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from the cheap eats dept: Baltimore institutions

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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!

                        2. Baltimore cheap eats institutions include (although cheap isn't cheap any longer) Faidly's, Mary Mervis, Polack Johnnies, G and M, Atmans, Sabatini's and Chiaparelli's, Bergers Bakery (berger's cookies), Ikaro's, Bertha's Mussells, Brick Oven Pizza.

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: dining with doc

                            You had me till you mentioned BOP.

                            1. re: dining with doc

                              BOP is not a Baltimore cheap eat institution. How about Kibby's--no longer cheap though. FoiGras

                              1. re: FoiGras

                                I also don't think of G & M as a Baltimore place...although technically it IS in the MSA ;-))...let alone an institution.

                                Regarding Bertha's Mussels, I generally think of it as the place that folks from DC (the non-denizens of this board types & pre-Nats) always went to eat before taking in a game at Camden Yards.

                                Given that Chiparelli's and Sabitino's are now thrown into the mix, I wonder if the Suburban House would qualify? Or, are these just places that have managed to stick around for a long, long time?

                                I agree about BOP not at all being a Baltimore institution. And Kibby's is a very interesting entry.

                                1. re: baltoellen

                                  At only about 36 years old or so, Bertha's (the name of the place isn't Bertha's Mussels, in spite of what one might think from the ubiquitous "Eat Bertha's Mussels" bumper stickers) probably isn't old enough to be a Baltimore institution. (BOP isn't really old enough either).

                                  Nonetheless, it isn't really fair to portray it as just a tourist trap. Bertha's is a neighborhood bar to lots of folks, as well as an evening live music destination to others from a more expanded neighborhood.

                                  It's an interesting thing to have a neighborhood bar that can be invaded by tourist buses at any time. Sometimes it's a real pain in the butt, but other times you can end up meeting interesting tourists from other cities.

                                  1. re: Hal Laurent

                                    I go to the bar @ Bertha's every so often to hear jazz. But, when talking about institutions for cheap eats (although we seem to have expanded beyond that price category in this thread) do you consider the dining there to be of Baltimore institution status?

                                    1. re: baltoellen

                                      If you read my post more carefully you'll see that I didn't claim Bertha's was a culinary institution. I was merely objecting to your seeming characterization as just a tourist trap.

                                      However, if Bertha's still has the fish cakes on the bar menu, I'd rate them as a food bargain.

                                      1. re: Hal Laurent

                                        And, whatever you think of the food, they did introduce Baltimore to mussels back in the day. What about Miller's Deli?

                              2. re: dining with doc

                                Had a totally unsatisfactory experience at Chiaparellis. 7 out of 8 dinners in our party were a disaster - undercooked eggplant, tasteless pesto, rubbery chicken. Even the salad which was always a hit tasted "old."

                              3. G and A Restaurant on Eastern Avenue?

                                1. What ever Pollack Johnnies are left!

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: hon

                                    I thought I read an article in the Sun that the last one closed a few weeks ago? There was some potential that it could re-open under new owners, but it was unlikely.

                                    1. re: hon

                                      Isn't there still a Pollock Johnies on Washinton Bld and Caton Ave right nest to the liquor store/

                                      How about Catain Harvey's in Dundalk as a cheap institution.

                                      1. re: Hue

                                        Yes, indeed, there IS a Pollock Johnny's next to Southwest Liquors on Washington Blvd and Caton Ave. FoiGras

                                        1. re: Hue

                                          Could you be thinking of the last Little Tavern that just closed?

                                      2. Duda's in Fells Point. I second the nod to Matthews. In addition to the pizza, they have great Italian cold cuts. The Samurai Sushi man at Cross Street Market has good, cheap specials. Maria's in Timonium has 1/2 price pizzas on Sundays and Mondays - not the greatest, but for half off, it is pretty good.

                                        1. Well, you've mentioned all that I would have (Pollack Johnny's, Faidley's and the assorted other Lexington market treats, Attman's, Cross Street oyster bar, the Sip and Bite, et al). I know it isn't in the city, but I would add Andy Nelson's into the mix. It's an institution, and it's still very good. Besides, he played for the COLTS!

