Quirky food shops flavored downtown

JACQUES KELLY

October 06, 1993|By JACQUES KELLY

Has downtown Baltimore been the same without a lunch counter where egg whites went into the lemonade?

What about a candy store where the clerks kept your favorite sweets listed on a file card so they never made the mistake of giving you a Brazil nut when you wanted an almond?

Of all the physical changes that transformed this city the last few decades, none is as great as the evaporation of the small, quirky food businesses. From Jones Falls to Poe's Grave, from Pennsylvania Station to Federal Hill, there were places bearing the imprint of their owners.

These places had personality. And though many years have passed since their demise, time has not dimmed their memory. If anything, memories of some of these businesses may elevate them above their original status. To wit:

I've never tasted more interesting and better ice creams than those made at the old Horn & Horn Restaurant on Baltimore Street near Guilford Avenue, an institution where bank presidents ate alongside bookies. Another branch of the same Horn family made a fortune at the Horn and Hardart automats in New York and Philadelphia. Baltimoreans, of course, knew their Horn's was superior.

Horn's ice cream, distinguished by pure cream, ice crystals and heavenly taste, was sold in this one location only. It was never advertised or promoted. It was given one line on the menu.

The waiters and waitresses who worked there said it was made by a gentleman who held the secret formula. He worked on the second floor of the restaurant and made only four flavors, chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and coffee. In July and August, peach might show up.

This unnamed artist put so many flecks of vanilla bean into his product that the ice cream had a slightly tan cast to it. He also managed to make his cream interact with the freezing process so that the finished product had a fine and slightly grainy consistency. That may sound unpleasant, but it was not.

Dozens of premium ice creams have come on the market in the last decade or so. None comes even close to what was served at 304 E. Baltimore St.

Maron's Candies, at 12 W. Lexington St., and later on Charles Street above Saratoga Street, made no secret of the fact it was a select and pricy operation. This was no national chain. All its wares were made in a factory upstairs. The clerks kept your name on file. You could open a charge account, too. Imagine the damage a customer could do here with an overly sweet tooth and good credit.

Maron's great gift to Baltimore was its manner of making marzipan, or sweetened almond paste and egg white. In the wrong hands, this confection is so sickly sweet that teeth will fall out. Somehow Maron's master confectioners used sugar lightly. The almond candies were soft and came in shapes like an ear of corn, or an acorn. These delicacies were also boxed in a cheerful pink box instantly recognized by its customers. More than a few of these durable Maron's candy boxes survive today in old chests and cupboards. They are well suited for holding jewelry and keepsakes.

Maron's had its origins in the mid-19th century. It was originally owned by Spaniards who brought the almond paste recipe from their native country, where it had, in turn, been brought from North Africa.

While Maron's wares were pricy, only a few cents were needed to buy a quarter-pound of Ortmueller's taffy at Lexington Market. The clerks used small hammers to break up this hard confection redolent of hardened sugar and molasses.

The taffy must have been a dentist's best friend. It could destroy bridgework faster than a pile driver.

At Minor's lunch room in the 300 block of N. Charles St., only 2 2TC few customers had the nerve to order an egg lemonade. This shop also sold fancy fruit baskets and some pretty strange gourmet items. But of all its wares, the concept of breaking an egg and adding the white to a lemonade was the most idiosyncratic. It fit into the highly personal Minor's style.

Minor's was popular with the Charles Street lunch crowd. If you weren't up to a lemonade, there was always a milkshake.

Baltimore has seen dozens of bakeries close over the years, but Arthur's at 223 N. Eutaw St. was the most senior of them all. It was founded in the 1830s and was forced out of business by subway construction in the 1970s. On Saturdays, it did a thriving business with the overflow of customers from the Lexington Market.

Arthur's looked every bit of its age. It had a lunch counter and tea room in the back that would have been right at home in Dublin or Berlin. In its last days, it was also very economical. You could get a full lunch for under a dollar.

You could always tell an Arthur's raisin bun from its competitors. They were a little lighter and just tasted better. Or so the distance of 15 years makes it seem.

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