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Federal Hill rant

Apolgies in advance for whining ;)

Having recently moved to Federal Hill in Baltimore I've been surprised by the lack of good restaurants in the area. Given the price of housing, and popularity of the neighborhood, I would have thought more quality places would have opened up.

Corks is good, but pretty pricey. Vespa closed. I believe Pazza Luna closed. Haven't been thrilled with the Wine Market. I pretty much head for SoBo or Metropolitan (and the latter isn't outstanding either).

Meanwhile, there seem to be 101 places serving cheap beer, wings, and nachos to the post-college crowd.

What am I missing?

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  1. You aren't missing much. I would include the Bicycle, I think its better than the Wine Market at about the same price and much better than Metropolitan.

    That's the answer for most, but since you are on this board, I will assume you are interested in the food. If that is the case, you are missing plenty.

    1. Fort Charles Pub. Believe it. Put up with the Molly Hatchet and the cigarette smoke and get yourself the city's best crab cake! The burger is THE BEST I've found in the city, and I mean the BURGER. You can eat it without any condiments or the bun.

    2. Steve's Lunch in Cross Street Market. Great ham egg and cheese sandwiches. with jelly?

    3. The fish tacos at Capt Larry's. Some like their crab cakes as well, but I prefer the FCP's crab cakes.

    4. Bruce Lee's Wings in the Cross Street Market. Tasty bird.

    I also see that Dangerous Pies is now in Federal Hill. I haven't been in yet, but their pies in Canton were awesome if abit pricey.

    That should get you started.

    1 Reply
    1. re: KAZ

      Kaz, I walked over to FCP from my new place yesterday at noon based on your rec. I had the burger and a couple of beers. It was absolutely one of the best burgers around -- cooked medium rare and absolutely perfect. The place was nearly empty with the exception of a few regulars who apparently start their drinking early. Total bill for a burger, fries and two Sam Adams was 12 bucks and change -- this is one of the best deals going.

      I had planned on only having one beer, but was brought a second without asking for it, so I went ahead and drank it. As such, I ended up spending Sunday afternoon napping instead of unpacking.

      Thanks! Great place.

    2. I recently moved from Baltimore to Southwest Florida and I used to complain about the lack of restaurants in Baltimore. After being down here for nearly 4 months, I am now regretting all of my complaints. If you like Ethnic food, Baltimore has a ton of restaurants to chose from. A few to get started with: The Ambassador(upscale Authentic Indian and very romantic), Dukem(Ethiopian), The Thai Restaurant on Greenspring(Casual and affordable). Also, try 36th Street in Hampden for some B-more charm! Good Luck.

      1. I would say the same thing about Canton. As someone not from Fed Hill, I virtually never head over since Soigne closed, so I definitely agree with you. However, I'd like to know if you've tried/what you think of the following restaurants:

        Nasu Blanca? I've not been yet, but it's gotten some pretty good reviews for some interesting food. It is pricey, however.

        Tango Tapas? I've eaten there twice in the past but not recently--though it was just reviewed in the Baltimore Sun and that review was more or less in line with my experience. I certainly can't say that it's been consistently but good, but though my food has been up and down, the ups from what I recall were pretty good.

        Cafe Manet? They try hard and are pretty inexpensive.

        Finally, if you like bar food, Captain Larry's is a very good bar for a bite to eat with people. Many people also recommend LP Steamers for crabs.

        Hope this helps, but for good eating, I think Fells Point has a lot more than Federal Hill (True, Timothy Dean, Louisiana, La Cazuela, Asahi, Black Olive, Kali's Court, Pazo, Waterfront, One Eyed Mike's are all worthwhile places to go in my book).

        2 Replies
        1. re: atls21231

          When I first moved up here, Federal Hill had all the "great" places, and the area around Fells Point and Canton were looking for better options.

          So maybe it is cyclical. Neither area is very far from the other so we can all enjoy both.

          1. re: atls21231

            Thanks for the suggestions. I've not tried Tango Tapas - I thought I had read somewhere that the place was overpriced, but I'll have to give it a try. I do like Captain Larry's (a real bargain) and of course Nick's Fish counter in the market is always fun. I think Federal Hill actually does pretty well for inexpensive "Tavern" fare, if not for innovative higher end dining.

          2. Here's the recent review of Tango Tapas: http://www.baltimoresun.com/entertain.... Like I said, I think it really captures the place. So please be forewarned: this is really not a restaurant; when I used to go, I used to go early and eat at the bar. But they did have some really good dishes there (and some not so good ones).

            Yeah, it's amazing that Federal Hill doesn't have better restaurants given the income level of its inhabitants. But I'd be interested in hearing what you think about Nasu Blanca; it's just a hop, skip, and jump away from the Wine Market.

            The only other place I thought of was Lillies -- the tapas place in Harborview, but again, I've not been there.

            1. You may also want to give Hull Street Blues a try.
              Good food in a pleasant atmosphere

              1. What about Bicycle? Or does this fit with Corks as being too high priced? It sounds like you might be looking for something in between the pub grub and the high end places?

