During the past quarter of a century, I’ve been writing about restaurants and food trends in the Baltimore metropolitan area. But these days, when people ask me about the food scene in town, it takes a while to answer.

Baltimore cuisine today is more than simply Bergers cookies, coddies, pit beef and Old Bay-seasoned crabcakes. Look around you, we’ve caught up with the rest of the world, and the whole food scene has grown exponentially.

With the locally sourced food movement, an expanded focus on foodie-fun events and a flair for keeping up with current culinary trends, the food scene in Charm City has become the ultimate social activity. It’s never been better.

“The restaurant business in Baltimore has exploded,” says Dara Bunjon, a local food writer, reviewer, social media aficionado and cookbook author. “Eating out is a social life and it’s grown along with the popularity of social media. You can’t go into a restaurant without seeing guests taking photos of their food. Also, people are more food-conscious. They’re knowledgeable about organics, sustainability, GMOs [genetically modified organisms] and nutrition. Now, food TV has emerged as must-see TV, and chefs have become celebrities.”

Keeping on top of industry trends, here’s my 411 for food, flavor fads and fun in and around Baltimore.

NEW-ISH RESTAURANT BUZZ 

Baltimore’s flourishing restaurant scene offers fresh, new concepts and creative culinary offerings with numerous new eateries. I took an informal poll on social media, asking friends and associates what their favorite recently opened restaurants are and their top menu picks. (Please note that some menus are seasonal and menu options may vary.)

In Bloom Restaurant (Federal Hill)

In Bloom doesn’t offer one specific type of cuisine but rather a seasonal menu featuring grilled or pan fried meats, street food, French bread pizza, fresh pasta and fusion dishes to please any palate.

Top Pick: Beef short rib and bone marrow sauce

Cypriana (Roland Park)

This authentic Mediterranean bar and grill offers falafel, wood-fired flatbreads and housemade desserts.

Top Picks: Grilled octopus. Lamb rib chops

Tagliata (Harbor East)

An Italian chophouse, Tagliata features hand-cut steaks, hand-rolled pastas, housemade charcuterie and fresh seafood.

Top Picks: Classic meatballs with tomato sauce and whipped ricotta. Pan-roasted Ōra King Salmon

Ekiben (Fells Point)

Menu items change daily at this fast, casual dining spot that offers Asian comfort food including steamed buns, rice bowls and small plates.

Top Pick: Thai chicken meatballs, coconut black peppercorn sauce

Me Latte

The fresh, cafeteria-style spot focuses on certified kosher dishes for breakfast and lunch. There are two locations on Orleans Street and in the Owings Mills Jewish Community Center, and a new one on North Charles Street.

Top Pick: Roasted vegetable wrap

Bar Vasquez (Fells Point)

The rustic bar, lounge and restaurant showcases Argentine fare and an extensive whiskey menu and they have a certified bourbon master on staff.

Top Pick: Empanadas de Bife — Savory pastry filled with spiced beef

The Chasseur (Fells Point)

This relaxed neighborhood tavern serves up American fare, craft beers and a new rooftop patio featuring a crush and raw bar.

Top Picks: Buttermilk fried chicken. Tuna tartare taco

Uncle’s Hawaiian Grindz (Fallston)

Authentic grindz (delicious food) specializing in Polynesian, Hawaiian and Asian cooking techniques, courtesy of Oahu native chef Kaimana Chee.

Top Pick: Da Poke Boat. A staple of Hawaiian cuisine, poke is raw fish salad. Da Poke Boat is a sampler of four different options, including salmon and tofu.

Cosima, Mill No. 1 (Hampden/Woodberry)

Cosima highlights the fresh Mediterranean cuisine of Sicily in a historic mill setting with a patio and water views.

Top Picks: Grilled whole bronzino. Pollo Allo Spiedo — chicken roasted on the spit

The Dog Chef Café (Howard Street Corridor)

How about a personal chef for your dog? Trained chef Kevin Matthews creates custom meal plans and tasty treats that are human grade. And you can book a doggie date or “bark mitzvah” in their party room.