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: sistereurope

                                            Definately Andy Nelson's!

                                            1. re: hon

                                              I would agree with G & A Restaurant on Eastern Ave as good cheap eats. We went last night thanks to it's showing on FN's Diner's, Drive-Ins and Dives. I have to admit Guy was right on this one. I got the grilled chicken club which I was told was made with fresh chicken that they had just gotten the night before, pounded out and marinated overnight. It was very tender and flavorful. Dining partner got a coney island dog and burger which he thought was very good and now made famous by Guy, we shared an order of fries with gravy, and both had homebrewed iced tea, and an order of homemade rice pudding to go. Bill was $21!!!!!

                                          2. Although I agree that Attman's IS a Baltimore institution and has the greatest corned beef outside of New York....the reason there was a line at 3PM is because of their absolutely HORRIBLE service ! I have waited over an hour in line to get one corned beef sandwich. There are plently of people working but unfortunately lttle or no direction to move the line. I'll still go there.....have been since I was a little kid...still the best corned beef.

                                            1. How about places that will eventually BECOME an institution, like chicken rico?

                                              1. What about Martick's?

                                                1. For the list -
                                                  — John Steven though not as inexpensive as days gone by
                                                  — Homewood Deli
                                                  — Obrycki's
                                                  — Alonzo's

                                                  Defunct institutions -
                                                  — The Women's Industrial Exchange Restaurant
                                                  — The Buttery
                                                  — Peabody Book Store and Beer Stube for pretzels

                                                  9 Replies
                                                  1. re: Treva

                                                    I was wondering when/if someone would bring up the Women's Industrial Exchange--a truly special place....And, I really don't remember the pretzels at the Peabody Bookstore, sad to say....

                                                    1. re: baltoellen

                                                      The pretzel's were small thin sticks from a cellophane bag. A bit of a joke, but hungry students from MICA and environs appreciated them - nonetheless.

                                                      1. re: baltoellen

                                                        The Industrial Exchange was such a delightful throwback. I recall seeing ladies in hats and gloves frequenting the restaurant for chicken salad, fresh mayo, tomato aspic… Would love to come across photos from the 'day.'

                                                        1. re: Treva

                                                          What a pity. I was hoping to visit the Industrial Exchange as part of a day visit to Baltimore next month (along with the aquarium). it looks as if the exchange is still open but the food served is now "Sofi's Crepes" and a place called The Dogwood Cafe. Too bad; Johnny Apple raved about the "near-perfect chicken salad" in "Apple's America". Can someone tell me how the food is? I was interested to visit the exchange, but may reconsider if the food isn't anything special.

                                                      2. re: Treva

                                                        Didn't the Homewood Deli close years ago?

                                                        1. re: ko1

                                                          Oh darn. When did it close? I've a lot of catching up to do. So… what's the best deli in the Baltimore now? Is it an institution or does it have institutionl potential?

                                                          1. re: Treva

                                                            Homewood was never the best by a long shot, IMO. Attman's is the gold standard here and I'm sure is mentioned above.

                                                          2. re: ko1

                                                            OK ... I'm really going to date myself ... is there still a Nate's & Leon's ... I also used to like Jack's [near the old Customs House] for corned beef sandwiches and -of course- Hausner's and Miller's Chop House and Maria's, but I imagine they're all gone now ... and I'm probably not too far behind !

                                                            1. re: USNA Ancient

                                                              All long gone. Jack's was on Corned Beef Row across the street from Attman's.

                                                        2. You should try Mastellone's Deli and Wine in Hamilton/Parkville area ... on Harford Road. Awesome sandwiches made to order ... especially the ones with their olive spread. REALLY AWESOME! The store also has wonderful Italian products impossible to be found elsewhere. I buy their mozzarella balls and ricotta salta many times. It is probably one of most under appreciated Baltimore institutions.

                                                          7 Replies
                                                          1. re: Guten Appetit

                                                            What about Pete´s grille on York Rd

                                                            1. re: cleveland park

                                                              I was going to suggest Pete's Grille! It is absolutely a neighborhood institution.

