Before we’ve even grabbed a table at Dylan’s Oyster Cellar in Hampden, Amy Langrehr and Aaron Joseph have already said hello to at least eight people. And it doesn’t stop there. Throughout the night, countless people stop by, tapping their shoulders or sporting a comical surprised face as they spot them on the way to the bar.
For our first few rounds of introductions, either Langrehr or Joseph takes the time to explain who I am and what we’re doing (“This is Kim, she’s talking to us for an article in Baltimore STYLE about food and drinks in Baltimore”), but by the third or fourth visitor, things get simpler: “Meet our friend, Kim.”
See, that’s just how they are. Langrehr, known for her ultra-popular blog and Instagram Charm City Cook, is the type of friend you can’t wait to meet for a martini, all high-energy and “here, try this!” Joseph, on the other hand, is more reserved. The mind behind Remington’s r. bar is the kind of guy who will refill your water glass before you realize it’s empty — or, in my case, patiently talk you through the best way to eat an oyster.
Who better, then, to comment on the state of the culinary arts in Baltimore? Below, we present their insiders’ take on where to go, what to do, and why you should never write a Yelp review.
WHERE TO EAT
Once Langrehr and Joseph get started on naming their favorite city restaurants, there’s no stopping them.
“Peter’s Inn in Fells Point, definitely,” Langrehr says. “I love a good steak from there. Or Capital Grille. I don’t usually like chains, but the guy over there is the best guy. SoBo Market and SoBo Café in Federal Hill. Petit Louis Bistro and The Helmand are old standards. Prime Rib, the happy hour at La Cuchara, sushi from Nanami in Fells and oh, of course, the pizza and pasta at Hersh’s. Everything there is amazing.”
And for Joseph? “I like to keep my secrets my secrets, but I love Thames Street Oyster House. Their cream of crab is excellent. Ramen from Kippo in Fells Point. Lobo is a great neighborhood bar; they put their heart and soul into it. The menu at Black Sauce Kitchen is phenomenal, interesting and diverse. I grew up in Hawaii — the best Hawaiian food is at Uncle’s Hawaiian Grindz in Fallston. Alma Cocina Latina’s great, too.” And naturally, they’re both fans of Dylan’s. As Langrehr says, “it’s new, but it feels like it’s been here forever.”
WHERE TO DRINK
“Ryan Sparks at Bookmakers is so creative,” says Langrehr, who claims the bar is her favorite place to sit across the board. “He’s always playing around with flavors.”
Another mutual favorite? Clavel.
“What Lane [Harlan] is doing there should be recognized as one of the best in the United States,” Joseph says. “Clavel really takes you to Oaxaca. Fifteen minutes there and you forget you’re in Baltimore.” And don’t forget Joseph’s own brainchild. “Sometimes I’ll try weird stuff,” he says. “I recently ate a leaf off of a peach tree randomly. It was bitter, but with a flowery note, like an almond. I ended up making a drink with it that won an award at the National Archives.”
At the same time, though, he says that Charm City doesn’t allow for too much craziness. “When I came in 2013, the cocktail scene was up and down. There were a couple of things I thought would go over well, but people weren’t ready for it. I learned you have to make it approachable. You have to gain their trust. Then you can give them things like seasoned egg whites, draft cocktails and activated charcoal. We’re starting to see things here that were big in New York four years ago. Baltimore’s not always ready for that stuff.” (If you’d rather drink at home, the pair recommends the Baltimore Whiskey Company.)
HOW TO SHOW LOVE
Though they both worry about the sustainability of the ultra-fast growth on the restaurant scene, they’re excited, and they hope consumers are, too.
“I’m a cheerleader for Baltimore,” says Langrehr, who was born here and plans to spend the rest of her life here, too. “I think that comes across in what I do. I went to Bluebird [Cocktail Room] and I was just so impressed. I think it’s one of the best things to open in Hampden in years, so I knew I had to write about it. It took me five, six hours, but I knew I had to put the work in, because I really thought it was great. When something moves you, you put the work in.”
And sometimes, that means nothing more than just appreciating what’s in front of you.
“People will ask me what the best tip they can give me is,” Joseph says, “and I’ll always tell them that the best tip they can give is to come back. Personally, the best compliment I can give is to say, ‘I’ve never had a bad meal there.’”
HOW NOT TO BE A SCHLUB
“In the era of social media, people will just start ranting about a restaurant on Facebook or Yelp,” Langrehr says. “If you’re not a professional, it’s not your job to do that.”
Joseph concurs, but with a caveat: “It’s about social responsibility. Everyone has a different experience. Like with alcohol — the spirit might not be the most palatable, but it’s one of those things where someone put time and effort into it. Someone took time to make that. They put their passion, thought and money into it. But at the same time, it’s great that the feedback is almost instant. You don’t have to wait for a six-week review anymore.”
Even so, Langrehr adds, you’re probably going to restaurants too early. “When a new restaurant opens, give it a month at least,” she says “It’s not going to be good right away. People get so psyched for new spots and then go and don’t have a great experience and go on Yelp.”
As for those on the business side of things? “If it’s legit, if it has heart, people feel it,” she says. “If there’s no inspiration behind it, that’s going to come out really fast. If you’re going to be full of yourself, you won’t last here. There’s no room for bullshit in Baltimore.”
Joseph nods: “It’s a tough love city. It’s hard to gain trust, but if the neighborhood embraces you, there’s your sustainability.” He pauses, carefully spreading horseradish on an oyster. “If your whole life is your restaurant, it better be good.”