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Charm City, Indeed

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Article By Shuan Butcher

A recent visit to Baltimore shed new light on the city for me. Though I’ve been a frequent visitor, my most recent stop made me particularly appreciate the historic sites and museums. The city’s burgeoning food scene, helped by famous pastry chef Duff Goldman whose Charm City Cakes brought the spotlight to Baltimore in recent years, is also a highlight.

One of the benefits of visiting Baltimore is accessibility. Many great attractions are within walking distance of each other or are easily accessible via water taxi. The water taxi is a unique way of getting around and seeing the city. Advertised as: the coolest distance between two points,” an all-day pass (only $12) allowed for us to enjoy city views while making stops at many major destinations, including Fort McHenry and Fells Point.

Our first dinner was at Aggio Baltimore, the Italian-inspired restaurant concept by James Beard Foundation Award finalist Bryan Voltaggio. Aggio’s decor is modern masculine, with an urban chic feel.

For starters, we were served a delicious Parmesan Funnel Cake; we also tried beets in a yogurt sauce, which tasted like a summer day, and tortelletti with Gorgonzola Dolco- pear and parsnip butter. For the main course: a braised beef cheek with chianti jus, fava bean and chanterelle ragu and purslane. We topped it all off with the limone dessert, consisting of meyer lemon, toasted marshmallow and basil.

Next on our list was a visit to the popular National Aquarium at the inner Harbor. this facility features a living collection of more than 17,000 fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and marine mammals. In summer 2013, the aquarium opened Blacktip Reef, a breathtaking  exhibit replicating an Indo-Pacific reef and featuring more than 700 animals, including a school of sharks.

A highlight of our trip to Charm City was a visit with Duff Goldman, owner of Charm City Cakes, made famous by the Food Network show “Ace of Cakes.” This Baltimore-based “Willy Wonka Wonderland of Weirdness,” as Goldman puts it, is located in an old Lutheran Church originally built in 1890. Anyone may visit to purchase cake or merchandise of various kinds, cake jars or cupcakes.

Goldman, a New England native, originally came to Baltimore for college and “fell in love with this town.” He finds the city to have a very creative vibe. One of his favorite places in the city is the “American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM). Goldman says AVAM is indicative of what Baltimore is: non-artists making vibrant, emotional art.

Goldman now splits his time between Baltimore and Los Angeles and has a team of artists in both locations creating cakes. he still creates cakes and particularly loves the engineering side of it. He asks his team to always overdo it when creating confections for customers. Goldman’s latest venture is Duff’s Cake Mix, a do-it-yourself cake and cupcake decorating studio that he hopes to take around the country; he also has his book “Duff Bakes,” on shelves now.

Duff_working

With Goldman’s strong endorsement, our next stop had to be the AVAM! But first… lunch!

We ventured to Waterfront Kitchen, a seed-to-plate, mission-driven restaurant located in Fell’s Point. Ingredients are purchased locally and seasonally, with some grown with nonprofit partner Living Classroom and its BUGS (Baltimore Urban Gardening for Students) program, which teaches inner city children about gardening, nutrition and cooking skills.

This sense of purpose and the benefit to the common good was enough reason to eat there, but Waterfront Kitchen also offers sweeping harbor views and enticing food. As an appetizer, the Deviled Egg Trio, with local eggs prepared three ways served with accoutrements, is highly recommended. A great lunch entree is the BALT, a bacon, avocado, lettuce and tomato sandwich, which includes a healthy serving of roasted, thick-cut bacon and whole-grain aioli on multi-grain bread.

After lunch, it was time to visit the AVAM. For traditionalists who love classic artwork, be prepared to broaden your horizons. This place focuses on art that is produced by self-taught individuals whose works arise from an innate personal vision.

Visiting AVAM accomplishes the charge that art should engage in inquiry and evoke emotions. Yes, you may not like every piece. case in point: a very popular attraction for adolescents visiting the museums was a piece by Bob Benson called “The Magic of Flatulence Post.” If you want to find out more- you’ll just have to visit.

Later in the afternoon, it was time to explore more of Baltimore’s culinary scene. A good way to do that is to take a Charm City Food Tour though Fell’s Point. During a walking tour of Baltimore’s best-preserved historic district, the area’s history, culture, architecture and cuisine is covered. Our first stop was an eastern European restaurant called Ze mean Bean, where the group sampled two different types of pierogi and potato cakes. Next was Hungry Andy’s, where we tried a pit beef sandwich, indigenous to Maryland. Then it was on to Riptide by the Bay, where we sampled crab cake sliders and shrimp pot stickers, followed by One-Eyes Mikes, a Grand Marnier establishment that has more than 2,500 members. Here we tried a chicken cake (think crab cakes, but with lumps of chicken instead) and some Maryland crab soup. And finally, we went to Todd Connor’s for dessert, which was an adult PB&J (a peanut butter and jelly sandwich battered with French toast and then deep fried) paired with a White Russian drink.

The next morning we started as Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine. It was here that Francis Scott Key wrote our National Anthem as he witnessed the British bombardment during the War of 1812. This National Park Service site is worth visiting; get there early in the morning and you can personally participate in the flag-changing ceremony, a truly moving and inspiring experience.

Baltimore is quite a sports town, so the final thing on your list was to take a tour of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, one of the best entertainment values in the city. For just $9 for adults and $6 for children, a 90-minute behind-the-scenes tour allows for visitors to see baseball from a whole new perspective. Those on a tour will see the club level suites, press box, the team dugout, and more!

I have visited a number of baseball stadiums, and this one if my favorite. When Orioles Park debuted in 1992, it was (and still is) the model for many baseball facilities. Not only did it reuse an existing old warehouse structure, but elements of the park pay homage to other iconic and historic baseball stadiums around the country.

We had a jam-packed several days in Baltimore, but there is so much more to see in this truly charming city. Another visit is in the works soon!

 

 

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