Discovering Towson 3.0

The dine around town continues!

Shoofly Dinerย – 510 East Belvedere Avenue, Belvedere Square – A delicious location with a newly touted rating as one of “100 Best Bars in the South” per Southern Living magazine. We traded the bar scene for the breakfast table and feasted on beignets, chicken & waffles and general awesomeness.

Nordstrom Cafรฉ – 700 Fairmount Avenue, Towson Town Center – If you’re tired of (or turned off by) food court cuisine, this cafe tucked into the Nordstrom store is fantastic. Arguably some of the best hummus I’ve ever had in my life, and even when the presentation is in a to go box, it’s still impressive.

Cunningham’s – 1 Olympic Place – One of the Bagby Group restaurants nestled into the very heart of Towson, just beyond the circle. Their happy hour specials are truly phenomenal: priced right ($2 – $6 appetizers), delicious (brown butter popcorn) and paired with wine, beer or a well-made cocktail (also $2 – $6). With a beautiful terrace outside and a stunning full restaurant indoors .. and complimentary valet parking in the garage .. this place is perfect. Happy hour is Monday – Friday from 5 to 7 p.m.

Although not in Towson proper, I really must give this restaurant it’s due after we had a spectacular Restaurant Week experience in February:
The Prime Rib – 1101 N. Calvert Street, Baltimore – ranked as one of the most romantic restaurants in town, the girls and I took the opportunity to dress to the nines and enjoy an evening out. I’m happy to say that my leopard print pumps matched the carpet! The decor is dark and moody and classy and several decades old, which only adds to your tux-clad waiters, live piano music and the absolutely tremendous steak served to your liking.

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Black Eyed Susan Day

Two years ago I attended the Kentucky Derby with my dear friend Holly. It was quite an experience .. hats, horses, drunks, mint juleps. When I moved to Baltimore a few months ago, I remembered that the Pimlico Race Course was the site of the second jewel in the Triple Crown – it’s here they run the Preakness Stakes. “Let’s go!” I said to my mom.

“Let it rain,” is what Mother Nature said in the days leading up to Preakness weekend. We planned to attend Black Eyed Susan Day, the Friday prior to the Preakness, meant to be a ladies day out. And let’s be real, the tickets are half the price. We purchased two seats in the Upper Grandstand, and I had the opportunity to scope out the course while volunteering at a wine festival in early Spring.

Turns out the rain DID go away (it was probably our singing and dancing) and by 12 noon we were pulling into a very muddy parking lot to go to the races. Early reports of attendance say that 37,000 people were at the track on BES Day, compared to the 120,000 that would roll in for Preakness the following day to see California Chrome take the second jewel in the Triple Crown.

The first bet we placed was a winner, a horse named Exchange Student ridden by a female jockey. Obviously, I was meant to win. She placed second and won me $13.20! No further wins followed but we had ourselves a lovely, if muddy, day.

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By the Bagel

Greg’s Bagels
519 E Belvedere Avenue (Towson)
Read the Yelp reviews

What I ate.ย  Colossus bagel with cream cheese & lox. How do you say no to a bagel by that name? It’s important to know that here the bagel is not about size (which many Yelpers have a fit about) – it’s about a colossal flavor. Rather than read the laundry list of ingredients, I ask Greg the owner exactly what is on the bagel. “The goal is to use very seed there is,” he tells me. I mention the cumin that sneaks up in the end after you’ve finished a bite and he commends me on my palate. Thank you sir, – toss me another!

On lox. This place is lox heaven. The list of types of lox is truly astounding and I’m not going to lie, I don’t know a damn thing about lox. After reading the reviews I turned to Google in an effort to understand the differences. Thanks to some intrepid foodies I learned a bit about the brining process and the way the salmon is cured .. then I got hungry and left. I asked for Norwegian lox because it’s at the top of the list. Kathy, Greg’s wife asked me if I’d ever had it before – clearly my ignorance was shining – and when I said I had not, she made a kind recommendation for the Scandinavian which was better that day. She was not wrong.

