Baltimore by: Suz Pisano
This month Nightwire made a weekend visit to Baltimore, Maryland. The drive from Pittsburgh- about 4 ½ hours is not a bad ride and with Steeler football season approaching, I know a lot of you really don’t want to hear about how great a trip Baltimore is, but call me Tracy Turnblad from one of my favorite musicals, I LOVE BALTIMORE! We’d like to share some highlights of our trip and show you a few things not to be missed about “Charm City”!
A few things you need to know before planning your trip include-
- Parking! Parking in Baltimore is at a premium. We found this out the hard way; most hotels only offer valet parking to the tune of $30 per night. This is particularly important when budgeting for your trip. There are numerous public garages within walking distance of most of the Inner Harbor hotels, rates seems to vary, but you can expect to add an additional $19 per night with no in/out privileges. We chose valet & you probably will too after a jam packed weekend or late night fun- valet is soooo convenient but costly. There is metered parking close to most attractions at which you can conveniently use a credit/debit card. No need to plan for change in the form of single bills or quarters.
- There are lots of museums in Baltimore! Everything from the National Museum of Dentistry to the American Visionary Art Museum, to the Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum to the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture. Sooo many to choose, so do your research and dive into the culture & arts. We absolutely adored the American Visionary Art Museum, read more about our visit in the following pages.
- Pirates! Only due to a hectic schedule and a lack of time did we miss the Urban Pirates- Baltimore’s only pirate ship “FEARLESS”. Located at the Inner Harbor, family fun & adventure cruises are offered as well as adult “bring your own grog” cruises. Check them out at www.urbanpirates.com
- Neighborhoods in Baltimore remind me of Pittsburgh neighborhoods. We wandered around “Little Italy” and strongly suggest for you do the same. Menus are posted outside so that you can find just what you’re appetite calls for, and restaurants are all within walking distance of each other. We found a Little Italy gem- Vaccaro’s Italian Pastry Shop. It’s a must. The cannoli’s are traditional and delicious and the éclairs astounding. We bought “cannoli chips” with a side of creamy ricotta filing for the ride home. It certainly made leaving our weekend behind much sweeter! Make sure you check out Fells Point and the newly developed shopping and restaurant district.
- Locals are called “Baltimoreans” not “Baltimorons”…..remember that no matter how much you dislike the Ravens you shouldn’t call the locals “Baltimorons”! A waitress at breakfast called herself a “Baltimoron” when we told her we were from the Burgh! Baltimoreans we met seem to have a good sense of humor. More on that later- read what Rocco said as we decided to dine at his establishment.
- The Inner Harbor IS Baltimore’s Station Square. You have to go there when you visit. There’s a lot to see so you’ll want to at least take a stroll. We felt very safe at night with clean, well lit areas and a bike police presence. There were street musicians, outdoor bars & restaurants, a gigantic Coast Guard ship and the beautiful Chesapeake Bay. There are plenty of restaurants in the Inner Harbor but don’t be shy to venture off the beaten path or try one of the restaurants that we visited during our weekend.
- Chessie Boats! These are the cutest, cutest, most ridiculous fun thing I have seen in a long time. Two person paddle boats shaped like “Chessie” the mythical creature said to live in the midst of the Chesepeake Bay. We saw them at night and desperately tried to get back there to rent one, but again time eluded us. It is my one regret and the very, first thing on my to-do list the next time I visit Baltimore. I imagine the photo ops and funny Facebook posts- definitely worth the $18 for a half hour rental. Google “inner harbor paddle boats” & read the trip advisor reviews. Definite family fun for a Friday night! Yep, that’s just how I’m plannin’ it.
- Baltimore has an awesome travel bureau! Baltimore.org has everything you need to start planning your trip. Their easy to navigate website offers not only comprehensive information but a Baltimore app for smart phones, LGBT options, deals & discounts, a complete Calendar of Events and lots of free things to do. Spend some time with it & you’ll be planning a trip in no time! Again- baltimore.org. Let them know that your friends fro Nightwire referred you.
American Visionary Art Museum
800 Key Highway, Baltimore, Maryland 21230
Tues through Sunday 10 am to 6 pm
“Visionary art as defined for the purposes of the American Visionary Art Museum refers to art produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training, whose works arise from an innate personal vision that revels foremost in the creative act itself.”
