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Editors’ note: Just before press time, Maryland restaurants were officially closed in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. We are sharing these new dining spots with the hope that our readers will be able to enjoy them soon.

Baltimore’s vibrant dining scene often plays second fiddle to Washington, DC, Philadelphia and New York. But this harborside city boasts its share of cutting-edge eateries just waiting to be discovered.

In fact, two recent arrivals have drawn the attention of national magazines: the French bistro Le Comptoir du Vin and True Chesapeake Oyster Co., which boasts its own oyster farm. The bragging rights of these welcome additions bode well for other Baltimore outposts. Meanwhile, Atlas Restaurant Group continues to make a big splash with a portfolio of dining rooms in Baltimore, Houston and Florida. The group’s partners have an unstoppable vision for how to tempt our palates; their latest local spots include The Choptank, a fish and crab house, and the Mexican-inspired Maximón. On a smaller scale, The Tilted Row opened up shop in historic Bolton Hill, luring customers with a pleasing gastropub vibe.

All signs point to Baltimore moving up the culinary ladder.

In September, Baltimore’s newest crab house started cracking crustaceans in a renovated building formerly part of Fells Point’s historic Broadway Market. Alex and Eric Smith of Atlas Restaurant Group, who operate several local restaurants including Ouzo Bay and Maximón (see page 14), joined forces with Vasilios “Bill” Tserkis of Captain James Landing on the project. The result? Crab-picking has never been so much fun. Diners enter through an archway to a patio with an outdoor bar, dining tables and games, including ping pong, foosball and cornhole.

Inside the space designed by Baltimore-based Patrick Sutton, wooden ceiling beams and vintage photos of Fells Point maintain ties to the past while creating an updated atmosphere with a tile floor, an area for live music and booths and tables for digging into seafood. Chef Andrew Weinzirl’s menu, featuring classics such as crab cakes, pit-beef cheesesteak and Eastern Shore fried chicken, contributes to the flavor of the place, while decadent Berger Cookie bread pudding pays homage to the hometown German bakery. Welcome to Baltimore, hon. 1641 Aliceanna Street, 443-707-3364, thechoptankbaltimore.com

The handsome gastropub made its debut last summer in historic Bolton Hill, a neighborhood of quaint 19th-century townhouses and mansions. The name reflects the asymmetrical rows of homes along its tree-shaded streets. Located on the lower floor of The Jordan apartment building, the restaurant’s interior gleams with a quartz-topped bar, bright windows, wood tables and blue-leather booths. And while clever cocktails and assorted beers and wines deliver the pub theme, the eclectic menu by chef Andrew Thomas, formerly of The Elephant, plays its own starring role.

There’s a Mediterranean influence, courtesy of owner Ziad Maalouf, a veteran DC restaurateur who also operates Café Fili in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood. The za’atar focaccia and baba ghanoush with smoked, roasted vegetables raise the bar for main dishes like chicken Milanese, a 12-ounce strip steak, pistachio-crusted trout and a delectable burger. A dinner bonus is the blue plate special, offered Sunday through Thursday, featuring comfort dishes like fried chicken, shrimp and grits and shepherd’s pie. 305 McMechen Street, 443-552-1594, thetiltedrow.com

Not every restaurant works with its own oyster farm, but True Chesapeake does—and what a collaboration it is. Farmer Patrick Hudson, who raises bivalves in Southern Maryland, joined up with Nick Schauman of The Local Oyster and chef Zack Mills, formerly of Wit & Wisdom in Harbor East, to showcase his sweet and slightly salty Skinny Dippers and Huckleberries at a restaurant housed in a former mill on the banks of the Jones Falls.

