Thursday, February 28, 2008

Maryland Crab Cakes...

Just got back from Baltimore after a fun-filled 2 day excursion at John's Hopkins (more on that later). Only my second visit to Baltimore, the first didn't count as I was there in ?1996 or so at an BoSox/Oriole game. Interesting city, Baltimore. It has a small feel, not unlike San Francisco with tons of stuff...but tons of shady areas and tons of bums. Everywhere you went, it seemed like you were on the edge of "the hood", and you were. Weird place. With that said, as always, I wanted to at least get the most out of Baltimore, from a culinary standpoint, that one could get during a 2 day Hopkins evaluation.

The first night was a complete bust. Jennifer's step-brother lives about an hour outside of town and is nowhere near a foodie. He and his wife picked us up from the airport and took us to some seafood shack that had overpriced and over-greasy seafood. Felt like I was at a $25/plate version of Long John Silver's, except the food was not as good as Long John's...Luckily we were able to ditch the family for the final day and a half.

Day 2: Morning was comprised with some Starbuck's, a trip to a vascular surgeon at Hopkins and a CT angio for Jennifer...Fun! We got out of there around 2:30 hungry and ready for a break. After consulting some of the more affluent appearing locals, they suggested we check out an area of Baltimore on the Chesapeake called Fell's Point. By the time we arrived on foot, it was after 3PM and all the upscale appearing restaurants had closed their lunch we settled on a place called "Shuckers"...not a chain, but very well could have been. We order crab cakes and a seafood sampler and some beers. I didn't expect much, but these crab cakes were the best I have ever eaten. This includes ones eaten at Commander's Palace and Alex Patout's in NOLA. All lump meat, minimal binder, perfect sear...delicious! A nice surprise was the seafood sampler: steamed clams, mussels, shrimp, snow-crab legs (doesn't fit, but GOOOOD). Everything tasted wonderfully fresh and smelled only of the sea. After our lunch, Jen and I agreed that shrimp is the most over-rated food of the sea and it's a shame it's the only thing we can get in Augusta that doesn't taste like mullet...

What to do next? Jen had heard of an Italian bakery in Baltimore's Little Italy called Vaccaro's. There we ordered some latte's and what else, a sampler platter. Came with 2 canolis, 2 cream puffs, a pignoli, a sliced almond, and an amaretto cookie. This was a mistake...everything was delicious, but very filling and the sugar rush wiped me out for a few hours. You live and you learn. You can order this stuff on-line...the pignoli cookies are probably worth the purchase.

After the afternoon defilement, we hobbled over to Barnes & Noble to check out the dreaded "Zagat Guide" to "guide" us towards our dinner. After little debate, we knew we would have more seafood and the #1 rated place was again in Fell's Point, called "The Black Olive"

Advertised as a premiere Greek restaurant that is "proud to serve the freshest fish, filleted table side, from all over the world", the Black Olive was described in Gourmet magazine as "A rare dining something conceived of in heaven." We had no choice but to eat for ourselves. The restaurant was very quaint, but with tables far enough apart to not crowd. The building seemed ancient and the ambience was that of a wine-cellar (not a bad thing). The waiter was above average, and our service began with a "fish tour". After garnering our interest in seafood as opposed to the other Greek food on the menu, we were taken to the kitchen to see the fishes. The fish were laid across a long counter topped with ice...what a yummy selection indeed. All fish had been flown in that morning, with most coming directly from the Mediterranean. After some debate, we decided we would have a very large branzino (striped sea bass) and olive wrapped sardines...and off the menu, crabcakes, of course...The fish came very simply prepared- grilled, filleted tableside and served with lemon butter sauce on the side. The only accompaniment was grilled cauliflower buds (seems weird doesn't it). It was a wonderful meal and makes me want to move to the coast, any coast. Mercury levels be damned! I even loved the sardines- never had fresh ones, only canned nasty ass crap, now I know what all the hub-ub was about. The crabcake was good, all jumbo lump, no filler, some Greek olive oil aioli held it together, but wasn't as good as the one we had at "Shuckers..."

Day3: Another morning at Hopkins. Saw cardiologist, geneticist, and CT surgeon. Great news, not! They want Jen to have her aortic root replaced, soon...cripes. With this sort of news, we had only one thing to do before we got on the more crab cakes. Taking another hint from Zagat's, we went to Lexington Market to a mom and pop place called Faidley's. We order jumbo lump crab cake platter. The crab cakes were about softball sized and as were the others can order these as well for a nominal shipping fee...the crab isn't cheap either.

In summary, Baltimore is a neat city with some really good seafood. However, the place is shady, and for a "border" state, the folks are pretty damn rude. Furthermore, it was cold as balls...and that's what I like about the South.



og said...

JW that's a great summary of the places you went. It really sucks that it was a healthcare vacation, but nevertheless...
What's your opinion of the Zagat's guide overall? Is it hype or worth the money?
Why but why would anyone serve cauliflower with nice fish like that?

JW said...

In my opinion, Zagat has been spot on for higher end restaurants. If you don't have time to research where you are going, I think these are invaluable.
FYI- the cauliflower was actually delicious

og said...

For the record, cauliflower is nothing more than broccoli's retarded albino cousin.