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‘Dining Down Memory Lane’ Author Shelley Howell keeps memories of classic Baltimore restaurants alive through their recipes

Baltimore author Shelley Howell’s family enjoys a crab feast at the famous Obrycki’s crab house in 2002. Howell is the fourth person on the right side of the table. Obrycki’s owners Rose and Richard Cernak, both deceased, are seen in the foreground. | Photo courtesy Shelley Howell

Angelina’s, Fiori, Haussner’s, House of Welsh and Jimmy Wu’s New China Inn … these names make up the pantheon of great Baltimore restaurants. While their dining rooms are no longer in service, these former restaurant establishments live on in “Dining Down Memory Lane Volume II: A Collection of Recipes from Baltimore’s Classic Restaurants of Yesteryear” (2020, Baltimore Memory Lane Publishing).

Following up on her first volume of “Dining Down Memory Lane,” native Baltimorean Shelley Howell has preserved even more of the stories—and the recipes—of these legendary restaurants. Together, the two volumes bring readers the memories instilled with nostalgia and wonder for a restaurant rediscovery.

Howell’s dedication to keeping alive the best Baltimore restaurants of the past stemmed from her childhood memories. Before publishing her first volume, she tried on her own to find recorded histories of the establishments she remembered visiting as a child. Try as she might, she couldn’t find a definitive work containing the stories she was seeking.

A Culinary Journey

Shelley Howell | Photo by Heidi Marie Bell Photography

Thanks to a love for vintage treasures, Howell began finding cookbooks from churches and recipe books from the 1950s and 1960s in her visits to vintage shops. “I was able to come across some restaurants that had submitted recipes to those publications. I had fun digging in and researching them,” she says.

As she dug in, she began unearthing more and more recipes from the best Baltimore restaurants of the past. Eventually, she amassed enough material to write and publish the first volume of her cookbook and biographical account of these celebrated Baltimore dining establishments.

“I wanted my book to be the inspiration and vehicle that transported the reader on their own journey and to their own place of nostalgia just as I experienced mine while writing ‘Dining Down Memory Lane,’” she says. “Nostalgia is more than just remembering; it’s an emotion evoked by memories of things we loved.”

As she wrote her book, Howell says she kept in mind that a particular segment of Baltimore’s population would hold fond memories for these places and be interested in her book. But she also thought about the younger generations, those who wouldn’t remember the restaurants she described but would be able to gain some understanding of the ambiance that made these restaurants so distinctive.

‘Dining Down Memory Lane Volume II’ by Shelley Howell

Her research didn’t stop after she published her first volume. The more restaurants she researched, the more she discovered stories to tell and recipes to share. “For me, that’s the whole fun of the research. You never know what you’re going to uncover,” she says.

“I had no idea what recipes these restaurants gave away.”

Celebrating Restaurants Through Recipes

As they journey through Howell’s second volume, readers will discover the recipe for Doebereiner’s chocolate cake with its creamy chocolate frosting and the Seafood Lord Calvert from Miller Brothers Restaurant on West Fayette Street. If you’ve missed Jimmy Wu’s Chicken Egg Drop Soup, you’ll find its recipe in the book. Howell also highlights Baltimore County’s memorable dining establishments such as Brentwood Inn, Fiori and Dici Naz Velleggia.

When it comes to the recipes included in the second volume of “Dining Down Memory Lane,” Howell says she has made the Chicken Gismonda, a dish featuring chicken, mushrooms and spinach. The recipe originates with Rudy Speckamp, the former owner and chef of Capriccio in Little Italy. She also vouches for the Rigatoni Alla Vodka recipe, also from Capriccio, and the famous Hutzler’s Potato Chip Cookies.

Howell says that she believes strongly in keeping the memories of these Baltimore dining establishments alive through their recipes. “Before I even started writing, what inspired me was that the books that I used for research are, for the most part, out-of-print books. That made me sad. If they’re out of print, these recipes are just going to get forgotten,” she says. “Through my books, I’m trying to keep these recipes alive and hopefully pass them along to future generations.”

Haussner’s Restaurant menu cover | Provided Photo

She continues, “The restaurants and recipes I describe in the book remind me of special times shared with family and friends and yesteryear. These memories are bittersweet: They’re bitter because they were shared with people who may no longer be with us and occurring in places no longer with us. They’re sweet because they were happy times that I could re-create in my mind over and over again.”

The Crab Cooking Olympics

In her book “Dining Down Memory Lane Volume II,” author Shelley Howell reveals the story of an intriguing piece of culinary history associated with Baltimore: the 1969 Crab Cooking Olympics in San Francisco.

“The cookoff was a direct result of an exchange between (Baltimore) Mayor Tommy D’Alesandro III and (San Francisco) Mayor Joseph Alioto,” she writes. “D’Alesandro was quoted as saying that Chesapeake Bay crabs were ‘supreme to any other in the universe,’ including the Dungeness crabs of the West. This incited a coast-to-coast debate about whose crabs were better. Obviously fired up, Mayor Alioto challenged Mayor D’Alesandro to prove that Baltimore was the best at cooking crabs. The fight took the form of a culinary competition masterminded by famed chef and author James Beard.”

According to her research, the competition occurred again in 1970, 1971, 1980 and 1982. Her chapter on The Crab Cooking Olympics reveals some of the crab dishes presented by the chefs who represented Baltimore in these competitions. These recipes include the famous Maryland crab cakes made by Bob Reilly of Angelina’s in Parkville.

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