I don’t call a lot of attention to it, but I live in two cities now. So when I’m asked about my favorite food, I can’t limit myself to Baltimore anymore, I need to throw in some New Orleans, too.
But Baltimore first. Bear in mind, this isn’t a definitive list, just a list of places I love. Burgers at the Abbey. The California Chicken Wrap at Metropolitan. The crepe/taco place on Charles Street, just north of Cross. Spoons coffee and their huevos verdes scrambled. Matsuri for sushi. Cinghiale, especially if we sit at the bar. Petit Louis. Charleston for celebrations. Iggie’s and Matthew’s for pizza. The Wine Market and Bluegrass, especially on nice evenings when one can eat outside. Faidley’s for crabcakes. The Helmand. The chicken and feta pita at my favorite felafel place, Cypriana.
Now I feel a little more tentative about writing about New Orleans food because it’s a town where people will scoff at one’s eating choices. (Maybe Baltimore is, too, but I’m secure in my Baltimore bona fides.) So I’ll list the places where I often end up taking visitors, of whom we seem to have many, many, many more than we ever do in Baltimore. (Hmmmmm.) I like: Coquette; Lillette; Baru; Bayona; the Upperline; the Taceaux Loceaux truck, which I follow on Twitter; Casamento’s; August; Elizabeth’s for brunch; La Petite Grocerie; Sake Cafe; Rum House (for the tacos a la carte and the mango-guacamole dip); Mosca’s; Pascal Manale; Crescent City Steaks. We have a soft spot for Venezia, an old-fashioned Italian restaurant in Mid-City, but we are the kind of household that needs an old-fashioned Italian restaurant. And I want to go back to a Mexican restaurant I tried on Carrollton, which seemed amazingly authentic to me.
There are some big gaps in my New Orleans eating. I’ve never been to Stella’s, for example, along with several other well-regarded restaurants. My po’boy research is far from definitive, although I have to say that no po’boy so far has made me as happy as an undressed fried oyster sandwich at Casamento’s. The best gumbo I’ve had was made in my kitchen by Davis Rogan, who is not Davis McAlary and his new CD, The Real Davis, breaks that all down for you. I need to follow up on some recommendations from John Currence, the New Orleans native taking a turn on Top Chef Masters. And, finally, I am very happy with my own red beans and rice, but I should credit the remarkable cookbook, Cooking Up a Storm, edited by Marcelle Bienvenu and Judy Walker, for helping me get it right. (Simplify, simplify, simplify.) When people say that the Internet will kill cookbooks, I think of books such as this one, which is equal parts recipes, culinary history and good old-fashioned storytelling. Even if you never cooked a thing, you could read it for the sheer pleasure of the stories.
I urge people to nominate their own favorites in the comments section here, for either of the cities above or their own hometowns. By the way, I just want to give a shout-out here to Alafair Burke for taking me to Otto’s in New York City when ramps were in season.