The soaring space designed by Kate Giese of DC-based KGID features a wraparound bar made of crushed oyster shells and custom lighting installations that call to mind the frosted glow of raw pearls. A key team member is general manager Chelsea Gregoire, who was named “Beverage Director of the Year” by Esquire magazine. She’s come up with adventuresome cocktails, an extensive wine list and local beers to complement the chef’s menu, which includes oysters, several fish, including the invasive snakehead, slow-braised short ribs and, of course, crab cakes. 3300 Clipper Mill Road, Whitehall Mill, 410-913-6374, truechesapeake.com

Executive chef Colin King, an alum of New York City’s trendy Mexican hot spot Empellon, has brought some stellar cooking skills to one of Atlas Restaurant Group’s newest venues, located in the Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore in Harbor East. The group tapped Patrick Sutton to design this eatery, which boasts a ringside seat to the harbor. Named after a Mayan deity, Maximón exudes sophistication with stone, wood and marble details amid a tamed jungle of greenery.

You can count on handmade tortillas, an assortment of ceviches (including live scallop), tacos packed with fillings like wagyu and oxtail, entrees (do try the Portobello fajitas) and a calorie-worthy tres leches cake with prickly-pear sorbet. Tequila flights, Mexican-inspired cocktails and other beverages are indulgences to enjoy at the bar or with a meal. A private tasting room is available for food-and-drink pairings. In the warmer months, diners can enjoy the restaurant’s offerings in the Spanish-styled courtyard with seating, fountains and a bar. Be sure to check out the schedule for live mariachi music. Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore, 200 International Drive, 410-927-3020, maximon

Getting reservations at this tiny, French-inspired bistro has been a challenge since it opened in 2018, but scoring a precious seat became even more daunting after Bon Appétit and Esquire named it to their best new restaurants lists last year. But do persevere—dinner at this Station North hot spot is worth the wait. Co-owners Will Mester, chef, and Rosemary Liss, front-of-the-house greeter and server, have recreated a neighborhood eatery that the couple fell in love with in Lyon, France.

Baltimore’s Le Comptoir du Vin charms visitors with a casual, farmhouse ambiance conveyed by weathered floors, wood tables, bentwood chairs, candlelight and an ever-changing menu. Mester performs his culinary magic in an open galley kitchen, turning out dishes like an impressive celery salad, pig-head terrine, silky French lentils, pappardelle with duck ragu and more. Desserts range from a dense flourless chocolate cake to Camembert with quince. Accompany your meal with one of the natural wines that Liss has carefully curated. 1729 Maryland Avenue, 443-297-7384, comptoirbaltimore.com

Located in central Maryland, quaint and storied Annapolis is an easy trip from both DC and Baltimore. This popular city and its Anne Arundel County environs offer visitors endless opportunities to enjoy the Chesapeake Bay area, from historic sites to a lively dining scene that continues to grow. In fact, several new restaurants recently joined the pantheon of Annapolis-area favorites, such as Lewnes’ Steakhouse, Carrol’s Creek Cafe and Cantler’s Riverside Inn, that has been luring visitors for years.

On the list: Kitchen on West St. is making its presence known in busy downtown Annapolis with creative comfort food. Ashling Kitchen & Bar in Crofton and Pascal’s Chophouse in Severna Park present more casual settings while The Blackwall Barn & Lodge in Gambrills offers a fine-dining experience. And a stalwart, Café Mezzanotte, recently underwent a million-dollar facelift and unveiled a new menu. Following is a detailed round-up of these new arrivals on the culinary scene.

Don’t dismiss Kitchen on West St. because it’s located in a hotel. The restaurant, which opened in 2018 in the Hilton Garden Inn, is a worthy contender for casual American fare in the crowded downtown Annapolis field. It offers breakfast, happy hour and dinner in a modern dining room and bar with an eye-catching wall of local photography and paintings. There is outdoor seating, too. The appetizers are fun and appealing, especially the giant soft pretzel, delivered on a stand with beer cheese and brown-mustard dips. Entrees such as mac and cheese with crab, a quinoa and salmon grain bowl and a crab taco put a twist on comfort food. And who wouldn’t want to end their meal with the red velvet Smith Island cake, a multilayered wonder? 174 West Street, Annapolis; 410-990-1100. annapolis.thekitchenandbar.com

