Temptations are everywhere at Mount Vernon Marketplace, Baltimore's newest ode to gastronomy. It's essentially a big food court without the mall — and with better options.
Each of the dozen-plus eateries, with a ramen place to come soon, has a niche, including charcuterie, Korean bibimbap, Asian dumplings and poutine. There's beer and booze if you want, too.
Plan to look for metered street parking when you go. A former on-site parking lot is closed for construction.
On a recent Saturday, we stepped into the ground-floor food hub ready to explore. It's located in a renovated Hochschild, Kohn & Co. warehouse that houses apartments and still has the former department store's name quaintly etched on the building.
The space is brightly lit with big windows streaming in light during the day. There are dramatic murals on the walls, white subway tiles, a pingpong table in one area, and practical concrete floors. It's easy to circle the perimeter to see what appeals to you.
Many vendors offer counter seating where you can eat, or you can order your meal and take it to a table in the common area.
Here's a sampling of what we found.
We could have sat here all day. The cocktails were luscious, and the charcuteries, cheeses and sandwiches were great. The Negroni ($8) was a stellar cocktail as was the Golden Rammy Fizz ($11) — one of several "drinks with an egg on it" on the menu — which was frothy with gin and orange flower water.
The housemade pate (pork on our visit, $10, market price) was a beautiful presentation of a rustic meat loaf on a board surrounded by curry pickled onions, balsamic pickled onions, a swirl of mustard and a dollop of black-currant jam — all to be smeared on crisp baguette slices. The Smoka Da Cheese sandwich ($9) was the ultimate grilled cheese with smoked Gouda, smoked cheddar, crispy speck (bacon) and maple syrup. The figs on the plate were a nice addition.
Also check out Cultured's nearby sister stand, Between 2 Buns, a burger place that serves poutine.
The Local Oyster
The counter's red stools were a siren's call to eat fat oysters on the half-shell, including several bivalves from Maryland. Beer is on tap, and wine and cocktails are available. There's a big TV to enjoy an Orioles or Ravens game.
Behind-the-counter shuckers make easy work of opening the oysters. (Don't forget the tip jar.) We feasted on juicy Skinny Dipper, Wild Ass Ponies and Huckleberry ($2 each) from Maryland; St. Judith Point ($3 each) from Rhode Island; and Standish Shore ($2 each) from Massachusetts — all served with cocktail and mignonette sauces.
There are other seafood offerings, as well. We were impressed with the sumptuous lobster roll ($23, market price) stacked with hunks of sweet meat on a soft bun. A bag of familiar Utz chips completed the dish.
The Korean fast-casual stand glowed with color and promise. There's no seating unless you want to swing around the corner and sit at the sake bar.
At the main counter, you can build your own bibimbap (rice bowl) in several steps, starting with the size of the bowl (we picked a 16-ounce medium called a "be-bowl," $8.50), type of rice (brown for us) and protein (spicy pork belly). There is also white, jasmine, barley and multigrain rice; other proteins include chicken, tofu, squid and salmon. With our order, we could pick five veggies, which the staff plucks from neatly compartmentalized containers. We added shiitake mushrooms, broccoli, edamame, green beans and seaweed.
The next choice is key: the sauce. We boldly picked gochujang, a sweet and spicy pepper sauce we were warned was hot (it was), but there's a mild version, too, along with sesame soy, spicy chipotle mayo and mango sauces. Add a fried egg (95 cents) for a meal you won't forget.
You can sit at the bare-bones counter highlighted by overhead lanterns and watch a pickup game of pingpong while you're waiting for your order of dumplings. A beer list includes offerings from The Brewer's Art, Monument City Brewing and Leinenkugel.
Your first decision is whether you want your dough bundles steamed or pan-fried. Our server told us that steamed is traditional, so that's what we ordered. "It's about texture," she said.
The Northern Chinese dumplings are made in-house daily. We liked our soft, pliable, "hand-pinched" packets. You can choose various meat and vegetable combinations and how many dumplings you want. We decided on "peckish," six dumplings ($8) that were filled with pork and cabbage; beef, onion and cilantro (our favorite); and chicken and mushroom. Side dishes like Asian slaw, fried peanuts and pickled daikon salad ($2 each) round out the meal.
If you go
Mount Vernon Marketplace is located at 520 Park Ave. Hours are 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 9 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday . 443-796-7392, mtvernonmarketplace.com