Monday, December 17, 2007

Exit 20: MD-140 (to Pikesville and Garrison)

Have you ever noticed how irritating Reisterstown Road is? Driving-wise, I mean. I went there around 1:30 on Friday looking for some food. The line of traffic extended out of the exit ramp and onto the Beltway. At 1:30 in the afternoon. And it's a pretty long exit ramp, too. Of course, that's not the worst of it. You still have to contend with traffic on Reisterstown Road itself. It took me 15 minutes to drive from the exit to just past the library. I do not know why this stretch of road is so horrible to drive, but you should bring a book or something. You're going to be stuck immobile in traffic that long. Imagine how irritated I got when I realized I left my debit card and all my money in my apartment which was 20 minutes in the other direction, prompting me to drive all the way home to get it and start over.

By the time got back to Pikesville, it was about 2:30. I figured I had to hustle, because in just a few short hours it would be sundown. And in Pikesville - a center of Baltimore County's (and City's) Jewish community - many of the delis, bagel places and kosher markets and close down shop as of Friday night, staying closed through Saturday as Jewish observance requires. Being Catholic and hungry, it did not hit me that the businesses would actually close a few hours ahead so they could finish cleaning up after closing - not just shuttering the business just before sundown and walking home (you can tell I've never run a business). This hadn't hit me when I finally pulled into Liebe's New York Delicatessen (map), a place I have gone just once or twice before, and not too recently. The doors and windows were shuttered and a real estate sign was in the window. My first thought: "Oh, I guess it's shuttered down for good." So I drove off to find the Goldberg's New York Bagels (map - their website links to Google Maps, too) - also closed. It still did not click - it just seemed like I had run into a string of closed-down delis and bagelerias. My next stop was another deli, Shlomo's Kosher Meats (map) about 2:45, and got out to find - yep - it was closed. So was the place next door, the Knish Shop (map - check out a very recent review here from the KosherCritic; if it's the same one, they also sell subs). I was quickly figuring out the pattern: everyone closes early on Friday - I mean early, to make sure they aren't even around the store when it hits sundown.

I got to one last kosher business, this one open until 3 (pretty late on Friday). Sion's Bakery (map) is your standard small bakery, with cakes and tons of cookies. There were probably other things on display but, of course, it was certainly put away by the time I got there. I opened the door just as the gentleman came out of the kitchen ready to lock the front door. I asked the "stupid sign" question - "You're closed, huh?" They were about to, but the nice guy let me buy some cookies! I got one chocolate top ($6.49/lb) and two raspberry butter cookie sandwiches. Fortunately I had just enough change to pay for that (I asked the nice man to put the other cookie away). My verdict on the chocolate top? OMG. This was the best chocolate top cookie I have eaten all year, period. Better than Geresbeck's, and y'all know how much I love their chocolate tops. They tell me they're their most popular cookie (Geresbeck's, not Sion's). And now I have to wait until Sunday or even Monday to go back and get more :( The flavor was just so wonderful, all buttery and chocolatey. The raspberry cookies were okay, but I usually like more jelly in mine.

Reconciled to the fact that any kosher food would have to wait until after Saturday, I sought out other cuisines. I had passed by many places, all surrounding the legendary but now-defunct Backfin Restaurant. Among others: the Pikes Diner (map - too much traffic to stop), Mr. Chan's Szechuan Restaurant (map), and the Sunfresh Produce Market (can't find a map - hey I can't even find an address) that opened up since the last time I passed through. I might have stopped in, but I wanted ready-made food and if I went in the market I'd come out with about $50 worth of organic things that I could get for $17 inorganically at Giant (or $32 at the Trader Joe's in the opposite direction). But I eventually stopped at the Mari Luna Mexican Grill (map). I ate here once a few years ago. I got some pork pupusas there but got sick off of them (or the cole slaw they gave me, I don't know). Enough time had passed, and I reasoned it was just a fluke.

Mari Luna, right across from the Safeway and next to a Dominican hair place, sells delicious Mexican dishes (and the occasional Salvadoran dish - to with, their delish pupusas). And the decor is bright and colorful, with deep yellow walls and a rich blue ceiling. The awning over the window into their kitchen has a tile awning over it with some stuffed roosters and chili lights strung across the edge. There was even a mini chili Christmas tree up by their front "desk" thing.

