Discovering Towson 3.0

The dine around town continues!

Shoofly Diner – 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 Café – 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.

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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Discovering Towson 2.0

Some more exploring in the foodie haunts of my new city.

Jake’s Deli – 401 Washington Avenue – You know how I feel about delis. Jake’s is a gem tucked into the center of Towson, walkable from the post office and several local businesses. After a morning errand, I saw the word “Deli” and immediately craved chicken salad – the standard by which I judge all delis. I was not disappointed! The sandwich was properly priced, huge and quickly made, and packed into a to-go container for me with chips and a pickle. It’s a bit hard to see from the street, but it’s located in the basement of the building it occupies.

Burger Brothers Towson

Burger Bros

Burger Bros – 14 Allegheny Avenue – I took my parents to this highly touted* local burger joint a month or two ago, thanks to a Groupon. I will say the prices are higher than average so the Groupon was useful. Dad and I had burgers and Mom opted for a salad. The turkey burger was just right, and the onion rings I ordered were out of this world. The indoor seating is limited, so you may want to take your burger for a walk.

Spice & Dice – 1220 East Joppa Road – Thai food was my only refuge in the small Midwestern town that I lived in prior to Baltimore, so it is quite close to my heart. Colleagues and friends order from Spice & Dice all the time and I finally got on board. Their lunch specials Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. include a free appetizer and dessert, and start at $7.95. Prepare yourself for HOT if you ask for a spicy dish – they are not messing around!

* Burger Bros was rated “Best of Baltimore” in 2008.

Off Season: OCMD in March

A long weekend in the off season at the beach means an empty boardwalk, quiet cafes and blank beaches. I’m not going to lie, it’s kind of like paradise!I had some great conversations with local shop owners and had that wonderful no-waiting experience that no one associates with the beach. For the record it was up to 70 degrees on Saturday. But it snowed this week, so …

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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 /
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 /
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 /
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 Barça 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 /
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!