Some great new eateries opened in Baltimore in 2022, including two recent additions that I’ll tell you about below. It also saw a few departures, including one announced just last week.
But the best is yet to come for Charm City diners. This year, Baltimore County will get a taco shop from a James Beard nominee. Some of the city’s top restaurateurs will open new restaurants in Fells Point, Hampden, downtown and beyond. A Hunt Valley landmark gets made over too.
Carroll & Son Fine Foods
I’ve been wondering what would replace the Well Crafted Kitchen, a popular pizza place in Hampden’s Union Collective that closed somewhat unexpectedly last year.
Last week I got the answer.
Catering company Carroll & Son Fine Foods is bringing Baltimore deliciousness to UNION Craft Brewing. Think pit beef smoked three hours until perfectly black on the exterior, Binkert’s sausage and punchy sauerkraut. And the meatloaf, oh my gosh, the meatloaf.
“There’s a lot of Baltimore nods and just other nods of things that we really like,” said owner Jon Carroll, who founded the catering company in 2021. “We don’t really have a food concept.” He joked in Seinfeldian terms: “The restaurant is about nothing.”
A former musician and alum of Gertrude’s Chesapeake Kitchen, Carroll is currently an employee and owner at UNION Craft Brewing. On his own, he has served up burritos, ramen, pit beef and burgers at pop-ups around Baltimore. (In case you’re curious, he’s not one of those Carrolls, one of Maryland’s founding families.)
Already familiar with the UNION Craft Brewing space, Carroll jumped at the opportunity to open a permanent restaurant inside. Carroll’s partner on the project is Eric Bainbridge, an alum of The Brewer’s Art and UNION Craft Brewing. In the kitchen is Jake Cornman, formerly of Dylan’s Oyster Cellar, and the man responsible for the new restaurant’s mouthwatering meatloaf.
Also on hand: Carroll’s 5-year-old son, Desmond, who was hanging out in the kitchen during my visit. “He’s really excited to come with Daddy to the restaurant,” Carroll said. In fact, Desmond has already taken to shooing customers out of the kitchen.
Look for new additions to the menu in 2023: the Double Dez smashburger, french fries and coddies. Don’t look for pizza, although the pizza oven is still there from the Well Crafted era. “I don’t want to be compared to” Well Crafted Kitchen, Carroll said. (He prefers New York-style pie, anyway.)
Ekiben arrives at Locust Point
I arrived in line at 6:30 p.m. on the opening night of Ekiben’s third location in the city and its first in Locust Point.
The line of mostly 20 and 30-something customers stretched down the block reminded me just how passionate so many in this area are about the fast-casual restaurant known for its tofu, meatballs and spicy chicken bowls.
“This is my second store opening,” said Xander Stoute, who drove from Catonsville for the event. “I’ve been hyping this place for probably five years.”
The customers I spoke to were well-versed in Ekiben’s history: It started as a hot dog cart at the Fells Point farmers market and later opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant in the neighborhood, and another in Hampden. And they were quick to offer their favorite dishes. The tofu, Stoute said, will “change your mind about tofu.”
For their part, Ekiben’s founders and staff work overtime to keep their fans happy. In 2021, they famously drove to Vermont to prepare the favorite broccoli dish of a terminally ill customer.
In announcing the opening of its location at 801 East Fort Ave. just one day earlier, co-founder Steve Chu promised everyone who walked in the door would get an item for free. “Whatever the most expensive thing was [that you ordered] we comped it.”
Over 700 customers later, the restaurant had given away quantities of food worth over $10,000. But to Chu, it was worth it. “It’s our way of giving back to the city that’s supported us so many years.”
La Calle closes
La Calle, an elevated Mexican restaurant frequented by many in Baltimore’s City Hall, closed down Dec. 31, according to its Instagram account.
Its owners hinted on social media that the restaurant could reopen at a new location, writing: “La Calle’s story in Baltimore is not ending! Come out to support us on New Year’s Eve, and stay tuned for exciting news to come!”
I didn’t hear back about future plans. In the meantime, those hungry for the restaurant’s tacos and melt-in-your-mouth flan can head to Fells Point’s BMORE TAQUERIA, by chef Valentino Sandoval, who co-founded La Calle with his brothers but left that restaurant before it shut down.