Perusing the menu I found lots of familiar offerings, as well as various dishes named after places in Western Mexico - Jalisco (the state where Guadalajara and all those mariachis come from), Uruapan (a small city in Michoacán state). And I saw those pupusas again ($7). But I wanted more, so I eyed the appetizer platter ($14). I would've gotten it, too, had my eyes not landed on the torta de milanesa (Milanese-style "sub sandwich," $9). Tortas are popular in Mexico, but the milanesa was something I hadn't seen since I left Morelia seven years ago. I was a student at a language school, and the mother of the house often made milanesa de res (beef Milanese). This was basically a tender breaded and fried steak of beef. I was so struck by nostalgia that I forewent the sampler and ordered the torta and a side of the pupusas. The torta came with Mexican waffle fries an two types of salsa. After 20 minutes it was done.

I broke out the torta and found it cut conveniently into three sections. At around 3:30, in my car in the Mari Luna parking lot, I took one of those torta sections, wrapped it in a napkin and had my very belated lunch. Again, a delicious eating experience. The torta had hot cheese stringing off of it, and two layers of juicy breaded beef covered in tomato, lettuce, mayo and that cheese (mozzarella, I think). I had more a few hours later when I got home (I took a scenic route and got lost, alright?) and dipped it and the fries into both of those delicious salsas, a very mild tomatillo dressing and a smooth toasty and spicy red pepper sauce, in a different league than your typical sour tangy hot sauce.

So I did luck out after all, by finding that torta. But I must come back and visit all those delis again, sometime outside of Friday afternoon or Saturday. Especially to get those cookies.

Other photos:

Here are the leftovers from Mari Luna - the pupusa (not so great the second day), the torta de milanesa (still good, though soggy out of a microwave) and Mexican fries, all with those two lovely salsas.

It's kind of falling apart, innit?

I take many of these photos from my car - mostly because I'm too lazy to get out, and people might think it's weird that some guy just pulls up and begins to snap photos of their business. When I got to Shlomo's I didn't bother to leave my car, because I had already assumed they were closed before I even turned it off.

Not food-related - I just like the photo, which I took from my car in the Druid Ridge Cemetery, which serves as a handy shortcut from Reisterstown Road all the way to Exit 21 (Yes, I used it. Sue me.)

And of course, the famous Backfin, as the sun sets on thirty-plus years of crabs, hon

Places I visited:

Mari Luna Mexican Grill (Mexican) -102 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville, MD 21208; Phone: (410) 486-9910

  • Would I eat there again? Yes
  • Would I go out of my way to eat there again? ¡Sí, es cierto!
Sion's Bakery (kosher / bakery) - 302 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville, MD 21208; Phone: (443) 548 0370
  • Would I eat there again? Yes
  • Would I go out of my way to eat there again? Heck yeah!
Places to look up later:

Goldberg's New York Bagels (kosher / bagels) - 1498 Reisterstown Road,
Pikesville, MD 21208; Phone: (410) 415-7001

Liebe's New York Delicatessen (kosher / deli) -
607 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville, MD 21208; Phone: (410) 653-1977

Mr. Chan's Szechuan Restaurant (Chinese / Szechuan) - 1000 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville, MD 21208; Phone: (410) 484-1100

The Knish Shop (kosher / subs) - 508 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville, MD 21208; Phone: (410) 484-5850

Pikes Diner (diner) - 921 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville, MD 21208; Phone: (410) 653-5545

Shlomo's Kosher Meat and Fish Market (market - kosher / seafood) -
506 Reisterstown Road, Baltimore, MD 21208; Phone: (410) 415-6602

Sunfresh Produce Market (market - produce) - can't find the address. Could somebody help me out here?

Mari Luna Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon
For Mari Luna Mexican Grill


Rachel said...

You're in my neighborhood! Mr. Chan's is my favorite for Chinese, I love that they have a huge 2 page vegetarian/vegan menu. Also Mari Luna is a favorite of mine. I haven't bothered with the Pikes, I hear its ok, but when I want dinery food I just go next door to the Suburban House. Matzo balls the side of your head, and awesome omelette's.

crabapple said...

If you find yourself in this area again, Fields ( i think it's called) is the weirdest little old style department store with a really old fashioned feeling's a trip. I hope it's still there. Honestly, you expect to see the Jewish Sherriff Andy and Aunt Bee walk in...on reistertown Rd