We’re going to Portland!

Just bought our plane tickets. (They were more than I hoped to spend, but probably about average, especially since we’re going over spring break.) April 14-20. Ask about our elaborate restaurant and bar spreadsheet if you want your mind blown.

Recommendations?

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Planning for Portland

Boyfriend teaches high school, which means he gets a spring break. We decided we wanted to take a trip, and we settled on Portland, OR. Chicago and Austin were options, as we would consider moving there in a few years, but we’ve both been to Chicago, and I’ve been to Austin.

My boyfriend is nothing if not obsessed with rankings and statistics. He spends hours creating detailed spreadsheets about his finances, beer rankings, his students’ performance. He created an elaborate spreadsheet for our trip to Portland–restaurants, bars, breweries. He’s done so much research already, even though we haven’t decided on exact dates. We won’t even buy tickets until February.

We’re each giving restaurants on the list a score of 1-4, 1 being not interested, 4 being must visit. We’re listing which have happy hours, and if those happy hour menus look good, in case we have too many restaurants we want to go to (already happening). Lunches, too, so we can save the dinner-only places for dinner.

We’re also planning to rent a car one day and head over to the Tillamook Cheese Factory, and we’ll get to see a lot of the beautiful Oregon coast and forests. He says there’s a brewery and restaurant in Corvallis that we could get to. My aunt, uncle, and cousins live in Eugene, and I’m hoping I get to see them during the trip, maybe in Corvallis.

Anywhere that’s a MUST VISIT that we need to add to our spreadsheet?

So far, my top choices are Ox, Smallwares (late-night happy hour), Ken’s Artisan Pizza, Tasty N Sons, Screen Door, Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty, Blue Star Donuts, Clyde Common, Salt and Straw, Lardo, and Olympic Provisions. We’re definitely going to Hair of the Dog, and the distillery tour seems fun. Pok Pok if we can get there.

Where’s my blogger tribe?

One of the reasons I decided to restart this blog is because I wanted to make new friends. I swear I’m not some lonely creep–I have a pretty full life and good friends in nearby DC. Some here, but not many I can truly call my own.

I figured that while Baltimore is a small city, it’s still a city, and there had to be a bunch of people with blogs here. That turned out to be sort of true, but most seem to be either health and fitness-related (look how many miles I ran!) or fashion and beauty-based (here’s my daily outfit picture!).

Not that I have a problem with these blogs, but these aren’t really my people. Me and exercise are in an on-again off-again relationship, and I’m not willing to eat quinoa and make hamburger buns out of cashews because they’re better for you. If something is healthy and tastes good, okay, but if I’m eating a burger, I want it surrounded by actual bread. Preferably brioche, but that’s irrelevant here. When it comes to fashion, I’ve sort of given up on my work wardrobe–it’s usually a season-inappropriate dress that I wear with a cardigan, tights, and flats. I have no idea how to accessorize aside from my nana’s super cool old ring and a pair of earrings, and while I wish I could do better, I don’t worry about it.

There are a few food-centric blogs out there, but most of them either haven’t been updated since 2011 or feature recipes that use sweet potatoes or winter squashes. They’re usually healthy, too. Where are the people who spend an hour reading restaurant menus before going out for a meal and aren’t afraid to give Tapas Teatro a two? I’M LOOKING FOR YOU GUYS.

If this were a personals ad, this would read:

ISO food lover who appreciates well-executed plate of nachos as much as dynamite steak tartare. Must be young professional with conversational skills and sense of snark. Beverage appreciation a plus.

My favorite Baltimore meals of 2013

Most websites do a recap of their 10 favorite whatevers of the past year, usually linking to archived blog posts. Since I can’t do that, here are the best places I ate (and drank) in Baltimore this past year:

