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HELP --visit to Baltimore

Visiting the Baltimore suburbs, staying in a town called Sparks about 20 mi north of the city. We are two families with kids ages 12-20, and are looking for fun eats and things to do over the next few days, including New Years Eve. We are in the suburbs, but don't mind driving into the city or to other surrounding suburbs. Ideas for crabs? dim sum? other novel experiences that can include food and interesting places to walk around?

Appreciate any and all suggestions, to get the crew out of the house and experience the best that Baltimore has to offer. thank you much.

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  1. Baltimore has at least two excellent Greek restaurants, Acropolis and Ikaros on Eastern avenue on the southeastern edge of Baltimore city. Lamb, calamari, stuffed grape leaves, and other Greek dishes are done with expertise at both places.

    1. The obvious suggestion is to spend a day in the Inner Harbor. There is lots to do any day of the week, and they will have a huge celebration there on New Year's Eve. There are many restaurants in the Inner Harbor, all chain restaurants. Unfortunately, good food and touristy things to see seldom come together in the same place.

      If I were your tour guide, I would arrange to arrive downtown at lunch time and stop first at Lexington Market - there is a pay parking lot adjacent. Go into the market and find Faidley's and get a jumbo lump crabcake. There are all kinds of food stalls in the market for those in the group who don't like fish. But be warned, this is a busy, bustling working food market in a lower class neighborhood. It is not a genteel market like you would find at Disneyland.

      This may be too far a trip from Sparks, but you might consider First Night Annapolis for New Year's Eve. It is very family oriented.

      1. I like the Lexington Market suggestion. It would be a great lunch spot. There is a stall in there called Pollack Johnnies that has great polish sausage.

        Crab season is in the summer, so I wouldn't recommend a traditional steamed crab feast this time of year.

        After the lunch at Lexington Market, I would recommend taking a walk around Fells Point. Its a waterfront neighborhood that formerly housed the TV show Homicide. There are plenty of good food options including upscale (Black Olive), funky (Peter's Inn) and plenty of bar food (Duda's, John Steven's for steamed shrimp). North Fells point is a latino neighborhood. There is a good Ecuadoran place (La Cazuela) and a great mexican hole in the wall (el Taquito).

        Enjoy Baltimore!! and be sure to post back with you discoveries.

        1. Thursday and Friday are forecast as sunny and relatively mild, so I second the Inner Harbor suggestion. Getting downtown from Sparks is a breeze via I-83, which has fairly light traffic due to less commuters.

          I'd also suggest Fells Point for a waterfront experience.

          1. Since you identified yourselves as "families" I'll second the recommendation for the Inner Harbor...lots of food choices, lots of shops, nearby attractions (science museum. aquarium, etc.) For adults, Fells Point has quaint shops and a variety of restaurants with varying price ranges.

            1. In between the Inner Harbor and Fells is Little Italy, which is a quaint neighborhood with at least one good deli/market (Il Scalino) and two bakeries, albeit of different sorts (Vaccaro's for a sit down, full-blown dessert experience or take away cannoli if you prefer, and Piedigrotta for great breads, savory baked goods and COOKIES). I'd recommend at least a walk through, to get a feel for another longstanding Baltimore gem.

              I'm also a fan of several of the restaurants, though most on Chowhound aren't.

              1 Reply
              1. re: charmedgirl

                I am a much bigger fan of Greektown than Little Italy, but I do heartily recommend Piedigrotta.

              2. Thank you...your suggestions are great! We have all been to the Inner Harbor in the past, so the idea of walking around a different Baltimore neighborhood is very appealing.

                Is it walkable to go to Fells Point from the Inner Harbor via Little Italy? Where would you park?

                On a related topic, if we decide to go to first Annapolis, how long a drive is that? Ditto for a day trip to Washington DC... how long a drive is that?

                1 Reply
                1. re: ronnie56

                  You can easily take the water taxi to fells point and fort mchenry from the inner harbor or vice versa. Stay away from the Inner Harbor! All the other suggestions are great...but the Inner Harbor is just chains and tourist traps plus more expensive.

                2. Annapolis is a little over an hour from Sparks, down I-97. Worth it for the history if you can do it. Parking garages are within a few blocks of the City Dock area.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: bordeauxfan

                    There is an almost total contrast between Baltimore and Annapolis, as in the main Annapolis is as bourgeois as Baltimore is proletarian.

                    1. re: elgringoviejo

                      i'm not sure calling annapolis bourgeois is a fair assessment. perhaps you meant that annapolis has been more cafefully restored to reflect historic architecture. Baltimore has it's charm, for sure, but there's no "fells point" parallel in annapolis.

                      1. re: jcuster

                        I meant simply that Annapolis has always been a mercantile and government town, while Baltimore became an industrial center. Annapolis is charming, but mostly high-end, more for foodies, while one can find some low-end but delicious chow in Bawlmer, like Chuckie's Fried Chicken in the Hollins market, Matthew's pizza on Eastern avenue, gyros at Maria D's in south Baltimore, tortillas at La Tortilleria also on Eastern avenue, pupusas at Martithia's in nearby and quintessentially proletarian Glen Burnie etc.

                  2. This may be a dumb question, but where do I get the water taxi?

                    also, can anyone recommend good Chinese close to Sparks,MD? (Dim sum a plus, but not essential)

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: ronnie56

                      It's a bit of a hike, but Oriental Manor in Ellicott City has great Dim Sum - they are about 1-2 miles west of Route 29 on Route 40.

                      1. re: ronnie56

                        get the water taxi in fells point, near brown's warf. Or in the inner harbor there is a big stand at the pier.

