Unsung Baltimore Gems

Mike Cook

The Citypaper's Cheap Eats column recently blew up my spot. Bret McCabe visited the rotisserie chicken nirvana known as Nick's Chicken. Located on Washington Boulevard in Pigtown, Nick's is every bit as amazing as Citypaper says it is.

Nonetheless, I've never seen more than one other person in Nick's. That's got me thinking about how some of the very best locations in Baltimore fly under the radar. Here's a few of my favorite stealth gems.

You can't really call Trinacria unsung, as it often appears in best-of lists. Still, unless you show up with the out-the-door line at lunch, you'll often find yourself alone in Trinacria. Just a few blocks North of the clone army of fried chicken counters in Lexington Market, Trinacria amazes with fresh bread, a near wallpapering of Italian oils, peppers, and spices, and a deli display brimming with cheeses and olives. Sandwiches there are huge; and did I mention $6 bottles of wine? Yeah, they have that too.

A basement is a good place to hide from the crowds, which is what Geisha manages to do despite having some of the best sushi in town. Geisha has recently expanded their menu with more specialty rolls, but they still do the basics best. Their cuts of the classics, like tuna, are meltingly soft. If you do like rolls, try the Pink Lady or Imperial Shrimp. The underground location makes it quiet and cool in summer. Service is always polite, though it's not always geared to handle crowds, so things can go a tad slowly if you happen to arrive when a large group does. Geisha used to give a special treat to those that had ordered a lot of sushi. I'm not sure they still do, but I'm sure that endearing yourself to the sushi chefs behind the counter will still earn rewards of some kind.

There must be a Chinese takeout joint for every ten residents in Baltimore City, but there's only one Cafe Zen. Outside a few spots in the county, there's really nowhere else to go for good quality Chinese food in Baltimore. Cafe Zen is usually full, so maybe it shouldn't be considered a stealth choice, but bring it up in conversation around town and you'll get blank stares that attest to the fact that it really is a mostly unheard of pleasure. The only Kung Pao Chicken that's any good in the city can be found here.

The aroma of the H&S Outlet Store precedes it. Wander anywhere within a few blocks of its Fleet Street address and the buttery, yeasty scent of fresh bread will lead you in to the amazing deals. The inventory changes because they stock the shelves here with whatever they happen to bake too much of in the nearby bakeries, but the prices are always low. I've stocked up for 30 person parties for as little as four dollars, which might explain why there's always an old woman outside filling her Oldsmobile's trunk with baked bounty.

Baltimore doesn't always come to you. You often have to go out and get it. Once you go out and get a taste at these places, though, you'll see the effort is worth it. Articles like this and the Citypaper's write-up of Nick's are constantly turning stealth gems into well-known favorites, but many more perfect bites lie hidden in Baltimore. What's your own favorite gem? The city is always looking for a new unsung hero.

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