Sunday, January 18, 2009

Snacking around the Beltway - Final Assessment

I've been very busy these last few months, so the grand plans I had for tying up all the loose ends from the Beltway Snacking series that I started way back in May of 2007 have just gotten away from me. In a way, I guess that's good, since it's given me time to reflect on it a bit more.

A few numbers:

Total duration of project (calculated by Time and from May 22, 2007 to September 29, 2008 = 497 days (including the end date). That's 1 year, 4 months and 8 days, or 71 weeks. This doesn't count any posts that sum up the project afterwards.

Total number of Beltway Snacking posts (counting this one): 58

Total number of exits (counting A's, B's and C's): 63

Total calories consumed: priceless

Number of restaurants, markets, carry-outs and other sites visited, passed by or recommended to me by commenters (not counting ones I had written about previously) - 350

Number of those sites that I actually stopped in and visited - 102

Number of counties visited: 5 (Anne Arundel, Howard, Harford, Baltimore and Baltimore City)

Number of miles traveled: approximately 267.2 miles (or 427.52 km), according to Google Maps. This would take approximately 10 hours and 20 minutes to drive in one straight shot, without stopping (ironically, you avoid the Beltway to make this shortest possible time)

Total amount spent for food: Who the hell knows?

Total amount spent on gas: I dread the thought...

Though label-wise you can search by Exits 1 - 10, 11 - 20, 21 - 30, 31 - 40 or 41 - 44, I've divided the Beltway up here into six sections (maps created from Google Maps)...

Highlights of the "Glen Burnie" section of the Beltway (south, Exits 1 through 8A) -

Best eating in the south part of the Beltway - Two places jump out at me: El Salto I (Brooklyn, Exit 3A) has some of the most comforting Mexican food in the Baltimore area (its twin in Parkville offers pretty much the same). Pho Miss Saigon (Glen Burnie, Exit 3B) - The place is lovely. I loved dragging my sister here. She loved the cilantro in the pho. She wasn't too crazy about all the jalapeño slices.

Worst eating -
The Hong Kong Restaurant (Glen Burnie, Exit 4) - The only good thing about this place is that a filling meal regularly costs under $5, perfect in this recession. But it almost made me sick, so there's that...

Most forgettable eating -
The Rose Restaurant (North Linthicum, Exit 6A) - I've had more exciting food when I was laid up in the hospital on a diet of strained cream of chicken soup and Jell-O. And tastier, too. At least they're nice people. Maybe their conventions are more interesting?

One place I would've mentioned had I not previously posted about it - G&M's, of course. And the Little Grove Restaurant, despite its fairly average carry-out lunch buffet and salad bar, has wonderful spanakopita pies (both in Linthicum, Exit 8). Perchi's Peruvian Rotisserie (Glen Burnie, Exit 3B) also fits here.

One place I really need to get back to but haven't - Of those places I haven't yet visited, Stoney Creek Inn (Pasadena, Exit 1) - It looks like an inviting place, and I always love crabs. It's also beautifully located. Of those I did visit, Dotson's Barbeque (Glen Burnie, Exit 2) is one place I just have to get back to.

One place I really need to get back to, and have - Again with the Pho Miss Saigon (Glen Burnie, Exit 3B).

One place I'm kinda glad I passed - The Crab Depot (Brooklyn, Exit 3A), which had its fair share of flies and kinda smelled like poo.

Highlights of the "Catonsville" section of the Beltway (southwest, Exits 9 through 16B) -

Best eating in the southwest part of the Beltway - Taneytown Deli (Catonsville, Exit 13), which recently moved into the former Pinocchio's location. Five kinds of Reubens - that's all I'm sayin'. The Golden Gate Chinese Restaurant (Arbutus, Exit 12B) is also a constant favorite for their General Tso's and orange chicken. They're also one of the first Mom & Pop Chinese places to offer dim sum in the area (and they're one of the only ones whose food is edible).

Worst eating -
The Grace Café (Arbutus, Exit 12A), just a hop, skip and a jump from the Golden Gate. The quintessential example of what Chinese carry-out should not be, but usually is.