Elise Letavish may have music in her soul, but these days she has food on her mind. A former tour manager for the late rapper Mac Miller, Letavish opened Ashling Kitchen & Bar in Crofton in April with her fiancé, Saeed Ashrafzadeh. The sleek outpost is an offshoot of their business, Ashling Market & Catering, located at The Modell Lyric in Baltimore, where they have fed entertainers ranging from Dwight Yoakam to Cardi B. At Ashling Kitchen & Bar, plush banquettes and bare-wood tables create a sophisticated yet comfortable vibe to accompany chef Ahmed Koroma’s New American cuisine. While entrees like charred salmon, crab cakes and fish and chips are popular, small plates include avocado eggroll, fried green tomatoes and poutine, the popular Canadian comfort food. 1286 Route 3 South, Route 3 Plaza, Crofton; 443-332-6100. ashlingco.com

Owners Robert and Caroline Pascal bring impressive credentials to Pascal’s Chophouse. Robert began his hospitality career at St. Michaels Harbour Inn, Marina & Spa, while Caroline is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. The couple honed their skills at their restaurant, Bistro St. Michaels, before opening Pascal’s Chophouse in Severna Park last year. The casual steakhouse with booths, banquettes and bare tables serves locally sourced meat and seafood on a menu that includes wet-aged, grass-fed and dry-aged steaks, crab cakes, salmon and a catch of the day. Or patrons can go less formal with an eight-ounce Angus burger. The thoughtful wine list offers more than 100 labels, most of them organic or biodynamic. 139 Ritchie Highway, Severna Park; 410-647-8216. pascalschophouse.com

The name alone suggests a romantic country inn—and The Blackwall Barn & Lodge in Gambrills, part of the Blackwall Hitch chain, lives up to its moniker. Its various spaces—from the main dining area to a room that hosts chef’s dinners—conjure an elegant farmhouse sensibility, with reclaimed-wood tables, whitewashed paneling, a brick bar, chandeliers and cozy stone fireplaces. Executive chef Neal Langermann supports the setting with seasonal cuisine showcasing the bounty of area farms and waterways, including Chesapeake rockfish, Eastern Shore crab and Virginia ham. You don’t want to miss the fried chicken and waffles for dinner. 329 Gambrills Road, Gambrills; 410-317-2276. barnandlodge.com

Café Mezzanotte in Severna Park is fresh from a $1 million makeover. The 25-year-old Italian restaurant was due for an update, says owner Kosmas “Tommie” Koukoulis, who is also a partner in Craft American Eatery in Severna Park and Uncle’s Hawaiian Grindz in Fallston. “It felt like the ambiance was falling behind,” he explains. Last year, Koukoulis closed Mezzanotte for a six-week overhaul, then reopened it with a fresh look that includes reimagined décor and signage and a new menu. Classics like eggplant parmigiana, seafood fettuccine and lasagna are still available, but executive chef Zack Trabbold, working with local purveyors, has created interesting interpretations of old-school cuisine with dishes like rib-eye tagliata and rockfish agrodolce. 760 Ritchie Highway, Severna Park; 410-647-1100. cafemezzanotte.com

No wonder the burgundy paint on the Parkers’ front door is called “Wine.” It is a fitting introduction to the birthplace of the esteemed Wine Advocate magazine and the comfortable abode of renowned wine critic Robert M. Parker, Jr., and his wife, Pat.

The couple, who recently celebrated their 50th anniversary, have lived in their countryside home north of Baltimore since 1974, when they bought it from Pat’s parents. It was her childhood residence, and hosted the reception after she and Bob wed in 1969.

“We always loved this property,” Pat says. “It can’t be beat.”

Her husband—called Bob by friends and Dowell, a childhood nickname, by family—agrees, “The property is beautiful.”

Over the years, their four acres grew to seven, cocooned by Gunpowder Falls State Park and Prettyboy Reservoir. And the Parkers’ original three-bedroom, two-bath rambler, perched atop a winding roadway, blossomed eventually into a two-level residence with four bedrooms, four baths and two wine cellars. Each is crammed with bottles from floor to ceiling—including a 27-liter behemoth of 2003 Sine Qua Non Grenache that’s the size of a baby. While Bob won’t put a number on his collection, suffice it to say that the Parkers won’t run out of wine anytime soon.

