager?); Nellie's Sports Bar (Shaw/U Street, Washington, DC); DC Eagle (Washington, DC)
Favorite Hot Dog: Haute Dog Carte (hot dogs - Mount Washington; first featured in the post "Haute Dog Carte", published September 3, 2010) - Hands down.  Just the "regular" dog is special enough, but those special dogs?  Oh my.
  • Honorable mention: Ann's Dari-Creme (Glen Burnie); Weenie World (Dundalk - now closed) 
Favorite Indian/South Asian: Indigma (Mount Vernon; first featured in the post "Indigma", published September 2, 2007) - Oh, this was a tough one.  There are so many good Indian places in and around Baltimore these days it's difficult to choose.  But you gotta hand it to Indigma: they suffered a massive fire and bounced back bigger than ever.  Their buffet is one of the most interesting, though not terribly pricier than the others.

Favorite Irish Pub: Sláinte Pub (pub/Irish - Fells Point; first featured in the post "Sláinte Pub and the Amazing Last Minute Goal", published June 23, 2010) - Yes I go there for the soccer.  And I stay there for the food (Irish bibimbap and Friday $1 oysters, anyone?  Plus their fish and chips are definitely worth a look or two) and the Guinness.  They do have other beers, too.

Favorite Italian (non-pizza): TIE: Sotto Sopra (Italian/Sardinian - Downtown; first featured in the post "Sotto Sopra", published June 13, 2008) and Chiapparelli's (Little Italy - last featured in the post "Tidbits: Boys of Summer Edition", published August 29, 2010) - Have had very good service in both places.  At Sotto Sopra the food is real Sardinian home cookin'.  Can't afford Opera Night, but I try to eat cheap anyway.  Chiapparelli's for Restaurant Week is also a beautiful thing.
Favorite Japanese: Minato (Japanese - Mount Vernon; featured several times, including "Minato the Threequel", published September 1, 2007) - My go-to place for sushi and friendly service.  Their Maryland roll is fascinating, especially on $7 special maki roll night.  Try not to miss happy hour.

Favorite Korean: Jong Kak (Korean - Koreatown/Charles Village; first published in the post "Jong Kak", published April 20, 2008) - My friends and I don't even have to say where when one of us suggests "Korean".  The barbecue is always filling and flavorful, the pajeon never too greasy, and the panchan goes well with a nice crisp bottle of Hite beer.
Favorite Local Grocery Store, Hon, Ethnic or Otherwise: Geresbeck's (supermarket - Middle River; first featured in the post "A Dangerous Love Affair with Geresbeck's Bakery", published October 18, 2007) - Their cakes are just wonderful, and the smearcase is legendary.  And don't forget some chocolate top cookies.  Yes, I'm specifically raving about their bakery here.  Yum.

Favorite Mexican: TIE: El Nayar (Catonsville and Elkridge - first featured in the post "El Nayar", published June 16, 2009) and R&R Taquería (Jessup/Elkridge - first featured in the post "Random Bites: December Edition", published December 26, 2012) - It's tough to find authentic Mexican in this area, but thankfully it's becoming easier!  El Nayar's taco plate is some of the more authentic I've had in the area, while R&R has the best cochinita pibil in Baltimore hands down.
Favorite Pit Beef: Chaps Pit Beef (Armistead Gardens/Hopkins Bayview - I have not yet blogged about this, though watch this weekend) - Yes, we should bow to the king here - Chaps Pit Beef is a local legend, and it should be: wide selection of pit beef and BBQ, though I have to zero in on the pit beef.  Just plop some horseradish and "tiger sauce" on it and a little bit of hots.  Woh-ho-ho. Lansdowne is really getting built up these days.  But right near the new Wal-Mart and the Home Depot is a long-standing SoWeBaltCo (Did I just make up a new term?) tradition: that wonderful little pit beef truck with juicy pit beef and lots of horseradish and barbecue sauce to go with.  If only I was in the area more often when it's there.
Favorite Pizza/Pizza and Subs: Vito's Pizza (Cedarcroft/Lake Walker; first featured in the post "Vito's Pizza", published April 8, 2009) - Good pizza of all kinds, since the owner - from Naples - knows what he's doing.  Delicious.
  • Honorable mention: Pasta Mista (various locations, including Canton and Towson - New Yorkers who live down here swear by it); Iggie's (Mount Vernon)
Favorite Tapas/Small Plates: 13.5% Wine Bar (Hampden; first featured in the post "13.5% Wine Bar", published August 24, 2009) - A job hunt at the time didn't deter me from one of my favorite Hampden eateries.  Their wall o' wine is intimidating unless you just stick to cocktails or beer.  They have wonderful selections of cheese, pizzas and many different finger foods. 
  • Honorable mention: Tapas Teatro (Station North/Charles Village - this was, in fact, the very first restaurant I ever blogged about).  
  • Avoid: La Tasca (Inner Harbor- warmed-over frozen mixed veggies from a bag - yum.  Easily the most bleh, half-assed tapas I have ever had.  But that's what I get for eating at a chain restaurant in the most touristy part of the city)
Favorite Thai: Thai Restaurant (Waverly; first featured in the post "Thai Restaurant", published April 14, 2010) - the fried crab wings (yes, crab wings) alone are reason to go there.  The pad thai is good but explore their many other offerings, will ya?
Favorite Vegetarian/Vegan: Mango Grove (Columbia; first featured in the post "Mango Grove", published February 16, 2008) - It's not often I will go out of my way to eat vegetarian food, but when I do, I prefer Mango Grove.  Two words: bread pakora.  And the dosa?  Lovely.