Customer service for days. This place is charming. Greg and his wife keep a running commentary at the counter (Greg more so than Kathy) and even if the line is five deep, you’re drawn into the display of bagels, the brightly lettered signs, including the neon green “Cash, Checks & Rolex Watches.” I acknowledge I’m a first timer and tell Greg, “Your reputation precedes you.” His response? He points to his wife and intones, “Those five years in prison, you know ..” As he greets his customers and and conducts his business in city-style speed he is saying, “Giving it away today, folks, giving it away.”

The price. They really are giving it away. A small chai latte, $1.75. Bagel with plain cream cheese and lox: $6.75. Don’t forget this place is cash only, but there’s an ATM across the street if you need it!

Attention to detail. I’m seated comfortably at a small table nestled up against the glass case, watching the parade of souls in the front door. I can hear the pack of high school students chattering behind the counter, and customers calling out “Hi Greg!” as they come through the door. The man in question runs by my table and stops to ask what I think of my bagel choice, bending down to take a look at my progress since I left the counter (I am delicately demolishing the thing). On the way back to the register he stops and talks to a young dad and his two little ones to confirm that their bagels are perfect. Dad has a mouth full and gives him a thumbs up in satisfied silence. I concur.

Accolades & competition. A runner up for Baltimore’s Best Bagel in 2013, the winner Towson Hot Bagels is also a gem although it has the chain atmosphere and three locations (and rather creepy homepage music).

Last words. A well-run small business with affordable breakfast, a great location and a cozy atmosphere makes Greg’s the perfect spot whether you’re dining in or flying out the door with a brown paper bag. Either way, you will leave planning ahead to the next time you’re coming back.

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No more pining for pizza

God I missed pizza. On the long list of things I had made in my mind about my return to the East Coast, it should come as no surprise that many food items were included. Pizza is high among these, after a spoiled childhood of glorious pies from local shops or jaunts into the city. And now? Enter Baltimore.

Gourmet. Artisan. Fancy. Call it what you want, but posh pizzas are no joke in Baltimore County. I am finding my way through the intense foodie scene in town and also picking up a few favorites… ok, a LOT of favorites.

Here are some of my recent experiences from super fancy (and accordingly priced) to consistent and affordable standards.

So Fancy

Birroteca / http://www.bmorebirroteca.com/
1520 Clipper Road (Hampden)
Had it at a housewarming party and was able to enjoy samples of at least two different kinds. Menu boasts local produce (“Locavore”) divine cheeses and sassy sauces (fresh mozzarella, fontina, bechamel) and a host of other delights.
My personal fave: Duck, Duck, Goose: Duck Confit, Fig & Onion Jam, Balsamic Fontina & Asiago, Duck Egg. Tremendous!
Also tried: Spicy sausage & fennel.
Side notes: Intense appetizer list and huge craft beer selection for in-house dining. Gluten free pies available.
Prices range from $14 margherita to $17 posh pizza.

Pizza Verde Baltimore

Pizza via Verde

Verde / http://www.verdepizza.com/
641 S. Montford Avenue (Canton)
* Voted Baltimore’s Best Pizza in 2013
Favored by colleagues and featured in Baltimore Restaurant Week this was on my to-do list. It’s settled into a sweet neighborhood corner and is very cozy both in and out. I tried it this past Sunday for BRW and it was a steal for $30 (entree sized salad, medium pizza, dessert).
I tried: Pistachio e Salsiccia, a BRW white pizza. Pistachio pesto, sausage, fresh basil and EVOO. Epic.
Dying to try: Brunch. Pizza. 2 favorite words!
Side notes: Great bar and specialty cocktails – I tried one with ginger beer that was perfectly refreshing while sitting in front of the brick oven. A gluten free friend notes that this is the thickest gluten free crust she’s ever had. Portion sizes are incredible.
Prices are higher here: $7 for standard marinara, $12 for white with arugula, $20 for some specialties (!)

