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.

jellies

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?

heavy seas

 

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Say “R”

There’s no better way to spend a night than at a bar with a friend, drinking local beer and slugging down a food that is best eaten in a month with an “R” in it. And since this is the last month with an ‘R’ for a while, it seems fitting to memorialize it here.

photo by Melinda Campbell

photo by Melinda Campbell

If you are Bmore born and Bmore raised, then you already know the food to which I’m alluding: the oyster.

Yes, that snot colored, gooey textured, amorphously shaped bivalve, eaten in sandwiches, stews, and raw on the half-shell. I know the way I describe it leaves much to be desired. But, to me that is much of the appeal of the oyster.

It is not the mussel with it’s delicate salmon colored flesh, found simmering in buttered broth and garlic, easily plucked from the dainty coal-colored shell that one could snap with their fingers. Nor is it the perfectly circular, snow-white scallop, served naked on a plate, whose clean tasting meat is most often lightly seared to a tannish brown, as if it had been lounging on the nude beaches of France. It’s not even the smooth clam, whose chewy texture and irregular shapes are a child’s delight when fried up and served with cocktail sauce.

No, the oyster is none of that. It is the workingman’s bivalve – rocklike in appearance and durability, needing a sledgehammer to open (or at least a shucking knife). They are the untamed seafood – with crevices and layers building up their shells, appearing to look more like a geologic feature than something one would open and eat.

They taste of the water they were living in, which can range from the mostly fresh water of a river to the totally brackish waters of the middle Bay or the salty water near the ocean. Where else can you go on a trip around the watershed – or at least a farm-raised alternative – and never leave the bar?

My friend and I recently took just such a journey when we dined at Heavy Seas Alehouse on Bank Street, a fitting venue for a food consumed in months with an ‘R’ as pirates gazed down on our bounty of shellfish and beer. Not being able to decide which oyster to binge on, we settled on a tasting of oysters from around the Bay. The Chesapeake Gold truly earns its name – being salt infused and briny, as if you were swimming in the waters off the St. Michaels shore. The Fishing Creek gave just the subtlest taste of salt, with sweet undertones – an oyster for those who want a lighter touch. And then Tom’s Creek, singing the notes of the middle bay, where freshwater and salt water truly meet before opening up and surrendering to the Atlantic Ocean.

Oysters and watermen, skipjacks and raw bars, beer and good company. What could ‘B’ more perfect pairings?