Canton. Columbia. Woodberry. Mount Vernon. Fells Point. Butchers Hill. Hunt Valley. Locust Point, Remington, Towson and Hampden, too.
The list goes on and on.
Over the past quarter of a century, many wonderful neighborhoods and communities in the Baltimore metropolitan area have evolved into authentic dining destinations, with myriad independent eating establishments and homegrown “rock star” chefs. Just check out the Food Network and Travel Channel sometime.
But now, Charm City’s once-thriving culinary community has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve lost many of our favorite bistros and eateries, and the impact is far-reaching, from farmers to restaurant staff to delivery truck drivers and many others.
Approximately 40 percent of restaurants will likely close due to the pandemic, according to Brian Boston, chair of the Restaurant Association of Maryland’s political action committee, which works with politicians on hospitality industry concerns.
“Restaurants are still waiting for additional help via the Paycheck Protection Program, and with the weather getting colder and not being at full capacity, their positions are even more precarious because the bills keep on coming and their debt grows. They’re on life support,” says Boston, former chef and owner of the Milton Inn in Sparks, which closed in June after more than seven decades in business due to the pandemic.
The restaurants that remain operating or have recently opened have to deal not only with constantly changing government guidelines, but also must pivot and alter their business models. The norm now consists of curbside pickup, boxed meals, garden dining environments, pop-ups, bodegas and delivery services.
At the same time, many of the restaurants in and around town have been feeding neighbors in need, health care workers and first responders, as well as working closely with nonprofits on virtual fundraisers. The folks in the hospitality industry — including locally owned restaurants, catering companies, markets, etc. — tend to be the first ones to step up to help out in a crisis.
Restaurants are the heart and soul of our communities where we, at one time or another, celebrate life’s milestones and revel in the company of others. Although we’re living in terribly challenging times, we still can support our culinary neighbors.
The following are our picks for some of the best out there. Remember: #EatLocal #ShopLocal #SupportLocal.
Curbside, Carryout, Dine-Out, Dine-In, Creative Culinary Concepts in the COVID Era
3446 Chestnut Ave.
Nestled in a small rowhouse in Hampden, Harmony is a fantastic gluten-free, vegan bakery that uses fresh organic ingredients. (I’m addicted to the yellow cake with chocolate icing and the cinnamon sugar and chocolate-iced doughnuts. And they have the best gluten-free bagels!) They also offer savory treats including spinach and mushroom tarts with caramelized onions and cashew cheese, and mock crabcakes made with hearts of palm.
Harmony recently partnered with another local restaurant, Larder Baltimore, and now offers Larder’s popular tempeh burgers made with brown rice, lentils and quinoa. You can order at the new walk-up window or online for pickup, but make sure you place any larger orders in advance. They’ll have pies and other tasty treats for the holidays and, FYI, the bagels and chocolate cake freeze well so you can stock up for winter.
The Charmery specializes in handcrafted ice cream, including highly original, ever-changing flavor pairings.
The original shop is in Hampden and there are locations in Towson, Federal Hill and a fourth location opening soon in Columbia. They practice ice cream social distancing at all locations, and Federal Hill and Columbia have walk-up windows. They’ll have four specialty pies and pints for Thanksgiving, as well as unique Chanukah flavors. Their motto is “Happiness Through Ice Cream.” Nu, couldn’t we all use a li’l bowl of happiness these days?
Mikey & Mel’s Famous Deli
8191 Maple Lawn Blvd.
Located in Howard County’s Fulton community, Mikey & Mel’s, a traditional deli, was named in honor of the owner’s father and grandfather, who were deli “regulars.” Along with the old-style favorites (pastrami, whitefish salad, chopped liver), you’ll find some unique menu items, including “The Jewish Cheesesteak” with brisket, hot pepper cheese, fried onions, coleslaw and Russian dressing. Catering and curbside pickup is available.
Xenia Greek Kouzina
8850 Columbia 100 Parkway
Xenia is a well-appointed, modern Greek restaurant in Columbia that celebrates the flavors of the Mediterranean. Check out the grilled octopus, zucchini chips, lamb shank and fresh, whole grilled branzino, and pick up your order curbside.