Favorite Vietnamese: Pho Miss Saigon (Glen Burnie - first featured in the post "Exit 3B - MD 2 South (Ritchie Hwy to Glen Burnie)", published June 11, 2007) - Good filling phò and not that pricey.
  • Honorable mention: Mekong Delta Café (Downtown - Seemed to be closed for a while but now it's back open); Pho #1 (Woodlawn); Phò Dat Thành (Towson); Saigon Remembered (Belvedere, er, Timonium)

Favorite Wine/Beer/Liquor Store: The Wine Source (Hampden; featured several times, including "Baltimore Beer Week Continues...", published October 14, 2009, "Get this wine - but I DARE you to close it back up!", published July 14, 2008), and "Sake, Sake Everywhere (Post #999)", April 17, 2009) - They have always been so knowledgeable about any wine that this non-wine person might ask about.  Wondrous selection of beers, too.  Also sample the cheese and charcuterie section while you're there.
Also worth noting...

Favorite Dearly Departed Restaurant: Zodiac Restaurant (American - Station North [now closed]; last featured in the post "Last Call at the Zodiac", published August 9, 2008) - For a quick bite before a show at the Charles Theatre or (now relocated) Everyman, I loved this place for its goofy decor, its line of vegan desserts and very non-vegan entrées (I so fondly remember their hamburger, and the mashed potatoes even more so), and its apparent hauntings which I had never experienced.  Since they shut down operations in 2008, apparently the Club Charles next door carries some of their same menu offerings.  The Zodiac still exists, though not as a restaurant: it's now a comedy club.  Maybe that ghost is having fun pushing patrons down the stairs again?

Favorite Coddies:  I hate coddies.  Never liked 'em.  I have no favorites.  There, I said it.

And now, just a handful of favorite eats out in other parts of the country and the world...

Aroma (Chinese/Malaysian - Soho, London, England, UK; featured in post "Aroma", published January 6, 2007)

BCD Tofu House (Korean - various locations, including Los Angeles' Koreatown; featured in the post "From Bulgogi Tacos to Avocado Salsa: A Day of Eating in LA", published May 26, 2010)

Bojo (Indonesian - Leidesplein, Amsterdam, Netherlands; featured in post "Amsterdam Trip Part Drie: Little Bites Here and There", published March 25, 2008)

Bool BBQ (Korean/Mexican - food truck, Los Angeles; featured in the post "From Bulgogi Tacos to Avocado Salsa: A Day of Eating in LA", published May 26, 2010)

Casa Maya (Mexican/Yucatecan/Maya - Mentone, California; first featured in the post "Casa Maya", April 7, 2007)

The Castaway Restaurant (American/brunch - San Bernardino, California; first featured in the post "Easter Sunday Eatin' Part 1: Castaway of San Bernardino", published April 9, 2007)

Duplex Diner (American/gay and lesbian - Adams Morgan, Washington, DC; featured in the post "Adams Morgan for Capital Pride", June 17, 2011)

Meskerem (Ethiopian - Washington, DC; first featured in the post "Day at the Smithsonian / Meskerem (or, "Hey, where did all the Ethiopian restaurants go?")", published December 31, 2008)

Moon River Brewing Company (brewpub/American/Southern - Savannah, Georgia; first featured in the post "Georgia on My GPS Part 3: Moon River Brewing Company / Savannah Candy Kitchen", published June 27, 2009)

Pig & Fish (pub/American - Rehoboth Beach, Delaware; first featured in the post "Tidbits: Rehoboth in August Edition", published August 6, 2011)

Rudy's Barbecue (barbecue - Austin, Texas; first featured in the post "Austin City, Unlimited Part I - Of Barbecue and Barbacoa", published June 5, 2012)

Shake Shack (hamburgers/shakes - most locations in New York, New York, with locations in Washington, DC, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; first featured in the post "Weekend in New York: The Food", published July 17, 2009)

Wagamama (Japanese/ramen - various locations, mostly in the UK and continental Europe, with three stateside locations, all in Boston, Massachusetts; featured in several posts, including "Wedding in Provincetown Part II: Back to Boston", published September 23, 2011)