Baltimore: Charm City. Hon. Edgar Allan Poe. Francis Scott Key. Little Italy. John Waters. H. L. Mencken. National Aquarium … whoa. I just had to stop or the list would take the whole page allotted for my monthly musing. And I would leave someone/something/someplace out, so the above is just a random bit of Bawlmer stream of consciousness … don’t judge me Ravens fans, please.

Over the last 18 years or so, I’ve have taken on an appreciation of the city as a great place to spend time and the Charm City is taking on another personality as a food town expanding beyond the traditional crab cake. Who would think that you would find here as fine a Japanese izakaya in the U.S. in PABU with as complete a sake list (maybe a 100 give or take a sip or two) curated by @heysakelady Tiffany Soto? And when Spike Gjerde was nominated for the James Beard Mid-Atlantic Chef of the Year Award, the Baltimore food and wine folks spoke with a pride of Baltimore that you would have thought they had been nominated themselves.

With so much going on in Washington as a seemingly endless march of restaurant openings and a national spotlight on its chefs, food and hospitality … some in Maryland have placed me in the Washington-centric box. Not fair. But why now this shout out to Baltimore?

April 12-13. That Friday was day one of the enlightenment. That’s the date of the opening of the Drink Local Wine Conference that came to Baltimore celebrating the local wines of Maryland. On Friday’s media tour arranged by the host Maryland Wineries Association and its leader Kevin Atticks, we toured three wineries including Sugar Loaf, Black Ankle and Boordy. At Black Ankle we were served a lunch prepared by the aforementioned Gjerde and his Woodberry Kitchen team with the fine wines of the Mt. Airy, Md. winery. The next day the media and wine aficionados from around the U.S. couldn’t stop talking about the wines, the lamb and roasted oysters and the pleasure they were still bringing. On the Saturday, the conference attendees plus the public came to the Camden Yards Warehouse where 20 of Maryland’s finest wineries showed off their vinified grape juice in a setting overlooking the field of the Baltimore Orioles. They were out of town but it was too cool to see what looked like a high school team having the opportunity to play on a major league diamond. The wines and Baltimore showed so well, it appeared to be a unanimous declaration among the attendees that this was the best conference ever.

April 19-21. As immediate past chairman of the Restaurant Association of Maryland Education Foundation, I was on the host committee for the National ProStart Invitational for the winning culinary and management high school teams representing 40 plus states, Guam and Germany … almost 1,000 visitors to Baltimore and the host hotel Baltimore Marriott Waterfront. Besides covering the event with my editor’s eye, I also worked the RAMEF table in the lobby that served as our local greeting station for the teams and their families. I turned into a Baltimore ambassador with great ease and hopefully some amount of charm. Again, it was too much fun offering tips, advice, taking pictures, and just learning more about how they were enjoying their trip to “our” city. Overlooking the water and the Baltimore skyline with Federal Hill on the opposite side of the harbor, the city couldn’t have looked or felt better. And surprise, I found myself once again at the Warehouse at Camden Yards for a reception and this time the window view included the Orioles playing the Dodgers (and they won). Three days of Baltimore good news made me proud.

April 27. After the previous week on the Harbor East side, I was invited to another Baltimore hosted event on the following Saturday at the Inner Harbor’s home of the McCormick World of Flavors store. The company store that besides the retail component of the global spice company showcases its interactive activities and cooking demonstrations. On this day the National Restaurant Association was in town to have 30 kids judge the foods prepared from the finalist recipes submitted nationally by restaurants and foodservice that were created to deliver healthful menu options for children. The McCormick store is a one-of-a-kind experience. The walk along the harbor on this bright, crisp sunny Baltimore day found a city full of tourists, locals out for a jog or walk, a rowing team and ships floating against a vibrant city backdrop. Well done once again Baltimore.

PS. I guess I’m saying that if you don’t live in Baltimore and haven’t been there recently … you ought to consider a road trip. I haven’t detailed the itinerary … that’s for you to figure out. I’m telling you that you should make it a long weekend and do your research – you’ll have a lot of decisions to make … hon!

About the Author

Michael Birchenall is Editor and Publisher of Foodservice Monthly, a regional trade publication covering the foodservice industry of the Mid-Atlantic (DE, DC, MD, VA). Foodservice Monthly has been recognized as the Restaurant Association of Maryland's Allied Industry Member of the Year and by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington as the Joan Hisaoka Associate Member of the Year.

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