Like many areas in Baltimore, the neighborhoods Hamilton and Lauraville are a hub where small businesses shape the culture of the community.
Here is where some say one of the city’s best crab cakes are made. The Northeast Baltimore neighborhoods are also where you can find many farm-to-table dining experiences, a great cup of coffee and plenty of spots for anyone with a sweet tooth.
I am writing about the most interesting restaurants in Baltimore neighborhoods as part of a regular series for The Baltimore Banner.
For the next roundup in this neighborhood restaurant series, here is where I have found good eating in Hamilton-Lauraville.
4301 Harford Rd.
Koco’s Pub is always on the list when discussing the best crab cakes in Maryland. When you step into the restaurant and bar, it looks like you have arrived at the neighborhood hangout. Koco’s is decorated with framed magazine features, local and national awards, and photos and figurines of parrots. If it’s your birthday, let the staff know and they will add your name and birthdate to the massive chalkboard hanging in the middle of the restaurant.
There are plenty of options on the menu, which can be described as “classic bar food,” but most people come for Koco’s famous crab cakes. Their crab cake is 11 ounces of broiled, jumbo lump crab meat. When Baltimoreans enjoy a crab cake, they usually want little filler — the breading, crackers, etc., that help bind the crab cake together. The pub uses very little filler, making the crab cake firmer than most. In each bite, I taste an Old Bay spice blend with a subtle, mustard-like zing and the delicate, sweet flavor of crab meat. The “Original” Crab Cake Platter here continues to be one of my favorite meals in the area.
5414 Harford Road
Relatively new to the Hamilton-Lauraville neighborhood, Bramble Baking Co. is a small-batch bakery serving hyperseasonal cakes, pies and pastries. Tucked away on Harford Road, it might be easy to miss, but once you are inside you will want to stay a while. Bramble’s space echoes its name with its botanical decor. There are a few wooden tables and chairs inside, a corner shelf with small household items for sale, and a window where guests can see the bakers rolling the dough and icing the cakes.
I tried the Morning Bun – a sweet, spiced roll - and a flaky, glazed chocolate espresso croissant. Both pastries were outstanding. You can taste the quality and care put into the baked goods. Bramble Baking Co. is a collectively run workplace that partners with local farms to grow food and flowers for the bakery.
4719 Harford Road
Zeke’s Coffee is one of Baltimore’s most beloved coffee brands. At local farmers markets, they often have one of the longest lines of people waiting for a cup or bag of their small-batch roasted beans. The Harford Road coffee shop reflects their thoughtful, productive brand, with its space being ideal for remote work and small, in-person meetups.
Last week, I stopped in to try the Granita — a sweet, frozen coffee drink — and a sandwich for lunch. Zeke’s Coffee shop has a good-looking sandwich menu, complete with vegetarian and vegan options. I had the Baltimore, a cold roast beef sandwich with red onion, lettuce, tomato, and Old Bay tiger sauce. The Old Bay tiger sauce really made the standard lunch sandwich a pleasant bite. The Granita, with an added shot of espresso for me, is a light, sweet, caffeinated beverage — perfect for the summer heat.
4311 Harford Road
Cloudy Donuts quickly became a sought-after treat when people discovered that vegan donuts can taste better than the traditional kind. The space is charming and small — enough room for just a few to stand inside when the usual line begins to form. Cloudy Donuts has over 40 different flavors, but often sells eight or so flavors at a time on its all-vegan menu.
On my latest visit, I had to choose between Cookie Butter, Lemon Poppyseed, Red Velvet and Maple Butter Pecan, to name a few. I tasted the Cookie Butter and Maple Butter Pecan. The donuts are pillowy soft, and the flavors tasted even better than they looked. They are Instagram-worthy. Cloudy Donuts is always worth the hype.
Follow their social media channels for information on the donut flavors of the day and find occasional “free donuts” announcements.
2914 Hamilton Avenue
When exploring any area in Baltimore, it’s necessary to find the neighborhood snowball stand. One Sweet Moment has been around for over 30 years, serving snowballs, shaved ice and ice cream. With over 150 flavors, there are plenty to choose from. I went with a classic egg custard snowball topped with marshmallow fluff. For those who have not tried an egg custard snowball, it is a bright orange, sort-of-almondy, vanilla-custard-flavored syrup. A friend of mine said that “it tastes like Baltimore.” I loved how heavy-handed the person making my snowball was with the egg custard syrup, and the texture of the snowball ice was smooth.
Many local residents claim this stand has the best snowballs in Baltimore. The feel of the ice and ample pumps of flavoring truly do make One Sweet Moment snowballs a cut above the rest.
4341 Harford Road
Many restaurants boast a farm-to-table, craft cocktails concept, but Maggie’s Farm’s comforting and solid execution of this style is what keeps me coming back. The inside of the restaurant is small and dimly lit, with red wallpaper creating a speakeasy, vintage feel.
On my last visit, I started with the Sticky Honey Sriracha Cauliflower Wings and MF Mussels. The honey-sriracha sauce on the cauliflower was wonderfully sweet and spicy, and the mussels were fresh, in a savory butter and white wine sauce.
For my entree, I chose the MF Burger with aged cheddar cheese, house pickles, caramelized onions, house sauce, and a fried egg on a house brioche bun. The burger was juicy and the toppings added salt, umami and crunch. The restaurant also partners with local farms and uses ingredients from their home garden to bring their guests quality food offerings.
5429 Harford Rd
One of my favorite restaurants for a quiet weekend brunch is Silver Queen Cafe, though a visit to try their dinner menu and curated wine list is long overdue. The small, family-owned restaurant loves creating new dishes for their guests with their rotating, seasonal, locally sourced menu. Silver Queen is cozy inside with colorful, upbeat art covering the walls. There is some sidewalk seating.
I am a fan of their shrimp and grits and variety of french toasts. The shrimp and grits uses plump Gulf shrimp and has bacon, crab, peppers, onions, grits, braised greens, tomato, and a bourbon butter hot sauce. It is a warm, exciting dish loaded with flavor. Silver Queen Cafe always feels like eating a fancy yet comforting meal in your friend’s comfy home.
There are so many other gems that deserve to be highlighted in this neighborhood. Some honorable mentions in Hamilton-Lauraville are Red Canoe, a woman-owned cafe and bookstore; Emma’s Tea Spot, a British tea shop; Farm to Face, a seasonal, organic vegan cafe; Kuramo, a Nigerian carryout with some of the best egusi in Baltimore; Char’d City, a wood-fired pizza restaurant with a Mediterranean and Italian menu; and Big Bad Wolf’s House of Barbeque, a Carolina and Texas-style barbecue carryout.
Have a food spot or restaurant you recommend? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.