Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Summer's Gone Part I: Charm City (And Surrounding) Edition

The Spaghetti & Meatball Pizza at Joe Squared in Baltimore.
Now I'm standing in a doorway, thinking of summers gone by
It ought to make me happy, but it just makes me want to cry.
– Summer's Gone, The Kinks

So, uh, anybody out there want to tell me exactly where it is that summer went?

Seems like just yesterday I was picking Ryan up on the last day of school, ten weeks of opportunity and adventure looming large ahead of us. Swim team, fishing, boat trips, the beach – ahhh, yes, the beach – and so many other things to do.

Turns out ten weeks isn't as long as I thought and ten 10 days ago I was packing my third grader (?!) in the car for the first day of the new school year.

But between vacation trips, beach weekends and catching up with old friends, THG has been doing a lot of out and about drinking and eating recently. And I do mean "a lot".

One of our favorite treks of late was down to Columbia, MD which, while only a 30 minute drive, always sounds much further away. But when old friends were in town to visit their daughter it seemed like a great chance to try Victoria's Gastropub. Set amidst one of those confusingly cobbled together groupings of stores, banks and chain stores, Victoria's is quite the craft beer and upscale pub grub oasis.

Though our reserved table netted us nothing more than a cramped booth next to the kitchen, I was happy to see they offered a robust beer menu in addition to the varied dinner fare. Bonus points, too, to the server who admitted that our friends were much better off hitting nearby G&M for their legendary softball-sized crab cakes than ordering at Victoria's. Love the honesty, dude.

Chicken Liver Pate was smooth and not at all gamey – though still not as great as my father-in-law's but on par with the Smoked Chicken Liver Spread I made back in 2009. I must admit, though, that we were definitely disappointed that steamed clams were already off the menu at such an early hour. On the other hand, entrees were met with a lot of enthusiasm, especially my juicy Wagyu burger with mushrooms and Swiss cheese which had me scrambling for my napkin to stem the tide of juice running down my hands.

The ambience doesn't quite capture the gastropub/craft beer feel they're going for and our second round of beers was completely mixed up, but any hiccups were smoothed over by the hearty sides of addictive Duck Fat Fries that were devoured by everyone, even the 8 year old diner in our midst.

Two recent trips to Ryleigh's Oyster House in Cockeysville, MD met with definitely mixed results. (They have a couple other popular locations but we've never been.) While I love noshing on seafood at Mama's on the Half Shell down in Baltimore, the opening of Ryleigh's in Cockeysville has brought some of that convenience a lot closer to home. We're talking ten minutes versus thirty, not to mention no lengthy wait for a table.

On National Oyster Day I accompanied my buddy and his son out for lunch, which resulted in picture perfect service, ice cold Natty Boh drafts, smooth and chunky Cream of Crab Soup and my usual, a Fried Oyster Po' Boy that may not be as good as Mama's but is worth stopping in for every month or so.

Unfortunately, another recent trip to Ryleigh's resulted in the first time I was officially disappointed in the restaurant. We had decided to meet an old friend there on a Saturday afternoon and sat under an umbrella on the steamy patio, which sits, unfortunately, right along busy Padonia Road. To be frank, I'm still trying to find a nearby Baltimore County patio/deck bar that doesn't butt up against a busy thoroughfare.

Service from the patio bartender was a little shaky – a bit too much time between courses, forgotten soup – and my Grilled Fish Tacos were a major letdown, though everybody else seemed to enjoy their lunches. Unfortunately, my flour tortillas were a dense, soggy mess, the grilled fish limited to one nearly tasteless strip per taco, with whatever flavor the fish might have had overwhelmed by the pico de gallo.

More impressive was a Sunday afternoon trek to Joe Squared on North Ave. for some pizza and beers before catching a documentary at The Ottobar. I've always liked the food and drink at JS, even if parking your car and walking three blocks reminds me of my days walking from classes at Drexel to a bar or friend's house in West Philly. And not in a great way.

Despite an air conditioning system that was clearly struggling on a sultry summer afternoon, I loved the Spaghetti and Meatball Pizza that my buddy Dave suggested. To be honest, I was expecting something far heavier but JS once again elevated the simple concept and delivered a delicious thin crust packed with red peppers, meatballs and just a hint of pasta.

Dave and I ordered a 14" pie, but I could have definitely housed another few slices. And maybe another small pizza before we headed to The Ottobar for a screening of DON'T YOU WISH THAT WE WERE DEAD about one of my favorite punk bands, The Damned.

And, yes, we even spotted two large rats cavorting in the Ottobar parking lot afterwards, so it was an official Baltimore trip!

I'll be back with Part II of our Summer Wrap-Up soon, with some thoughts on new and old haunts on our home away from home, Long Beach Island (NJ). – Dan Taylor

Dan Taylor is the editor and publisher of The Hungover Gourmet. Be sure to check out THG on Facebook and Twitter.

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