2023′s Most anticipated restaurant openings
Now let’s talk about the most exciting restaurants that are set to open this year.
Bunny’s, chef Jesse Sandlin’s new bar and restaurant, will take the place of the old Wharf Rat. Gone is the bare-chested ship’s figurehead and other nautical paraphernalia that defined the beloved dive bar, which shut down during the pandemic. Sandlin, who also owns Sally O’s and The Dive, bought the building for nearly $1 million and spent another $1 million on the renovation. She won’t say much about the menu or the new concept; you can see them for yourself when Bunny’s opens in March.
Crust By Mack, Amanda Mack’s bakery, was set to open last year, but it will be launching in Midtown-Belvedere in 2023 instead. Mack’s legions of fans filled up Hampden’s Whitehall Market to line up for her crab pies and decadent brownies. According to the company’s website, the new location at 2 East Preston St. will open this spring.
Hampdenites should have their credit cards ready to head to the unnamed Foreman Wolf concept coming to the old Cafe Hon location. Co-owner Tony Foreman has been tightlipped about plans for this corner restaurant on Hampden’s Avenue. But rest assured that when it opens, it will demonstrate the attention to detail, menu and service that defines Foreman Wolf properties from Charleston to Petit Louis.
Longtime supporters of the iconic Helmand restaurant can hardly wait for the opening of Kandahar Afghan Kitchen, also on Hampden’s Avenue. Former Helmand chef Assad Akbari will launch a BYOB restaurant with Afghan specialties such as beef ravioli and pumpkin with yogurt sauce. After several delays, Akbari says he’s looking to open at the end of January.
Nana, from James Beard nominated Clavel chef Carlos Raba, is set to arrive at 6901 York Road in Stoneleigh. The 10-seat taqueria and restaurant was originally set to open last year, but ran into delays. The building is in a historic neighborhood and required extensive updates. On the menu: rotisserie chicken, potatoes and tacos. Raba, who turns 40 this March, is hoping to open by his birthday.
Hunt Valley’s well-known Oregon Grille reopens Jan. 30 following a makeover by new owners Atlas Restaurant Group. As the weather warms, head out to a new outdoor bar on the patio with string lights. A new top floor private dining room is available for private events with food prepared by chef Amanda Brennan. Also on the horizon: Atlas’ first-ever D.C. concept, Parlour Victoria, is opening in early February in the Moxy hotel on K Street; a rooftop bar in the same hotel will open in March.
Ashish Alfred’s new Italian concept Osteria Pirata will bring diners to the former Points South Latin Kitchen storefront sometime in late February or early March. Alfred, who also owns neighboring Duck Duck Goose and Anchor Bar, promises to keep it simple with a neighborhood “red sauce Italian” joint. But don’t expect it to be dull.
Prim & Proper will take the first floor of downtown’s Merchants Club, formerly home to Chez Hugo, another pandemic casualty. I look forward to seeing this space get new life under Papi Cuisine founder Alex Perez, who popularized the crab cake egg roll.
Slutty Vegan may be adding a new location in Baltimore this year. Company reps haven’t confirmed exactly where it will be, or when it will open, or frankly, if it’s actually happening, although founder Aisha “Pinky” Cole told local media that she planned a return to her hometown of Charm City. “I gotta come back home ... I am who I am because of my city,” she said in an interview with radio station 92Q.
Toki Underground has ramen lovers salivating ahead of the launch of the Washington, D.C., eatery’s new location in Baltimore. It will be on Greenmount Avenue in the former Bottoms Up Bagels space.
Not far from the Foreman Wolf concept will be the Urban Oyster, a permanent new home for Jasmine Norton’s concept. Norton’s star has only risen in the years since she left her McHenry Row spot as well as another burger stall in Whitehall Mill. While she’s been operating off and on as a ghost kitchen (and even cooked with the cast of ”Top Chef” at last year’s Preakness) her fans will be thrilled to have a spot to get her signature grilled oysters. Norton is planning for a late April or early May opening.
Zander’s will launch in the Alexander Brown building. An architectural gem that underwent a stunning, not to mention hugely expensive, renovation before the Alexander Brown Restaurant opened in 2019, it’s been vacant since that concept shut down early on in the pandemic. Now, Brendon Hudson and David Monteagudo of The Liliahna Hospitality Group, which also owns Allora and Velleggia’s, are taking over.