Maynard’s Cafe's flavor slingers craft a surf 'n' turf menu brimming with oceanic delights and land-locked meats. Dining companions can warm up for competitive chew-offs with the Maynard’s Combo, an amalgam of finger foods that include crab balls, jalapeño poppers, chicken tenders, and steamed shrimp among other handheld poppables. Then order up a heftier entree, such as the chicken fettuccini, crab legs and drawn butter, or fried oysters. The new york strip steak cohabitates with crab cakes and brings two sides to the table. Guests can savor their meals while oogling karaoke performers crooning after 9 p.m. Wednesday–Sunday or watch cards go flying during rounds of Texas Hold 'em or high-stakes Go Fish on Thursdays.
If there's one thing that shapes the food at Carmelo's Italian Restaurant more than the chefs, it's Mother Nature. In the tradition of the Northwest and Sicily, the kitchen uses only local, organic ingredients when possible, and imports some Old World staples straight from Italy. The result is a menu that shifts with the seasons. Using a base of penne noodles splashed with a vodka sauce or the thin crust of a pizza, chefs might feature spinach, red peppers, or feta cheese grown in a nearby field. And since Carmelo's is a BYOB eatery, diners can complement their meal with a hand-selected bottle of wine or jar of bathtub gin.
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.