If you’re looking for waterfront views and delicious foods, the southeast quadrant of I-695 is the place to be — although you may have to travel a little farther off the beltway than the spots in my previous lists.
And while this is technically the “Beltway Series,” about good restaurants near the interstate, many of the area’s tastiest restaurants are accessible by water! Don’t have a boat? Don’t fret. You’ll make friends with someone who does if you hang around the area long enough.
So, anchors aweigh! From a classic crab house to one of Baltimore’s newest restaurants, here’s my latest list of belt busting beltway eateries where you can let your inner foodie fly free.
113 Back River Neck Road, Essex
You can easily recognize this pizza from the deep and delicious pepperoni cups alone. At first you may be inclined to dab out the grease with your napkin, but do yourself a favor — don’t. Pizza John’s has been an Essex icon for over 55 years — and the best part is, you can take their frozen pizzas home to bake later (and they’re just as good)!
2015 Turkey Point Rd., Essex
Talk about hidden gems. You’d never guess a restaurant exists inside the boatyard of the Baltimore Boating Center. Fun and flavorful, the menu boasts elevated comfort cuisine including spicy lobster deep dish pizza, shrimp tempura steam buns and an autumn spice crush (made with salted caramel vodka, apple cider, orchard pear and lemon). While it was great to visit in the fall, I’ll likely become a regular when boating season returns. And probably before.
203 Nanticoke Rd., Essex
In the words of the Zac Brown Band, “I got my toes in the water, @$$ in the sand” at this Middle River tiki and beach bar. The only thing I might add is a creamsicle crush in my hand. You obviously can’t go to a place called The Crazy Tuna without ordering their namesake dish: Jerk Tuna Tacos — three soft shell tacos with jerk tuna, romaine, avocado, pico de gallo and honey mustard. Additional perk: 45 transient boat slips for all of those new friends you’re going to meet next spring.!
1732 Old Eastern Ave., Essex
If ever there were a quintessential Baltimore crab house, Schultz’s fits the bill. From the wood paneled walls adorned with trophy fish to the Keno on the TV screens, Schultz’s will take you back in time to those early childhood memories of learning to pick crabs. An added bonus, they serve an old school Baltimore delicacy — sour beef and dumplings. If you haven’t heard of it, ask anyone’s parents who grew up here.
800 Chester Rd., Middle River
With tiki bars in the summer and fire pits in the winter, Bowley’s on the Bay has become a year round dining destination even when you’re unable to dock your boat. If you’re looking for a quick “out of town” escape, the amazing water views and a palm tree-lined beach immediately transport you beyond the boundaries of Baltimore. The menu is extensive, offering everything from salads, flatbreads and sandwiches to hearty entrees including braised short rib pasta and an espresso rubbed filet mignon. But no matter what you order, I recommend pairing it with their key lime crush.
4100 N. Point Blvd., Baltimore
I rarely throw out the term “favorite,” but as far as steamed crabs are concerned, this is the one for me. With crabs bigger than the mallet and hand you’re using to crack them (no joke), a few of their colossal sized crustaceans are more than enough for a meal. But if you’re so inclined, don’t hesitate to order a crab cake on the side. These eight ounce, jumbo lump beauties are consistently ranked as one of the area’s best — they have been featured on the Today Show — and can conveniently be shipped right to your door (if you’re thinking of sending me an early Christmas gift).
6212 Holabird Ave., Baltimore
It’s never been more important to eat and support local. That’s why I love visiting Vinny’s Cafe — a family-owned and operated Italian cafe that’s been around for almost 25 years, and is operated by three brothers, Fabrizio, Tony and Marcello. The menu sports all of the Italian classics,but what catches my eye every time are the 30-inch pizzas that quite literally take up the entire table. (I tried to eat a single slice myself, but ended up sharing!) Seating is limited, but there are a few dining room tables where you eat and enjoy the pizza shop vibe. And if you’d like a more intimate setting, they offer a private space for events with catering options (in case you were looking for a place to host your next party … hint, hint).
2102 Merritt Ave., Dundalk
As soon as I put the carry out order from Smokin’ Joe’s Grill in my car, my mouth began to water. In fact, the only thing stopping me from tearing open the bag on my way home was that I put it in the back seat. And even though I still had to take photos when I got home, it was well worth the wait. The 3/4 pound burgers are juicy and delicious, the baby back ribs smoky and tender, and the pit beef and turkey sandwiches are stacked high. My only regret is that I didn’t order more — but at least that forces me to go back again and again (and again)!
Chris Franzoni is a Baltimore native, resident, food fanatic, and “Eater-in-Chief” of @EatMoreBeMore, which he started seven years ago with two goals – eating his way through the city and shining a positive light on the Baltimore-area restaurant and hospitality scene.