Carryout business is booming in Baltimore. While several sit-down eateries have closed and a few remain shuttered in a seemingly endless pandemic limbo, newcomers continue to pop up. For most, the focus is on portable, moderately priced cuisine that captures the imagination. Think items like Afghan blue tea, jerk chicken tacos and hearty empanadas to-go.
The lime green exterior of Spring Cafe signals a new arrival to the Avenue. Inside, owner Rose Ebadi and her parents, former physicians, are serving up tea and cuisine from their native Afghanistan. “In Afghanistan, green tea is really big,” Ebadi said. “Instead of saying, ‘Let’s grab a cup of coffee,’ you say, ‘Let’s grab a cup of tea.’” The original concept for the restaurant was just to be a teahouse, but Ebadi said she and her parents decided to add a mostly vegetarian menu, including “all the stuff that we love as a family.” They include savory dishes to spice up your Tuesday, like eggplant or pumpkin with yogurt sauce ($6.95). More recently, the Ebadis have added a few meat dishes, including a hearty, spicy stewed beef served with two slices of bread ($14.95). Whatever you’re eating, finish it with tea. The cafe’s voluminous tea menu includes an exotic blue brew made from the butterfly pea flower ($3.75), as hypnotizing to look at as it is delicious. Each cup comes with candied almonds. Available for dine-in or takeout as well as delivery through Grubhub and Uber Eats.
This Bolton Hill charmer opened last February in the former “B” spot. “Worst timing ever,” says chef and owner George Dailey. He shut down and re-imagined it as a grab-and-go breakfast and lunch spot late last year, merging the restaurant’s menu with that of his nearby On the Hill cafe, which is now shuttered. “I decided to switch it to a takeout business since it was the only thing I knew that was going to survive.” From 8 a.m. through 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, Dailey offers everything from espresso drinks to elevated meal kits, Nutella-filled doughnuts and house-made chicken liver mousse topped with port gelatine ($7.99). Indulgent empanadas and sandwiches on biscuits and crusty baguettes make for a civilized midday repast. One of the most popular items: salmon that’s cured with salt, sugar and Cognac, and smoked in-house ($10.99). The menu is subject to change: “Whatever I feel like doing, I just go for it,” Dailey said. Ultimately, Dailey hopes to return to a full-service operation, but for now the cafe is working. ”Extraordinary times, that’s for sure. But we’re still here.”
I am starting to wonder whether the craze for authentic, Neapolitan-style pizza has given way to a backlash: demands for thick, doughy slices, slathered in marinara and meaty toppings and more Weight Watchers points than you could walk off in a week. Case in point is the Detroit-style pie from Underground Pizza, some of the tastiest carbs I’ve eaten lately. Try the Tiger King ($32 for full; $18 for half) a meat lover’s special named in honor of that other pandemic sensation on Netflix. (So 2020.) And don’t sleep on Evan Weinstein’s salads ($12), either: Generously apportioned with greens and roasted beets from Karma Farms, they’re worth the trip alone. The brand is a pandemic baby, born of concert promoter Weinstein’s quarantine hobby gone viral. What was initially a ghost kitchen operation now has its first brick-and-mortar location in Power Plant Live, an easy turn off Interstate 83. The restaurant is in the former Charm City Pizza with just a handwritten poster letting you know you’ve arrived.
If eating a more plant-based diet was on your list of New Year’s resolutions for 2021, Friends and Family may be the answer to your prayers. The restaurant, which opened last year as a rebrand for Fells Point’s Sticky Rice, offers breakfast all day plus a menu of vegan-friendly salads, sandwiches and apps with nods to Asian flavors. To start, choose from edamame and vegan pot stickers ($7). For entrees, we liked the Rainbow Bright ($10), a colorful spinach salad with purple cabbage and peppers with a knock-your-socks-off orange ginger vinaigrette dressing. Who says you don’t win friends with salad? Also check out the restaurant’s popular tater tots with a plant-based aioli ($11), a holdover from the Sticky Rice days.
A tropical oasis on a dreary winter’s day, Jerk Taco is one of several new places on the Avenue to spring up seemingly overnight. After finishing my first-ever meal at Jerk Taco I instantly felt better. Not just sated — though after a portion of three jerk chicken tacos ($10) and an extra side of plantains, I definitely was — but a little more optimistic about the state of the world. Maybe it’s the restaurant’s bright Jamaican decor or Bob Marley on the loudspeaker. Maybe it’s the euphoric effects of all that spicy chicken, seasoned with habanero sauce and topped with mango salsa. Maybe I was just super hungry. In any case, I soon returned for a follow-up meal of zesty jerk chicken and oxtail stew (both $11), hearty and fragrant and accompanied by flavorful beans and rice, with a pillowy hunk of coco bread ($3.50).