Most forgettable eating - Caton House (Violetville, Exit 11A), which I visited for lunch just before the citywide smoking ban, so everything tasted like a bar. Which makes sense, since it is a bar. That's followed closely by Mr. G's Fast Lane Hamburgers (Gwynn Oak, Exit 15A), and the sorriest excuse for a diner hamburger at the otherwise legendary Double-T Diner (Catonsville, Exit 15B). All three? Meh.

One place I would've mentioned had I not previously posted about it - Indian Delight (Catonsville, Exit 13), which was my very first introduction to Indian food over 10 years ago. The service is sometimes slow but the food is usually quite good. They recently started charging for their buffet by the pound, which makes more sense for them if you think about it.

One place I really need to get back to but haven't - A few, actually. The Washington Blvd. pit beef truck (Lansdowne, Exit 10) is highest on my list. It's so close to much of my family and yet I never get around there. Another pit beef truck opened up a few years ago in Arbutus on East Drive (also Exit 10). Pho 1 (Catonsville, Exit 15A) is also slowly but surely nagging at me to come to it (again, hap tip to Dara).

One place I really need to get back to, and have - SugarBaker Cakes (Catonsville, Exit 13), which recently started selling Smith Island Cake slices on a regular basis. Then there's Polock Johnny's (Morrell Park, Exit 11A) - granted, I haven't gotten back in a while, so that's a priority.

One place I'm kinda glad I passed - Charm City Liquor & Deli (Lansdowne, Exit 9), which I never wrote about. Former co-workers warned me against their sandwiches. I haven't bothered to test their advice yet.

Highlights of the "Pikesville" section of the Beltway (northwest, Exits 17 through 22) -

Best eating in the northwest part of the Beltway - A three-way tie: Mari Luna Mexican Grill has homey Mexican food in a colorful atmosphere, plus they also have a smattering of Salvadoran offerings - like their tasty pupusas. And though it may be unassuming, Sion's Bakery makes one of the best chocolate-top cookies I have ever eaten (both in Pikesville, Exit 20). The IndiClub (Woodlawn, Exit 17) also has some flavorful offerings and a nice selection of South Asian and pan-Indian dishes, including my first-ever taste of idli. Just watch for the occasional irritating child or three bolting around the restaurant.

Worst eating -
Lake Trout (Woodlawn, Exit 17) has the boniest fish I've ever eaten out, hands down. Plus a Yankee cornbread that really qualifies as a dessert item instead.

Most forgettable eating - One commenter (hat tip: Jazz) scolded me that I dissed the Big Cheese (Owings Mills, Exit 19), letting me know I should've ordered a sub and asked them to toast the roll. If I go back again I will do that. But in my defense (and, really, the Big Cheese's), it's not so much their cooking that was the problem, as it is the cooking of pretty much any pizza and sub shop. They were just the unfortunate example.

One place I really need to get back to but haven't - I have heard lovely things about Symone's Soul Food Café (Randallstown, Exit 18A), but I just haven't gotten back to the area yet to stop in. And for one of the few truly West African restaurants in the area, Peju's Kitchen Restaurant and Lounge (Woodlawn, Exit 17) is apparently a goodie, serving some of the only suya in the area. As for places I did not write about, commenters let me know about a few places I missed in Owings Mills (Exit 19): Rachel let me know about the Flying Avocado, and "Anonymous" pointed me in the direction of Morty's Chicken (at Snyder's Deli).

One place I really need to get back to, and have - Shaheen (Woodlawn, Exit 17)'s proprietors are from Queens, and serve some tasty halal goat, lamb, chicken, fish and vegetarian dishes. Their buffet is by the pound. Don't miss the sweets case by the front door, but watch out because you'll spend more than you want to.

One place I'm kinda glad I passed - The New York Fried Chicken on Liberty Road (Gwynn Oak, Exit 18B). I dunno, maybe I'm wrong but it doesn't sound all that interesting. Seemed kind of fast food-ish.

