Dawn Ford takes on a heap of crabs. They didn’t stand a chance!
When Alan and I decided with our friends Dawn and Richard Ford to visit Baltimore Labor Day weekend, we had a serious goal in mind: Eat the best crab cake we could find. And we did.
Of course the trip also featured visits to the National Aquarium and the Baltimore Museum of Art. The guys took in an Orioles/Yankees baseball game at Camden Yards. And we loved our afternoon touring the harbor on a water taxi. But, for the rest of my life, one thing will always come to my mind when I think of Baltimore: crabs, crabs, crabs.
When I tell folks we just got back from a pleasure trip to Baltimore, we mostly get this question: Why? Well, a few months ago I visited Baltimore for a convention. My hotel was on the water and I could see the beautiful harbor. But I didn’t have any time to enjoy it — except from afar. I thought it was such a shame to visit one of America’s great cities and not really be able to experience it. So, when I got home to Knoxville, I mentioned to Dawn that I wanted to go back. “Well,” Dawn said. “You know I’m from Baltimore.” Duh! I had completely forgotten that. Although she had not been to Baltimore in 16 years, she agreed to be our tour guide. We picked a weekend when the Baltimore Orioles were playing the New York Yankees (Richard’s favorite team) and made the arrangements.
So, if you are planning a trip to Baltimore, read on for our report on the good and the not-so-good (but mostly good) of our experience.
Crab cakes from Faidley Seafood. Yum.
Best crab cake in Baltimore (that we could find): Faidley Seafood. It was really no contest. These award-winning crab cakes are made of lump crab meat, saltine cracker crumbs, maybe a little mayo and lemon juice, and possibly some dried mustard. And not much else. The business was founded in 1886 by John W. Faidley and today is owned and operated by Nancy and Bill Devine, two members of his family. Located in its original home, the “World Famous Lexington Market,” it is no frills. You stand in line to order your cakes ($15 for one) and you eat them standing up from a plastic plate with plastic utensils. And you feel lucky. Featured in “1000 Places to See Before You Die,” these crab cakes have even been served to astronauts on the Space Shuttle. Worth the trip.
Note: Faidley Seafood does a robust mail order business. Just click on the link to their website (here) for ordering information.
Faidley Seafood’s interior. Standing room only — at 2 p.m.
Haha. They also have an oyster bar.
One of the Faidley owners, Nancy Devine.
Here’s the sign you are looking for.
I kind of think of the trip as finding things to do between the time we spent eating crab cakes and other kinds of crab food.
Walking along the Inner Harbor on the way to the National Aquarium, we saw this sweet sculpture and Dawn and Richard took advantage of it! A bystander jokingly yelled, “Get a room!”
Alan tested out his strength on the anchor of the USS Constellation, which was first launched in 1854.
I couldn’t talk them into riding the dragon boats.
I love jellyfish and there was a great display of them at the aquarium. No brain, no heart, no blood. Hmm.
These are moon jellies.
This bunch of cassiopea jellies got a little bit active as an aquarium worker sprinkled some plankton in their tank.
Dawn liked touching a ray. Carefully.
In the “Shark Alley” display, we lost Richard. We thought we had found him when we spotted this diver! But it was just a guy who looked like him, thankfully.
A white-banded cleaner shrimp. It eats dead skin and parasites off other fish. Yuk.
We saw some dolphins do tricks. See the ball this one threw in the air?
We wisely chose seats outside of the “splash zone.”
More walking along Harborplace, one of the original “festive retail” centers built in 1980. More on that later.
Three tourists. That middle one is the mascot for a comedy club called Dick’s Last Resort.
An entirely suitable piece of public art.
Phillips Seafood, located at Harborplace, is where we found the second best crab cakes of our trip. (Thanks to our friend Don Parnell for the recommendation.)
Here they are! Delicate little mini-cakes. Delish.
Another favorite Dawn turned us on to: Maryland crab soup. It’s filled with veggies — and crab. I tried it in a lot of places. I think this was the second best of the trip.
Loved our nice outside table.
Appropriate wall decor inside.
The best deal of the trip? The water taxi. You can ride all day, getting off and on at various stops, for just $14.
We passed lovely green Federal Hill, a community park.
And the Domino Sugars factory.
