When people I don’t know find out that I write about food in Baltimore, depending on the person, I can get one of a few questions. If the question is who makes my favorite crab cake, they might be disappointed to hear my answer. “I don’t really love them enough to order in restaurants but if I have to choose, I’d say my mom’s or Faidley’s.” Second question is usually asking about my favorite NEW place in the city. People get so amped for new places, they go in the first week or two (spoiler: it’s not good yet…) and I understand it. You’re curious, new places can be really exciting! But please don’t forget the places you’ve always loved. Third question — and the one I love — what are some of your most favorite places and what do you like to order? I want to tell you about three places that come to mind a lot when I think…do I really want to cook tonight?
When I asked a friend why they had not been to Dylan’s, they said “I don’t eat oysters.” Me: “Well, how about burgers or salads or fish? Or some of the best cocktails in the city, an affordable, approachable wine list, wide selection of beers, including pony-sized Miller High Life? And the best people behind the bar. You can go to Dylan’s and sit by yourself and have a little alone time OR chat with the folks around you and the wonderful bar staff. Get yourself a coddie (classic Baltimore cod fish cake served with saltines and mustard) or the fried fish nuggets to start. I love the cheeseburger, soups, their rotating “bowl of beans” selection and the absolute best kale salad you will ever have. It is dressed lightly in a tangy honey-miso dressing with thinly sliced apples, peanuts and sesame seeds. It is spectacular. Thank you, Chef Karl! And if you’re into raw oysters, hang by the shuckers and they will tell you what they are loving lately or what came in that day — they are the best and I love watching them work. I usually start with a cocktail and roll into a draft beer (love the beer glasses!) or a glass of dry rose. Dylan’s is what I’d call a “new classic” in Baltimore — feels like it’s always been here.
I harp on this a lot: consistency. Places as consistently enjoyable (dare I say perfect) as “Louie” are extremely hard to find. From the greeting as you walk in, the ease of service (my favorite = warm yet professional) to the classic French food, it is simply superior. Other things I love about Louie: the best martini in Baltimore, sitting by the fire in the winter, maître d’ Patrick del Valle, free and easy parking, five minutes from my house…and the list goes on. The Civilized Lunch is something I think everyone should do at least once. I know it can be hard to get away for lunch but this is so special. Each week a specific three-course meal is offered for $29, plus selected bottles of wine are half price to go along with the menu. Highly recommend texting a friend “Louie, lunch? Let’s go.” Petit Louis is on my “Please Never Ever Close” list and I want to go every week. Get the roast chicken for two and they will send you home with the carcass for you to make the chicken stock of all chicken stocks. My favorites: the simple green salad, escargot, scallops, frites, soups and always love a nightly special. The service is my favorite part of Louie, the people make it. And, Chef Chris Scanga’s food is exceptional.
Elan Kotz opened Orto in hopes of creating an easy, comfortable neighborhood restaurant. It’s the kind of place I love: not too big, not too fancy, tight menu and a clear vision of what they are all about. So many places serve the same kind of food as everyone else and it can be hard to figure out their vision. Not here. Caesar salad to rotating pastas, chicken liver mousse, the ribeye…it’s all comforting but not really heavy. In order to afford to go out a lot, I will often get a cocktail and one dish. This way, I get a little social interaction, am not overly full (possibly my least favorite thing) and I don’t spend too much. Orto is perfect for this. Their small bar seats about 8 people and you can watch the restaurant hum along. The bar staff is wonderful and they often remember what I like to order. (I may have been here a few times.) Chef Stefano Porcile makes some of my favorite food — it’s simple, yet satisfying — and I often find myself thinking about it for a while after. Orto is great on a weeknight catching up with a friend or on a Saturday night with a group of friends ordering the entire menu. Love.