Let me begin this segment by saying that, per Kim and I, Baltimore is one of the nicest cities in the United States. The people are friendly, the city is kept immaculately clean and there are tons of things to see and do there. In fact, we like to think of Baltimore as being a Yankee place with Southern charm. Over the course of the last two weeks, we’ve explored some very memorable places and met some really great people. It’s these places and the resulting encounters, regardless of how the places are rated in the internet “guides” that we’d like to share here.
So, let’s start with our favorite subject, restaurants. In the Little Italy district of Baltimore, sits a small, almost crowded (they have 5 indoor tables and seat 14 people), Deli/Pizzeria/Sandwich Shop called Isabella’s. Sitting on the N.E. corner of Stiles and S. High Streets, Isabella’s turns out hundreds of pizzas, sandwiches, calzones and other Italian delights daily, that are designed to please the pallet, not the waistline. Kim and I discovered the place when, as we were walking by, saw a line of working types and folks in office attire, extending for twenty feet or so outside the front door. Since this is usually a good sign, we took a place in line and were not disappointed with what we found inside.
Dan, the owner, and his staff of 5 or 6 people, crank out food at an unbelievable pace. But instead of tasting mass-produced, everything is like your Mom spent all day fixing it for you. After three visits to Isabella’s, Kim and I told Dan that we’d really miss the Italian sausage sandwiches when we left Baltimore. Without any hesitation, Dan volunteered to sell us some of his fresh, custom ground, Italian sausage at a price equal to that of the local Safeway Supermarket. That way, he said, you can enjoy Baltimore for a bit longer. So, we bought about three pounds of it and really did enjoy it to the very last bite. But, now we really miss it.
Then there’s the Blue Moon Café. Nestled in and old brownstone at 1621 Aliceanna Street Baltimore, The Blue Moon is famous for it’s breakfast, served daily from 7am to 3 pm weekdays and 11 to 3 on weekends (they also serve lunch stuff, but no one ever remembers what it is!) It’s signature dish; Captain Crunch French Toast, a stack of either two or three huge slices of French Toast, covered with seasonal fresh fruit, whipped cream, powdered sugar, a secret syrup and cracked Captain Crunch Cereal. (Watch out! You’ll gain ten pounds just reading about it.)
Now, no good thing comes easily, so, unless you go to the Blue Moon Café on a rainy day, be prepared for a wait. The reasons for the wait are: It’s killer food, somebody squealed and told everybody about it and they only seat about 25 people ins-de (Hey! That’s nine tables; four more than Isabella’s.) But, once inside, believe me, the service is quick, efficient and friendly and you’ll always remember that eating at the Blue Moon is well worth the wait.
Out east, (as they say here) in the 3800 block of Eastern Avenue, sits another gotta’ visit diner, The G & A Restaurant. Owner Andy Farantos is the third-generation owner of G&A and has been running the restaurant since 1988. Like his grandfather and his father before him, Andy can line up about a dozen hot dogs along his arm and dress them with chili, mustard, and diced raw onions, never spilling a drop. In short, all you need to say is "1 up" and you get the works.
While G&A is famous for its Coney Island hot dogs, (they’re delicious) and has served over four-and-a-half-million of them since 1927, it’s best kept secret is the G & A Coney Island Burger. It’s about a third of a pound mixture of beef, breadcrumbs, secret seasonings and broth, that’s cooked to perfection, covered with their special Coney Island chili and served on a fresh hamburger bun, with or without cheese. Man the taste buds go crazy over all of the flavors that evolve from this fantastic combination.
And then came the French Fries and Gravy. The last thing I ever considered eating were French Fries covered with a rich beef gravy. But, at the G & A Restaurant, I saw them on the menu and that’s exactly what I did. They were wickedly good. I even talked Kim into trying some, and the next thing I knew, they were all gone! (We’ve had some fries since then, but they just don’t taste as good without that darn gravy.)
As we paid our bill at G & A, we spoke with Andy for a minute or two, who invited us to sign his guest book. What a super nice guy! We found we have a common liking for boats, the ocean and good food and have a few favorite restaurants in common in the Carolinas. Next time we’re in Baltimore, though, The G & A Restaurant is at the top of our “go-to” list.
Then came our anniversary. Kim and I have been married for 32 years this year, so to celebrate, we went to our favorite, Italian Restaurant; Chiapparelli's.
We discovered Chiapparelli’s last year when we came in to Baltimore to have some work done on the boat. Kim and I walked into town from the marina and got turned around a bit. A local lady noticed us cussing and discussing the map and asked if she could help us find something. We told her we were looking for a good Italian restaurant, but wanted one frequented by the locals; not one that pandered to the tourist trade. Her recommendation? Chiapparelli's. (Who ever you are and wherever you are, Mamm, we still grateful that you stopped to help two strangers.)
Chiapparelli's sits on the N.E. corner of Fawn and High Streets, in Little Italy. Inside, it’s brick walls, carpeted floors and real cloth tablecloths and napkins. Chiapparelli's is clean, neat as a pin, and you can smell the Italian dishes cooking from a block away. If you go there during the day, you’ll probably be in the company of the local priest, beat cops, construction workers and shopkeepers. Go at night, and you’ll probably see the same people, only they went home, got cleaned up, brought along their significant others and you will hardly recognize them. But, day or night, they’re all here for the same thing; the best Italian food outside of Italy.
All of the Italian food is hand made, on site, daily. There’s Fresh Ravioli, Gnocchi, Manicotti, Tortellini, Fettuccini, Spaghetti, Pesto and so on and so on and so on. And with each entrée comes the famous house salad (about ten or twelve tons per serving) served with a hot loaf of bread and covered with Chiapparelli's House Italian Dressing; a dressing so good and so different, it defies description. Needless to say, we love Chiapparelli's
In closing, please know that we did eat at other places while in Baltimore; some more expensive and some cheaper. The places mentioned above, however, are the ones that stand out in our memory; places that we want to come back to next trip. So, next trip, we’ll see if we can’t find more local places to recommend if you’re ever in Baltimore Maryland.