                I might have to agree that Fells Point has it going on - a couple of my other favorite nice, but not overly expensive places: Henningers (which is even more reasonable if you eat at the bar) and Peter's Inn (worth the trip over if you have not ever been http://www.petersinn.com). And let's not forget the still-pretty-trendy Salt (technically Butcher's Hill).

                1. I just left the neighborhood officially, but here are some of my favorites...

                  Thai Arroy and Ten-O-Six - yummy thai food

                  Thirsty Dog - yummy pizza

                  Porters - pub closer to the hill, much better than other pub food

                  Matsuri - sushi

                  Clearly Bicycle.

                  Blue Agave is good, a little expensive for what you get, but the margaritas are pretty worth it. Blue Agave's owner's just opened a new place called Rub, haven't been yet, but there's a thread on here about it.

                  I can't think of anything else off the top of my head, but I've been to pretty much all of them if you have any specific questions...

                  1. Try the Cheesesteak at MaGerk's, NE corner of Charles and Cross. It's probably the best in Maryland, and they use the same Amoroso Rolls that many of the top places in Philly use. It ain't haute cuisine, but guess what: YOU'RE IN BAWLMER, HON. Don't worry, you'll get the hang of it...either that or you'll lose your mind and move to Georgetown or the UES to get away from the common folk.

                    1. blue agave's food is DELICIOUS. its like they're poaching thier chickens in tequila or something

                      or maybe that was the tequila

                      1. I just tried the $1 happy hour tacos at No Way Jose and was pleased - good salsa too. Sangria was icky.

                        1. my girlfriend went to that yesterday and she said the food was pleasantly delicious

                          1. Let me add a few to the list. The venerable Kirby's Szechuan on south Charles street near Ostend serves excellent classic Szechuan cuisine. Since I moved to the 'burbs I haven't found anyone else who fixes a proper stir-fried meat with hardened bean curd as does Kirby. Banjera further north on south Charles is reputed to still have good Indian fare. Rallo's on Fort avenue at the bottom of the hill on the way to Fort McHenry has some excellent homestyle dinner specials like beef stew and sauerbraten with dumlings.

                            1. Oh, gosh, Kirby is a friend of my husband's family so I wind up eating his food a lot and still haven't found anything to be excited about. Tell me some things to order to remedy that, gringoviejo.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: sweetpotater

                                I have eaten pork with hardened bean curd from Oriental Manor on Route 40 west, a restaurant which has attracted quite a bit of acclaim from Chowhounds, and while it was adequate, I consider Kirby's version to be FAR superior, more meat and bean curd and a much more interesting variety of seasonings, in particular Kirby's use of ground Sichuan peppercorns. Kirby's Fried Wontons stuffed with cream cheese and crabmeat are quite good, and while the hot and sour soup has a lighter broth than other quality Sichuanese restaurants, it is quite good for a change of pace. Kirby's versions of Sichuan beef and Twice-cooked pork are more than chow-worthy, as are the "Paul" dishes. The other standard Sichuanese on the menu are certainly chow-worthy IMO.

                                1. re: elgringoviejo

                                  Thanks for the further info. I'll have to check out Kirby's.

                                  That said, though, using Oriental Manor as a point of comparison for Sichuan dishes is kind of stacking the deck - OM is primarily Cantonese, as best as I can tell. Yes, OM, is well regarded by many on this board, but for what they do best, not necessarily for their attempts at Sichuan dishes. Using them as a measure is kind of like using Ruth's Chris as the standard for seafood, just because Ruth's Chris gets good reviews on Chowhound and they have lobster on the menu (don't know what, if any, fish they may serve - I only get to Ruth's Chris on somebody else's expense account!). OK, that's an admittedly exaggerated analogy, but you see the point, I hope.

                                  As a perhaps more informative comparison, how does Kirby's stack up against Szechaun Best on Liberty Road, or the place in Columbia (Garden Gourmet? Gourmet Garden?) that you recommended on another thread as being good for Sichuan style Chinese?

                                  1. re: Warthog

                                    My bad for ordering Sichuanese fare from OM. I like noodles so perhaps I will order chow fun next time. Szechuan Best might have a slight edge over Kirby's overall, but some of Kirby's dishes, such as the stir fried hardened bean curd are every bit the equal of SB.

                                    1. re: elgringoviejo

                                      I tried Kirby's and the hardened bean curd the other night. They may be worthy of further exploration. Thanks for the rec!

                              2. I find the "tavern" food in Fed Hill to be a pretty good meal and a good value. Porter's is above average. New BBQ place RUB (south end of Light St.) is a great addition to the neighborhood. Best Chinese (carry-out or delivery) is Sun Hing on Light St directly across from Bicycle.
                                For some reason the neighborhood has trouble hanging on to some of the nicer sit-down restaurants (Soigne, Green Olive, Vespa, Pazza Luna, Joy America Cafe have all closed recently). But there are new places opening all the time, which is a good sign.

