We had a lot on our plate last year—new restaurants opened all over the Guide’s readership area, proof, in this economy, that restaurateurs are incurable optimists.
The best thing is that quite a few of the new restaurateurs have very good reason to be optimistic—many of their establishments are serving fresh and unusual fare that diners can’t help but like.Others, like Big Matty’s Diner, are serving up comfort food with a side of tradition. When Rallo’s, the treasured little diner at the corner of Lawrence St. and Fort Ave., closed in October after the death of owner Vincent Rallo, it was the sad end of an era.
Except it wasn’t. Matt Gurczynski, a daily regular at Rallo’s, felt the loss just as keenly as the rest of the neighborhood folks, politicians and business leaders who gossiped, noshed, caught up and made deals there. Matt’s in the construction trade, so he spruced the place up and hired the Rallo’s staff to run the place, and South Baltimore continues to enjoy the coddies, sausage gravy and Eggs Benedict.
Speaking of comfort food, Simply Marie’s, 3023 Elliott St. in Canton, is serving breakfasts and late-night hit-the-road chow to barflies, truckers and other nocturnal folk in Canton. The place has been open about a year. The omelets are special, the home fries divine, and the cinnamon rolls soft and sweet. The real reason to go to Simply Marie’s, though, is Marie Branch herself, a woman as good, comforting and earthy as her food.
Diners with a taste for German food should get to Cafe Einstein (1705 Eastern Ave., Fells Point) schnell. Owner-chef Claudia Phillips offers up delightful goulash, sauerbraten, spaetzle, curry wurst and other abendessen (dishes) in a sleek Eurocafe decorated with works by local artists. It is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. Big bonus: Phillips has a side business catering exquisite desserts, and she has some in the pastry case at Cafe Einstein.
Pacific Coast Dining Co., 413 S. High St., has introduced a little California cuisine to Little Italy. Try the firecracker shrimp ($11) slathered with spicy red sauce and served on garlic toast, or the Frank Zappa burger ($14), which is surf-and-turf on a bun, a burger topped with crab dip, bacon and Fontina cheese. Pacific Coast follows the California tradition of celebrity burgers, so you can try the Clint Eastwood (American cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo) or the Led Zeppelin (Swiss, bacon and mushrooms and a whole lotta love) or the Jimi Hendrix (a psychedelic combination of jalapenos, salsa, avocado and creme fraiche). As you would expect at a California themed restaurant, there is plenty of vegetarian fare, and just about everything is organic.
Feeling like Lebanese? Then head to Byblos, a little storefront at 1033 Light St. Proprietors Sami and Hala Tabet will take good care of you, and take pains to describe their dishes to the uninitiated. (The paintings on the wall, by the way, are by Sami.) There is plenty to interest carnivores, vegetarians and vegans. Do not leave without trying the Turkish coffee, which Sami serves with a great deal of ceremony. It is something special for only $1.75.
by Mary Helen Sprecher