Tantalizing and tasty times in Charm City

Everybody likes to eat out, right?

And in today’s culinary climate, everyone is a foodie. Restaurants are constantly scrutinized, reviewed and dissected by every average Joe out there, while dishes are routinely photographed and posted ad nauseam on social media.

In recent years, Charm City’s culinary landscape has changed dramatically, becoming more sophisticated, eclectic, urbane and plentiful. The rise and proliferation of the “foodie culture” has hit Bawlmer with a vengeance, hon. Food no longer is a means of merely feeding yourself; it’s become a lifestyle, art and cultural pastime.

In today’s busy, high-caffeinated world, eating out offers a time to catch up with family and friends while focusing on the experience itself, rather than spending precious hours in the kitchen sweating over and concocting (and later cleaning up after) a time-consuming meal.

In the process, expectations of what we want from eateries and bistros have changed. People have developed more discernible palates and want to experience diverse types of food. They also have specific criteria for dining out. Whether it’s a food preference (gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, etc.), dining alfresco or just getting a nosh with a furry friend, eating out is a great equalizer.

Besides the plethora of food-related TV shows, social media — Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Yelp and the like — have helped revolutionize the dining experience and created a new breed of diner: the savvy foodie and the food influencer. All you have to do is search for your dining preferences on the social media site of your choice and you’ll have the answer to that oft-asked question — nu, where should we go to eat?

For this second annual “Food Lover’s Issue,” this reporter took an informal poll via social media and fielded research from some of the area’s leading food influencers, epicureans, noshers, gourmands and connoisseurs. Here are the top picks for restaurants uptown, downtown and all around town. (Please note that some menu items are seasonal and options may vary.)

The Food Market

The Food Market (Courtesy of The Food Market © Sean Scheidt)

UPTOWN 

New! Stanford Kitchen (Owings Mills) — Enjoy made-from-scratch, American comfort food in a casual setting.

Top Picks: House-made rotisserie chicken with mashed potatoes and Key lime pie

Cunningham’s (Towson) — This refined bar and grill serves wood-fired meats, seafood, pasta and flatbread pizza with ingredients that are locally sourced from Cunningham Farms.

Top Picks: Chef Jay Rohlfing’s whole fish and beef tenderloin with duck fat fingerling potatoes

New! Bravo Restaurant (Pikesville) — Enjoy locally sourced, scratch-made, Eastern European plates.

Top Picks: Stuffed potatoes and chicken croquette

Birrotecca (Hampden) — This hot spot features rustic Italian cuisine.

Top Picks: Margherita pizza with meatballs and bruschetta with Burrata cheese and melted tomato

Dylan’s Oyster Cellar (Hampden) — A rustic restaurant and bar

Top Picks: Coddies and soft-shelled crabs (seasonal)

New! Union Collective (Medfield) — Union Collective offers a number of creative businesses set under one roof and is anchored by Union Craft Brewing Co. It also includes The Charmery, Well Crafted Kitchen, Huckle’s Hot Sauce, Baltimore Spirits Co. and Vent Coffee.

Top Picks: Anything from The Charmery

The Gourmet Girls (and a Guy!) — With more than 20 years in the food industry, owner Jerry Schlichting purchased the popular cafe and catering company from his mother, Barbara Collurafici, and her business partner, so now it’s the Gourmet Girls … and a guy! Offering sandwiches, homemade soups, shiva trays and convalescence meals. Look for new menu choices including gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian options

Top Picks: Brisket, shrimp salad and homemade chicken matzoh ball soup, crispy French toast.

New! Gypsy Queen CafeTruckstaurant (Hampden) — Brought to you by the owners of Gypsy Queen Food Truck, the menu is eclectic, original and very cool. They call it B’more-inspired fusion cuisine.

Top Picks: The Original Crab Cone — Crabcake atop a cone of hand-cut fries and the bacon, brown butter burger

The Food Market (Hampden) — This open kitchen concept serves creative American dishes.

Top Picks: Spaghetti with crab meatballs. Note: It’s not always on the menu, so when they have it, grab it! Pit beef empanada with smoked mozzarella

Ambassador Dining Room (Tuscany-Canterbury) — This popular, not-quite-downtown restaurant serves fine Indian cuisine.