Highlights of the "Towson" section of the Beltway (north, Exits 23A through 30B)

Best eating in the north part of the Beltway - I was pleasantly surprised at the abundance of delicious and filling food I found at the Kabab Stop (Mount Washington, Exit 23A). For $14, you easily get twice the amount of food. I also have fond memories of the gigantic stromboli I got at Mamma Lucia's at Perring Plaza (Parkville, Exit 30B). Also, an advisory: if you order the one-pound burger at Alonso's (Roland Park, Exit 25), make sure you take most of it home. I ate half of it there, on an empty stomach, and still felt like I overate.

Worst eating -
I really didn't have many bad food experiences in this part of the Beltway. So I guess I'll have to fall back on that old stand-by, the local food court at the mall. And despite the improvements they've been doing, Towsontown Center's food court (Towson, Exit 27) has some pretty lackluster eating choices. Sadly, it's still fairly standard mall food, so in comparison to other malls it's not so bad. I feel bad singling Towsontown's food court, since it's such an easy target anyway.

Most forgettable eating - If you want memorable decor, drinks or music, Hightopps Backstage Grille (Timonium, Exit 24) will maybe fit the bill. If you want memorable food, just look elsewhere.

One place I would've mentioned had I not previously posted about it - This area is one of my most well-traveled, so I've written about several of the places around here long before I got to them on the Beltway. Chiyo Sushi and Sushi Hana (both in Mount Washington, Exit 23A) are two of the better sushi joints in the area - who knew there'd be so many just in this one neighborhood? Not to be outdone, Towson has an abundance of sushi joints, all of which are pretty good. The Kyodai Rotating Sushi Bar (Towson, Exit 27) is perhaps the most authentic, with its conveyor belt of color-coded plates to tell you exactly what is cheaper than what. Outside of the sushi world, the Bel-Loc Diner (Parkville, Exit 29B) restores my faith in diners with tasty food at cheap prices.

One place I really need to get back to but haven't - I went on a date to the Orchard Market & Café (Parkville, Exit 29B). They were BYOB at the time, but had some delicious Persian food. As for places I haven't even visited or mentioned, another Persian place, the Parsa Kabob (Cockeysville, Exit 24), is one place I just never got to at all. It's on my list the next time I'm in the neighborhood.

One place I really need to get back to, and have - Maybe all those ex-pat New Yorkers are on to something about Pasta Mista's pizza (Towson, Exit 27). I haven't eaten pizza in New York (more than a few hot dogs but no pizza), but if they're all correct that it's this good then maybe I am missing something. The Mandarin Taste (Anneslie, Exit 25) is much closer to my apartment than to the Beltway. In fact, it's a good half hour walk from my place. But it's a good place to eat while your car is getting fitted for new tires at the Firestone. By the way, don't go to Firestone. They charge too damn much. For everything.

One place I'm kinda glad I passed - The Mount Washington Pizza, Subs and Indian Cuisine (Mount Washington, Exit 23A) is one of a growing phenomenon in Baltimore: the pizza-sub-and-curry shop. This one had fairly overpriced Indian food, and fairly average-priced everything else. Most of the pizza-sub-and-curry joints charge a lot more for their Indian offerings, I'm afraid. (NOTE: The review I linked to gives the place 4 out of 5 stars, so maybe I'm wrong? Who knows...)

Highlights of the "Essex" section of the Beltway (northeast, Exits 31A through 38B)

Best eating in the northeast part of the Beltway - Fractured Prune (Parkville, Exit 31A, and various other locations), hands down. Granted, I frequent the locations that are closer to me, so I haven't gotten back to this particular location since. But I am ruined for any other type of donut now, even Krispy Kremes. And I could never even think of touching a Dunkin' Donut again. Also remember the Broadway Diner (Highlandtown, Exit 33A) - there's gotta be a reason why the male Rachael Ray Guy Fieri made his way there: wonderful diner food. You have to go the other direction on I-95 to get to the Venetian Palace Restaurant (Edgewood, Exit 33B), to which I traveled almost 20 miles from home at $4 a gallon gas for what I found to be a delicious fried oyster sandwich. And if you get round to Midori (Overlea, Exit 32A), stick to the Chinese half of their menu, which is quite good.

