Marta Ines Quintana, owner and chef at Havana Road Cuban Cafe, hails from Guantánamo, a city that has reached new levels of infamy in recent years. But to Marta, Guantánamo’s character and trove of positive attributes far outweigh what it’s become known for. “I am everything beautiful that Guantánamo has,” she told the Baltimore Sun in the spring of 2012, “from food to culture to music to artists.”
With Havana Road Cuban Cafe, Marta has transformed a suburban storefront into a tropical retreat. It’s here, through authentic Cuban dishes, music, and artwork, that Marta is attempting to change the unfavorable perception that has cast a shadow over her native city. Inside Havana Road, mango-red and lime walls and snapshots of Cuba surround visitors as they dig into ropa vieja (tender Cuban brisket) and mojo pollo asado (boneless Cuban chicken breast). The Cubano sandwich, with its hunks of slow-roasted pork, ham, and pressed bread, has become particularly popular. In fact, in 2011, Baltimore Magazine honored the Cubano—not by nominating it for mayor, but by selecting it as the best sandwich in the city.
Mike and Tim Murphy, the brothers behind Burger Bros., specialize in hand-sculpted burgers that weigh in at a hefty 6 ounces. They crown the patties with toppings such as caramelized onions or blue cheese and also marinate portobello mushrooms for a vegetarian version of their classic handheld. Burgers aren’t the only reason to visit, though. Cooks also toss chicken wings with piquant sauces and cut Idaho potatoes by hand to create their fries. Patrons can sip ice-cream floats, freshly squeezed lemonade, or Mexican Coca-Cola sweetened with real cane sugar rather than mashed up cupcakes.
Instead of limiting themselves to one type of cuisine, S & J Crab Ranch has included two of their favorites—Maryland seafood and southern barbecue. Local flavors pile up at the raw bar, where diners can order gulf shrimp by the pound or plates of clams and seasoned mussels; however, as the restaurant’s name implies, crabs are the signature item. They can be steamed and served whole, as jumbo lump crab cakes, or in a creamy soup spiked with a bit of sherry.
Of course, the seafood seeps into the southern-inspired meals as well. A selection of classic southern sandwiches includes fried catfish with creole mustard. Regional cuisine builds out the rest of the menu, giving diners options such as slow-cooked Texas brisket, Carolina-style pulled pork, and st. louis ribs rubbed with secret spices. Even the classic American dishes take cues from S & J’s penchant for the ocean—fresh crab meat bulks up the mac ‘n’ cheese, and pulled pork and barbecue sauce enhance a pile of nachos.
The crêpe sculptors at Andy's Bistro shape soft and thin French specialties around warm fillings such as melted cheeses or chocolate. More than 40 crêpe varieties are available, including options for breakfast and dinner as well as treats for brunch and other mealtime hybrids. Savory plates include the roasted-red-pepper crêpe ($7) with mozzarella and pesto and the eggplant-parmesan crêpe ($7.50), which features three Italian cheeses and may be fried to achieve a golden, crispy shell. Sweet varieties include the apple-cinnamon crêpe ($6) with raisins and honey and the banana-split crêpe ($8.50) with berries and two scoops of ice cream. In addition, Andy's Bistro fires fresh meaty specialties such as the half-pound lamb-and-beef burger ($6.50) and the spicy beef-and-sausage platter ($7), arranged to reveal a 3-D image of veggies when stared at from certain angles.
The chefs at Bread and Circuses Bistro—formerly called The French Press Cafe—serve up colorful American cuisine with a contemporary edge in a vintage-café-inspired dining room. The bistro's menu, like a yellow-marker-wielding culinary student, highlights an eclectic array of paninis, such as the grilled vegetable, a sumptuous repository of root vegetables and roasted red pepper garbed in bruschetta and balsamic vinaigrette ($8), or the new york strip steak and cheese ($10). Chew into the crusty exteriors of nonpressed sandwiches, including the baltimore club, a double-stacked crab-cake BLT (market price). Explore entrees such as the shrimp-and-scallop risotto ($17) or the salmon, pampered with a molasses kneading, rainforest-fruit-salsa dressing, and a French manicure before nestling against roasted red potatoes and grilled vegetables ($15).
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.