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The Year in Food

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When we try to count our blessings in precarious years, we invariably include good health in our shortened list. And while Baltimore’s dining scene in 2010 weathered its fair share of closings (most recently Diablita and the blink-and-you-missed-them Gordito’s and Tangier’s) and changes (most notably, former City Paper restaurant critic Richard Gorelick officially replacing retired Sun critic Elizabeth Large), it’s still looking remarkably healthy. Baltimoreans are still eating out and still looking for new places to try, and the tables of folks who are eating in are looking more like the tables of generations past, groaning with home-made bread, pickles, and tomatoes canned from the bounty of backyard and community gardens. Below, our writers give thanks for new restaurants, classic Baltimore foodstuffs, and the ability to find something edible in overlooked places. (Mary K. Zajac)

 

1 Vino Rosina

A very welcome arrival in 2010, Vino Rosina combines smart, irreverent, always impeccably pulled-off cuisine served with a soupçon of local celeb glamour. Chef Jesse Sandlin competed on Bravo’s Top Chef, and her bent for pierced ‘n’ punky glam reflects in Vino Rosina’s menu, where “lasagna” means rabbit with goat cheese and shallot confit and the “16-legged burger” brings together four different animal species, ground and grilled for your dining pleasure. But the kitchen also has a deft touch with comforting classics like cassoulet. Best of all, prices are eminently reasonable, making Vino Rosina a daily dining possibility. (Michelle Gienow)

2 Year of the beer

It’s been a good year for beer (and beer lovers) in Baltimore. Clipper City Brewing Co. expanded and rebranded its offerings so everything falls under the Heavy Seas label, making us realize just how many different beers Hugh Sisson’s company brews every year. “Gypsy brewer” and local native Brian Strumke began traveling the world to produce his funky and exquisite Stillwater Artisanal Ales. To the delight of Baltimore hipsters, the Brewers Art’s flagship beer, Resurrection Ale, came out in gorgeous cans dotted with enough gold chalices to make the Pope envious. And 2010 saw Baltimore’s second annual Beer Week: seven days and over 340 events dedicated to celebrating hops and malt. Worth raising a glass to. (MKZ)

3 Pumpkin bars at Eddie’s of Roland Park

Fall is great—cool weather, pretty leaves, football—but there is a downside, and that is the flood of fake-ass so-called “pumpkin” whatevers, be it lattes, bagels, beer . . . fucking beer!? Almost none of which contain any pumpkin, just spices and possibly artificial coloring. Not so at Eddie’s, where they know how to treat a pumpkin. The bars are dense, moist, and very pure expressions of pumpkin filling, supported by a capable if unremarkable crust. Die-hard pumpkin heads begin bugging the bakers about them in August, and they usually start selling them in October. (Henry Hong)

4 Mi Viejo Pueblito

The Latino food scene in Baltimore just keeps getting better, and Highlandtown’s Mi Viejo Pueblito is a more than welcome addition. If there’s better posole in Baltimore, I haven’t found it yet, and the mole here is outstanding, as are the multitude of salsas that will dot your table by the end of the meal. Mi Viejo Pueblito’s wildly colored dining room is just the place to stretch out and sample authentic Puebla cooking and gracious hospitality. (MKZ)

5 Foraging

You heard it here first—all of a sudden, organic, local, sustainable, eco-farmed, heirloom foods whisked from the farm to your plate with only a short stop in the kitchen are, as of late 2010, no longer the cutting-edge ingredient. Nope. Foraged wild foods—as in, weeds and other noncultivated plants—dug up from woods and even city parks or vacant lots are the trendiest food trend going. West Coast chefs are elbowing each other for first crack at stinging nettles and morel mushrooms; locally, some farms that run community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs (One Straw, Cromwell Valley) have been giving erstwhile weeds—purslane, lamb’s quarters—as part of members’ veggie shares, and locavore havens such as Woodberry Kitchen feature wild eats like ramps. (MG)

6 Coddies

Ah, the coddie, the down-to-earth, sensible counterpart to Baltimore’s more glamorous seafood cake—the Mary Ann to the crab cake’s Ginger, if you will. It’s not really endemic to Baltimore; salt cod and dishes based thereupon can be found all around the Atlantic rim. In fact the coddie that most of us know is more or less a croquette form of the famous French preparation brandade. But in few other locales is it as loved, and thus ubiquitous, as it is here, cropping up in the most random places (current record holder: a gun shop in northern Baltimore County). Your garden-variety hockey-puck specimen is usually a dollar per, saltines and mustard included. Can’t beat a cheap date. (HH)