Worst eating -
Why am I never eating at the Fisherman's Wharf (Nottingham, Exit 32B) again? One. hour. wait. for. a. fucking. fish. sandwich.

Most forgettable eating - Uncle Eddie's (Essex, Exit 38B), which had pleasant service and a pretty decent minestrone soup, but awful, awful haddock. Leave a nice tip for the waitress.

One place I would've mentioned had I not previously posted about it - CCBC Essex's cafeteria (Essex, Exit 34), but not because it's any good. Hey, I dogged on CCBC Catonsville's and Dundalk's food offerings. How did I forget to do the same for the Essex campus? I will say, though, their food - lackluster though it is - is slightly better than at the other two campuses.

One place I really need to get back to but haven't - Everyone keeps telling me how great Pizza John's (Essex, Exit 36) is, but I simply never get around there enough. I have been to the Fiesta Mexicana Mexican Fast Food (Rosedale, Exit 34), but have had no time to return. Same for the Mount Everest Nepalese and Indian buffet (Rosedale, Exit 32B), who recently celebrated their first anniversary. A little pricier than I'd like but tasty nonetheless.

One place I really need to get back to, and have - Geresbeck's, for their chocolate top cookies and other pretty good baked goods. People rave about the smearcase, which I have yet to try. Also the Original Fish & Chips, which also has some delicious hush puppies (both in Middle River, Exit 36).

One place I'm kinda glad I passed - Lin's Chinese Buffet (White Marsh, Exit 31C) in White Marsh Mall. Again, mall food is an easy target. But such a massive buffet really should have more people in the seats than just the employees.

Highlights of the "Dundalk" section of the Beltway (southeast, Exits 39 through 44)

Best eating in the southeast part of the Beltway - A few good eats here include: Weenie World (Dundalk, Exit 39), for which I have traveled well out of my way just for their wide and baffling variety of hot dogs; Bada Bing Bada Beef (Dundalk, Exit 43), with some of the best pit beef I have had recently; and Salty Dog's Crab House (Dundalk, Exit 41), for their $1 per crab every Tuesday in the fall. They're good crabs, too.

Worst eating -
I didn't have much in the way of bad eating experiences in this area - perhaps by this time I had become more discriminating in where I would stop. I can tell you the least appetizing thing I did eat. It was that cup of Western fries at Micky's (Sparrows Point, Exit 42). But that was all I ate, so really it's not a very accurate read. Maybe their other stuff is good, though.

Most forgettable eating - Nothing terribly forgettable in this part of the Beltway either. I did like Maria's Pizzeria and Carry-Out (Sparrows Point, Exit 42) for its hot dog, though its pizza was kind of, I dunno, eh. But Maria's is a hard fit into this category. Really, it is the "default choice if I have to choose something for this category" choice. Though Squire's (Dundalk, Exit 44) puny lasagna, which cost too much for its portion and was only as good as any lasagna, is in the running for the "most overrated" award.

One place I really need to get back to but haven't - When I got to Merritt Blvd, I really wanted to stop in the Boulevard Diner (Dundalk, Exit 39), but with so many diners under my belt recently I just wanted something non-diner-ish. I'll get around there sooner or later.

One place I really need to get back to, and have - As noted before, Salty Dog's (Dundalk, Exit 41) and Weenie World (Dundalk, Exit 39).

One place I passed without even realizing it - That would have to be the Hard Yacht Café (Dundalk, Exit 43). Maybe it's more easily accessible by boat, but it's a bitch to get to by car.

One place I'm kinda glad I passed - Many of the half-closed businesses along North Point Road made me wonder if they were even open anymore. Papa Leone's Spaghetti House and the North Point Diner (both Dundalk, Exit 40) are notable in this regard.

Thinking about my Beltway Snacking experiment, I can say it has taught me a few important things, as I noticed around Broening Pkwy (Exit 44):

1) Both food wise and neighborhood wise, there is so much more worth exploring in Baltimore than just downtown. Don't get me wrong: Mount Vernon, Fed Hill, Fells and the Harbor are great places for dining and (in some of those places) living. But so are Glen Burnie, Catonsville, Dundalk and Parkville - and it probably still sounds strange for y'all in these areas. Same for such exotic locales as Arbutus, Middle River, Pikesville and Sparrows Point.

