A travel journal
to Baltimore by annekmadison
Quote: This little journal focuses on Baltimore's connection to the Chesapeake Bay. I've reviewed several seafood restaurants and strayed off the beaten path into Canton, a waterfront neighborhood of great charm.
Restaurant | "Gunning's Seafood Restaurant"
There are two rival Gunning’s restaurants in Baltimore. Don’t be fooled. While the other one has the original location, this restaurant—located just off the Baltimore/Washington Parkway—has the original, Gunning family recipes.
The Crab Cake: I eat at Gunning’s quite a bit. The crab cakes are uniformly delicious. Light and fluffy, they include just enough binding and seasoning to hold them together during their brief stay in the sauté pan or broiler. Always brought to the table very hot, the crab cakes never contain even a hint of shell. Their flavor is fresh and delicate, and the lumps of crabmeat are very large indeed.
Other Good Things to Eat: The hallmark Gunning’s dish is, oddly enough, fried green pepper rings, brought to you with a little powdered sugar. I’m likely to pass those up in favor of mounds of Ocean City French fries or sweet cole slaw. You can also enjoy your crabs traditionally steamed or try the crab Imperial. However you order them, crabs at Gunning’s will always be good. Try the carrot cake for dessert if you have room.
TASTE: 5 Claws
ABSENCE OF SHELL: 5 Claws
SIZE OF LUMPS: 5 Claws
SEASONINGS: 5 Claws
ACCOMPANIMENTS: 3 Claws
KINDLINESS OF WAIT STAFF: 5 Claws
ATMOSPHERE: 3 Claws – but hey, you’re going to enjoy the crabs, right?
To Get There: Take 295 South to Exit 7 (Route 100) West. Exit 100 immediately onto Coca-Cola Drive; turn left at the light. Turn left again onto Parkway Drive. Gunning’s is about ¾ mile down Parkway Drive on the right.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 15, 2001
Gunnings Seafood Restaurant
7304 Parkway Drive
Baltimore, Maryland 21076
Restaurant | "Bo Brooks’ Crab House"
Bo Brooks’ Crab House has been a landmark in Baltimore for years. They recently moved from their longtime location in the north of town to our neighborhood of Canton, a community on the waterfront.
Their new location is superb. Situated in a marina, the dining room affords wonderful views of the Baltimore Harbor. The atmosphere is bright, airy, and serene—perfect for lingering over dinner.
The Crab Cake: I’m sorry to say that on two separate occasions I didn’t enjoy my crab cakes at Bo Brooks’. While the size of the lumps was luxurious, and the crab was reasonably clean of shell, it had an unpleasantly strong taste. I’d like to think it was because I ordered the crabs in early spring. And there are certainly enough other good things to eat at Bo Brooks, including their steamed hard crabs.
Other Good Things to Eat: I had much better luck with a lovely bit of filet mignon. It arrived cooked perfectly to order and accompanied by some lovely, tender/crisp fresh string beans. A business colleague with whom I was having dinner enjoyed his red snapper. Though not a local fish, it was perfectly fresh and prepared so that the delicate flavor and texture were preserved. Salads are crisp and non-Iceberg. And one of the best starters on the menu is the plump little oysters Rockefeller. I’ve never had room for dessert, but I can vouch for the Irish coffee.
TASTE: 2 Claws (But it was early in the season, and the non-crab cake dishes would certainly rate a 5)
ABSENCE OF SHELL: 4 Claws
SEASONING: 4 Claws
ACCOMPANIMENTS: 5 Claws
KINDLINESS OF WAIT STAFF: 5 Claws
ATMOSPHERE: 5 Claws
Directions: Bo Brooks is located on Boston Street in the heart of Canton, right on the water.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on July 15, 2001
Bo Brooks Crab House
2701 Boston Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21224
The Bay Café is a popular restaurant and nightspot situated right on the waterfront in Canton. People seek it out for its lively atmosphere, good drinks, and ample space for outdoor dining. I seek it out for the shrimp salad.
For some reason, a trip to the Bay Café always brings out the worst in us when it comes to ordering large, sweet drinks made of rum. It must be the real palm trees that decorate the outdoor area or the fact that even on the hottest evenings there’s a little breeze from the water. All that rum doesn’t prevent us from ordering appetizers. The Bay Café’s chicken wings are spicy and have the complete approval of a friend from Buffalo. We also enjoy the shrimp wrapped in bacon and the crab balls. They also feature a very fine raw bar, and you can enjoy your clams or oysters in their traditional raw state or cooked in several different ways.
After all those preliminaries, the shrimp salad platter makes a perfect entrée. The shrimp are enormous, cooked as they should be (not stewed to mush), and sent to the table mounded up on lettuce, tossed in a spicy mayonnaise. There’s nothing to do but enjoy them. I don’t think I’ve ever had a dessert at the Bay Café. Who would have room?
Their menu is extensive, and you can order a variety of seafood and fish as well as steaks and other good things.
DIRECTIONS: Located on Tindeco Warf in Canton.
