Tuesday, October 14, 2008
A Happy Glutton in Charm City
Far be it from me to give the impression that all I did in Baltimore was eat and drink. I also slept and walked and, when time allowed, attended some of the excellent panels at Bouchercon. But far and away my favorite place was Lexington Market, a two-block long warren of vendors selling all manner of food and, well, they may have been selling other things but I was concentrating mainly on food.
The market has been around since 1782 -- it's the self-proclaimed "longest continuously operating market in the world" -- and when no less a food authority than Ralph Waldo Emerson visited back in the 19th century he called it the "culinary center of the universe." Actually, I have no idea whether the famed transcendental poet knew anything about food, but my eating experience at the market was, let's say, transcendental.
I found my way to a joint called Faidley's which, judging by the lines, is the place one must go to sample seafood in B-more. First I polished off a plate of fat, meaty Chesapeake oysters. I'm a big fan of our Appalachicola oysters here in Florida, but these cold-water bivalves might tempt me to switch allegiance. I meant to sample one and then take a photo of the rest, but as you can see, my stomach got the better of me. The oysters were followed by a plate of cherrystone clams, so briny and flavorful that to drizzle sauce upon them would have been sinful. Sadly, I was in such a swoon by the time that I finished the clams that I have no photographic proof they ever existed.
Then came the crab cake. The folks at Faidley's are such crab cake purists that they give you three different choices -- cakes made from lump meat, back meat or the claw. I chose lump ($12.95 for a crab cake the size of a softball.) Let me put it this way: I've always been pretty darn proud of the crab cakes I make at home. But this Faidley crab cake shamed me in such a way that I don't know I can ever make crab cakes again.
If my hotel room had come with a full kitchen, I might have considered buying a bunch of soft-shell crabs to saute for dinner. (As you can tell by the photo, the vendors at Lexington Market are very protective of their soft-shells.) But that would have been overkill. Before the trip was over, I ventured to Little Italy for dinner at Sabatino's (killer eggplant parm and homemade gnocchi), then touched down at Bertha's in Fell's Point for a meal that included oyster stew and tons o' steamed mussels dipped in a variety of sauces like anchovy-tomato and garlic-basil. Bertha's also served three selections of the local brews from Oliver -- Oliver Pale Ale, Oliver Manchester Cream Ale and Oliver Pagan Porter. It would have been rude of me not to try them all. But the most revelatory item from the menu at Bertha's, amid all that seafood, was a plateful of saged chicken livers. Served alongside the mussels and, yes, more crab cakes, they were a most savory delight.
And now, if you'll kindly excuse me, I have to step away for a bit. I'm still walking off the trip to Baltimore...