2) Look hard enough and you will find some cheap food, and some good food. You will find crap, too, don't get me wrong. But you have to keep looking until you find something you like.

3) There are a lot of crab shacks, a whole lot of Chinese restaurants, and a whole lot of pizza-and-sub shops around the Beltway.

4) Finally, as the tourist in me wants to scream, play the tourist in your own home town. Before I lived in Cali (and I have officially been back in Charm City for five whole years now), I never bothered to visit any of these places. I was a Southwest Baltimore County boy with only a vague notion of exactly where Essex was, and I had never even heard of Nottingham. It took my relocating out west to really start exploring Baltimore on the occasional visit back. Don't do that - explore it now! It's not like you have the money to travel these days (er, um, recession). I sure as hell don't. So don't wait until you only visit once or twice a year to really get to know your home town. This is advice not just for Bawlamorons but for everyone from New York to New Mexico, from Augusta, Maine, to Augusta, Georgia, and all over the planet. Wherever "home" is, get to know it and love it. If I can take only one thing away from my Beltway Snackin' project, it is that point. Again: get to know "home" and love it. There is much more than you may realize.

And that's it! The Beltway Snackin' experiment is officially over! But if you want to see all the photos I took on my journeys around the Beltway, go to Flickr. The set is "Snacking around the Beltway" if you want to see all 752 photos. (UPDATE - I deleted some repeats, so now it's about 740 or so.)

Listen to this post as an MP3.


diningdish said...

Loved your wrap up and all the time you took to write it...and I know it was a lot. Snyder's Deli (Morty's chicken) is now closed...just an FYI

John said...

Thanks, Dara. It was fun to see all the places I visited. But it was exhausting and a good bit of work.

And I guess I can cross Snyder's Deli back off of my list!

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth: Fisherman's Wharf appears to be gone. There's a realtor's sign out in front of it now. So there's another reason you won't be coming back.

Is the pit beef truck still on Washington Blvd since they put the Wal-Mart in that immediate area?

John said...

Ah, well I'm not surprised about FW. As for the pit beef truck: yeah, only it's up a short way on Robert A. Young Way, near Lansdowne Road.

Anonymous said...

Wow John! What a project- kudos for all of your hard work!

John said...

It is only just now striking me how big an undertaking this actually was. It didn't really seem so at first, since it was spread out over 17 months. Thanks!

Dan said...

Superb job John! I'll be linking to this from over at THG and bookmarking it for my own future reference. We don't get out much these days but as Ryan gets older I look forward to exploring more of these areas and we'll be using your write-ups as a jumping off point. You should self-publish the whole project through or something.

John said...

Dan: Thanks, man. I had thought of publishing it, but I had no idea how or where., eh? I'll definitely look into it.

Anonymous said...

Great blog.Agreement all around, with the possible exception of Shaheen's buffet. Surprised, however, that you really neglected what is Baltimore's greatest 'Eat Street', Harford Rd. (Koko's, Chameleon, Clementine's, Hamilton Tavern, Fenwick's Bakery, Edelweis, Alabama BBQ, Big Bad Wolf, Chok Thai, Mastelleone's, Mueller's, Frank's Pizza, Jerry D's, and several others).

John said...

Anon: Thanks. But I didn't touch upon all those Harford Road eateries because there were so many so close to the Beltway that I just stuck there. I still have to get out to Alabama BBQ when I have the chance.

Corey said...

Very impressive wrap up. Will have to check out some of your recommendations.

Michelle said...

Thanks for sharing. I am from Essex and it was fun to read the entries from all around the beltway.

GoGayleGo said...

The "Another pit beef truck" on East Drive in Arbutus is Wild Wolf's Beef Shack. I prefer their pit ham to their pit beef, but it's all good! Thanks for all the great intel, I'll be checking out some new places.