The Bay Cafe
2809 Boston Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21224
Restaurant | "Atlantic Restaurant"
The Atlantic is a popular Canton restaurant, and it can be tough to get reservations. I was entertained there by my family this past Mother’s Day. The restaurant is located in a renovated factory building and features several bright, attractive levels for dining.
The Meal: No crab cakes to be found. The Atlantic concentrates on fish, rather than seafood, and the focus is on a fusion of Oriental and other cuisines. We managed to work our way through a rather tall order of sashimi as we awaited our main courses. We enjoyed several varieties, and all of the fish was fresh.
I enjoyed the filet mignon of tuna as a main course. It turned out to be a thick slice of tuna seared on the outside and ruby-red within. The sauce was delicately sweet, and the accompanying vegetables were crisp/tender. The other person who ordered it was equally delighted, but the two people in our family who ordered chicken were a little bit disappointed at its dryness and lack of flavor.
We’ve only visited the Atlantic once, but I’m certain we’ll return either to snack on the sushi and sashimi or to enjoy another filet mignon of tuna.
TASTE: 5 Claws if you stick to the fish
ACCOMPANIMENTS: 5 Claws
KINDLINESS OF WAIT STAFF: 3 Claws
ATMOSPHERE: 5 Claws
Directions: The Atlantic is located on Boston Street in the American Can building.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on July 15, 2001
2400 Boston Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21224
The Inner Harbor: Board the Water Taxi at the Pratt Street Pavilion when you’ve finished seeing Harborplace and the Aquarium and are ready for a taste of the rest of Baltimore.
The American Visionary Art Museum: Located near the Rusty Scupper Restaurant, this museum is a treasury of "found" art – drawings, paintings, sculptures, and other works by self-taught artists. Their works are sometimes profoundly disturbing, sometimes whimsical and humorous, always astonishing. It’s a worthwhile Water Taxi stop.
Little Italy: Another treasure-trove of restaurants. Walk into the neighborhood (rather than staying on its fringes) for some of the best.
Tidewater Marina: Get off here to board the bus that takes you to Fort McHenry. Baltimore’s pride, Fort McHenry was the birthplace of the National Anthem. It’s an interesting tour, and it’s also cool and breezy during the hot summer.
Fell’s Point: Wonderfully funky, Fell’s Point is a grand mixture of pubs, restaurants, and shops in an antique setting. Stop by Bertha’s (at the foot of Broadway) for tea or a meal, then stroll up the street to shop at the market.
Anchorage Marina: The Water Taxi will drop you off right at Bo Brooks’ or stroll across the street to the Atlantic.
Canton Park: The last stop. Cool off in the park and enjoy your view of the harbor or walk a few steps to the Bay Café.
Baltimore Water Taxi
1735 Lancaster Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21201
Watermen: I suppose in any other part of the world, they’d be referred to as "fishermen." In Maryland, men who make their living fishing the waters of the Bay are never referred to as anything but watermen. It is a trade requiring a variety of skills, an encyclopedic knowledge of the Bay in all its aspects, business sense, and a great deal of very hard work. In these days of upward mobility, it is still most often a trade passed on from one generation to the next. Watermen have harvested the Bay for generations, going out after crabs and fishing for oysters either with long tongs or dredges (pronounced "drudges"). Up until a few years ago, those wishing to dredge for oysters were required by law to do so only under sail, and Maryland boasted the last working fleet of sailing vessels in the United States.
Crabs, hard: These are the beauties you will find in your crab cake. Crabs live to be about four years old if they are fortunate enough to survive the many adversities that face them. They’re quite aggressive, gifted with claws and legs both for swimming and for fighting. In their natural state they are a blue-green color on top and a pale cream beneath. Legally, you can’t catch or keep one that’s less than about four inches. Strictly speaking, they’re not very good to eat until they’re quite a bit larger than that. In Maryland, the male crab (called a Jimmy) is preferred for eating. (This isn’t the case everywhere.) Immature female crabs are called she-crabs, and mature females are called sooks. It takes a waterman to tell the two kinds of females apart, though anyone can distinguish the male from the female by the configuration of their undersides. Female crabs lay their eggs only once in their lifetime, and they usually die shortly afterward.
Everyone in proximity to the Chesapeake or its tributaries catches crabs occasionally. They are even taken out of the waters around Baltimore. Watermen use a variety of methods, including ingenious traps and long, long lines baited at intervals. They get up in the middle of the night to go and do this, which is why my journal is entitled "Catching the Early Crab." People with waterfront property set traps, too. People with pleasure boats occasionally attempt to emulate the watermen by setting out long lines. This tends to foul things up for the men who have to make a living at it, and the amateurs are referred to by the professionals as "chicken neckers," an allusion to the preferred amateur bait.
Crabs, soft: In order to grow, the crab must shed its hard shell and grow a new one from time to time. This process is arduous for the crab but delicious for humans. For a few short hours the crab’s new shell is soft and completely edible. It requires only a brief cleaning before being sautéed in a little butter. Everyone I know enjoys their soft crabs as sandwiches, simply eaten between two pieces of toast. The flavor is, if it’s possible, even more delicate than that of the hard crab.