Top Picks: Chicken tikka masala and cinnamon-y rice pudding

New! Little Bird Coffee Bar (Hampden) — The Italian-influenced café serves breakfast, European-inspired sandwiches, and cocktails.

Top Picks: Eggs with tomatoes and prosciutto and salted vanilla soft serve ice cream

Duck Duck Goose

A dish at Duck Duck Goose (Handout photo)

DOWNTOWN 

New! Atelier Culinaire (Little Italy) — Part of Stratford University’s culinary program, this spot provides students with hands-on experience.

Top Picks: Wild caught salmon and eggs and wasabi and ginger-crusted salmon

New! Duck Duck Goose (Fells Point) — The French brasserie offers small plates in a casually elegant atmosphere.

Top Picks: Bone marrow, smoked scallop ceviche and the Banana Jameson drink

Water For Chocolate (Upper Fells Point) — Clever menu choices abound at this East Lombard Street establishment.

Top Picks: Sweet potato polenta, sweet potato bread pudding and barbecue shrimp and grits

New! Chez Hugo (Historic Merchants Club building) — The casual bistro offers classic dishes from the French countryside with a contemporary twist.

Top Picks: Paris-Brest hazelnut pastry cream, almond and butter poached halibut

New! Blair’s on Hudson (Canton) — Chef Ted Stelzenmuller, formerly of Jack’s Bistro, serves up excellent everyday food at this eatery.

Top Picks: The Guinness Filet Mignon and the Hotter Than Hell Burger

Minnow (South Baltimore) — Enjoy regional seafood and a rotating menu.

Top Picks: Wahoo with oyster mushrooms and charred squash and malted chocolate pot du creme

New! La Calle aka The Street (near City Hall) — The popular spot offers modern, elevated Mexican street fare.

Top Picks: Shrimp tostada and fish tacos

Encantada (Inside the American Visionary Art Museum) — This unique spot has something for everyone including vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options.

Top Picks: Nashville cauliflower steak, Korean shrimp pancakes and The Cheshire Cat (gin, cucumber-lemongrass simple syrup, mint, lime fizzy water, magic velvet blue ice)

Cured 1821

Roasted bone marrow at Cured 1821 (Handout photo)

All AROUND TOWN

New! CURED and 18th & 21st (Columbia) — Two different concepts under one roof, CURED has a casual vibe while 18th & 21st is a supper club with elevated dining and live music.

Top Picks: Charcuterie (CURED) and roasted bone marrow (18th & 21st)

New! David’s (Maryland Live! Casino) — This spot offers eclectic menu options with global flavors 24-7.

Top Picks: Hong Kong-style French toast and pastrami spiced rib-eye

Newly Reopened! Georgia Grace Café (Ellicott City) — This upscale quick-service café offers a European-inspired menu with Greek influences.

Paws for Concern 

If you’re a crazy dog person like me and you’re looking to grab a bite with your pup, here are my top picks for fur-baby-friendly eateries:

The Boathouse Canton — The outside Dock Bar menu includes taco and raw bars and the patio is enclosed.

Top Picks: Crabby tots (tots meet crab dip), design your own salad

The Point in Fells (Fells Point) — Serving regional American fare AND — they have a puppy menu! LOVE!

Top Picks: Seafood club and lobster mac and cheese

COOL GIFT IDEA ALERT

Food52 Genius Desserts Cookbook

Have you heard about Food52? It’s an online kitchen and home community where you can get great recipes AND they have a hotline if you have baking questions! Food52 has released its second cookbook, “Genius Desserts: 100 Recipes That Will Change the Way You Bake.” This baking bible features recipes for the most talked-about desserts, from more than 100 celebrated chefs and experts. Sections include magic potions, fruits dressed, bread into dessert and make aheads.

Author’s Note: Thank you to the local influencers for sharing their top picks. Here’s a list of these talented people. Follow them and #getsocial: 

@charmcityfoodadventures @minxeats @downtowndiane @dinewellbmore @foodtravelart @brianmichaellawrence @daracooks @foodnomad @liketheteaeats @arlisappetite @kitpollard @tastebudswmar

Randi Rom is president of RJ Rom & Associates. 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. 

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