Behind ground-to-ceiling glass windows, giant butterflies flutter in the sunlight. Though they’re only paintings, they cheerfully greet visitors to Vernisage, introducing the upscale restaurant’s often-whimsical atmosphere. Despite the lighthearted decor, chefs practice serious interpretations of traditional Russian, Eastern European, and Middle Eastern fare. They craft grilled shish kebabs, peppery dumplings, crepes, and hearty Russian stews using the same recipes that czars once used to melt invading snowmen armies. Servers pair both chilled and hot fare with a range of Georgian, Russian, and European wines to evoke exotic flavor bouquets. A large main dining hall can accommodate grand banquets, while a separate private dining room hosts smaller groups of up to 30 revelers or 60 children standing on each other’s shoulders.
Each day, the Timonium and Frederick branches brew eight different types of coffee (Annapolis brews six per day), mining from the Baltimore Coffee & Tea Company's coffee reserve, a treasure cove of 120 different varieties of beans. Types of coffee ($1.60 for 12 oz.) are offered on rotating basis, with flavors such as coconut cream and pumpkin spice introducing new aromas to bored taste buds, as well as Swiss Water–decaffeinated varieties for those that love the taste of coffee but find themselves inadvertently building a shrine to Grease after two cups of regular joe. Introduce yourself to the well-crafted wares of Mother Earth with a cup of tea ($1.95 for 20 oz.)—the shop features more than 1,000 kinds of leaves for consumption, from medicinal herb tea to an Eastern Shore variety—or go full throttle with an espresso concoction ($1.50–$4.25).
Brothers Jimmy, Tony, and Nick Miller pioneered Buddy Maratta’s Cafe and Deli, christening it after their father’s childhood nickname, with the vision of enlightening palates to traditional Baltimore cuisine. Drawing on his degree from the Baltimore Culinary Institute and on years of fine-dining experience, Chef Nick whips up a menu of breakfast and lunch sandwiches and salads and calls upon the Miller mother and aunts to bake homemade desserts and cakes. Platters of specialty crab fries, braised-short-rib cheesesteaks, and a variety of gourmet salads emerge from the kitchen into a casual-dining area where rows of tabletops bask beneath hanging lights and framed artwork, among the free WiFi waves. In addition to dining in, patrons can request catering services for special events, meetings, and jury-duty reunions.
Café Einstein's chefs wield German roots, Swedish roots, formal training in Italy, and fresh, seasonal ingredients to create a weekly rotating menu of European fare that earned accolades such as "a work of genius" from the Baltimore Guide. Culinary journeys begin when diners strap on their tongues' fanny packs, sit amid exposed-brick walls and sconce lighting, and explore bites of appetizers such as the spinach frittata infused with smoked salmon ($9.95). Dinner entrees then take to the tables in shapes that may include edible skyscrapers of lasagna bolognese, in which a hand-minced, browned sirloin steak mingles with a homemade sauce of fresh tomatoes, carrot, organic milk, and onion ($15.95), and a meat-free version that piles up cheese and seasonal vegetables ($14.95). Diners can bisect the day with lunch bites of the curry wurst, a german frankfurter served with curry ketchup and a fresh-made pretzel roll ($8.95), or the pancake sushi, a savory german crêpe stuffed with spinach and cheese ($8.95). Desserts end meals with a sweet note and offer quarreling knights post-treaty bites to feed each other, with selections such as the black-forest cake, with rich chocolate, cherries, whipped cream, and Kirsch liqueur.
With today’s Groupon, $10 gets you $20 worth of any snack, smoothie, dessert, or drink on the menu at Firehouse Coffee Company and Cafe. One of the more cool and unusual places to chill in B-More, the café resides in a revamped Canton firehouse, constructed just off O’Donnell Square during the heyday of ghost-busting. Follow @Groupon_Says on Twitter.
At Wild Duck Cafe, good-timers trundle up to the dockside tiki bar to cheer a juggernautical parade of Baltimore specialties and near-daily entertainment. The menu boasts exotic starters such as the crab pretzel, a soft dough knot lurking beneath a canopy of crab dip and shredded cheddar, or the alligator bites, designed to bestow Captain Hook with the chipotle-ranch flavor of vengeance. Tuck into a main course of dish-dominating jumbo crab cake or elegantly sautéed beef tips in white-wine-garlic sauce. This riverside restaurant allows outdoorsy diners an alternative to terrestrial transport, with a 300-foot dock accessible by sailboat or pet beluga.