I have to be honest- the American Visionary Art Museum IS the reason I wanted to visit Baltimore. As a traveling artist for many years I’ve been told over & over again by fellow artists that the place is awesome. For me, awesome doesn’t even begin to describe the inspiration, reflectivity (there’s a mirror mosaic bus at the entrance!), creativity, triumph and vision that the museum emits. If you go- make sure to take your time and read the placards, which provide the artist’s story about the pieces. There’s a personal sense of triumph in each and every work of art in the museum, it would be a shame to miss all the nuances, humor and tragedy involved in the work. One of my favorite pieces was a “Sobriety Calendar” created out of wire, wood & nails with hand written dates and milestones. The piece was created by an anonymous artist that left it by the front door of the museum. Part tragedy, part triumph, and in this anonymity so much is shared. Many works of art are whimsical in nature and the Pez Collection is well, to die for. The museum gift shop- “Sideshow” is a fun little store featuring all kinds of craziness and fun. From unusual sunglasses to cool buttons, drawers & drawers of goodies and trinkets, to inexpensive jewelry, I’ve never seen a place quite like it! I bought so much fun stuff! There’s even a more serious book section for art book aficionados. Make sure you stop by before your departure, mention the specials section of their website and receive a free gift! Another great reason to visit the AVAM website!
Mr. Rain’s Funhouse
Located on the 3rd floor of the AAVM
Don’t let the name fool you- Mr. Rain’s is upscale noshing at its finest. We visited for a Saturday brunch and were delighted at first by the décor and then by the menu! House made everything and locally sourced organic meats & produce are right up our alley. I was immediately excited to try the Charcuterie Plate- Thüringen sausage, venison sausage, mortadella, bison pastrami & head cheese served with a touch of garlic aioli. It went well with our Mimosa’s made with fresh squeezed orange juice and I love homemade sausages. Being hungry for crab, I decided to tackle the Crab Benedict- lump crab served with an herbed coconut sauce atop an English muffin. There was enough lump crab to satisfy any crab craving! My husband, Timothy decided on the Lamb Burger, served with olive & mint mayo. This one was truly delicious and he ate every bite! The presentation was as beautiful as you would expect from a restaurant inside an art museum but we relished in our choices, took our time and loved the homemade pretzel bites. The qualities of the offerings are evident with the preparation, which is thoughtful and with good intent. The menu changes frequently but always includes amazing cocktails, wines, whiskeys and beers. You can order snacks for the table as you discuss your museum visit, have lunch, brunch or even dinner. Entrees on the day we visited included Duck Breast, Grouper and Sirloin. Desserts as well as Hors D’Oeuvres are also available and the elegant bar makes a great spot for cocktails. Outside balcony dining is also an option. If you go to the museum, make a point to schedule a visit to Mr. Rain’s Funhouse. We absolutely loved it there and definitely recommend it and we will go back! They probably won’t tell you, but I will tell you that they were voted the 2012 Wine & Beverage Program of the Year from the Restaurant Association of Maryland, as voted by readers of Baltimore Magazine. Reservations are suggested. Check out their website at: www.mrrainsfunhouse.com
1425 Aliceanna Street (Fells Point), Baltimore, Maryland 21231 410.534.7296
The Foreman Wolfe Group is a notorious Baltimore restaurant team with 6 very different establishments in & around the Charm City. We knew we were in for quite a treat upon our arrival. The large warehouse-like building is where award winning architect Patrick Sutton transformed a gigantic empty wide-open space into a hip urban multi-level dining experience. It was right where we wanted to be. There is nowhere I could think of in Pittsburgh that comes even close to the experience of PAZO. A live DJ provides an ambient vibe for cocktails, sharing some tapas or one enjoying of the main courses. The main dining room floor is easily converted to dance floor around 10 pm. but you’ll want to go there for the food as much as the experience. Both hot & cold tapas are offered as well as fine selections of Jamon- different types of Mediterranean hams. Cold tapas include Shrimp, Tuna Tartare, Marinated Zucchini Crostini & Ceviche. A sampling of hot tapas includes Crab Bunelos, Pork & Veal Empanadas, Lamb Chops, & Scallops. Share tables for parties of 6 or 10 offer a preset tasting menu- it totally takes the pressure off of group consensus. Pizzas also grace the menu for the less adventurous. With an extensive menu, a prix fixe menu helps to limit your choices but the well educated staff are very knowledgeable so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Dinner entrees are plentiful with seafood, chicken, lamb, steak and duck offerings. Wine parings are a specialty at PAZO with an extensive wine list, again- don’t hesitate to ask your server for assistance. For the past 7 years, Chef Mario Cano-Catalan has used only the finest locally procured ingredients in creating his menu, Chef Tony Foreman is a well-respected sommelier with a wine list to prove it. Chef Cindy Wolfe is recognized as a culinary force in Baltimore with many prestigious accolades, together this team has created quite a hot spot where beautiful people, beautiful food, beautiful atmosphere merge into a completely beautiful experience .
