Seeing the City through a Newbie’s Eyes

amazon fish

At the beginning of the year I set out to achieve four goals for 2017. (If you missed it, you can read about it here.) Recently, I met one of those goals — Travel (around town) — in the most interesting of ways.

Last Friday, I received an alert on my phone from Couchsurfers: Jonathan has requested to stay with you. Seeing as my weekend was pretty empty and I had the room, I enthusiastically hit the “Yes” button. What happened next was not having a person crash on my couch, but even better. I made a new friend and gained a new perspective on the place I call home.

If you really want to fall back in love with Baltimore, then show around an out-of-towner.

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The first place that Jonathan and I hit up was the National Aquarium. One of the city’s jewels, we decided to take advantage of the Fridays after Five deal and enjoy the underwater world without having to get soaked. (It was already raining, so staying dry was a bonus.)

Now, I will say that I am biased when it comes to visiting the Aquarium because I work there on occasion. But due to a pesky broken ankle that’s made walking a literal pain, I haven’t been back in six months. There is something about seeing a familiar place with a person who has never been there, which allows you to notice things that you may not have noticed — and get points of view on things you have always wondered. (For instance, Jonathan being an Aussie native, enjoyed the Australia exhibit and was delighted to get to see the archer fish being fed. Although, when you get to watch fish spit water to knock crickets out of the air, it’s hard to be disappointed!)

It also shows you that, even when you live on the other side of the world, some things are universal — like getting your picture taken at the bubble tubes, something I’ve seen every visitor do at least once. We spent a good two hours wandering the Aquarium, so Jonathan was able to see Maryland rockfish, sturgeon and horseshoe crabs. He appreciated all of that, since he wasn’t able to hit Ocean City on this trip.

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Jonathan really wanted to know about the city as well as the animals. He already knew to grab a crab cake, try Old Bay with fries and buy a box of Berger cookies. I figured we could make some of it happen that night.

crab dog

He wanted to get a real Bmore feel, but had to be at an event in an hour. I knew that if he wanted local Maryland beer and seafood, the best place close by was none other than my fave, Heavy Seas Alehouse.

Our awesome waitress helped Jonathan choose between the oyster poor boy sandwich, crab dog and crab cake sandwich — gotta go crab cake, man! I went with my own tried and true dinner of a foot long crab dog. We swapped stories of our homes while dining on lots of crab cakes, crab dip, Old Bay and beer. Just like a normal Bmore night, right? Well, with one Aussie twist: Jonathan brought Tim Tams from the land down under, so we swapped those in for dessert instead of searching for Berger cookies.

(By the way, tipping your waitress with an additional Tim Tam surprise is totally worth it!)

tim tams

Over the next few days, I wasn’t able to physically show Jonathan around (jobs are pesky like that). Instead, I steered him towards Hampden for some great music and dinner at The Food Market. And he enjoyed his crab cake so much, he hit up the Papermoon Diner for a crab melt. Before he left, he bought his own box of Berger cookies to take home. Rumor has it, his coworkers thought they were delicious.

I’m hoping that Jonathan and I cross paths again on the travel trail. And I must tell you, having grown up on crab cakes and Old Bay it was fun to watch someone experience the flavors for the first time. I was a little jealous! So if you ever get the chance to take someone around town, I say do it! You won’t regret it!

After all, what could ‘B’ more adventurous?

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5 Places to Check Out this Restaurant Week

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, not the time of gifts and lights and pretty wrapping paper, but the time of three course meals for affordable prices at some of Baltimore’s best restaurants. That’s right, friends: it’s Baltimore City Restaurant Week 2017 – Winter Edition!

Starting this Friday, January 13 and ending on January 22, you can skip around some of the best eateries the city has to offer. (That’s 10 days of glorious eating, for those of you counting.) If you have yet to hit the streets and fill your stomach during Restaurant Week, this is the year to do it. (Although, I put it on the list of things to do in 2016!) Being a seasoned patron of Restaurant Week, I thought I’d help you to narrow down the list to a few great eats. What makes these places worth mentioning over the rest? Three things: great food, great vibe, and great value for the price. So while it’s a steal of a deal during this week, if you venture there any other time (like the day after because you made a mistake or couldn’t get a reservation) you’re still going to have a full belly.

This is, of course, just one gal’s opinion, so if you feel I overlooked a great option please let me know! Chances are I just haven’t eaten there yet.

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Blue Agave

I’m going to be straight up honest and tell you that tacos, burritos and nachos are my life’s blood, so there was no way a place with Mexican cuisine wasn’t making my list. This fantastic tequila bar and restaurant in Federal Hill has everything you need for a Restaurant Week experience to remember. The staff is friendly, helpful and always game to share a great story or two, and the inside has just enough going on to keep a wandering eye busy but not overwhelmed. And then there’s the food. My best foodie friend still has dreams of their Mushroom & Garlic Empanadas and I’m sure that when we make our plans, this is the place we’re hitting up. While I mentioned the staples of Mexican food, this is where you go to try things that are a bit different, like their puerco cocoa or lamb birria. And of course, treat yourself to one of their 130 tequilas.

