Michael "Al" Meckel, co-owner of Fenwick Bakery,… (Kim Hairston, Baltimore…)
As friends shopped for an old-fashioned Baltimore peach cake, I considered the scene in Northeast Baltimore's Fenwick Bakery. I observed buyers ask for the crumb buns and doughnuts, raisin bread, Schmierkase cake and plain, Baltimore-style baked goods in what I thought was one of our more traditional food zones.
After all, next door is Mueller's Delicatessen, famous for its German fixings, and across the street, Mastellone's Deli, the Italian grocery and wine shop.
It is now high peach cake season in Baltimore. And what better place than a bakery dropped in among the shingled bungalows of old Hamilton to provide a real Baltimore moment?
But things have changed. The Harford Road corridor that sometimes is called Lauraville (the lower section), Hamilton (in the middle) and Parkville (at the upper end) has reinvented itself this summer into a place where the hungry can be well satisfied.
There's the Green Onion Market. I also investigated a relative newcomer, the Hamilton Bakery, and found there is now competition of the best kind. Any neighborhood that can boast two serious bread-making enterprises has a right to brag.
And the residential streets that support the business district, the Catalphas and Grindons that twist and turn as the late hostas bloom on these August days, are certainly kept up.
Baker and Fenwick co-owner Michael Alan Meckel told me he began making peach cakes 30 years ago under the tutelage of this institution's founding family member, Werner Uebersax. The Fenwick is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. I stood in his sales area and thought, "This is precisely the kind of bakery I knew as a child." It wears its years well in the best unpretentious Baltimore way.
I was a little late catching up with the rival Hamilton Bakery (Harford and Hamilton), and received a warm welcome from Dorothy McCloskey, a veteran Baltimore bakery counter worker who put in 19 years with the old Muhly's chain.
"I can remember selling 300 peach cakes a day at Muhly's in Lutherville," she told me. "In the later summer, the bees would swarm the racks as the cakes were being delivered. We spent the rest of the day shooing the yellow jackets out of the store."
McCloskey told me that many families are moving to Northeast Baltimore and are enjoying the walk to shopping along Harford Road.
She said many places, like hers, serve Zeke's Coffee, a roaster some blocks to the south in Lauraville. The Hamilton Bakery is a tad more stylish. For example, it offers varieties of macaroons in the pastel hues I once encountered in a bakery in Nancy, France. I thought of the days when Baltimore had so many neighborhood bakeries that we could actually compare the quality of macaroons. But the old Fiske's in Bolton Hill near the new Maryland Institute dorm at North Avenue always won out.
As I walked along Harford Road, I considered the extent of its local restaurant renaissance. The fabled Angelina's is now Marchionda's Italian Restaurant. I spotted Big Bad Wolf's House of Barbecue in the old Toddle House. There is the Hamilton Tavern and the amazing Clementine's, as well as the new Maggie's Farm in Lauraville. There are also some old favorite haunts, Dead Freddies, Valentino's, the Shamrock Inn and Koco's Pub.
As a friend who lives there told me, Harford Road has come a long way from the retail hiatus it experienced after many old institutions closed (Arcade Theatre, Joseph's Gifts and Religious Goods) and storefront churches and the dollar stores arrived.
I thought how well this neighborhood has weathered a tricky transition. Yes, you can still buy a traditional Baltimore peach cake at the Fenwick. At the same time, the bakers at the Hamilton Bakery were busy making 14 pies for the production department of the "House of Cards" TV series.