  1. Jack’s Bistro. My boyfriend took me there as the second stop on our second date (on which I was hungover–a rarity for me, especially at 6 pm on a Sunday). We go back now at least once a month, and the managers, servers, and bartenders at least recognize us now. Ryan makes creative, delicious, and POTENT cocktails–definitely some of the best I’ve had in the city. Their smoked gouda grits are the best grits (and one of the most comforting and delicious dishes) I’ve ever had. My boyfriend’s favorite dish is the smoked tomato.
  2. Of Love and Regret. Another second date spot–the first stop we made. The former chef of Of Love and Regret, Ted, has now opened Jack’s Bistro (and supposedly, the two left on bad terms). The food here supposedly isn’t as good, but I’ve always had a good experience–try their steak fries. The bartenders and owners really know their beer, and one of the owners is the Stillwater brewer himself, Brian Strumke. About 20 beverages on tap, including at least 10 Stillwater beers, a few wines, a local hard cider, and sometimes cocktails. My favorite cocktail is the Smirk.
  3. Hamilton Tavern. Now known in our house as HamTav, their burger is legendary. Abbey Burger Bistro? NO WAY. This is the best burger I’ve ever had–coarsely ground, juicy, beefy, well-seasoned, always cooked the way I ask, and appropriately topped and bunned. (I have a lot of opinions on burgers.) Monday is burger night, and you get a humongous burger, a side, and a draft for $15. I’ve had some great dishes from the rest of the menu, which rotates seasonally. Their homemade totchos are always good, and their onion rings with garlic dipping sauce are excellent. (This is coming from someone who is not an onion ring fan.) ¬†Some of their mains fall short, though–be careful what you get.
  4. Fleet Street Kitchen. This was the real sleeper hit of the year for me. It was a humid night, and I was NOT interested in walking 20 minutes to some place that seemed snooty and too fancy for what I felt like wearing (jeans). Turns out that as long as you’re wearing nice jeans, you’re pretty much fine here.¬†Every dish we had was thoughtful, playful, creative, and well-balanced. It’s a little pricey, but it’s totally worth it. The egg yolk ravioli had me using my finger to swipe up the last of it. The pork belly with poached egg, smoked maple glaze, and butter toast powder was a fun nod to breakfast–and a tasty one at that.
  5. Thames Street Oyster House. This reminds me of a mix of Hank’s Oyster Bar and Beuchert’s Saloon in DC. I love the white tiles and huge wooden bar. While I’ve only been once, the burger I had was really excellent, and at $12, it’s a pretty good deal for a gourmet burger. The lobster roll is small for $17, but it’s buttery, rich, and light–all at the same time, if that’s possible. The Ginny Lynn cocktail was perfect–a bit tart, but not sour, and the fresh grapefruit juice made a huge difference.
  6. Tavern on the Hill. Supposedly, this used to be a terrible place called Howard’s, but I didn’t live here then. I’d heard they had a good burger, and on a Tuesday night right around 8:00, my boyfriend and I stopped in. I couldn’t believe how packed it was on a weeknight–except when someone asked us if we were here to play trivia. Of course I said yes–I love trivia. I ordered a burger, he had the ham and cheese melt, and we shared a bucket of Bohs ($12 for 7). This burger was cheap ($9 or $10), juicy, and cooked exactly how I asked. The trivia was the best I’ve been to in a long time. The questions aren’t so hard that it’s not fun, and the hosts are great. Some rounds win your team shots if you guess closest. One involved a twerk-off. And there are always shitty yet fun prizes to win. You can call ahead and reserve a table with your team name, which I’d recommend if there are more than two of you.
  7. V-NO Wine Bar. I don’t know much about wine, but I know I like it here. They only have six items on the food menu, but their wine list is thankfully longer. I had a really affordable and really tasty vinho verde this summer ($7, I think), and another I can’t remember. I’ve been wanting to go back since.
  8. Peter’s Inn. Most people in Baltimore know of Peter’s Inn–it’s the tiny, eclectic place that’s always at the top of the Best of Baltimore lists. One of the reasons I love it, aside from their great wine selections and cozy neighborhood feel, is that on my first trip, John Waters came in for a drink. Apparently he comes there often! And I know how he orders his martinis. Food-wise, it can be hit or miss, but I love that the menu changes every week. Their garlic bread is a few pieces of text toast with tons of garlic and herbs and cheese on it. Hands down best I’ve ever had. Their chocolate pot de creme is almost always on the menu, too, and it’s rich yet not overly sweet. Even though I don’t like dessert that much, I love this dish.
  9. Artifact Coffee. This place is owned by Woodberry Kitchen. People LOVE Woodberry, but I am not one of them. I’ve had a few really great dishes there (steak tartare, CMP), but I’ve had more so-so ones. Artifact is what I wish Woodberry was. They have coffee, of course, and all of the accoutrements to go with it (baked goods, etc.). But they also have a great selection of teas, they serve beer and wine, and their food is the BEST. It’s always incredibly fresh and respected–Artifact proves that you don’t need to do much to great ingredients. I’ve been for lunch twice. While some of the menu changes, some things stay on. Their ham and cheese sandwich was piled high with smoky local ham and slices of sharp cheddar, and the bread was top-quality. My boyfriend loves the Vegetable Banh Mi, even though he’s in no way a vegetarian. Just go here. I can’t recommend it enough.

A lack of follow-through

I have so many underdeveloped ideas. Most of them involve some kind of food project, perhaps a future business. Very few of them come to fruition, aside from manageable single events that involve my friends and cooking.

Here are some of the things I’d like to do someday:

  • Open a gourmet sandwich shop.
  • Open a pizza restaurant.
  • Create a business that brings together local chefs for once-monthly dinners and idea-sharing to improve a city’s food scene. (Baltimore, I’m looking at you.)
  • Develop a cheese-ranking website, similar to ratebeer.com.
  • Figure out how to create a website for any future freelance work.

