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Belvedere Square has been through ups and downs since it was first developed in 1986, fluctuations that align with the economy, management and public tastes. Over the last year or so, the market has sprung into bloom. Atwaters, the soup and sandwich shop, extended its reach within the space, adding a dairy case, beer and wine, and an ice cream shop. Artisan food vendors have been sprouting along the back wall. One day, illuminated letters sprung from the roofline, uniting disparate food and retail beneath an art deco font.
Scott Plank, who had experimented with his interest in sustainable food by creating an employee restaurant at Under Armour (the company he helped launch with his brother Kevin), is deeply invested—with both cash and vision—in the market.
The Back Story.
“Who doesn’t love Belvedere Square?” Plank wants to know. “I’ve been going there since I moved to Baltimore in 2003.” Plank’s three kids, now ages 10-16, especially loved the Friday night Summer Sounds concerts, where they could run and play. Plank’s goal, he says, “is to make the market world class.” Investing in real estate is just part of the picture. The next step, he says, “is to engage the real estate to create community.”
Changes at Belvedere Square have moved incrementally. The management company, Cross Street Partners, began with the exterior, expanding sidewalks and adding the bright umbrellas—with heaters to stretch the outdoor season. “We took down all the signage,” from the front, Plank says, and installed clear, bold, neon letters. The goal was to create the excitement of a 1940s trip to the market. Mary Mashburn, of Typecast Press, chose a vintage font, Streamline Moderne, for the gaint letters.
Real Simple. Plank gets his hair cut at Blue Spark on Harford Road and used to plan his trips to Lauraville around lunch at Toulouloo, the diminutive Cajun café owned by Shawn Lagergren. Newly relocated to Belvedere Square, the menu remains simple, the dirty rice “unbelievable,” says Plank. “It’s very specific. Lagergren does really good fried stuff, like oysters and alligator bites, po’ boys, pizza and that’s that.” Such focus is part of what Plank is looking for in the Belvedere lineup—which also includes longtime tenants like Neopol smoked fish and Greg’s Bagels, as well as newcomers like Hex Ferments.
The market is designed to nurture small, homegrown food vendors, says Plank. “We wanted to make sure we’re a place where people make stuff—and customers can engage with the makers.” He points to chocolates made by Jinji Fraser, a former Under Armour employee. “I’ve known her for years. She was making chocolate in her condo,” Plank says. “We were able to help her with the rules and regulations of
becoming a food vendor.” The bootstrap story is familiar to Plank. “That’s what Under Armour was,” he says. “We founded that company in my grandmother’s basement.” The new Belvedere Square is an opportunity to give small makers exposure “on the big stage.” Even Spike Gjerde’s Shoo-Fly diner was established to manage all the canning and pickling for its fellow Woodberry group restaurants.
Belvedere Square is just the fluttering eyelids of Plank’s vision. He’s involved with developing a similar market in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, hoping to replicate the concept in even more cities. “Food and community are the nexus of everything,” he says.
Tom Looney was talked into putting a flat screen in his new bar. “I was pushed,” says the co-owner of the Gypsy Queen food truck and former owner of the beloved, now defunct, Helen’s Garden in Canton. “This is not a 20-something sports bar,” he insists. “It’s the opposite of that.”
Bar Liquorice, which opened in midsummer, has a dark and slightly illicit air, a speakeasy with black leather bar stools and chocolate brown walls decorated with posters from 1920s Paris. “I call it small, dark and handsome,” Looney quips.
The menu reflects the tiny kitchen, with pressed sandwiches, charcuterie and bruschetta. But that’s not the point. Looney expects a more mature clientele at his 35-seat restaurant to sip on classic cocktails, craft beers and wine. “It’s a small, intimate place,” he says. “I want it to be about conversation.” 801 East Fort Ave. 443-708-1675, barliquorice.com —MT
Turns out, Hampdenites crave a good runny egg. When David Sherman opened the tiny Café Cito, he put a drippy egg sandwich on the breakfast menu. It was so popular, he’s since added six variations. On offer: Artisinal English-style Flory’s truckle cheddar cheese and spinach—or a mix of mushrooms, or house pimenton and fennel sausage—on a soft, chewy roll. If that’s the first thing you try at Café Cito (“small café” in Spanish) it won’t be the last.
Sherman trained at the Culinary Institute of America, and lived in New York and San Francisco (where he worked for Spanish chef Daniel Oliveira). Locally, he’s worked at b Bistro and Tapas Teatro, and in 2006, opened the short-lived Nasu Blanco, a Spanish and Japanese concept in Locust Point. That venture failed, he says, because “I was trying to wear too many hats at once and couldn’t keep up.”
In June the chef started serving weekend BYO dinner with a menu that included fish cheeks and spicy tuna tempura, vegetarian miso-glazed eggplant, and seared ribeye with roasted garlic puree—and the possibility of adding dinner on Thursdays and Sundays. “We want to focus on doing a few things really, really well,” he says. “This is a passion-over-profit venture.” 3500 Chestnut Ave., 443-682-9701, cafecitobmore.com —MT
Forno started service last spring, a week before the wildly popular “Book of Mormon” opened at the Hippodrome across the street. While the scenario created a trial-by-fire, the crowds also confirmed what owner Bryan Noto, former manager of Alewife, had suspected. “I felt strongly that the neighborhood could sustain another restaurant,” he says of the area that also includes the University of Maryland Hospital and many highrise apartment buildings. “Some nights at Alewife we were turning away 100 people.”
Noto and his wife and co-owner Emini Dukic, were inspired after traveling in Sonoma, where local wines were served with simple dishes made from “natural, seasonal ingredients,” he says. His father-in-law, Amir Dukic, helped build out the space with wood reclaimed from Pennsylvania barns, recycled brick and window panes salvaged from a church.
Chef Kris Sandholm’s menu features brick oven pizza and small plates, salads and main courses, use such locally sourced ingredients as Big City Farms greens, Virginia rockfish and Springfield Farms chicken.
The restaurant is prepped for the theater season. Menu items are “geared to come out quickly while still having higher quality,” says Noto. “We’ve got it down at this point.” 17 N Eutaw St., 443-873-9427. fornobaltimore.com —MT