Crab Soup: The Marylander’s preferred crab soup is a sort of tomato-based chowder, loaded with sweet corn, green or lima beans, whatever other vegetables happen to be around, and of course plenty of chunks of crab meat. This peppery and substantial meal-in-a-bowl is most often enjoyed the day after a feast of hard crabs. The prudent cook saves all the little leftover claws and adds those to the soup for extra flavor. Those in more southerly states make a cream-based, mild crab soup laced with a little sherry.
Crab Feasts: The general belief is that crabs get better after July 4, so an awful lot of people throw crab feasts on Independence Day. Crabs, like lobsters, need to be cooked alive. They’re layered in an enormous lidded pot with liberal sprinklings of Old Bay Seasoning (red pepper, spices, and other hot things). A can of beer is added, and they’re steamed until done. The table is spread thickly with newspaper, each feaster is provided with a wooden mallet and plenty of melted butter, and the feast begins. The traditional beverage is ice-cold beer. It would take another long essay to explain how to open and eat a crab. Your waitress—or your host or hostess—will be happy to demonstrate how to get every delicious morsel, and you’ll be enjoying your crabs like an old pro in no time.
Other Ways to Enjoy Crab: Crabmeat takes to just about anything. Sauce it richly for Crab Imperial or Crab Norfolk. Mound it in ramekins with a little cream and a few spices for deviled crab. Bind it lightly and gently with a little mayonnaise, some parsley, and a (very) few bread crumbs, sauté or broil it, and you have the delicious crab cake.
TASTE: The crab mustn’t have any "fishy" taste at all. It should taste sweet, mild and fresh.
ABSENCE OF SHELL: Well-picked crabmeat is vital. Bits of shell are nasty and unpleasant.
SIZE OF LUMPS: Good backfin or lump crabmeat conveys the best crab flavor, and mixing it with the seasonings and binders without breaking it up too much is a real test of culinary artistry.
SEASONING: Subtle, subtle, subtle. You want to taste that lovely crab. As far as Cajun blackened crabcakes, or other seasoning oddities – well, we won’t even go there, Hon.
ACCOMPANIMENTS: French fries, coleslaw, green salad, potato salad. Take your pick, but you probably won’t have room for much. Beer? Absolutely.
KINDLINESS OF WAIT STAFF: Kindliness sums it up better than efficiency, I believe. The people taking care of you should be ready to discuss whether the crab looks good that day or if maybe you should go with something else. They need to remember to bring you some red cocktail sauce (prepared on the premises, of course), to be sure you have a few saltines to go with your meal, and to keep your beer replenished—or your iced tea if you have to go back to work.
ATMOSPHERE: Not very important unless you’re visiting or trying to impress someone.
All of my crabcakes were broiled and served as "crabcake sandwiches," which basically means that you get saltines with the crabcake and probably only one vegetable. I awarded selective claws for restaurants where we didn't dine on crabcakes.
Visitors to Baltimore are fortunate to have not one, but four traditional markets in close proximity
to many of the important sites and attractions. Each market provides space for many vendors, and
most (if not all) of the market stalls deal in food or drink.
Maintained and sponsored by the city, the markets are many things to many people:
For locals, they're treasure-houses of locally-grown foods. If you're looking for the freshest
fish, the crunchiest new vegetables, or fresh bread right from the oven, head for a market.
Whether it's locally made Polish or Italian sausage or fine pates and cheeses, the market
vendors have covered it all.
For visitors, they provide a wonderful opportunity for that inexpensive breakfast, lunch, or
snack. Freshly ground gourmet coffees abound, and there are stalls specializing in any kind of
ethnic food you can imagine, from Chinese, Thai, and Vientamese to Italian to Polish to fresh,
simple foods prepared in Amish country.
Markets are located in several neighborhoods, all reasonably close to visitor attractions:
1. Broadway Market: Located at the foot of Broadway in Fell's Point. Many gourmet foods,
specialties, and fresh seafood.
2. Cross Street Market: Located in Federal Hill, Baltimore's first "Renaissance" neighborhood,
just a few blocks south of the Inner Harbor. Fresh fish and meats, ethnic foods, and
unexpectedly, an assortment of good wines, beers, and cigars. Light and Cross Streets, Federal Hill.
3. Lexington Market: This enormous market is the granddaddy. Shop for food and snacks or
souvenirs, or outfit your whole family for the winter. :) It's all at Lexington Market. Howard
and Lexington Streets, just a block or two north of the Inner Harbor.
4. Northeast Market: Located on Monument Street a few blocks west of the Johns Hopkins Hospital
campus. This is the most local of the markets and the one that caters least to tourists and
visitors. It's also somewhat off the beaten track.
While as a visitor you won't be able to take any of that lovely food home to prepare, try a
market to start out your day. Or better yet, shop in a market for a picnic lunch to enjoy at
your leisure as you tour the city.