Baltimore in beer and food

I've just returned from five days of beer, baseball and Maryland crabs. While the vacation was primarily planned to visit a friend and take in some Red Sox vs. Orioles action, I was able to pack in the requisite foodie explorations.

Spoiler: The Sox won both games we went to. Sorry, Jason.

Spoiler: The Sox won both games we went to. Sorry, Jason. This photo was taken before his hopes were dashed.

Our first stop upon arriving in Baltimore Saturday was to The Brewer's Art, which I mentioned in my last post as one of my bucket list breweries to visit.  It's a small brewery/restaurant with a main dining room and a bar and lounge area. We ordered from the bar menu – I started off with a Choptank'd.

The Brewers Art's Choptank'd, a summer saison.

The Brewer's Art's Choptank'd, a summer saison.

The Choptank – in case you're wondering, like I was – is a river that runs through Delaware and Maryland into the Chesapeake Bay. As far as the beer goes, it was memorable. I was weary of the rye, which I can sometimes find too be too overpowering, but it was nicely balanced with tastes of honeysuckle, lemon and grapefruit peel. The honeysuckle was the most pronounced for me – it made the beer lightly sweet and almost floral. Choptank'd was a winner.

For dinner, I tried the skate schnitzel sandwich. Skate (fish) is a type of ray that my research described as tasting scallop-like. I would say it was tastes more like your basic whitefish – and that it is delicious fried in a sandwich. The side of rosemary garlic fries was especially dreamy.

SkateSandwich

Branching a bit out of my comfort zone with a skate fish sandwich.

Jason got a giant bowl of mussels. Our waiter recommended dipping the fries in the mussels' broth. Excellent suggestion.

If you ever find yourself to the Brewer's Art in Baltimore, order the mussels with fries for dipping.

If you ever find yourself at The Brewer's Art in Baltimore, order the mussels with fries for dipping.

All in all, a delicious meal with some really great beer. If you're ever in Baltimore, make it a point to stop at The Brewer's Art, 1106 North Charles Street (in the Mount Vernon neighborhood).

That was our most formal meal (and beer!) of the trip. The rest of our time was pretty much all about crabs and Natty Boh.

Natty Boh – or National Bohemian, its given name – is a Baltimore-specific version of PBR. I mean this both literally as well as figuratively, as far as taste goes. Pabst Brewing Company bought the Baltimore-based brewer in 1999. Like PBR, the beer is not good but it's what you drink when you're in Baltimore and don't want to spend a ton of money every day on beer. It's party beer.

Natty Boh, a Baltimore staple.

Natty Boh, a Baltimore staple.

Moving on...

This trip marked my first experience with soft-shell crab. I ordered a soft-shell crab sandwich at Phillips Seafood, right on the harbor. We ate on the crab deck on Sunday afternoon and enjoyed some crushes as we waited for our food. (Crush = cocktail slushy).

The crab sandwich was OK. I'm not used to soft-shell crab so I felt like I was biting into a sandwich made up of shell-on tail-ends of shrimp. The crab meat itself was good but I guess I'm not a soft-shell person.

Sandwiches come with crab chips – potato chips with Chesapeake Bay crab seasoning. Yum!

Sandwiches come with crab chips – potato chips with Chesapeake Bay crab seasoning. Yum!

The next crab encounter was at Oriole Park at Camden Yards for a Memorial Day game. I tried out the Chesapeake fries, a fan favorite. There is a reason for their popularity. Who wouldn't enjoy a basket of waffle fries smothered in creamy crab dip? I devoured them. Much more entrancing to the tastebuds than a plain ol' hot dog!

Chesapeake fries! The Flying Dog beer in the photo was nothing to write home about. I bought it because the design was cool.

Chesapeake fries! The Flying Dog beer in the photo was nothing to write home about. I bought it because the design was cool.

Later on Memorial Day, my friends and I were treated to the ultimate Maryland crab experience: a big crab dinner, complete with a tutorial on self-shelling.

My good friend Linda's uncle lives just outside of Baltimore, and Linda and her family were in town for a wedding. We were invited to the next-day crab dinner party, where we also celebrated her brother Jaani's birthday. Thanks Linda & family!

Jaani explained that a real Maryland crab dinner is all about gathering around a table covered in sheaths of brown paper towel and chatting and catching up while you work away on de-shelling your crabs. He warned us that we would be there for hours before we got our fill of crab meat, and he was right. Much storytelling and catching up ensued as we worked away at our crabs, which were doused with Old Bay seasoning.

The perfect antidote for spicy Old Bay? Ice cold beer, and there was plenty of Miller Lite to go around for that purpose.

One tip we learned from Jaani: The crab's gills, or lungs, are NOT edible.

One tip we learned from Jaani: The crab's gills, or lungs, are NOT edible. Also, do not expect to leave a crab dinner clean. If you're not up to your elbows in Old Bay, it wasn't a successful crab dinner.

And with that, I sign off on a wonderful trip to Baltimore, filled with firsts, friends and my favorite American past time.

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