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Dining-centric Hamilton-Lauraville has options to please every taste bud

Meat-scented smoke wafted from Harford Road, where a collection of local businesses had transformed an otherwise vacant lot into the Tuesday Hamilton-Lauraville farmers market. The weekly event isn’t just an excuse to shop and socialize: it’s a veritable celebration of the neighborhood’s diverse businesses.

“You can satisfy any taste buds from this one stretch of land,” said Dante Davis, wearing a red shirt with the name of his restaurant, Taste This. The yummy smells were coming from two smokers he and business partner Craig Curbean had set up for the event. Nearby, a father-daughter team was selling locally distilled whiskey as neighbors slung cucumber crushes and vinegars brewed in the area.

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Part owners Danté Davis (left) and Craig Curbean work on orders at the "Taste This" booth during the Hamilton/Lauraville Farmers Market on Harford Road. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun Staff)
Part owners Danté Davis (left) and Craig Curbean work on orders at the "Taste This" booth during the Hamilton/Lauraville Farmers Market on Harford Road. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun Staff) (Karl Merton Ferron/The Baltimore Sun)

Hamilton-Lauraville isn’t, strictly speaking, a neighborhood. This vibrant stretch of Harford Road is actually composed of multiple city neighborhoods, Councilman Ryan Dorsey wrote in an email.

“What we think of as Hamilton-Lauraville is actually Lauraville and Hamilton Hills on the west side of Harford, and Arcadia, Beverly Hills, Moravia-Walther, Waltherson, and Glenham-Belhar on the east side,” wrote Dorsey, whose district includes the Harford Road corridor.

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Yet the community spirit — and tasty food — of Hamilton-Lauraville transcends strict neighborhood boundaries.

“It’s really the sense of community that I’ve never had before,” said Nicole Evanshaw, who co-owns the Silver Queen Cafe with her husband, Jason Daniloski.

When the couple arrived to the area in 2003, “truthfully there wasn’t much here,” Evanshaw said. Recent arrivals have transformed Hamilton-Lauraville into a burgeoning foodie hotspot, where hungry Baltimoreans can find everything from barbecue to vegan doughnuts to English tea to Tunisian makloub. Residents wake up to the smell of roasting coffee at Zeke’s on Harford Road.

The wealth of great restaurants isn’t an accident. Neighborhood leaders and local main street organizations have worked hard to attract local businesses and to support them once they’re in the neighborhood. During the pandemic, they helped set up outdoor parklets along Harford Road so restaurants could accommodate more al fresco diners. Davis and Curbean liked the area so much that they decided to open a third location for their business right on Harford Road.

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“It’s the support,” Davis said of what drew them to the area. “The neighborhood really opened their arms.”

History

The northeast Baltimore area was predominantly farmland into the 19th century; farmers trucked produce down the Harford Road turnpike to the daily farmers market in Baltimore’s Old Town. Present-day homes include grand farm estates as well as more modest field hand houses turned residential homes.

The village of Lauraville, named for the daughter of a local businessman, was incorporated around the time of the Civil War. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the expansion of a streetcar serving the area’s main artery helped transform it into a city suburb. Many residents were of German ancestry; the historic cemetery at Immanuel Lutheran Church includes headstones written entirely in German. According to the Baltimore Heritage website, the establishment of Herring Run Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., added to the region’s appeal for city residents seeking extra space and fresh air. Originally part of Baltimore County, the area was annexed by Baltimore City in 1918.

Lauraville was historically white, and members of today’s Lauraville Improvement Association note that in the organization’s early days, it fought the construction of historically Black Morgan State University nearby. In 2019 the Lauraville group participated in a “Peace, Unity and Reconciliation” event with university leaders on the school’s campus.

Physical space

Look for free-standing homes including Victorian-style houses from the 19th century and 20th century bungalows. The area’s borders include the winding Herring Run creek to the south and west, and the Baltimore County line to the north. Hills, lawns and irregularly shaped roads, a holdover from the days of horse-drawn carriages, define this part of northeast Baltimore.

Things to do

There are enough restaurants, cafes and other small businesses along Harford Road alone to keep a gourmand satisfied. South of Hamilton Ave., or “SoHa” as some residents call it, Daniel Doty, executive director of Hamilton Lauraville Main Street, recommends starting off at Koco’s Pub, famous for its behemoth crab cakes. (The restaurant is also a favorite of Mayor Brandon Scott, who proclaims its crab cakes the “best in the world.”)

On the same block, find the Red Canoe, Maggie’s Farm and newcomer Cloudy Donuts. Farther up Harford Road, you can pick up some carryout barbecue from Taste This or the Big Bad Wolf. Going meatless? Try Farm to Face, a seasonal vegan cafe. A Nigerian restaurant called Kuramo offers staples like fufu and fiery jollof rice while Char’d City has Tunisian specialties alongside Neapolitan Pizza. Emma’s Tea Spot serves tea time, English-style. Grab a burger at the Silver Queen Cafe or the newly-reopened Hamilton Tavern.

There’s more to come: a new sports bar will open inside the former Los Rancheros, while Bramble Bakery is expected to arrive soon on Harford Road.

Beyond great food, residents and visitors can take in the scenery of nearby Herring Run Park, a woodland oasis in the middle of the city, or jog around Lake Montebello reservoir. In addition, many residents belong to the cooperatively-managed Swan Lake Swim Club, one of the city’s first integrated swim clubs.

Mercedes Unfried reacts to the taste of a peach habanero margarita from the Silver Queen Café booth during the Hamilton/Lauraville Farmers Market on Harford Road. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun Staff)
Mercedes Unfried reacts to the taste of a peach habanero margarita from the Silver Queen Café booth during the Hamilton/Lauraville Farmers Market on Harford Road. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun Staff) (Karl Merton Ferron/The Baltimore Sun)

Demographics

The population of Lauraville is 4,151 with just over 50% Black and around 40% white residents, according to a 2018 analysis by Baltimore’s planning department. Neighboring Hamilton Hills’ population is 9,735 with just over 70% Black and around 30% white. Lauraville’s median household income was $70,123, while Hamilton Hills’ was $53,060.

Transit and walk score

Gone are the days when the No. 19 streetcar clanged up and down Harford Road. Instead, the thoroughfare is serviced by various bus routes. On a 100-point scale, Live Baltimore gives Lauraville a walk score of 57 and a transit score of 41, while neighboring Hamilton Hills gets a walk score of 54 and a transit score of 40.

Issues

Residents report a feeling of camaraderie and safety in the area of Hamilton-Lauraville. Mercedes Unfried, president of the Lauraville Improvement Association, says crimes like shootings are rare, though residents need to make sure to lock car doors at night. Dorsey says he wants to see the area increase its housing density both to boost local businesses and to offer more economical options to residents.

Leadership

Mercedes Unfried is president of the Lauraville Improvement Association. Daniel P. Doty is interim executive director of Hamilton-Lauraville Main Street, Inc.Councilman Ryan Dorsey represents the area.

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