Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. For 2017 our ultimate destination of choice was the city of Baltimore, Maryland. You might remember it from such TV shows as Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire, not exactly the most enticing showcases to lure in prospective tourists. Though folks who know me best know I’m one of those guys who won’t shut up about The Wire, a Baltimore walkabout was Anne’s idea. Setting aside my fandom, as a major history buff she was first to remind skeptics who made worried faces at us for this plan that Maryland was one of the original thirteen American colonies and, urban decay notwithstanding, remains packed with notable history and architecture from ye olde Founding Father times. In the course of our research we were surprised to discover Baltimore also has an entire designated tourist-trap section covered with things to do. And if we just so happened to run across former filming locations without getting shot, happy bonus…
Days Three through Five kept us busy with attractions a-plenty. Whenever time and location permitted, we tried to seek out local Baltimore cuisine within a reasonable budget. We can’t do four-star dining for every meal (most of our trips never had one), but it’s a major bonus whenever we can grab our meals someplace besides nationwide chains. As you’d expect, result may vary.
On Day Four, after we left Geppi’s Entertainment Museum we turned to Google Maps for inspiration and found next to nothing in the immediate vicinity. The closest option was the Diamond Tavern, an upscale sandwich inside the Hilton Baltimore Inner Harbor, conveniently on the edge of Camden Yards. The seating was elegant and plentiful because not many people choose to eat lunch at 2 p.m. near an empty ballpark.
To be honest, I might’ve thought twice if we’d noticed the hotel atop the restaurant. Beyond the higher prices that usually turn us away at the door, a few of our least best restaurant experiences have been attached to hotels. For lack of neighborly competition and failure to notice the Hilton, we stuck it out at the Diamond but limited ourselves to the sandwich side of their lunch menu. The end results:
I’ll give them points for elegant presentation, but their gussied-up diner fare set us back over thirty bucks and took over half an hour to emerge from the kitchen. On the other hand, if we wanted to add a bit of local flair, they kept shakers of Old Bay seasoning on the tables, per long-standing Baltimore custom. We had no idea Old Bay was a Maryland institution until we saw it everywhere in Baltimore.
I can’t say for sure if the locals add a thick coating of Old Bay to all their edibles from breakfast to late-night snack. On Day Three when we walked around Harborplace — a two-story mini-mall of sorts on the western edge of the Inner Harbor — we found a gift shop with one section devoted entirely to Old Bay, Old Bay accessories, and Old Bay inter-company synergistic fusion products. And here we thought Old Bay was just this one thing.
I limited myself to one purchase for later personal snacking, but opted instead for a sample of what sounds like a generic-brand Old Bay knockoff flavor on an east-coast chip brand called Utz. We don’t have Utz back home in Indiana, but I’ve heard of them.
I regret we missed out on another Harborplace establishment due to timing issues. As we strolled past The Fudgery, they were singing! And singing well! But we’d just eaten, had no appetite, and had no assurance that their fudge wouldn’t melt on the long summertime walk back to the hotel.
Earlier on Day Three, we had had room for snacks, not to mention cause: the heat was killing us. Our bottled waters had simmered past lukewarm by the time we finished touring the Historic Ships of Baltimore from the Constellation to the Taney. We sought refuge at an Inner Harbor corner shop called The Best of Luck, which was a bit adorable.
Anne settled in with pistachio ice cream in a waffle cone that brought her back to life. I rejuvenated courtesy of a cold coffee float with honey graham ice cream. The day was saved thanks to The Best of Luck.
Not all our meals had Old Bay on the side. Not all our meals saved the day, either. On the evening of Day Five we half-jokingly wondered if anyplace in Baltimore served crab as a pizza topping. We found one a couple of miles away, but by that time we were no longer in the mood for long-distance walks. But the mood for pizza remained and lured us down the block to Bagby Pizza Co., a Maryland company with three locations.
Service was much faster than what we’d put up with at the Diamond Tavern, but that may be partly because at five p.m. on a Thursday we were Bagby’s only customers. Also, as we found out to our dismay, the pizza we ordered was extra thin and probably didn’t need long to cook. The flavors were there, but it was more an appetizer than the full meal we’d anticipated. How we solved the dilemma of our unsated appetites that evening is a happier tale for another entry.
Speaking of happy tales: one of our favorite meals of the week was lunch on Day Three. The water taxi route back from Fort McHenry required a stopover in the charming historic neighborhood of Fells Point. Rather than waste time scrolling through Google Maps results, this time we fell back to the old hunter/gatherer methods of looking around and seeing what we could find in front of us. The winner: a joint called Riptide by the Bay.
A flyer on the table helpfully explained why Maryland crabs are way better than the Deep South crabs of Florida or New Orleans, using animal food science. The A+ dishes bore out their research. Anne’s lunch was the lead photo at the top of this entry, a soft-shell crab sandwich made from Maryland blue crab, served on butter brioche. Meanwhile for me: crab mac-‘n’-cheese — made with smoked Gouda & and cheddar cheeses, applewood bacon, and green onions.
Our positive culinary experiences didn’t end here, but we appreciate that Riptide by the Bay gave us the kind of seafood experience we’d hoped to find in Baltimore. 12/10, great stuff, would cheerfully recommend their pedigreed super-crab to everyone.
To be continued!
[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email signup for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]