Huge cargo ships.
We got off the water taxi in historic Fell’s Point and dropped in at a cute little place called Kooper’s Tavern. It’s named after a yellow lab.
We were not very hungry, but we nibbled on a few pieces of crab and corn flatbread. It was good. But try to go there when you actually are hungry!
Even though we were stuffed, Richard almost made us miss the water taxi because he just HAD to pay a visit to Fell’s Point Creamery!
After a nap, the guys headed to the baseball game to see the Orioles trounce the Yankees. Sorry, Richard. Alan took this pic from their seats.
And the requisite selfie.
Sangria is served in these colorful pitchers. Dawn bought one to bring home.
Our waiter, Oscar, has worked at Tio Pepe for 41 years.
What to order? Crab meat in vinaigrette, of course!
The flan was awesome. Order it if you go there.
Museum time! We entered on the side for Saturday brunch at the museum’s great restaurant, Gertrude’s, before the museum even opened.
Eggs Gertrude, was my order. Translation: crab cakes benedict!
One of my favorite surrealist artists is Rene Magritte. The Baltimore museum has one of his sculptures. I know — weird.
They have a Rodin, too.
And I really loved their collection of old mosaics from Antioch. They date from before 500 A.D.
Here’s Richard enjoying the “art” in Gertrude’s bar. (OK, I admit that I was there, too!)
We knew that the Comic Con convention was in town, but it still surprised us to see this angel walking down the sidewalk!
The Bank of America building was our favorite. Today it has been turned into residences.
We had been told to expect a great crab cake on the night we visited the Rusty Scupper.
It’s in a marina on the Inner Harbor.
Crab art at the Scupper.
But the actual crab cakes were only so-so. We ranked them fourth best of the four restaurants we tried.
But the Maryland crab soup there was the best of all that we tried!
Everyone LOVED the 8-layer cake with Amaretto ice cream for dessert. Notice the beautiful view out the window.
We had a nightcap at the historic Owl Bar, where Dawn said her parents used to go on dates!
On the final evening of our visit, we met eight of Dawn’s relatives and had dinner at Bo Brooks, a restaurant famous for its steamed crabs. I ordered crab cakes, of course, for research purposes, and rated the ones at Bo Brooks to be the third best of the trip.
Left to right, front row: Bonnie Eskridge, Donna Eskridge, Gail Giese, Libby Waldner, Dawn and Amy Swope. Back row: Dan Giese, Scott Waldner, Tim Eskridge and Richard.
Here’s my crab cake.
The Bo Brooks version of Maryland crab soup. Tasty. But not as good as The Rusty Scupper’s.
Meanwhile . . .
These folks know what they like!
So, that sums up some of the highlights. Here’s a low light.
Do NOT go to The Admiral’s Cup in Fell’s Point. It looks inviting as you hop off the water taxi. But the staff is rude and the wine is dreadful.
And here’s a concern I have when I compare Baltimore with Knoxville.
The famous Harborplace, touted as a model of so-called “festive retail” development when it was built in 1980, once was pushed as an example of how Knoxville’s World’s Fair Park should be redeveloped after the fair closed in 1982. That never happened, and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.
Harborplace used to be filled with unique locally owned shops and eateries. Now, the small, locally owned places have been replaced by national chain operations. A huge Hooters restaurant is a big focal point, as is a Ripley’s Believe it or Not. You can see the Barnes & Noble and Hard Rock Cafe in the picture above. Other chain places include Cheesecake Factory, Urban Outfitters and Five Guys, to name a few.
Seeing this just made me a little uneasy. When we travel to a new city, we make it a point to try to visit locally or regionally owned places to get a real feel for the personality of the place. Not that big chains are bad; they’re not. They have their place and they are predictable and consistent and, many of them, pretty good quality. But we can go to them any time. It’s the local places that really tell a city’s story.
I love what’s happening in downtown Knoxville right now with all the local shops and eateries. We even have a few representatives of small regional chains like Five and Babalu, two of my favorite restaurants, and Mast General Store, which I love and frequent. But that’s another thing entirely from a Hooters and Barnes & Noble. I sure hope the huge national chains don’t take over the great atmosphere we now have in downtown Knoxville.
Do you think this is a valid concern?