When 18-year old Casey Jenkins enrolled in the US Marine Corp, his only intention was to serve his country. After spending time as a line cook, however, he began a love affair with the culinary arts. When service ended, he took his skills to the next level by enrolling in the Culinary Institute of America. Over time, he honed his skills and eventually opened Darker Than Blue Cafe, known throughout Baltimore for its pairing of live jazz performances with low-country southern cuisine made from fresh, local ingredients.
The restaurant has garnered praise, voted Baltimore’s Best Soul Food by Voice Places. Diners sip peach-mango tea during all-you-can-eat Sunday jazz brunch, when live music fills the restaurant for a more melodious backdrop than a recording of Harvey Fierstein reading The Grapes of Wrath. They can also bring their own libations to enjoy with dinner, which features classics such as chicken and waffles topped with whipped cream, Cajun shrimp served over salmon cakes, and baby-back ribs.
Recently featured in the Washington Times, Gertrude's is a salt-stained bastion of coastal cuisine, with a menu chock-full of Chesapeake classics. Chef and owner John Shields, a nationally acclaimed coastal-fare innovator, author, and crab whisperer, named the restaurant for his grandmother, Gertrude Cleary. Grandma Gertrude's traditional Baltimore crab cake recipe lives on at her namesake restaurant with a dinner order of Gertie's crab cakes ($20), which arrives dressed with a choice of eight sauces, including the Creole or three-mustard. It's served with a choice of sides such as apple and fennel coleslaw, hush puppies, or grilled rosemary potatoes. Other maritime entrees, such as the citrus barbecue shrimp ($24) and the Chesapeake rockfish imperial ($30), recognize each other from the Shark Week extras' green room and happily provide diners fishing for Bay fare authenticity with transcendent catches for immediate consumption. Also available are Gertie's seafood Creole ($24) and locally raised beef burgers ($10).
Shareable creamy crab dip, hummus with goat cheese, and fried broccoli and cheese bites bring groups together inside the cozy 2110 Bistro. After whetting their appetites, diners move on to homestyle bistro entrees.
Chargrilled steaks and crab-stuffed salmon share menu space with vegetarian, vegan, and halal selections, including vegan ribs with Asian-inspired root vegetables and veggie Mojo sandwiches dressed with creamy horseradish. Meals conclude with rotating desserts made by the owner's grandmother.
In addition to catering to the surrounding diverse community with a variety of meals, the 2110 Bistro celebrates it by showcasing the work of local artists. And on select nights, comedians tell saucy jokes and musicians display the ocarinas they've fashioned out of hairdryers.
Inside Cafe Hon, bright yellow walls, blue-green trim, a 30-foot flamingo, and an Elvis statue greet and entertain diners as they contemplate home-cooked breakfast, lunch, and dinner options. Leopard-print booths and dinette sets lay the stage for a sweet and salty breakfast of two buttermilk pancakes and bacon ($4.99), while teacup chandeliers provide diners with excellent views of Bawlmers' best burgers ($7.99-$9.99), and homemade chili ($4.99). Night-eaters can sink their nighty teeth into the fried chicken ($12.99) on Tuesday while the "Much Better than Mom's" meatloaf ($12.99) provides hearty sustenance all week long. There are also salads, sandwiches, and the Maryland-style lump crab cake platter ($18.99 for one cake, $27.99 for two). Graze sweeter mouth-pastures with the bread pudding, a noteworthy Cafe Hon creation.
If you haven't heard of Stang of Siam's Baltimore's Crab Fried Rice, it's time to get acquainted. Fried rice might seem like a surprisingly simple standout. But the Baltimore Sun proclaims the dish a perfectly executed "must-have" that is so elegantly plated, it "earns its place on a Saturday night table."
Stang of Siam has quickly built its reputation for serving dishes that taste as good as they look, which is no surprise coming from owner Chuchart "Bobby" Kampirapang, a DC-area chef also responsible for Dupont Circle's acclaimed The Regent. Duck gra prao is one of the more popular signature dishes, sweetening boneless, crispy duck with basil and chili-garlic sauce. That same sauce reappears in the restaurant's take on classic drunken noodles, but is refreshingly absent from its custard and sticky rice desserts.
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.