Top Picks: Moon pies, kale biscuits and sweet potato fries

FOOD PREFERENCES AND ALLERGIES

With nutrition and wellness taking center stage in the food and beverage industry, diners are embracing health-conscious food choices including plant-based, gluten-free (GF), vegetarian and vegan options.

In the past, those preferences made it difficult to dine out. Now, a lot of restaurants feature dietary specific menus.

Harmony Bakery (Hampden)

This dedicated GF, organic bakery and café serves fantastic sweets (you must try the chocolate cake) and baked goods (excellent GF bagels that freeze well). Owners Don and Renee Gorman and their daughter, Lisa, used to own Puffins in Pikesville and have been ahead of trends when it comes to serving healthy, tasty dishes.

Miss Shirley’s (Roland Park, Inner Harbor)

This eatery offers GF and vegetarian options, and their servers are knowledgeable about specific cooking instructions. Love the brunch!

One Dish Cuisine (Ellicott City)

ODC is an absolute paradise for those with food allergies. The restaurant is dedicated GF, vegan-friendly and peanut-free. ALL menu items are color-coded to match ingredients with food allergies. The GF pizza is excellent —  allergy-prone kids and adults alike will be in heaven.

Encantada (American Visionary Art Museum)

Encantada specializes in sustainable, GF, vegan and vegetarian dishes. Top sellers include the cauliflower steak, crispy Brussels sprouts and grilled swordfish.

Gunther & Co. (Canton)

This open, airy venue offers globally inspired/locally spun, modern American dishes featuring vegetarian and GF options.

FOOD FUN!

If you’re looking for serious fun, look no further. These restaurants offer cool, entertaining events paired with great food.

Sotto Sopra (Mount Vernon)

This cozy, elegant Charles Street eatery features farm-to-table contemporary Italian cuisine and showcases special Broadway and opera nights. The next Broadway night is scheduled for Nov. 12.

Points South Latin Kitchen (Fells Point)

Experience traditional South American dishes at this dedicated GF eatery, while enjoying drag brunch or drag bingo.

Germano’s Piattini (Little Italy)

Enjoy Italian small plates, beers and wine in tavern-style digs with dinner shows in an upstairs cabaret.

The Elk Room (Harbor East)

This 1920s-style speakeasy serves swanky cocktails and unique bar bites and showcases live music every night.

#TRENDING

Food Halls

This new-ish rage in dining out is actually a concept as old as the first street market in Bawlmer. Multiple eateries share a space and offer healthier options than their predecessors.

Diners enjoy the ability to choose from many different cuisines, and local chefs can showcase their fare without having to establish a brick-and-mortar space. R. House in Remington and Mount Vernon Marketplace offer myriad choices for your dining enjoyment.

(Check out RHouseBaltimore.com and MtVernonMarketplace.com)

Food Trucks

With more than 50 food trucks in Maryland offering everything from pit beef to crème brulee, it looks like the food truck craze is here to stay. Not only can you find them at businesses and on street corners, they’re available for catering as well.

This year, the inaugural “Food Truck Week,” modeled after “Restaurant Week,” will celebrate local chefs on wheels by offering specials throughout the Baltimore metropolitan area from Nov. 6-12. (BaltimoreFoodTruckWeek.com)

Catering Station Trends

Unique food stations will be in vogue in 2018. Maria Fleischmann, president/chief creative officer at Innovative Gourmet Catering, offers some of her fresh ideas for the coming year:

Brunch:  Build-your-own pancake bar with wheat or banana batter and various toppings like caramel sauce and peanut butter.

Truffle Bar: Truffle sliders, mac & cheese and sweet potato fries. Cakes: naked cakes (icing in between layers but not all over) and fake cakes made from alternative ingredients like crepes.