Bond Street Social

Bond Street Social

Want a place to hit up after work? This is your destination. Located on the water in Fells Point, this is the place with the upscale industrial vibe and fun bites. I once had an entire meal of just their appetizers and would gladly do so again (I’m looking at you house pretzels and mac n cheese bites). Adding to the posh vibe is the ultra cool staff who manages to make everyone feel like VIPs. If we have unseasonably warm weather during your trip – and that’s not impossible – grab some outdoor seating. If not, chill at the bar or by one of the multiple fireplaces. Yep, you heard that right, multiple fireplaces.

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Jack’s Bistro

There’s nothing quite like Jack’s Bistro, the little eatery in Canton with a lot of personality. The small space is decorated with slight retro vibes and lots of funky art which helps to match the unique cooking style. Specializing in sous vide (pronounced soo vee), the food is prepared by placing it in airtight plastic bags and heating in a hot water bath for long periods of time. With a changing menu, you can visit often and never have to order the same thing twice. Although some favorites, like the 100% Pure Ground Bacon Burger, is almost always listed.

salt

Salt

You want some duck fat fries? This is the place to get them. Located in Butcher’s Hill, this local art showing, green lit, white-washed brick walled converted rowhome is a place that you MUST try. Multiple times. A week. But if you can only manage it once a year, this is the week to do it. The vibe is hip, but not obnoxious; the staff is knowledge but not stuffy; and the food is marvelous, without exaggeration. I had the best octopus in my life at this restaurant and a risotto that I wanted to savor for hours, but scarfed down anyway. The menu here is constantly changing, so unfortunately nothing I mentioned is currently there. But that just means it’s time to go back and try something new. The hardships of life, am I right?

waterfront-kitchen

Waterfront Kitchen

If you have to see the water even in the dead of winter, you can’t do better than Fells Point’s WK; their one wall is an actual floor to ceiling window overlooking the harbor. The view is only one of the many things to love about this alphabetically last-on-the-list stop. All of the food served here is locally sourced and in season, so it’s the definition of fresh. This is not a line, as much of the produce comes from greenhouses right around the corner on Caroline Street. Still not impressed, you say? What if I told you that same produce is grown by Baltimore City students as part of Living Classroom’s BUGS program? A great meal and a great cause all rolled into one. Now that’s something worth chowing down for.

What could ‘B’ more delicious?

*Photos by my awesome editor, Melinda Campbell
*None of these are paid advertisements. As always, these are things I know of that I want to share with you!

 

4 Goals to Bmore in 2017

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Now that the year that was 2016 is blissfully behind us, we can get onto the business that is 2017. And I don’t know about you, but 2016 was a bit rough for me personally. It’s quite hard to write about all the fantastic things you can do in Baltimore when your driving foot, ankle and leg are casted, thus grounding your car as if its got a permanent boot attached. While friends and family were TOTALLY helpful in getting me to work, food and a holiday party or two, it just wasn’t an inspiring time to write about our great city. (Unless you wanted a run down on the lack of handicapped amenities – which still isn’t out of the question.) So it’s with much relief and a healing body that I look toward 2017 and what it may bring.

When 2016 started, I gave you a great list of things to do for each month of the new year. Trust me when I say that the suggestions on the list will be just as great for 2017 if you missed it. But a new year means a new direction, so this year I’m giving you some tips I plan to use to help hit some New Year’s Goals. (Because no one keeps resolutions anyway.)

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Travel (around town)

Some years the round the world trip is just out of reach. That doesn’t mean that travel has to go out the window. Make this the year you check out a different part of the city, county or state. That new neighborhood bar you keep meaning to get to? Make that an after work happy hour spot one night. Never seen Western Maryland and unsure if it really exists? Take a weekend to explore the western unknown.

The best part about Maryland? It’ll deliver photogenic getaways for any season. Hit some slopes in winter. Check out cherry blossoms in spring. Beach bum it out in the summer. Admire the foliage in the fall. Just remember that travel isn’t something that only counts if you change time zones. Have an adventure a little closer to home. Still need inspiration? Check out vistmaryland.org for more great ideas.

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Support Local Businesses

There are so many great things about the region and one of the best is that if you need it, want it or don’t know about it yet, there’s a good chance you can find it locally. I doubt I need to remind you that our food and drink scene is ever-growing and on point. Stepping out of the city won’t lead to your hunger pangs growing, as there are places to eat in every hill and valley of this great state. With restaurant weeks around the corner, there are plenty of opportunities and deals to help you eat local.