Tark’s Grill and Bar
2360 W. Joppa Road
If you live in or near Greenspring Valley and haven’t been to Tark’s … um, where have you been? Located in Green Spring Station, Tark’s serves contemporary American cuisine and is a go-to neighborhood gathering spot with a beautiful dining room and bar, and the outdoor space is heated. Curbside pickup is available.
With two locations in Timonium and White Marsh, Michael’s menu features contemporary American cuisine, including steak and fresh seafood. And if you’re treife-inclined, their crabcakes are excellent.
Carryout and online ordering are available, and you can order crabcake platters or ship them as a gift.
The Grill at Harryman House
340 Main St.
Housed in an early American home in the heart of historic Reisterstown, Harryman House is a longtime fave destination among Baltimoreans. You can order online from the dinner, lunch and brunch menus, and a wine list of more than 100 options. They also offer curbside pickup, or you can enjoy their heated outdoor seating. Some of the top sellers include the honey ginger salmon and the custom blend burgers.
Magdalena: A Maryland Bistro
205 E. Biddle St.
The former fine dining restaurant Magdalena in The Ivy Hotel has reopened with a new concept and is now Magdalena: A Maryland Bistro. The homage to Old Line State cuisine offers a more flexible price point, with menu options ranging from goat cheese ravioli and the after-dinner “Charm City Cookie” cocktail with a side of gold-dusted Berger cookies. Although the restaurant is running at a limited capacity according to government guidelines, they have carryout and their courtyard will be heated during the colder months.
The Manor Tavern
15819 Old York Road
This charming Monkton spot offers a true farm-to-table experience by harvesting fruits, veggies and herbs from their extensive garden that influences their seasonal menu. Flavorful food choices include a step-above crabcakes, fried chicken, burrata salad and Creekstone Farms black angus burgers. They have a heated terrace and a pair of heated tents for safe, outdoor dining while offering curbside service. Country dining at its finest, and so worth the drive.
Pure Raw Juice
Pure Raw Juice opened a fifth location at Anthem House/A2 in Locust Point and is offering carryout and online ordering through its website. PRJ has limited indoor seating, and a large garage door entry allows customers to walk freely whether dining inside or outdoors. On the menu are plant-based and vegan foods to boost your immune system, smoothies, oatmeal bowls and cold-pressed “flu shots.”
The Classic Catering People
The folks at Classic have tailored their business to meet the needs of their clients while adapting to the demands and restrictions of the pandemic. They’ve gone from social bookings like weddings and corporate functions to a world of boxed lunches and dinners, virtual or house parties, family kits, tailgating and specialty menus for all occasions. Meals are available via curbside pickup or delivery, and menus can be customized. Plus, they have a pit beef stand in their parking lot in Owings Mills!
Maria’s Fleischmann’s Innovative Gourmet has expanded their on-the-go services, providing gourmet meals — without the work — right in your home or office. She’s created new menus to address the confines of the pandemic, including brunch, ultimate tailgating (taco potato skins!) and Girls Night In! They have holiday menus, cater micro weddings and bat/bar mitzvahs, and drive-by birthdays.
To Market, To Market!
Gundalow Gourmet at Whitehall Mill
3300 Clipper Mill Road
A converted historic mill along the Jones Falls in Hampden, Whitehall Mill showcases a cream-of-the-crop group of local makers and merchants. Recently opened is the woman-owned-and-operated Gundalow Gourmet, which offers personal chef services, boutique catering, an online market, boxed meals, grab ‘n go specialties (seasonal soups, shrimp salad) and frozen take ‘n bake meals (lasagna, enchiladas and lobster mac and cheese — oh my!). Stock up, you hear, because winter’s comin’!
Opening this month is 818 Market, which is on par with New York’s Eataly — only not Italian! Just like the format in NYC, you can eat, shop and learn about high-quality food and drink with 818’s one-stop shopping, learning and dining approach. There will be a grocery store with a cheese shop, fresh produce and flowers, a gourmet butcher, a deli with prepared foods, beer, wine, liquor and a cafe with a seriously seasoned and talented executive chef at the helm — Catonsville native Matt Milani, who previously owned the Rumor Mill Fusion Bar & Restaurant in Ellicott City.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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