COLLEGE TOUR! (Well, sort of...)
Exits 25 through 27 take the hapless driver to Towson. There is a lot to eat in Towson. Too much, and not all of it is of the fast food variety. To be frank, I was not sure exactly how to approach Exit 25. Of course, it took a while to dawn on me that this is the exit to use to get to most of the major north Baltimore area colleges - Towson, Loyola, College of Notre Dame of Maryland (or CONDOM - hey I didn't make that up), and Johns Hopkins University. None of these is anywhere near the exit, so to get to anything food-related along Charles Street, apart from either Eddie's of Roland Park (map), you have to head toward the colleges. And so that is what I did. (By the way: their chocolate top cookies are quite good, but it's mostly due to the fudge. The cookie part is a throwaway.)
You can just as easily get to Towson from Exit 26 or 27 as from 25 (it just takes a little longer but it's mostly a straight shot via the Towson Bypass), so anything in the "downtown-y" area of Towson will wait for future posts. For Towson I headed the opposite direction on York Road, toward home. I passed up Bill Bateman's Bistro (map) - not in a "wings and beer" mood, even though I should make it a point to stop in. More so, I have never ventured into TU's University Club (map). I only mention it because it regularly participates in the semiannual Restaurant Week. As a grad student at Towson, I rarely am there with enough money or time to eat more than a semi-thawed pesto chicken croissant sandwich (ick).
Going further down York Road, I wanted to seek out food from the smaller businesses toward the city line. China Fun (map) passed me by - or more to the point, I passed it. Farther down is a whole slew of restaurants featuring sandwiches from Robby's Deli (map), ice cream from Uncle Wiggly's (map) and food from all different regions of China. Since it was the only one open at this hour and I was in the mood, I went for the last option, Mandarin Taste (map).
It was pretty sparse the night I went, with coloring books and a phone book piled up in one booth. But the atmosphere was a bit brighter and less cramped than most Chinese takeouts I have been to. The proprietor recommended the Sha Cha Chicken, which was a favorite of many customers. At about $4.50 it wasn't bad for the price, and neither was the eggroll I got for about $2. When I got it home I found they gave me a lot of food. And though it's not what I'd call orgasmic, they do know to put actual chunks of pork in their pork fried rice - big (for pork fried rice), juicy chunks of it. And I liked the sha cha chicken - a little spicy, even though it wasn't spicy enough for me. It also had lots of vegetables - carrots, bell pepper, broccoli, onion. I'd definitely get it again, though I wouldn't go out of my way for it. I liked the egg roll too.
Johns Hopkins University
Farther down Charles Street, past Loyola and Notre Dame (yes, I am doubling back), you hit Johns Hopkins, one of the most prestigious universities in the country. As with TU there are a few good eats in this area. JHU is particularly blessed to share sidewalk space with the Baltimore Museum of Art (note to self: go round there at some point), home of Bawlmer boy John Shields' area-famous Gertrude's (map), which I hear has a killer brunch. Also didn't get across the street to all the cafés and shops in Hopkins Square, which encompasses (among others) a Record and Tape Traders. Again, another time.
On University Parkway, across from the National Lacrosse Museum, are two places I have enjoyed in the past. The Carlysle Club (map) is dependable and delicious Lebanese food. it's also expensive, so I don't go there much. Last time I went was, I think, sometime in 2006 with some friends. I had this great lamb dish but I can't put my finger on exactly what it was anymore. Oh well - a reason to go back. A hop, a skip and a jump away from that is the happily vegetarian One World Café (map). They bake most if not all of their food on-site, and I think it's all vegetarian, or at least vegan. This includes their dizzying array of baked goods. And wow - they have this wonderful nutless vegan carrot cupcake (about $2.50). With a small cappuccino (about $2.50) it was a very satisfying snack. The icing is sugary and though it isn't cream cheesy at all (of course not - it's VEGAN), it's very tasty. It's still a fattening cupcake: the greasiness in the cupcake paper was demonstrable. Just save it for a special occasion. Like tomorrow?
Loyola College / College of Notre Dame of Maryland
I must confess: going back around Loyola brings back memories, because it's where I got my (first) BA, around 19 ninety-something. I don't know about now, but the food back then was horrendous (CONDOM's was little better). Because of that, I often meandered away from the dorms and down West Cold Spring to the restaurants nearby. When I wanted a bagel for breakfast, or wanted to get away from the occasional drunken dorm mates, I would often find myself at Sam's Bagels (map). The ubiquitous Sam's now has several locations around the area, including the one in Catonsville that completely does away with my need to go back to this one. But it did coincide with my biggest brush with movie stardom, the one time I accidentally walked by the shooting of Serial Mom at the Video Americain - yes, I saw them shooting Serial Mom - with an egg and sausage bagel sandwich on an everything (my favorite flavor of bagel). Yes, I went there that long ago.