Too Legit

Vito’s / http://www.vitosowingsmills.com/
Multiple locations in Towson, Owings Mills, Pikesville
There is something to be said about legitimate pizza. I grew up on the East Coast so I have a very specific idea of what “legitimate pizza” entails. The sauce, the crust, the size of a slice, the meat to cheese ratio, the grease .. we are opinionated and united in this, as ever. Don’t believe me? Watch Jon Stewart tear up Chicago style pizza like a true New Yorker:


(For the record, I do like Chicago deep-dish).
Facts: Vito’s has my kind of pizza. You can buy a slice of whatever your heart desires, and it’s larger than my face and / or a paper plate. The owner speaks Italian and his workers speak Spanish (we had Barรงa football to discuss the first time I was there). The crust can stand up to just about anything, including New York scrutiny (I tested it on a few friends).
I like: Chicken parmesan and fresh mozz & tomato
Side notes: The garlic knots will keep people away from you for 2 days. Hot & cold subs, pasta, calzones, stromboli .. all the real deal.
Prices are delightful, maybe $3-6 a slice depending on toppings.

Mario’s / http://www.mariosoriginal.com/
5849 York Road (Towson)
Although my mailbox had been peppered with advertisements for local pizza, including a strange mix of Indian + pizza in one place (?) – I found Mario’s via GrubHub. I’d never used it before coming to Baltimore and now I think it’s the best thing since .. well, pizza. You can order on your phone, read menus and reviews, access coupons and track your order.
I ordered: White pizza with broccoli. Apparently the GrubHub menu did not specify broccoli OR spinach as the restaurant intended, so a manager called and asked me what my preference was, which I thought was lovely.
Side notes: Some restaurants do have a delivery minimum, so you might get conned into buying more than you want (see, my earlier order from the sub par Chinese restaurant).
Prices are perfect with $8.99 for a medium cheese pie and up to $15.99 for specialty pies like the large Veggie Lover.

Also on my Baltimore pizza list:
* Joe Squared (a runner-up in 2013)

Thanks for satisfying my pizza craving, Baltimore!

Beautiful Belvedere Square

This past Saturday I wandered over to Belvedere Square. I’d received a mailer around Small Business Saturday in November and am just now getting around to exploring.

Can I just say that I’ve been missing out?

Belvedere Square is a sweet little conglomerate of stores, shops, restaurants and great people. When I first checked out their website it’s no surprise I was gunning for the food. What I didn’t expect was the wide variety of businesses peppered throughout the block. You’ve got a salon, a diner, a bagel joint, a bank (two?), a pizza parlor, a pub, a gym .. what is this, New Jersey?

Know the best part? With the exception of the Sprint store, every single storefront is independent (as far as I know). And the second best part? There’s parking! #smalljoys

The real draw for me was the indoor market, which I can only imagine must be stunning in good weather with it’s cute cafe tables and booming business. I knew the key players from the website, and had chatted with @AtwatersBakery who informed me that croissants were happening for the first time this weekend. Check! Atwater’s also sports a deli counter where you can get your lunch fix, and do some quality people watching.

Atwater’s is in good company with Planet Produce / Earth’s Essence – purveyor of fresh fruit & veg and fresh juices and smoothies. I almost passed out when I saw a Zumex machine tucked into the corner of the produce section .. these things are The Answer to real orange juice in Spain, and I’d never seen one in the U.S. This alone will encourage me to go back again and again and again.

I also dipped into Grand Cru for a bottle of red wine, stopped at Neopol Savory Smokery for a pound of andouille sausage and some Italian pasta from Ceriello Fine Foods. Let’s not forget the muffaletta sandwich for lunch, the apple/carrot/ginger juice and a $9 matinee at the nearby Senator Theatre which dates back to 1939.

So much more to sample when I return. Shoofly Diner – just named one of the “Best New Bars in the South” by Southern Living. Yeah, I don’t believe this is the South either .. Mason Dixon line be damned. There’s also Sofi’s Crepes which recently catered an event for our office (duh, crepes are international). Greg’s Bagels was high on my list but I had zero cash at the time and the line was a mile long. Ryan’s Daughter is where I parked my car (4 hour limit for B Square shoppers) but I do have plans to return for a pint. All that said, I am quite ok with this to-do list!

Good day? Great day. Thanks, Belvedere Square .. see you soon.