Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Baltimore Irish Festival

It was a generally cloudy but dry day - okay, humid, but not raining - on Sunday when I drove down Boston Street to get to Canton, the location of Baltimore's 2006 Irish Festival. I was lucky that I only parked about a 5 minute walk away - I figured I'd have to walk much longer than that. I got out of my car, and headed toward the ATM. I figured $40 should cover whatever I needed. Decked out in my Eircom Irish soccer (okay, football) jersey, I trudged on towards to the waterfront park, and made my way into the free Irish festival. On the way, a couple stopped to ask me if I knew of any Irish pubs in the area - in my jersey, they figured I would have to know. Since we were not too far from Fells Point (a popular section of town featuring lots of hip restaurants, bars and, yes, pubs), I pointed them in that direction. "Thanks," they said, "I hope this is better than the Irish Festival. Man, we got through that in 10 minutes!"

Not very encouraging words.

This was, to my surprise, the first of two Irish festivals in the area. Last year's was in the historic Armory downtown, but this year the powers-that-be had apparently booked the Maryland State Fairgrounds, which are in the county (Baltimore City and County are two separate political entities). Not willing to lose its only Irish festival to the county, the city chose to hold a smaller, "official" Irish Festival as part of its Showcase of Nations Ethnic Festivals. The Nigerian festival was also added; sadly, I was out of town, but I know where to find good West African food in DC. I really think that's the next wave of ethnic cuisine in the US - the Nigerian / West African restaurant, due to America's burgeoning Nigerian-American community. I just wish I'd see some restaurants in Baltimore already!

Having got info about the second Irish festival, the bigger one to be held at the Fairgrounds, I had a glance around. It was small, but not as small as I feared. There were a few stalls selling generic "Ireland" memorabilia - sweaters, linens, scarves, T-shirts, etc. One stall had prints of Irish people and Irish pubs (if and when I ever get to Ireland, I will have to visit a few of those pubs!). other stalls had food, so I headed for those, skirting around a large open area with two stages, one of which had step dancers steppin'a forceful dance.

My first stop was a booth advertizing Salmon and Cod Cakes for $5. That sounded a bit more exciting than the standard corned beef and cabbage, so I headed in that direction. The stand was run by Maggie Moore's Irish Pub and Restaurant on Eutaw St. After I put in my order for the Cakes, the gentleman behind the stand, noticing my jersey, asked if I had ever been over. "Sadly, no, but I am getting to London in December" (which is true). As he handed me my food, he also gave me some information about cheap flights to Dublin from London. Hopefully, I can capitalize on that information! But now my attention was on the Salmon and Cod Cakes - three of them, sitting in a cream dill sauce. They were unlike most fish cakes I have eaten, which usually turn out dry. These were moist and quite delicious, and the dill sauce made it even better. I hope they serve them at Maggie Moore's - I now have a reason to go and find out!

My next stop between step dancing performances was the booth of the James Joyce Pub on President Street, next to the historic site of the April 1861 President Street riot. This was the spot of the first bloodshed of the Civil War, where Union soldiers from Massachusetts clashed with Confederate sympathizers from Baltimore (the museum on the site is small but informative). They had several offerings, so I went with a safe choice, the Lamb Stew for (again) $5. Also on sale, however, was an intriguing Guinness Float for the same price. What was this, I asked? The Guinness Float was, simply, a pint of Guinness with a large dollop of vanilla ice cream. You might think "Ewww." But it was tasty. The stout and the ice cream didn't blend 100% together, but they certainly weren't like oil and water. It was very tasty and I will have to replilcate this at home. As for the Lamb Stew: very simple. Flavorful, plain and simple. It wasn't exciting, but it was good. One thing I noticed, however, was the amount of lamb - there was so much lamb! Not like a rip-off lamb stew that's mostly carrots and potatoes. This was heavy on the lamb! And the lamb was more tender than I've eaten it in most dishes, where it tends to be a little dry and stringy.

I found an empty stall and was quickly joined by a couple sharing a plate of bangers and mash. No, I didn't try that, but there is always the upcoming, much bigger Irish festival. And they liked it, too! Ah, but there is too much food to sample at these events.

Now to the next ethnic festival...