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from the cheap eats dept: Baltimore institutions

I was waiting in line at Attman's yesterday just before 3pm. The person waiting next to me and I mused about just why there happened to be a line when it wasn't lunch, and I replied, well, Attman's is an institution.

So, what other Baltimore institutions for cheap eats are out there? And, how does something reach institutional status, without merely being a place that sells good food that's been around for a while? Is there a difference?

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  1. I'd throw Faidley's in the pile.

    I think an institution is more about time and culture. If we feel as if the place is rooted in Baltimore culture, then it becomes more than just a good place to eat. That being said, I think institutions don't always even require that 'great food' status, though usually they were at least great a one point.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Wangus

      I definitely thought of Faidley's. And, then that let me to other Lexington Market vendors, like Bergers Cookies, Pollock Johnny's, and even Mary Mervis for shrimp salad. And, I thought, well, they can't all be institutions, or could they?

      What fits in the "once good" but still go there for old time's sake pile?

      1. re: baltoellen

        Whether or not it's an 'institution" or not is debatable, but a sub-$6 pit beef from Chaps should make anyone's list of cheap local flavor.

        1. re: gregb

          Chaps definitely has an "instution" feel to me; even though it is essentially in the parking lot of a strip-club, you have people from all over town showing up in a steady stream, and there is no nonsense....they get the food out to you like they mean business.

        2. re: baltoellen

          Mary Mirviss is definitely an institution with its long lines and the workers from Barron's vainly trying to woo customers over to their sandwich stand.

          1. re: baltoellen

            "What fits in the "once good" but still go there for old time's sake pile?"

            Good question baltoellen. I think that something like Tio Pepes is near to that list. The food has been hit or miss the few times I've gone in the past years, never truly terrible, but sometimes just 'eh'. Some of the people I know would say the same about Martick's; they often say it isn't nearly as good as it used to be.

        3. Definately Jimmys and the Sip & Bite!

          1. Excellent thread Ellen. I think its much easier to identify an institution once they are gone, e.g. Hausners. One key ingredient seems to be a place that doesn't change with trends, but still draws a crowd both old timers and new comers. It seems a few places are at least on their way to icon status. I'll propose a few:

            Matthew's Pizza. You can like or dislike their pizza, but they ain't changing it and I love em for it.

            Samos. There is ALWAYS a line. You'd think that they could develop a better system to bus the tables, but they don't. And I keep going.

            J. Patricks. This place is THE quintessential Baltimore Irish institution, and rapidly becoming the only place that hasn't changed down the point. May Joe live another 100 years and J.Pats carry on for another 100.

            7 Replies
            1. re: KAZ

              How is the food at J. Patrick's? Is it worth the drive from the other side of the city?

              1. re: gregb

                The experience is definitely worth the drive. Go on Thursday night for the live Irish music sit in. The food is in the old simple Irish tradition. Simple sandwiches, some Sheppard's pie, decent fried chicken tenders, nothing that will set culinary records. The star of the show is still an expertly poured pint of Guinness.

                1. re: KAZ

                  A properly poured pint is reason enough for the trip! They can't even do that at James Joyce for $6.50.

              2. re: KAZ

                Well Matthews did add the thin crust, but it's good so I forgive them.

                1. re: KAZ

                  Of course, I immediately also though of Haussner's as the quintessential Baltimore institution. I had been thinking Matthew's, too.

                  But, I must admit, Samos--where I 've eaten often over the last ten years or so , never crossed my mind, and neither did J. Patrick's. In fact, if I were to think institution in Greektown, it would be Ikaros, where I never eat, but which was, I think, THE place in the 70s maybe.....and still around.

                  1. re: baltoellen

                    I agree about Samos: it isn't (at least not yet) an 'institution' of Baltimore. Certainly it's really popular and has great food, but so does my chick-fil-a (yes, I'm kidding around with this comparison).

                    However, I think that Vaccaro's might be worth giving 'institution' status.

                  2. re: KAZ

                    There is a better bus system at Samos. I do it when I'm next for a table. They like it. Put everything, paper and all, in the tubs next to the cash register.

                  3. The raw oyster counter at Cross Street Market. Those guys have been there forever, it's uber-Balto, and very reasonable. And always a crowd of fifth-generation native Bawlmerians mixed with yuppies and such. To me it's the epitome of the city: Balwmer eats from the Chesapeake, paper/plastic forks, cups, and plates, and clientele who show that while the city is changing, it hasn't changed at all.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: venera

                      Let's hope it survives the new ownership.

                      1. re: KAZ

                        Oh, my. When did this happen? Have they changed it much? That would be a shame. :(

                        1. re: venera

                          It happened very recently. There seems to be no changes in staff and promises that not much will change.

                          1. re: KAZ

                            So Nicks doesn't own it anymore?

                    2. Marticks is very high on the list!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: hon

                        Totally!!! Absolutely. And CP did a recent review, evidently the place is hummin'. :) Which is quite nice to hear.

                        My SO was like "where the hell are you taking me?" that first night. Now all he remembers is the pate (with crackers) and the boulliabaise.

                        1. re: hon

                          oops, Marticks isn't exactly cheap eats - just an institution!