Tell most people you're spending some leisure time in Baltimore and three things probably come immediately to mind: the tourist-laden Inner Harbor, the crime-infested HBO show "The Wire," and Johns Hopkins -- a supreme medical institution but hardly a highlight of any city vacation. So, you can imagine my surprise when, after spending four days in this city that's the hometown and inspiration for filmmaker John Waters, I found Baltimore to be a vibrant, eco-conscious town with charming neighborhoods, amazing cuisine served in some spacious restaurants that were once old warehouses or machine shops, and green spaces galore.
This is the first of two posts on what I found:
1. Elevation Burger is serving organic, grass-fed beef and, I have to say that, though I'm a conditional vegetarian -- in other words, I'm a vegetarian that eats fish except when I'm not doing restaurant reviews -- this was a supremely yummy burger. And, you can cut your guilt by ordering a double patty with a veggie burger (vegan or with cheese) combined with the beef variety. Plus, Elevation Burger is very eco-conscious: the olive oil is recycled for fuel -- yes, this burger joint uses olive oil even for the french fries; the floor is made of bamboo and the tables of a special wood (made of grass stalks) from China.
2. I really enjoyed browsing the fashion offerings at Sassanova, a new shop where I found a fun collection of headbands, bangles, sandals and necklaces, including the precious and semi-precious stone necklaces by KEP Designs.. They also carry the Karma line of jewelry with their "make a wish" bracelets," which I'm told are very popular with people visiting friends and relatives at Hopkins.
Once I walked into the Fell's Point neighborhood, I found it hard to leave. This quaint, historic neighborhood with some of the original stone streets is perfect for an afternoon or full-day visit.
3. I stopped in at the Robert McClintock Gallery that's hung with the vibrant works of this photo and digital artist. Right now they're featuring an exhibit on man's best friend: "Dogs That I Know." Don't miss the impressive Staffordshire Bull Terrier hanging prominently in the window. (He's named Blue Steel.)
4. It's certainly appropriate that Meli Patisserie & Bistro, named for honey, would stock an amazingly eclectic supply of artisanal honeys from around the world, from Tasmania to Argentina. A honeycomb pattern plays a prominent role in the decor. And, of course, many of the dishes, from entrees to desserts have honey as an ingredient.
5. Teavolve is what's called an urban tea house. This is one of the only shops in downtown Baltimore selling bubble tea, a favorite of mine. But, more interestingly, tea can be found as an ingredient is some unexpected foods and drinks here: sangria is infused with rooibos tea, even cocktails get a spike of tea -- vodka plus Fukuiji green tea and green apple puree. What could be more refreshing on a hot summer night? But all is not about tea here. The fruits and vegetables on the menu are organic and visit in the summer and you'll be treated to Belgian waffles topped with local white peaches. The adult grilled cheese with feta, boat and mozzarella cheeses is another I'd order again. But the zen-like atmosphere transforms to a more active vibe on Friday and Saturday night when you've got DJ's spinning tunes and also occasional live music.