Eating Out

I spent the weekend doing a lot of eating. This is pretty typical of my day-to-day (I’m always thinking about my next meal). This weekend involved visitors, though, so it was particularly special.

My friend K came up from Bethesda on Friday night for dinner. We went to Sascha’s 527 Cafe, which ended up being not as good as I’d hoped (and Yelp reviews predicted). I got a couple of small plates and finished none of them. Not that the food was that bad, but the flavors were too saturated in general. The pork belly with ramen noodles was caramely and too sweet to finish (though the belly was great on its own), the gazpacho was a bit too syrupy sweet (a strange flavor for gazpacho in the first place), and the grilled Caesar salad included the bottom end of the head of romaine, which was too thick to eat. I had a well balanced cocktail–something with gin, strawberries, cava, and I think elderflower liqueur. But I don’t see myself rushing back here anytime soon.

After K headed back home, Kevin and I went out for a little late-night snack. We stopped in at Of Love & Regret for a beer, then walked toward Jack’s Bistro for something to eat. On the way, we passed Mike McGovern’s, a bar in a former rowhouse that’s in the middle of a bunch of occupied rowhouses in Canton. Kevin had passed it a couple of times before and had never gone, so we stopped in. We ordered cans of Natty Boh ($4 total–I laughed out loud at how cheap it was) and hung out at the bar, which was comfortably filled with people (and two of their dogs!) who were clearly regulars. We got into conversation with a guy in the military whose wife lived in Germany for a few more weeks, and he told us they’d just had a baby.

Kevin strikes up conversations with at least one person every place we go. They always end with a handshake and an exchange of names. We were at Crate & Barrel on Saturday afternoon to look at duvet covers–jeez, could that sound any worse?–and this couple came up to us when we were looking at the drinking glasses. They asked us if we’d just moved, and then we chatted for ten minutes about where we lived, what we did for a living, etc. Then, the dude asked Kevin for his number so we could all hang out sometime. It was the fucking weirdest encounter. He actually called Kevin on Sunday and left a message asking him to call them back–they had a question for us. We’re convinced they’re going to ask us if we’re swingers or something. Stay tuned for the outcome.

H came up from DC on Saturday night. Kevin and I took her to Hamilton Tavern for the best burger I’ve ever eaten, plus some local Baltimore ambiance. We started with a savory peach tart, which was like nothing I’d ever tasted: phyllo crust topped caramelized onions, peaches, and walnuts, with a pillow of whipped goat cheese and a generous drizzle of basil pistou. Completely unique. The burger lived up to our previous experiences with it–cooked perfectly medium rare as requested, juicy, beefy, and coarsely ground for a delicate texture. Both Kevin and H chose the Boh-battered o’s as their side, which come thick, super crispy, and with a side of garlic dipping sauce (make sure to ask for it). I deviated from my usual order and went with the pork shoulder served with collard greens and a three-bean salad. Aside from the pork being a little dry, the flavors were excellent, particularly when it came to the collards. It’s rare to find collards that aren’t overly vinegary or too ham-heavy.

H and I were kind of tired, but once back in Fells, we wandered into and out of a couple of bars before deciding to have a drink at 1919. It reminded me so much of a bar I went to with friends in Austin, with live bluegrass, country-looking older couples dancing, and a bar strung with colored lights and all manner of paraphernalia.

The next morning, H and I got up early for a Sunday to check out the Baltimore Farmers’ Market under the Jones Falls Expressway. This was the absolute best farmers’ market either of us had ever been to–what must have been 30 farms, plus lots of artisanal food producers with samples of cheese, granola, even hard cider. We sampled fresh green beans, varieties of heirloom tomatoes, peaches, plums, hummus, salsa, jam, and lemonade. We went home with heirloom cherry tomatoes, green beans that tasted so sweet and crisp when raw, an eggplant, farm-fresh eggs, six ears of sweet white corn, and a homemade popsicle a piece. For lunch, I had a piece of toasted sourdough with goat cheese, some sliced heirloom cherry tomatoes, a drizzle of lemon olive oil and sprinkle of coarse sea salt I’d gotten from my recent Food52 Quarterly box, and a few grinds of black pepper. Perfect.

Kevin and I snacked throughout the day. I roasted the corn on the cob in the oven with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, then cut off the kernels and used them in a chipotle corn soup topped with sour cream, lime juice, and lime zest that we had for dinner. (I used this recipe, but I roasted the corn instead of grilled.) Along with an Indiana Jones movie and a strawberry-basil yogurt popsicle I’d made earlier in the day, it was a lazy and comforting way to end the weekend.

Before bed, Kevin and I were still hungry, so around 9:30 we sauteed some asparagus and topped with goat cheese and poached eggs.

It’s no wonder I gained a pound or two this weekend. I’m going to hot vinyasa after work tonight.