Trying new restaurants is part of the fun of keeping up with the local dining scene, and it takes up a good chunk of my time as a restaurant reporter. But it’s also nice to return to tried-and-true favorites, where familiarity and reliability play a role in the pleasure of a night out.
I have updates this week from two Baltimore mainstays: The Prime Rib, a 58-year-old white-tablecloth institution in Mount Vernon, and Banditos, which has been serving up tacos and tequila in Federal Hill for a decade.
And, because novelty is still part of the spice of life, I have details about a newly opened Fells Point shop that is angling to become a staple for Baltimore’s home cooks.
The Prime Rib to stay put
Finally, we have an answer to questions about The Prime Rib’s future in Mount Vernon. Since last year, there have been rumors that the iconic steakhouse was considering a move out of the neighborhood where it has made a home for nearly 60 years at the corner of North Calvert and East Chase streets.
The restaurant, known for generous cuts of red meat, cocktails and other classic fare like shrimp cocktail, broiled escargots and Greenberg potato skins, was courted by developers at The Village of Cross Keys in Northern Baltimore as well as others throughout the city, co-owner Rebecca Dolan told me. But ultimately, she decided to stay put.
Dolan said she signed a 15-year lease last week to keep The Prime Rib in place on the ground floor of the Horizon House apartment complex. The Baltimore Business Journal first reported the deal.
“There were a lot of options, but when it came down to it, it made the most sense for us economically — that’s first and foremost coming out of the pandemic,” she said of the decision.
The restaurant’s intimate setting and old-school aesthetic, with its leather banquettes, leopard-print carpet and other touches inspired by the black-and-white movie sets of the 1930s and the Manhattan supper clubs of the ‘40s, also played a role.
“Honestly … when you kind of look at other spaces, sometimes that just helps you back into the right answer,” Dolan said. “Sure, something new and shiny and newly built is exciting in the short term, but I think that we would definitely lose some of that intimacy and vibe that you get in our current space.”
Instead of moving to a new space, the restaurant will spruce up its existing one. Dolan, whose cousin Peter “Buzz” Beler opened The Prime Rib in 1965, plans to renovate the dining room this spring and summer, with improvements including an expansion of the bar. She’s hoping to have the work done by the busy fall and winter dining season, with as little disruption to the restaurant as possible.
“We’re really just kind of reconfiguring some of what we have, while trying to maintain the existing ambiance,” she said.
Though she’s sure some customers would have preferred a newer, larger space, Dolan said she’s heard lots of positive feedback so far from regulars who are relieved The Prime Rib isn’t going anywhere.
“You can’t please everyone,” she said. “We like the neighborhood: what it is now, what we hope it will be in the future.”
Federal Hill’s dining scene lost a restaurant last week, but there’s a silver lining: more tacos.
Casual bar and restaurant 101 Baltimore closed for good Feb. 13 to make way for a planned expansion of neighboring Mexican eatery Banditos. The restaurant will add 2,000 square feet of space, including a new entrance, a larger front patio and a dog-friendly, covered patio in the back, according to a news release.
Founder Sean White, whose White Oak Hospitality group also operated 101 Baltimore, said the company decided to expand the Banditos footprint due to the popularity of the tacos and tequila concept, which first opened at 1118 S. Charles St. in 2012. Since then, White Oak Hospitality has opened four more Banditos, and is preparing to open several more, including one in Columbia’s Merriweather District and another in Fairfax, Virginia. Banditos is also poised to open an outpost in Sarasota, Florida, according to marketing director Jen Cruise.
The Federal Hill flagship needed some updates to “raise the level of experience to match our six other Banditos,” White said in a statement. “In order to give the downtown neighborhood what they want, we need more space to accommodate the needs and bring them experiences we’re known for.”
Banditos will stay open during construction, and White hopes to have the expansion complete by late spring — just in time for some margaritas on the patio.
Spicing up Fells Point
Married couple Laura Mattingly and Matt Morris have long been fans of the Spice & Tea Exchange, a chain specializing in organic spices, teas, sugars, salts and other seasonings for the home cook. During the coronavirus pandemic, they decided to open one of their own.
The couple debuted their Spice & Tea Exchange franchise Feb. 19 at 1635 Thames St. in Fells Point. Mattingly and Morris, who moved to Baltimore from Charlotte, North Carolina, picked the neighborhood for its foot traffic and proximity to the water.
“It felt right,” Mattingly said.
Stop in to find something to season your next meal or just to ogle at the selection. The shop carries more than 70 loose-leaf teas, from oolongs to herbals to a creme brulee green tea, as well as dozens of salts and peppers. There are also pantry staples like rosemary and cumin, and more elaborate offerings like an espresso steak rub and a Tuscany spice blend that pairs well with chicken, according to Mattingly. For now, all spices are prepackaged, though the couple has future plans to sell some items in bulk.
I had to ask: Do they sell Old Bay? No, but Mattingly recommends the store’s Chesapeake Bay blend for crab seasoning and seafood boils.
“We’re not going to try and take over Old Bay,” she said.