Another place I stopped was the often-lauded Alonso's (map), well known specifically for its massive, 1 lb. hamburger (with or without bacon). It is one West Cold Spring institution amid a sea of more recently opened businesses - Miss Shirley's (map - affiliated with Alonso's), the new Evergreen coffee shop (map - where lots of students and a few professors were lounging, using their laptops over - well actually I didn't see what they were eating), even the Loco Hombre (aw hell, just see the map for Alonso's) - of which Alonso's is apparently a part - is now opened up after I last went round. You see, I haven't been here in well over a decade. There's also the new S'ghetti Eddies (map), part of that big Loco Hombre/Alonso's/Miss Shirley's conglomeration. Only the Chinese takeout is still familiar, besides Sam's and Alonso's.
Today, Alonso's is much sleeker looking, and no nasty smoke smell (one reason why I never went back). Today there is sports paraphernalia all over the walls - signed jerseys, footballs, baseballs and soccer balls from the Ravens, the O's (minus all the drugs) and the Blast (in order of prevalence). The waiter just let me seat myself - it wasn't full, since it was at the tail end of the lunch hour.
I started with the three-salsa tortilla chips ($4). I did this even though I planned to get that massive burger, because I wanted to try the nopal (or nopale) salsa. If you haven't had nopal cactus slices from a jar, be warned - they are very salty and very slimy. This nopal salsa was not at all slimy, but still salty. I did like it, and I have to say it was the most interesting part of my meal. With it came two more salsas, a sweet tomatillo salsa and a chunky salsa fresca. Plus a deep basket of tortilla chips in enough colors to make a gay pride festival planner happy.
Then it came - THE big-ass burger of legend ($13). I got the cheapest of them, with no bacon (add $1.50), and not blackened ($15 before bacon). I cut it in half and automatically set one half aside to take home. I don't know how I got through the other 1/2 lb. I asked for the burger medium rare to rare - and they do indeed know how to make a rare burger (not like in SoCal where "rare" means "medium well"). I wasn't sure if it was safe to eat for a second, it was so rare. The burger itself was tasty, though I am not ordering the bleu cheese on it the next time - they gave me a massive dollop of it, which actually sank into the burger. It was ridiculously strong and took away from the burger. It's my own fault - I should have known better, I guess. The flavor of the burger is pure beef, and that's really all I could taste - no herbs, spices, etc. But again, that may be due to the strength of the bleu cheese. Not to make it sound bad though, because I certainly wasn't disappointed in this burger. I'd definitely get it again, just without the bleu cheese. I was, however, disappointed in the fries - plain, ordinary, some were a little dried out. But I wasn't there to order the fries (still, they could've been better). Since half of them are sitting in the takeout container with the other 1/2 lb of that burger and a ton of multicolored tortilla chips and large blobs of tomatillo, fresca and nopal salsas, I can try the fries with some other condiments and see if they can be improved upon.
Along with a soda (about $2), tax and tip, the bill came to $23. I haven't spent that much on a lunch outside of Restaurant Week in a while. Again, I'd go back and get it, though next time I may just settle for the cheaper and more subtle Alonso sliders instead ($9 for lunch).
Places I visited:
Alonso's / Loco Hombre (burgers / American / Tex-Mex / bar & pub - both locations share the same menu and building space) - 413-415 West Cold Spring Lane, Baltimore, MD 21210; Phone: (410) 235-3433
- Would I eat there again? Yes
- Would I go out of my way to eat there again? Again, yes
- Would I eat there again? Definitely
- Would I go out of my way to eat there again? Once again, yes
Towson, MD 21212; Phone: (410) 377-8040
- Would I shop there again? Yes, but not too often - I need to pay bills
- Would I go out of my way to shop there again? Probably not, again due to the expense
Baltimore, MD 21212; Phone: (410) 377-2500
- Would I eat there again? Yes
- Would I go out of my way to eat there again? I don't need to, but I might
- Would I eat there again? Yes
- Would I go out of my way to eat there again? I was just thinking of doing that
- Would I eat there again? I often do (but at the Catonsville location)
- Would I go out of my way to eat there again? I don't need to, but sure
Bill Bateman's Bistro (bar & pub / wings) - 7800 York Road, Towson, MD 21204; Phone: (410) 296-2737
China Fun (Chinese) - 7206 York Rd # B, Towson, MD 21212 - (410) 321-4212
The Evergreen (coffee / deli) - 501 W. Cold Spring Lane, Baltimore, MD 21210; Phone: (410) 235-8118
Gertrude's (Chesapeake / brunch) - 10 Art Museum Drive (located in the Baltimore Museum of Art), Baltimore, MD 21218; Phone for reservations: (410) 889-3399
Miss Shirley's (American / bakery / brunch) - 513 West Cold Spring Lane, Baltimore, MD 21210; Phone: (410) 889-5272
Robby's Deli (deli / sandwiches) - 6321 York Rd, Baltimore, MD 21212; Phone: (410) 337-8755
S'ghetti Eddie's (pasta) - 410 W Cold Spring Lane, Baltimore, MD 21210; Phone (410) 235-5999
Uncle Wiggly's (ice cream) - 6911 York Rd, Baltimore, MD 21212-1510; Phone: (410) 377-3373
University Club at Towson (American) - 10 West Burke Avenue (in the Burkshire Marriott Conference Hotel), Towson, MD 21204; Phone: (410) 324-8202