But what about the other things in life – home decor, clothes, books and the rest? Don’t worry, you’re covered. Pick up all of these and more at the next Charm City Craft Mafia craft fair. Or wait until Artscape and snag some local wares there. There is so much talent in and around Baltimore that you just might get the urge to up your hobby game. And that brings me to my next 2017 goal.

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Add a Skill

So many local businesses offer classes that 2017 is definitely the year to add to your skill set. Learn to decorate cakes like a pro with Lotz of Sweets or make pasta with Baltimore Chef Shop. Become an expert at climbing mountains with a class at Earth Treks or become an equestrian at one of the many horse farms. Create your own museum after you’ve mastered how to blow glass and create ceramic sculptures.  Or give an Oscar worthy Shakespearean monologue for your friends.

If you simply search “classes in Baltimore” you will be given multiple options, price points and locations to just about anything you could think of and more. (Hey, I didn’t even know Baltimore had glass blowing classes until I searched two seconds ago!) And if you’re more of a learn on your own type, my final goal for 2017 will help you out.

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Hit the Books

Got stacks of books catching more dust than dog-eared pages? Magazines so old you still don’t know what was fashionable to wear for summer of 2016? Or am I the only one that owns 70 unread titles, courtesy of The Book Thing?

Well, even if you don’t have my bibliophile tendencies and still want to up your read-word count, here are two easy tips to help you reach the “Well Read in 2017” badge.

First, find 12 books for the year. That’s one book a month. Any title, any page length, any anything. Now gather them up, make a stack and place them somewhere you’ll see them. Now you have a visual reminder to whittle down that pile, and the bonus of seeing it shrink over the year. Got an e-reader? Purchase or borrow the one you want to read for the day and add it to your library. Or make a list on GoodReads to help get you in the reading habit. *Bonus* Post a picture to social media to let everyone know about your year-long library.

 

*None of these are paid advertisements. As always, these are things I know of that I want to share with you!

Resolve to Bmore in 2016

2016

Welcome to 2016 Baltimore!

As you wake up from your New Years partying and debate whether or not to make resolutions, allow me to offer one suggestion:

Make this the year you get out and really enjoy the charm of Charm City.

With all that Baltimore has going on throughout the year, it will be the easiest resolution you ever keep. And to get you started here are some recommendations of things to do in and around Baltimore in 2016.

What could ‘B’ more easy?

January: Start off the year right by trying a new restaurant during Baltimore’s Restaurant Week. From January 22-31, enjoy fantastic meals from the area’s best dining establishments. Sure, you could go to an old favorite – but stretch your tastebuds this month!

February: Get your craft on at the 2016 American Craft Council Show. Need a purse made out of old blazers? Giant balloon dog statues? Hand crafted wallets? All that and more is here for your perusal. Trust me, it’s entertainment for the eyes – and there’s beer and wine to whet your whistle (and loosen your wallet).

March: Tap into your Irish roots (whether real or adopted for the day) and enjoy the Baltimore St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Looking for something a little more adult? Swing by one of the many Irish bars for authentic food, music, and instant friends. My picks? Ryan’s Daughter, The Poitin Still, or James Joyce.

April: April showers gives a great excuse to stay indoors I know. But instead of setting up camp on the couch with the Netflix, make a date to spend indoors in a different place. Find your muse at The Walters Art Museum. Surround yourself with water and finned friends at The National Aquarium. And if you must spend the gray days with a movie, head over to The Charles  and try a flick of a different genre.

May: Memorial Day weekend means the official opening of beach season. Before heading down the ocean, detour to The Book Thing to grab yourself a trunk load of free beach reads.

July: Fireworks, Bar-b-Q’s, and steamed crabs. Add a night under and with the stars at Bengies drive-in theatre. Get there early to grab a front row “seat” and watch up to three flicks for the price of one!

August:  See what it means to cowboy up at J Bar W Ranch. With bull riding, barrel racing, and surprise audience participation events like “Cowboy Poker,” you’ll feel like you took a trip to the wild west.

September: Couldn’t make it to the ranch? Well, country living will come to you at the 35th Annual Maryland State Fair. Where else can you watch a sheep show, ride a ferris wheel, and chow down on cakes of the crab and funnel varieties all in one night?

October:  The month of goodies for all ages: candy for the kids and beer the older trick-or-treaters. Celebrate Octoberfest at The Baltimore Craft Beer Festival. Or bring your pints and grab a turkey leg at the Maryland Rennfest.

November:  With the year winding down it may be time to enjoy some live music. See bands before they make their big break at Ottobar, take in a show at The Lyric, or hit up a local bar like The Horse You Came In On.

December: You say you’re going to do it every year, so make this the year you walk the lighted path that is The Miracle on 34th Street. There’s no better way to end the year!