7 Bluegrass Tavern

Does Baltimore really need another informal dining venue dedicated to local and seasonal? If we’re talking about Bluegrass Tavern, in a word, yes. With a menu that changes frequently, you’ll never know quite what Chef Patrick Morrow has up his sleeve, but you can count on outstanding charcuterie and inventive preparations (a summer menu offered fried green tomatoes with corned beef tongue and black pepper ice cream; a recent menu noted venison in its Bolognese sauce). The addition of former Corks sommelier Chris Coker is a smart move as well. (MKZ)

8 Spro

Did you hear the collective sigh of relief when Spro opened on the Avenue in Hampden earlier this year? Finally, not just a good cup of coffee in Baltimore, but a reliably great cup. The staff at Spro is serious about coffee: Not only can you have your java brewed in all kinds of sophisticated ways—vacuum pot, pour over, chemex, eva solo, aeropress, french press, cold brew drip tower—but the coffee itself is selected with care from small growers around the world. Beans here are vetted the way a sommelier hones a fine wine list, evaluating aroma, nose, and finish and promising coffee experiences involving “fragrances of lamb kebabs, wood chips, pepper, sweet fruity cerea and raspberry jam start off in your nose leading to flavors of vanilla, cinnamon, raspberries, and sweet red fruits.” Wow. All for four bucks a cup. We’re in. (MG)

9 Creamed spinach at the Prime Rib

Dinner at a good American steakhouse is typified by simple, straightforward execution rather than highly complex or overwrought culinary gymnastics. There is no better embodiment of this than the classic side dish of creamed spinach. Almost every steakhouse worth its salt will serve it, but as with so many other such things, the Prime Rib’s is simply the best. It is vexingly good. After all, by appearances it’s just a bowl of hot greens. But they are really green, impossibly green, glistening, emerald, candy-like . . . where the hell do they get this spinach? And the flavor—spinachy, sure, but also meltingly rich, buttery, and, indeed, creamy. How they cook all that into such uniform greenness is truly a mystery. A sexy, green mystery. (HH)

10 McCabe’s returns

Restaurants come and go, and sometimes when an old favorite closes up shop, we mourn, even if we know deep down that the closing was long past due. This was not the case with McCabe’s, which closed and then reopened under new ownership and came back better, if not bigger. All the familiar menu items are in place, but there’s a feeling that everything has been kicked up a notch. Burgers are now made with Springfield Farm beef, bread is from Stone Mill Bakery, and the crab cakes remain full of thumb-sized lumps of snowy meat. And McCabe’s is still one of the few places where Hampdenites and Roland Parkers rub elbows. Welcome back. (MKZ)

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  • The Year in Film Though only one cracked into City Paper’s Top 10 list, 2010’s cinematic cup runneth over with top-notch documentaries—and not just the Michael Moore, Errol Morris, An Inconvenient Truth sort of zeitgeist-baiting nonfiction. Instead, smaller, more intima | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in DVDs Max Ophuls’ 1955 Lola Montes endured many of the same heartbreaks and indignities as its title character: misunderstood, manipulated, abused, and abandoned. | 12/14/2010
  • The Year in Television I watch the Hawaii Five-O remake on CBS. There, I said it. Now, don’t get me wrong—it’s awful. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Music In years past, City Paper has looked to its freelance contributors to vote in its annual Top 10 records poll. This year, we looked to Baltimore instead. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Local Music The record label Thrill Jockey is not based in Baltimore. Nor is City Paper on the Thrill Jockey payroll. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Books In years past we’ve polled City Paper’s book reviewers for their 10 favorite books of the year and threaded a list together from their input. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Art Unlike last year’s Laure Drogoul: Follies, Predicaments and Other Conundrums at the Maryland Institute College of Art or 2008’s Franz West, To Build a House You Start With the Roof: Work 1972-2008 at the Baltimore Museum of Art, there wasn’t one exhibitio | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Stage The year in local stage is bookended by a pair of DIY transitions. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Food When we try to count our blessings in precarious years, we invariably include good health in our shortened list. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year In... City Paper's writers go beyond the categories and pick even more top tens | 12/8/2010
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