Miss Shirley’s Café
750 East Pratt Street, Baltimore, MD 21202
Located in the Inner Harbor, Miss Shirley’s Café has been featured by the Food Network and is consistently #1 among Baltimore Magazine’s Best of Baltimore – Favorite Food Truck, Good Deal, Best Breakfast, Children, Lunch & Visitors categories; you have to have a meal there! With 2 locations, a mouth watering menu, “spirited beverages” and a love of fresh ingredients you’ll discover why it’s a local favorite. Breakfast is worth the wait at Eddie and David Dopkin’s Miss Shirley’s, where it’s perfectly acceptable to order a cone of sweet-potato fries as an appetizer for breakfast. We did! The brothers named the restaurant after a friend & mentor they met while working together in the industry. (Read the history on the café website.) While the house specialties are creative and decadent—try the fried green tomato, apple wood-smoked bacon, avocado, white-cheddar-cheese, and egg on pumpernickel bread Southern Slammer or the Coconut Cream-Stuffed French Toast – we also love the make-your-own omelet with ingredients ranging from andouille sausage to avocado slices, and the buttermilk pancakes with a hint of vanilla and served with a dusting of powdered sugar are always cooked to perfection. Shirley’s Love Affair With Oscar- Two 2 oz. beef filets, topped with asparagus, fresh jumbo lump crab & hollandaise sauce, on fried green tomatoes & savory grits with bacon, dusted with Old Bay was highly recommended but I couldn’t resist the Chicken & Waffles- fried boneless breast of chicken pieces & a honey-mustard aioli drizzle on white cheddar-green onion waffles with peppadew-jalapeno butter- to die for! We just don’t get chicken & waffles in the Burgh. Timothy & I chose carefully a sweet and a savory for our breakfast. He chose wisely the Coconut Cream Stuffed French Toast- cream cheese, flaked coconut, bruleed bananas, dipped in an almond scented egg mix, garnished with diced strawberries & dusted with powdered sugar & cinnamon. This is a restaurant favorite and I think you get the drift on why people wait in line for the delicious, over the top cuisine. We had an early breakfast- 8:30 am, and quickly witnessed the restaurant fill-up. We also saw happy, friendly servers interacting well with patrons. Lauren, our waitress gave us directions & other restaurant suggestions, she really added a special touch to our experience. Friendliness is part of the reason they call it “Charm City” and we were certainly charmed by Miss Shirley’s. The café is only open Monday – Friday 7 am – 3 pm, Saturday, Sunday & Holidays 7:30 am – 3:30 pm. Unfortunately, they do not accept reservations. Proper attire required.
