I went visiting three of Baltimore's new eateries last week. I had excellent food, fine drinks. And I didn't get lost.
My trick for keeping my bearings was simple. I found the new places by remembering what old establishments used to be on the premises.
When I was headed to Pier 500, a new restaurant in the HarborView Marina, I saw the address was listed as 500 HarborView Drive. My map of Baltimore had no such street.
I got there by recalling that the marina and condominiums are being built on the site of the old Bethlehem Steel Shipyards on Key Highway. When I came to Baltimore I remember standing on Federal Hill and watching men work on big freighters in those shipyards. Now sailboats are bobbing there.
Similarly when I readied myself for a trip to The Corner Bar, I told myself I was going to the old Hilton. The hotel hasn't been a Hilton for several years. It is now an Omni. But when it was a Hilton I once spent several seemingly unending days in labor negotiation sessions there, and the Hilton memory is burned in my brain.
And when I got an invitation to a wine and food benefit for the Ciccarone Cardiac Care Center being held at the new Baltimore Grand banquet center at 401 W. Fayette, I wasn't sure exactly what building to go to. But when I got to Fayette and North Eutaw streets I realized the banquet center was on the site of two of my favorite bank buildings. Every time I walked past that corner I had admired the elaborate stone work on the Eutaw Savings Bank and the Western National Bank. Their architecture gave me a feel for what downtown Baltimore was like back in the 1880s, when these buildings were erected.
Moreover, when I went there the other night I was able to park free in the adjoining parking garage. That gave me a cheerful reminder of what downtown Baltimore is like in 1990, namely a free parking space is a treasure.
I didn't engage in any serious official eating at these spots. Just practice eating. A practice session is when you stand up, balancing a glass in one hand and a plate of hors d'oeuvres in another. Then you try to talk and munch at the same time.
If you sit down and put all the appetizers on tiny plates it is called grazing.
Balancing the plate of food and glass of wine is especially difficult if you attempt to shake someone's hand. So instead of shaking the hand of Connie Crabtree, chef at the new restaurant, I hugged her. Many people know Ms. Crabtree from her work at the former Crabtree's Restaurant in downtown Baltimore, or her cooking at Admiral's Cup in Fells Point and Cacao Lane in Ellicott City. I, however, know her more intimately. We once barbecued ribs together, in public.
It happened on her former television show, "Great Cooking Capers," on cable television. I cooked my special ribs. Her show was canceled.
The other night at the opening party at Pier 500, I noticed Ms. Crabtree did not have these show-stopping ribs on her new menu. Instead she featured fancier fare, duck smoked with oolang tea, polenta shrimp toast, grilled sirloin in peppercorn butter and broiled lime and chili crab cakes. I had several bites of all of them. They were wonderful, even for practice.
The Corner Bar is part of the extensive renovation project that the Omni is undertaking. Hotel people had me told weeks ago that a great new bar was coming. Still, when I walked in the door the other night, I was impressed.
Not only did the bar look good and classy, it was also crowded. But it wasn't loud. People were drinking, talking, smiling, behaving like grown-ups. For food there was real roast beef, no fried zucchini. And the drinks came in real glasses, no plastic.
It looked like an ideal place to unwind after you've been working on the railroad.
From there I went up Fayette Street to The Baltimore Grand. The occasion was a benefit for the Johns Hopkins Henry Ciccarone Preventive Cardiology Center, a establishment named in honor of the late Hopkins lacrosse coach.
Again this was a practice-eating affair. I stood up and attacked appetizers prepared by area restaurants and wine provided by the Wine Merchant shop and Bacchus Importers. Since I had been practicing a lot lately, I was in pretty good form.
I started with spicy shrimp from Michael's Riviera Grill and matched it with a glass of 1989 Terlano Pinot Grigio. Then there was some seafood sausage and 1988 Matanzas Creek chardonnay from the Milton Inn, some crab bisque and 1988 Louis Latour chablis from The Prime Rib, some thin slices of steak sauted in olive oil with a glass of 1987 Rutherford Hill merlot from Great Occasion catering. I never did get any of the Polo Grill salad of warm duck and field greens. Every time the cook whipped up a fresh batch, a crowd formed. So instead I drank the 1989 Punset Dolcetto D'Alba. For dessert there was a fruit mousse prepared by Fiske Catering, which, it turns out, has become the resident caterer of the Baltimore Grand.
I got a quick tour of the Grand's various banquet halls. My favorite room was dark-paneled room that once served as a bank boardroom.
It was a terrific spot, I was told, to hold a business breakfast.
I couldn't help but think that given the state of the banking business, more of these rooms might be coming available real soon.