                      2. this is really good Chinese, not too far, but no dim sum

                        water taxi info

                        1. thank you so much. I'm good to go!

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: ronnie56

                            You seem to have your info; hope you enjoy your stay. Just like to make a few additions.

                            (1) There is a Wegman's not far from you. I don't know where you are from, but if you don't have Wegman's where you live, you might want to check it out. 250,000 sq. foot grocery store, some people believe it's the best grocery store in the US.

                            (2) Annapolis is an hour from Baltimore, so it would be probably 90 minutes from Sparks if you drive fast. Probably the easiest way to go is 83S to 695 WEST to 97S. 695W can get very congested during rush hour.

                            (3) Oriental Manor is the closest dim sum, and it's good, but give yourself 40 minutes. It would 83S to 695W to 70W to 29S to Route 40 West.

                            (4) There is a pretty authentic Chinese place in Towson called Golden Gate. If you like won ton, they have the best in the area. Get the roast pork won ton noodle woup and the whole steamed fish and you won't be disappointed.

                            (5) Baltimore is full of history, so if you like to relive that stuff, I'd recommend visits to Fort McHenry (south of Federal Hill) and Patterson Park (east of downtown). Patterson Park is in between Canton and Fells Point.

                            (6) It's definitely walkable from Fells Point to Little Italy to Inner Harbor. If you were doing it without stopping, I'm sure you could do it in 20 minutes (it's really less than a mile by the shortest route). I'd start in Fells Point, walk down Thames, circle round to Aliceanna or Fleet, and when you see the Whole Foods, go north a couple of blocks and that will put you in Little Italy. After Little Italy, just cross President's Street and your in the Inner Harbor.

                            (7) There are three well-known restaurants near you; I don't get up that way much so I don't know what the current state of each is, but by reputation, the three are: The Milton Inn (you should avoid this one); Friendly Farms (reputed to have some of the best crabcakes in the area; call before you head up to make sure they're open); and the Manor Tavern (I haven't been there for a good 18 months, but it's been worthwhile both times I've gone).

                            Hope you enjoy our town!

                            1. re: atls21231

                              And don't forget that Andy Nelson's is right down York Road, for the best BBQ in the area.

                          2. I second Friendly Farms near Sparks as a good place to go for dinner with a large group and supposively has great crab cakes. China Moon in Reisterstown is good for Chinese food and not too far away.

                            For sightseeing that is a bit of a distance there is Hershey Park which is about an hour to an hour and a half away. They have their holiday display and the park is free, just need to pay for tickets for rides. Not all the rides are open but it is still fun. You can also go through the Hershey factory ride.

                            Don't forget to drive down to 34th street which has a large Holiday light display that cars wait in line for over 30 minutes some nights to drive down. Recommend parking and walking through the block.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: hopeinmee

                              That would be 34th Street in Hampden in Baltimore City, just to clarify.

                            2. Hello there! There's been some great suggestions here and I just wanted to add a couple more for you :)

                              1) Dim Sum - Some of the best dim sum in the area is a little bit aways from Baltimore, but you mentioned that you might take a day trip to the DC area so...

                              - New Fortune, Gaithersburg, MD - this is one of my family's favorites. It starts at about 10:30 or 11:00 on weekends and does all your traditional dim sum. It is a bit far from Baltimore, probably at least an hour away but worth it if you are coming down to DC. 16515 S. Frederick Ave., Gaithersburg, MD 20877. 301-548-8886.

                              - A & J, Rockville, MD - For Northern/Shanghainese dim sum, def try A&J. They do a variety of dumplings, noodles, and so forth. Also in the DC area. 1319-C Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD 20852, 301-251-7878.

                              I have some more Bmore suggestions, but my computer is about to run out of battery so will have to come back!

                              Enjoy Baltimore!

                              1. I think all of these suggestions are great. Even the ones with which I am not familiar.

                                Here are some additions.

                                If in Little Italy, I suggest La Scala. It is family friendly and has great food that they will prepare in nearly any fashion you desire. But don't miss the Grilled Caesar Salad. My wife remarked it tasted like steak but without the meat. http://www.lascaladining.com/

                                My other suggestion would be Kali's Mezze in Fells Point on Aliceanna St. It is Mediterranean tapas. Mmmmmm. Small plates with big flavor. http://www.kalismezze.com/ for the menu.

                                Enjoy your stay.

                                1. I recommend Mt. WAshington, which is in North Baltimore off I-83, and then a quick trip south to Hampden. For restaurants (with kids), i think paper moon is the best. especially for breakfast. http://www.papermoondiner24.com/

                                  1. Also, a great place for your families for dinner would be Pazo-it is wonderful for large parties, as it is Tapas type, very good food. However, not Spanish, so there are plenty of great things for all ages. I suggest choosing your own selections though instead of going with the prefixed selections for large groups (we ordered so much, spent less, & got what we really wanted.)It is in Fells Point- I'd make a reservation.


                                    1. I got so much good info here that I will have to return to try them all.

                                      Loved the recommendations to use the water taxi as a means to explore the downtown area; went to One Eyed Mikes in Fells Point for lunch, and that was great. Went to Vacarro's in Little Italy for coffe and pastry, which reminded me of Little Italy in NYC, and was a great addition. Our kids were into ferreting out any and all vintage clothing stores, so we found two downtown, they were a hit. That's as close as I got to exploring the "history" of the area :)

                                      Our host cooked more than I expected, so we will just have to return to try out some of these other suggestions. Thanks so much, Chowhounds!