When you think about your favorite American town, does Baltimore come to mind? If you haven’t noticed I’m kind of sweet on Baltimore. I would submit Wit and Wisdom as a memorable meal, and stay tuned for a special write-up of my favorite restaurant in the U.S., perfect for when you have a bit more time, but right now let’s plan our 24 hours in Baltimore. I have selected a hearty blend of food and poetry to make you also smitten with a city usually recorded for its football wins, crab cakes or crime.
Lebanese Taverna continues to give me a proper education in the art of Lebanese cuisine. Years ago when I visited the restaurant for the first time at a happy hour meet and greet, I discovered one of my food fixations: labneh. This is a restaurant where you hopefully have brought a few friends so you can order more dishes to sample. Their warm puffy just baked pita bread reminds me of the type of pita bread served on Mykonos in Greece rather than the sad plastic-wrapped version sold in mass market grocery stores. Their pita is perfect to pair with hommus from their extensive hommus section of the menu. As a hummus fan, their hommus is seasoned in all the right ways and if you order the spicy version, it comes with a pool of harissa in the middle. The Arnabeet salad, a roasted cauliflower, chickpea, yogurt and parsley salad really delights. If you’re craving something more traditional go for the refreshing Fatoosh salad of greens, tomatoes, mint leaves and crispy pita.Their Fatteh of eggplant served atop garlicky yogurt, chickpeas and fried pita chips also comes with jeweled pomegranate arils for a sweet, tangy burst, pine nuts and mint leaves. Expect long waits on the weekend and evenings.
CHASING EDGAR ALLAN POE
Baltimore might be the one town in the United States to not only appreciate their resident poetic history but keep that history alive. As a test, I asked two strangers to cite for me where the Baltimore Ravens football team discovered its name. Without skipping a breath, they responded Edgar Allan Poe. I resolved to visit his gravesite even though some argue that his body should be moved to Philadelphia. The “Poe Toaster,” an anonymous Poe fan leaves a bottle of Cognac and three roses at his gravesite would definitely disagree. If you decide to make the trek out to Westminster Burial Ground, stay aware of your surroundings as it’s in a rough neighborhood.
Instead, perhaps head over to the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum and make pit stops at other Poe places. To add onto the Poe places to visit, there have been other offshoots celebrating city ties with the poet. Restaurants like the Annabel Lee Tavern that serves a dessert called Edgar Allan Pate as well as the Annabel Lee cocktail of Stoli, peach nectar, and fresh lime topped with Poema Cava or sip on a pint of The Raven lager… If you appreciate poetry trinkets, pick up a Poe bobblehead.
THE BLACK OLIVE
Many years ago, several friends and I stumbled upon The Black Olive, nestled over on South Bond Street adjacent to Shakespeare Street and it left an indelible mark. It might have been the fresh fish on ice that you can select and order with your server when they lead you to review the display like the Bronzini shipped from Greece and then fileted tableside, served with a simple sauce of lemon juice, olive oil and oregano and a side dish of griddled polenta olive oil and feta cakes. I could also point to the refreshingly green take on hummus that incorporates parsley or the enticing Melitzanasalata roasted eggplant dip. But really, what keeps The Black Olive on my Baltimore short list is their Village Pie which inspired my homemade version as well as their Baklava Ice Cream with bits of baklava mixed into the ice cream for textural intrigue.
THE HORSE YOU CAME IN ON
As it so happens, after eating dinner at the Black Olive in Fell’s Point, you are only steps away from America’s oldest saloon, The Horse You Came In On Saloon, known by locals as The Horse. Established in 1775, the rugged interior takes you back in time, but what makes patrons come back for more is the fun atmosphere, flowing booze and live music from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. Over the bar, a sign reads, “Dry your eyes and soldier on.” Good advice. What took me to The Horse was the tiny tidbit that this saloon was the final destination of Edgar Allan Poe before he was found dead. The Horse’s colorful history adds to its charm plus it’s on an interesting cobblestone street with quaint shops lining that stay open late.