Oh, Let's Not Be Alone: My Weekend in Baltimore
Friday. 4th of July weekend, 2017. Here I am, grabbing emergency Cheeze-Its and water, cruising through the tourists and overwrought pigeons down 35th and 9th, heading to Bolt Bus. New York in the summer is a bitter split between the haves and the have-nots and this weekend, I am determined to have. I'm headed to Baltimore, to see my friends (artists, and major babesters) Suzanne + Allison.
So I throw my wheel-y bag into the caverns of the bus, and take the only available seat next to a woman, who it needs to be said, spends 41 minutes trying to track down a passport for a man named Moses. "Okay, but like does his passport have enough paper left for an additional stamp?" she wonders aloud, as I hide behind my international melodrama, dancing between Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Jodhpur ("...they enjoyed a classic Indian breakfast of akuri-spiced scrambled eggs on laccha paratha, chicken samosas, and fresh mango pudding on their private balcony...").
3 hours later I'm coasting into Baltimore and right into the arms of Suzanne who scoops me up at the corner and into her home.
When we walk in, Al is at the stove, sauteing kale and zucchini for a primavera, and pouring champagne into queenly 1950s (fact-check me on the era, Suze) glasses. Like, could there be a more heavenly start to a weekend?
Now - it needs to be said - Al & Suze are some of the most beautiful hosts I've ever met. They've created an elegant home that's every bit an extension of them: creative, warm, and thoughtful, the kinda joint where you wake up to them singing Aretha, their dog Lucy chilling, waiting for a scrap.
I bring this up because In one of my favorite all-time favorite books, "Blood, Bones & Butter", Gabriel Hamilton recounts landing in Athens, and her host Iannis. Without saying a word, he orders white wine, summer fish, and grilled octopus, and raw sardines which they cook in pure alcohol set aflame. I'm digressing but the point is: to be hungry and sweaty and arrive in someone's home where they have a delicious tangy pasta and champagne spritzer waiting for you is my idea of luxury. Straight up. We stay up late, giggling about all sorts of rascalry and polish off the delicious summer veggies (grown in their garden, no less) with Suze's homemade watermelon granitas which one could describe as 'refreshing af' if one wanted to use the parlance of one's time. Which of course, I don't.
The next day we have breakfast at Chuck's -- a new nook, with rough n tumble looking line cooks and the best fcking cornbread of my life. Let me back track for a minute, here. Some of y'all's conception of Baltimore is informed by "The Wire" and CNN reports of drug deals and incarcerations. I won't discredit those narratives, but I also want you to know that there's a restless and undeniable magic abrewin' in Baltimore. It's sneaking through the chain link fences, shooting past the vacant mills, and snaking around the crumbling roses in Federal Hill. There is something exceedingly opulent in that city and you feel it taking hold. And that energy and ghostliness and deliciousness is in the food, too. Baltimore flavors have a style -- at the crossroads of hip Southern, locally grown, and soulfully arranged. So anyway: we take a seat at the counter, watching as Chuck (was it Chuck? or some other deeply tattooed chef master?) blow torch (yes, blow torch) fried eggs, mix cheese into grits, slice pickles, and wipe the sweat from his rather macho brow.
We order a smattering of menu items: the "Infidel" sandwich (pork, ham, pickles, cheese, mustard, coleslaw), cornbread, pancakes, and the Farmer's skillet. The food arrives and it's actually a coal miner's / Remy dream, oily, piping hot, and intensely delicious. The little pat of butter on the cornbread is like sailing into the heavens and circling around and around till I knife a huge corner and take a bite, locking eyes with Chuck as I chew. This sounds romantic but is mostly frightening. We talk about Paris and Mexico City and the home store that Al + Suze are one day going to open (it's fate!), slurping down iced coffee with the convicts sitting next to us. Bliss.
From there, we drive around and frolick at the Baltimore Conservatory (y'all know I love a palm frond), do a little shopping, and then head over to see our friend Hannah tend bar at her new restaurant, Minnow. I've been in a seafood state of mind and Minnow's menu is right on the money, a slight and lovely oceanic sampling from the brothers behind La Cuchara (still haven't been, but next on my list). We trust and love Hannah so we order her favorites -- the grilled calamari, "Baltimore Coddie" (crab cakes with sauteed greens + pea shoots + orange beurre blanc), ceviche and frites with rosemary aioli. I also, delightfully, end up ordering a new favorite cocktail called the "And His Wife" which tastes like burnt cherries (Cachaça, Yzaguirre Dry Vermouth, Jack Rudy Grenadine). We distract Hannah from her higher paying clientelle, and oggle the guys across the bar who have ordered a drink that is sprayed with mist in a glass contraption, like some amazing chem experiment gone wrong. We hug Hannah, head to Blue Pit BBQ for an after-din drink, and then collapse from heat exhaustion.
And Sunday I wake up to Suze and Al getting funky in the kitchen, making a perfect feast of radish/tomato salad, muffin top zucchini baked eggs, sliced avocado, summer fruit, and the most amazing biscuits I've ever tasted with zany flavors -- srircha, garlic/chive, and sprinkle. The biscuits are the brain trust of their good pal, and her company is called Brwn Co (go go if you live in Baltimore) which almost make you levitate they're so tasty.
We fuel up before heading to Gunpowder Falls for tubing with secret beers (Baltimore is also a great town for brews, a new favorite is the Briney Melon from Anderson Valley Brewing Company), and bashing into strangers in weird toe shoes as we float, ever so gently.
Anddd then, because we like to be decadent and we can't resist delicious eats, we go to Parts & Labor for an early (sun-drenched) din. Parts & Labor has an aesthetic that I really dig. The outdoor seating has insane rough cut wooden tables, a spindly fire pit, and clusters of black eyed susans and the inside has sprawling 50s refrigerators which you can see behind the bar, with big clunky handles, and heavy glasses with raised dots that feel like something your ancient aunt would leave to you in her will. And the food is dank; we ordered chilled homemade pimento (a standout!) with crostini, some weird fish nunja salami, coppa, and bar burgers (a Suze fave) which are soo banging good. The joint takes its artisanal, local meat very seriously (which I notice is a Baltimore thang as well) and the burgers are sharp and tangy, with thinly sliced patties which melt right into the onion, lettuce, and slightly mayonaisse-y sauce. Che sensuale.
And today, after alllll that, we cap off our 4th together with porch beers and more homemade granitas and sweaty meats n cheeses (Salva Cremasco and calabrese salami, and all sorts of buttery goodness).
I think my takeaways from this weekend are that a) Suze + Al are doing it right b) Baltimore makes me act like a low-key alcoholic and c) there's a saturated, kinda hazy, slightly sharp poetry in that city that I think I'll know all my life.