Pat estimates there have been 15 renovations to the house where they raised their now-grown daughter, Maia. Most projects were completed without an architect, and the result is a succession of flowing rooms. The kitchen is a favorite hangout.

The duo has welcomed numerous culinary icons to their table, including chef Daniel Boulud, owner of the Michelin two-star restaurant Daniel in New York, and Yannick Cam, chef/owner of Bethesda’s Bistro Provence.

Bob also hosts charity wine dinners at local restaurants such as Magdalena in Baltimore and Vito Ristorante in Cockeysville, or occasionally at his home. He plays an active role in each affair. “I confer with the chefs and provide all the wines,” he explains. With dinners bringing in $25,000 to $150,000 apiece, Bob estimates that they have so far raised $3 to $4 million for groups such as U.S. Navy SEALs, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the T.J. Martell Foundation, which supports cancer research. “It’s one of the more gratifying things I can do,” he says. He’s currently discussing a possible charity dinner with DC chef and humanitarian José Andrés that will take place in the Parker home in the coming months.

In fact, Bob’s altruism is one of the reasons he founded The Wine Advocate in 1978: He wanted to provide independent reviews about vintages, vintners and grapes without accepting advertising. He also devised a 100-point system to guide consumers in their choices—a rating system now used around the world.

But Bob’s love for wine emerged even earlier, when he traveled to Paris to meet Pat, then his high-school sweetheart, who was taking her junior year abroad. During this six-week sojourn, the couple sampled new wines every day—and he was hooked. After returning to his studies at University of Maryland, Bob devoured books on wine and immersed himself in tasting groups. Though he initially practiced law, he left the field in 1984.

The Wine Advocate began as a mom-and-pop venture; Pat, a former French teacher, was the copy editor and worked for the guide that now bears her husband’s name—Robert Parker Wine Advocate—until 2012. Though he traveled several months a year to vineyards around the globe, Bob settled into his home office to write and conduct tastings—minus the three-piece suits. “There was no dress code,” he says with a laugh. “It was nice to be freelance.”

The business was a low-key affair, with offsite writers contributing content and three assistants handling other duties from a house on the Parkers’ property. Bob produced the magazine at home until 2015, when a Napa Valley office was opened. By that time, he had sold a major stake in the company to investors.

After nurturing The Wine Advocate into one of the most respected wine journals in the country, Bob officially retired in May, when Michelin assumed 100-percent control after having acquired a 40-percent stake in 2017. “It’s time for the younger generation to take over,” Bob reflects.

The Parkers still lead busy lives. Bob is contemplating a memoir. And Pat, a master gardener and liaison for the Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland, takes pride in her home landscape. Ornamental trees, seasonal flowers, a koi pond and whimsical outdoor sculptures dot the property, along with a chicken coop that Pat gave to Bob for his 70th birthday.

As the evenings grow crisper, the Parkers, both 72, end their days in the TV room by a crackling fire with their three dogs. They don’t see themselves living anywhere else. “I’m going to die in this place,” Bob quips. But before then, there’s more wine—and life—to enjoy in their home.

We love our crabs, as any Baltimore resident will tell you, but there’s so much more to dining in this historic city cradled by the Patapsco River. In the past year, restaurants have opened around town that pay homage to an early merchant, 1920s glamour, an artsy space and a love for French cuisine.

Diners will be charmed by the beautiful décor of a turn-of-the-century building that survived the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904 and appreciate the grandeur of another era while ensconced atop Harbor East’s Four Seasons Hotel, which boasts stellar views to match the menu.

Earnest Gallic cooking will appeal to taste buds in two locations—scenic Fells Point and the nearby business district. And in Baltimore’s newest arts district, a veteran restaurateur presents Italian-inspired fare in an intimate space.

All you need to do is bring your appetite.