                                                              1. re: imgould

                                                                I will chime in for the New Wyman Park on Howard and 25th. One of the most diversely crowded diners in town (and has been for the 18 years I have been here), and solid breakfast and lunch.

                                                            2. re: Guten Appetit

                                                              Speaking of Harford Rd., I think the Fenwick Bakery qualifies as an institution. From what I've read, the nearby Overlea Bakery probably does too.

                                                              I suspect there are some lake trout joints that qualify, but someone else will have to nominate them.

                                                              And how about the Suburban in Pikesville?

                                                              1. re: Bob W

                                                                I mentioned Suburban House earlier, but no one seemed all that excited about it....

                                                                1. re: Bob W

                                                                  Woodlea Bakery falls into this category too, then.

                                                                  1. re: charmedgirl

                                                                    Thanks -- I meant Woodlea! (I think.)

                                                              2. Johnny Dee's "The Lounge" off of Loch Raven Blvd, great shrimp salad.

                                                                8 Replies
                                                                1. re: hon

                                                                  Where is that exactly? I've heard about it and have looked for it, and when I ask about it, everyone always thinks I mean Jerry D's....

                                                                  1. re: baltoellen

                                                                    It used to be just called "The Lounge" when I first went to it. I forget when it got the "Johnny Dee's" prepended to the name.

                                                                    It's on the back side of the strip shopping center on the east side of Loch Raven Blvd between Joan Ave and Amuskai Rd. The front of the shopping center is on the Joan Ave side, and The Lounge is on the Amuskai side, one story lower than the front side.

                                                                    The decor could have been described as "early Parkville club basement".

                                                                    I have no idea if it's still around, as I haven't been there in years.

                                                                    1. re: Hal Laurent

                                                                      thanks, Hal.

                                                                      1. re: Hal Laurent

                                                                        Oh, it's there. It used to have a stag bar connected to it back in the day and yes, you can eat off of coffee tables there.

                                                                      2. re: baltoellen

                                                                        There is a small shopping center on the corner of Loch Raven Blvd and Joan Avenue, just south of Loch Raven and Joppa, "The Lounge" is around the back of the shopping center. It used to have a stag bar connected to it back in the day!

                                                                        1. re: hon

                                                                          Wow, this sounds great. What should a first timer order?

                                                                          1. re: KAZ

                                                                            Back in the day I'd have recommended getting the hot turkey sandwich with gravy on the fries.

                                                                            1. re: KAZ

                                                                              Definately the shrimp salad if you like shrimp salad, softcrab sandwich if they have it, crab cake, etc.
                                                                              It's the kind of place where you wash it all down with a Gin Rickey or a Rob Roy.

                                                                      3. Excuse me . . . but is Reisterstown Road terra incognita for this crowd? What about the Edmart? An institution for sure, and a dead heat with Attman's for good corned beef and pastrami (their smoked fish is clearly superior to Attman's).

                                                                        6 Replies
                                                                        1. re: lawhound


                                                                          1. re: ko1

                                                                            What about Field's Pharmacy in Pikesville--don't they still have a lunch counter that's been around for many years? And...no one has mentioned Burke's Restaurant on Light and Lombard Streets. I would consider it a Baltimore institution. FoiGras

                                                                            1. re: FoiGras

                                                                              Funny you mention Fields. I have to come up with a place that a friend and I call our Ladies Who Lunch date next week, and was lamenting that there was no Women's Industrial Exchange, or even an old fashioned department store lunch place, like the one they used to have at Hutzler's. While Field's is pretty out of the way for my friend and me, I do hope that kind of place still exists.

                                                                              1. re: baltoellen

                                                                                Isn't there also a lunch counter at the Charlesmeade Pharmacy? (It might not actually be called that, but it is on the corner of Charlesmeade and Bellona.)

                                                                              2. re: FoiGras

                                                                                I love Fields french fries. They are my favorite fries in Baltimore. Fields also makes a very good omelette, believe it or not.

                                                                                1. re: MajorFoodie

                                                                                  I agree the deli is tops at Edmart, but you're right, for French Fries, you can't beat Fields!