To get a sense of The Greene Turtle's commitment to the neighborhood, one need only sit at the bar and look up. Dozens of mugs hang above the counter, emblazoned with the pub's logo and a unique number—each one belongs to a recurring patron. The Mug Club awards its members with draft-beer discounts and other specials, but more importantly, it allows loyal patrons to feel as though they own small slices of the venue without tattooing their names on the bartender's arm. This sense of shared familiarity is what fuels the entire franchise, which refrains from calling its locations "restaurants" in favor of friendlier terms: gathering places, communities, havens.
Many of the locations contribute more than mugs to their districts. Staff members who participate in the annual Tips for Tots program donate the entirety of one day's tips to a nearby Toys for Tots initiative, and Tuesday Funds for Friends events benefit local organizations. These efforts have been chronicled by press sources such as Food and Drink magazine, with features that liken The Greene Turtles' philanthropic generosity to the generous portions of comfort food that leave the kitchens.
From cheeseburger sliders and flatbread pizzas to handmade lump-crab cakes, the offerings on the menu embrace barroom traditions along with ingenuity. The steak and chicken entrees arrive with classic sides of green beans and yukon gold mashed potatoes, whereas the eastern shore mac ‘n’ cheese updates a comfort staple with chopped bacon, lump crab, scallions, and Old Bay seasoning. Diners can enjoy their meals by the glow of private flat-screen TVs—there's one in every booth—or beneath one of many larger televisions broadcasting sports games throughout the venue.
Brunch Café | New American Dinner | Trendy Cocktail Bar | Dog-Friendly Patio
Where to Sit: Since City Cafe is split into three sections, where you sit depends on your dining motives. Select from the café section (for morning coffee), the elegant cocktail lounge (for late-night and happy-hour drinks), or the cozy, split-level dining room (for more leisurely meals).
When to Go: Swing by for dinner on Tuesday, when every bottle of wine is discounted by $10 and select entrees only cost $15.
Inside Tip: When the weather's nice, ask your pooch to accompany you for brunch on the dog-friendly patio.
While You're in the Neighborhood
Before: Sip a coffee while scoping out the tiny, but intriguing collection of books at Read Street Books (229 West Read Street).
After: Get your daily dose of culture at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (1212 Cathedral Street) or the Lyric Opera House (140 West Mt. Royal Avenue), both just blocks from City Cafe.
In order to replicate Low country-inspired cuisine, a chef should first stock up on fresh locally-sourced ingredients. The Low country, a geographical area along the coastal plain of South Carolina, stretching from Charleston to Savannah, Georgia, is known for its comforting and alluring tastes. Luckily for Neal Langermann, he's good pals with Hoppin' John, a supplier of heirloom grits from the Georgia mountains who only distributes his naturally pollinated, stone-ground kernels to chefs whom he trusts to do them justice. Neal has yet to disappoint his friend, preparing Hoppin’ John’s grits with a velvety clam broth, andouille sausage, and shrimp for a signature dish that won Baltimore magazine's award for Best Shrimp and Grits in 2012.
Langermann’s Charleston shrimp 'n' grits is one of the many reinvented Low Country classics on the restaurant’s menu. Basking in the sunlit dining room or perched at the upstairs loft bar, diners can savor fried green tomatoes, carolina gumbo, and bog country roasted chicken in a spicy Cajun sauce, before ending meals on a sweet note with a slice of housemade sweet-potato pie and a hug from the resident teddy bear. Langermann’s Low country-inspired fixings "surpass their humble origins," according to Baltimore magazine's 2011 list of its Best Restaurants. The article also notes the restaurant staff’s charming Southern hospitality, assuring visitors will “feel nurtured and at home" when presented with a helping of honey-glazed cornbread.
Mr. Rain's Fun House appears to have witnessed a stampede of exotic animals. On the curved surface of one wall, a flamboyantly colored sculpture of a walrus head stares from between two equally glitzy cows. There are no flowers on the tables—instead, peacock feathers wind upward from curlicued metal bases. Then there's the menu, which offers wild boar and pheasant sausage alongside housemade sauerkraut. From the rohan duck breast to the ruby-red trout, the entrees seek to capture the eye as much as the decor does, a fitting goal for a restaurant located on the third floor of the American Visionary Art Museum.
Bill Buszinski doesn't consider his methods entirely avant-garde, however. The self-trained chef grew up on a 200-acre farm, where he learned the value of made-from-scratch meals and the importance of leaving a trail of breadcrumbs when entering a 100-acre cornfield. His selection of seasonal dishes therefore relies on locally sourced meat and produce. Beverage director Perez Klebahn collaborates with Bill to invent handcrafted cocktails that complement the rotating plates, such as the To Autumn: Jameson Irish whiskey, acorn-squash liqueur, apple cider, Suze bitters, and lemon juice. Maria Buszinski rounds out the staff with her penchant for quirky art design, helping arrange a communal dining space that also hosts "pop-up" gallery shows and events from area artists.
It was almost midnight when Sandra found her son Aaron bustling around the kitchen, looking to satisfy a late-night sweet craving. Cooking had been one of the family's shared passions for decades, so it was only a matter of moments before Sandra joined Aaron in digging through old cupcake recipes and experimenting with flavors and frosting. With the counters covered in sweets, the snack craving thoroughly satisfied, and the Sandman growing impatient, the two went to bed, only to awaken the next day and share their midnight creations with family and friends. The reaction was overwhelming. The mother-son team quickly found themselves baking for so many birthday parties and special events that they decided to start a business, eventually earning a spot on Baltimore magazine's list of Our Favorite Cupcakes.
At Midnite Confection?s Cupcakery, Sandra and Aaron continue to channel the enthusiasm and inventiveness they felt that first night. Their selection of more than 40 sweet treats includes signature flavors, such as birthday cake and a carrot-cake cupcake with organic carrots and a bit of pineapple, but also changes to include seasonal favorites. They also top their creations with decadent spreads such as whipped-pistachio or Grand Marnier?tinged icing. Although these handheld snacks are available at the store, Midnite Confection's food truck also travels the streets, spreading cupcakes to working folks.
John Lindner of the The Baltimore Sun left Banksy’s Café raving about one item in particular: the roast-beef sandwich. After eating the sandwich, which he describes as “stacked so high that, with the curved roll, [it’s] nearly round,” Lindear seemed anxious to try more of what the quaint café had to offer, calling the roast beef “a convincing ambassador for Banksy’s.” Brimming with culinary creativity, the menu of gourmet fare lives up to the hype. Chefs Will and Rob dollop chilled beet soup with tangy greek yogurt, and turn up the heat on a classic caesar salad by first grilling the romaine. Heartier appetites tuck into wild-caught-salmon burgers, turkey sandwiches blanketed by melted muenster, and the SuperNova flatbread pizza, piled with red onions, tomatoes, and capers. A full espresso bar energizes meals with organic and fair-trade coffee drinks from Baltimore Coffee & Tea, while glass display cases stage homemade cookies, cupcakes, and ice cream. As the chefs build meals in the kitchen, the restaurant’s diner-style décor invites visitors to relax and wax nostalgic about a bygone era. In addition to hosting framed art prints, the café’s wall showcases eight clocks to remind enraptured diners of the existence of time.