Check out the website for a virtul tour and a gander at the menu. www.missshirleys.com
30 Market Place, Baltimore, MD 21220
Out of the Box. That’s the name of the Diners, Drive-ins and Dives segment featuring Joe Squared. With its thin sourdough coal-fired squared pizza and 14 varieties of risotto, Joe Squared is known for being an “out of the box” restaurant and bar when it comes to mixing up distinctive food, drinks (a long rum list and eclectic beers) and entertainment. Named one of the best pizzas places in the nation by both Food Network Magazine and Food Nation, this family-owned gathering place provides a casual atmosphere where you can indulge in fresh and local food while listening to free live music. Open for lunch, dinner and late-night dining inside or on the large patio. After a later than expected arrival in Baltimore, we checked in, quickly showered & hit the street looking for a bite to eat after 9 pm. We walked the Inner Harbor, didn’t feel inspired by a lot of chain restaurants or pricey, touristy venues. We asked a police officer where would we find local fare & she directed us to an area called “Power Plant Live” a few blocks away. We found it easily but were faced with entering an entertainment complex at the end of a very long line where you had to bear ID to enter. Luckily, there’s a separate entrance for restaurants inside the complex, so no wait, no line for us! (It’s to the left-be sure to look for it if you’re not interested in the much younger clubbing scene that is all around the complex.) There’s even a live band playing on an outside stage and 8 different venues for dancing, comedy & other music. We landed on Joe Squared for a bite & were pleasantly surprised that a table was immediately available. Known for their pizza & risottos we couldn’t resist and ordered both! I let the waiter suggest his favorite- Prosciutto & Spinach with Asiago cheese & rosemary was one of 14 choices. I knew I did the right thing by letting someone else decide! The pizza was equally as delicious and the prices for such a hot spot were very reasonable. The extensive menu features everything from soups, starters, salads, sandwiches & subs along with the notorious pizzas & risotto. Something for everyone for sure. And we even met Joe!
Born and raised in Matera Italy, Chef Rocco Gargano’s talents came naturally. Being the son of a farmer Rocco began to recognize the freshest ingredients. Moving to the United States in 1962, he began to work with his father who owned both a luncheonette and a restaurant in New York City. He joined the military and served 2 years but decide not to continue, so he could pursue his passion of fine Italian cooking. He moved to Baltimore and successfully opened many pizzerias, but that still didn’t satisfy him. He wanted a fine dining restaurant so he could display his talents. In September of 1996, Rocco Gargano took over Capriccio, renaming it Rocco’s Capriccio. He instantly became a local favorite being televised on local TV stations and written up in several newspapers and magazines. He’s a genius in the kitchen and an entertainer in the dining room. Chef Rocco specializes in the finest cuts of veal, wild game and fresh fish from around the world. Sauces are his specialty and all his dishes are made to perfection.
As we wandered around Little Italy prior to heading back home to the Burgh, we took some time to read menus posted outside of at least 4 restaurants before deciding on Rocco’s Capriccio. Actually, as we were about to peruse the menu, a lady & her adult son were exiting Rocco’s and told us we should give it a try. They gave their meals rave reviews & being adventurous we decided this was the spot for some traditional Sunday spaghetti. The place was empty, as were the streets of Little Italy. We were late for lunch and early for dinner but were offered a lunch menu by the waiter and with that, we were instantly happy to be seated, cool and anxiously awaiting some pasta. A man, which we determined to be Rocco, appeared in the dining room. He greeted us, asked where we were from & when we told him we were from Pittsburgh & he told us he “never heard of it!” I believe that Italians are naturally drawn to other Italians so when he discovered Timothy as a fellow Italian, he called for the waiter to “bring that thing”, “get that thing”. “I’mma gonna show you what I’mma gonna cook for you today”, he declared. Out came a 3 foot, light green zucchini like I’ve never seen! He was so sincere that our orders for ravioli and spaghetti seemed suddenly unimportant. He said, “trust me, I’mma gonna cook like your grandma did back in Italy.” We had no idea what we would be served & we even laughed because the place was so authentic & charming, we just had faith that whatever he made us- it would be good.
After about 15 minutes of anticipation, the waiter emerged with 2 steaming plates of beautiful homemade rigatoni topped with a fresh and aromatic red sauce created from plum tomatoes “from the garden”, basil, garlic and even some shrimp thrown in. It was one of the most memorable pastas I have had and Timothy agreed. The rigatoni was rather large and crimped on one end where each one was individually cut from the machine. We both had the same bowl of pasta and the same reaction to the meal- very impressive with simplicity and passion. Sometimes the simplest ingredients are just what you need to remember to take time to enjoy your life, your loved ones and your travels. If you get to Little Italy, look up Rocco’s Capriccio and expect an experience you won’t soon forget!
Check out signature dishes and accolades at www.roccosinlittleitaly.com