Baltimore-style stations: Adult (alcohol) snoball (Baltimore spelling) stations featuring mojito, dreamsicle and margarita flavors. Dessert bar with Bergers cookies, Goetze’s caramel creams and Old Bay potato chips. Tasting bars and craft cocktails. (InnovativeGourmet.com)

Spiralized Veggies

If you’re looking to shed pounds, spiralized zucchini, peppers, sweet potatoes, beets or carrots provide a healthier, low-calorie option in place of traditional noodles. You can buy them pre-cut at Wegmans or make them yourself (very easy) with a spiralizer (hand-held or tabletop) from Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Almond Flour Pasta

Low-carb, gluten-free and grain-free pasta from Cappello’s made from almond flour is available at Whole Foods and Mom’s Organic Market 

Cauliflower Pizza Crust

If you’re looking for a healthy alternative to carb-heavy pizza, try Trader Joe’s cauliflower pizza dough. (TraderJoes.com)

Kids Cooking Classes

These days, many kids have a more sophisticated palate and an interest in cooking. Classes are available for kids to learn culinary skills under the tutelage of local chefs. Pierpoint Restaurant in Fells Point and Madam Cours de Cuisine in Locust Point present regular class schedules.  

COOL GIFT IDEAS

If you’re looking for unique gift ideas for the holidays or a hostess or a birthday gift, check out these distinctive top picks:

STACKABLE WINE

Stackable wine is a bottle of wine separated into four ready-to-serve stem-less wine glasses. A great gift idea and perfect for tailgating. The Vine on Main in Sykesville features cabs, chards and pinot noir.  

BALTIMORE IN A BOX

There are some food items that are unique to our city. Baltimore in a Box allows you to select your favorite treats, and they package and ship your box for free — anywhere in the U.S.

Treats include Old Bay seasoning, Bergers cookies, Goetze’s caramel creams and Fisher’s popcorn. It’s the perfect gift for out-of-state Baltimoreans.  

GIVE THE GIFT OF FOOD

Who doesn’t love going out to brunch or dinner? Give the gift of food with a gift certificate to a great restaurant. FYI, many restaurants offer a free $25 certificate with the purchase of a $100 certificate. 

EAT GOOD, DO GOOD (Tuscany/Canterbury)

Spotlight on: Sam’s Canterbury Café.

Owners Michael and Jennifer Myers opened Sam’s as a place to meaningfully employ their son, Sam, who’s on the autism spectrum. It’s since grown into a treasured neighborhood gathering spot that serves fresh, quality food in a welcoming, friendly atmosphere.

Open for breakfast and lunch, Sam’s offers a great “Grab ‘n’ Go” menu, online ordering, fresh pastry and Zeke’s coffee. Plus, you can walk your four-pawed friends to Tripp’s Terrace (soon to be heated) named after the Myerses’ dog. Most importantly, Sam’s has created a culture of mutual respect and understanding while offering employment to adults on the autism spectrum working alongside the rest of their dedicated team.

Top photo: Harmony Bakery owners Don and Renee Gorman and their daughter, Lisa (Photo by Harry Bosk, PR & Photography)

Randi Rom is the president of RJ Rom & Associates, a marketing, branding, events and public relations firm specializing in the hospitality and entertainment industries. She is a freelance columnist and writer who represents some of the region’s top restaurants and food-related events. Contact her at randirom@comcast.net.

Read more fun features from our first annual food issue now!

Tasty Times in Charm City, by Randi Rom

Baltimore-Area Chefs Share Their Favorite Recipes, by Randi Rom

From Gefilte Fish to Guacamole, by Jill Yesko

The Deli as a Symbol of the American Jewish Experience, by Richard Gorelick

A Farm-to-Table Thanksgiving Feast, by Joshua Rosenstein

Don’t Forget the Sides!, by Huppit Bartov Miller

The Siren Song of Shakshuka, by Amanda Krotki

Also see:

Food, Glorious Food!, by Alan Feiler

Two Decades of Dinners, by Dana Hemelt

Baltimore Hunger Project Strives for Full Bellies, by Lynne B. Kahn

Choosing Sides, by The Classic Catering People

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