                                1. Hey Man,
                                  As long as you're not scared of the "scary locals" as the CP likes to put it in their food edition, You should check out Hogan's Alley at Fort and Covington. Great crab cake and cheesesteak and probably the best shrimp salad in the city.
                                  s

                                  1. I agree for the most part, but would have to say my top choices in Fed Hill/South Baltimore are Wine Market, Bicycle, and SoBo Cafe. Unfortunately, Fed Hill has pretty much been relegated to being chock full of beer bars. Another little gem is Crazy Lils, get there early and sit in the upstairs dining room - good food (the Ahi Tuna is excellent) and a menu that changes pretty often. The WIne Market has a nice Happy Hour to sample various wines and cheap apps, and SoBo is just always a good place for some good old fashioned comfort food.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: LGood

                                      I've recently rediscovered Regi's (next to Ten-O-Six, on Light Street) - a very good menu, including a full page of daily specials, and the MOST decadent first courses I've ever seen (tater tots with brie and bacon, lobster macaroni & cheese. . . ).

                                      For the best sandwiches, head straight to Beach Bums on Light Street (between Subway and the pie guy) - and try whatever you order on a pretzel roll. The owner also does catering, and makes an excellent crab dip and teryaki red snapper skewers.

                                    2. as far as Federal Hill goes Bicycle and SoBo are the besst choices for interesting food.Vespa is slated to reopen soon. Regis is a nice spot to relax with friends or dine alone. The food is above average but not inspired. If you are willing to travel a bit north on Charles street yon can dine at Saffron and I'm sure you will enjoy yourself. If you want to walk to the Harbor area try Blue Sea or Mex. As other posters have suggested, Fells Point has a larger selection. Try Paza, The Black Olive, or Louisianna

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: cookdebbie

                                        Do you have any recent Louisiana experience? I used to love the place, but it really went downhill and I stopped going there. I'd love to hear that it's gotten better again.

                                        1. re: Hal Laurent

                                          Vespa is opening back-up in a few months with more space and a new concept but nothing to do with mother's

                                            1. re: hon

                                              I think he's saying that they're opening in the same, but expanded, space.

                                        2. re: cookdebbie

                                          Rumor has it that Vespa will not be reopening, but Mother's will be expanding into the space in one form or another. So sad...

                                        3. I just wanted to say thanks to all the posters in this thread. I'm moving out of the suburbs to Federal Hill in the near future, and there's a lot of decent recs here.

                                          What's the word on Nick's Fish House (the restaurant, not the one in Cross Street Market). I was exploring on Saturday and noticed that it's not far away.

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: JonParker

                                            IMHO Nick's Fish House is a horrnedously executed great idea. The location is cool, the scene is cool, the food is unforgivably bad. Been there twice. First time voluntarily and wasn't going back. Begrudgingly went again for a friend's wedding shower type party, and the food was every bit as bad as I had remembered it. Don't go!!!!!

                                            1. re: JonParker

                                              The food is very hit or miss, I've had decent shrimp salad but an order of fish and chips smelled overwelmingly of ammonia - not a good sign. If you want to kick back on a warm afternoon and have a few by the water then it's perfect.

                                              1. re: hon

                                                I think the deal is that Nick's isn't supposed to be a restaurant, it's supposed to be a scene. It does the latter pretty well from what I understand. The food is just there for something to do between the weekends.

                                                1. re: atls21231

                                                  I think I'll just go to Mama's when I get the craving. It's too bad, as Nick's is closer.

                                            2. We had a dinner for six at Nick's restaurant that was blechy. Appetizers were at least so-so.

                                              Took my visiting parents to Rallo's yesterday for lunch. Perfectly fine neighborhood fare. My dad liked his veal parm (me - not so much), my shrimp salad sandwich and lima bean soup were pretty good, my mom's beef stew was good. What we really liked were the sides: kicky pickled beets and green beans one step yummier than the usual diner side. I'd go back.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: sweetpotater

                                                Veal Parmesian? at Rallo's?!? I don't know what to make of that choice.

                                              2. Apparently Pazza Luna was purchased by the people that own Sotto Sopra and is slated to reopen very soon.

                                                1. Thai Arroy is great on Light Street; plus BYOB.

                                                  1. I couldn't agree more...you'd think there would be a much better selection of cool places to eat....here is what I've come across...

                                                    Blue Agave
                                                    Crazy Lil's (yes-it's a bar-but the food is really good-upstairs is smoke free)
                                                    SoBo Cafe
                                                    The Bicycle (probably one of the coolest places in b-more)

                                                    1. I must encourage everyone to give the Wine Market another go-- having recently acquired an excellent new chef, the whole place has turned around (much more consistent, much more inventive). Also, while a little unorthodox, Captain Larry's on Fort Ave has killer fish tacos, and awesome hand cut fries (not to mention $2 dark'n'stormy's when it rains)

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: prunuspersica

                                                        I know this post is dated, but as a New Englander, I can't say enough how jealous I am that you have a place like The Wine Market. I love the retail/tiny corkage-in-one concept, along with pretty good food. I can only wish the Blue Laws could relax enough here...