Take a dedicated elevator with a welcoming, uniformed operator from the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel in Harbor East to the 29th floor for a sumptuous and visual thrill. Think 1920s glamour with probably the best sky-high views of Baltimore Harbor and downtown from expansive windows and three separate outdoor decks. A dress code makes sense, though it’s not stuffy (collared shirts for guys, no baseball caps for gals, among other guidelines). Get a drink at the spacious bar or settle in for dinner on tufted banquettes and luxurious leather chairs. Tables with crisp linens or exposed black-marble tops are set with gold chargers and napkin rings. Burgundy velvet drapery throughout the restaurant adds elegance and privacy. The luxe menu offers treats like lobster tail Imperial, Chilean sea bass and rack of lamb diablo prepared by executive chef
Matthew Oetting. 400 International Drive; 443-343-8200. thebygonerestaurant.com

One of the city’s newest restaurants opened in February in a gorgeous Baltimore landmark that formerly housed investment giant Alex. Brown & Sons. Alexander Brown was an Irish merchant-turned-financier whose descendants still own the building that survived Baltimore’s disastrous fire. The family partnered with Tampa, Florida-based Caspers Co. to develop the space. Allison Casper Adams, a company principal, says the building’s history appealed to her and her brother, Blake Casper. “The building is the reason we are there,” she notes. “It’s unique and special.” Diners are greeted by the landmark’s original marble walls and columns and a stunning stained-glass domed skylight before they enter the stately dining room appointed with brown leather chairs, forest-green banquettes and Old World artwork. Chef Andrew Fontaine offers a sophisticated New American menu with appetizers such as foie gras torchon and venison carpaccio and entrées such as wagyu beef for two and rockfish with coconut-jasmine rice. 135 E. Baltimore Street; 443-438-4540. alexanderbrownrestaurant.com

Chef-owner Ashish Alfred unveiled this chic brasserie—named after his Bethesda restaurant—in the waterfront neighborhood of Fells Point last year. “Baltimore is a really great city with hard-working people,” says Alfred, who lives in nearby Canton. “I’m in love with what is happening here, food-wise.” There are French leanings from his kitchen, but the cuisine has a Continental edge with “shares” like lamb Bolognese and bone marrow with beef ragout, and “mains” like honey-roasted duck, branzino and tournedos with foie gras. Guests can settle into the elegant bar with its communal table and comfy sofa, the polished dining room or sidewalk tables in season. The vibe is laid-back and fun. 814 S. Broadway; 443-869-2129. ddgbaltimore.com

Chef Steve Monnier, who wowed diners at his tiny Aromes in the Hampden neighborhood, can now be found at Chez Hugo, a casual French bistro named after his son. He opened the restaurant last year in the classy 1905 Merchants Club building in the business district. Marble-topped tables, bentwood chairs, a stylish tiled floor and sultry French tunes set the stage for the meal to come. “Plats” include boeuf bourguignon, canard pour deux and steak frites—all created with an eye toward seasonal ingredients.The menu is guided by what’s available, says Monnier, who grew up in France and trained in Michelin-starred restaurants before landing in Baltimore. 206 E. Redwood Street; 443-438-3002. chezhugobistro.com

Restaurateur Elan Kotz, a former partner in The Food Market, opened his Italian-inspired restaurant earlier this year in the Station North arts-and-entertainment district near Penn Station. “I was really missing the restaurant and hospitality business,” Kotz says. “I love Station North and I’m excited to add value to the neighborhood.” The cozy, earth-toned space with mid-century and classic artwork seats 78 guests in its two dining areas and bar. The bare-wood-and-marble tables with glowing votives create a romantic ambiance. The restaurant’s name is Italian for “vegetable garden,” reflecting its mission to source local ingredients. Executive chef Stefano Porcile turns out snacks like marinated olives and vegetable giardiniera, pastas like ricotta cavatelli and butternut squash agnolotti (his personal favorite), and entrées like chicken Milanese and seared scallops. 1709 N. Charles Street; 443-759-7200. ortobaltimore.com 

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