Did you know that Maryland in general and Baltimore in particular was once considered the center of the American food world? In the 19th century and into the 20th, Maryland dishes like Chesapeake terrapin, oysters and canvasback ducks could be found on the menu at the country’s finest restaurants, whether in San Francisco or New York City.
Fast forward to the 21st century, and Baltimore is still producing its own unique flavors and food world personalities. This week, I’ll introduce you to an entrepreneur who would be a great spokesman for the city’s food scene. And I’ll tell you about a biergarten where you can impress guests from out-of-town.
Too much Old Bay? Try ‘Neva Tew Much’
Yet another release has reached my inbox heralding yet another product with Old Bay in it. This time it’s Old Bay bagel chips from California-based CaliBagels. Already we have seen Old Bay-flavored vodka, hot sauce, Goldfish and canned soup. I am just waiting for the minds at McCormick to announce a new line of Old Bay-scented tissues.
Now comes an alternative.
Keith Johnson, who works under the name “Chef Ricky,” has a new line of spice blends that could give the city’s favorite seasoning a run for its money.
Sold online through Instagram, “Neva Tew Much” is designed to go on everything from meat to seafood to vegetables. I sprinkled the brand’s “Da Avenue” all-purpose seasoning on hardboiled eggs and found it added a welcome smoky flavor.
Cooking has been a passion for Johnson ever since he was an 11-year-old, watching the Food Network after school. During the pandemic, he launched his catering company, named Set the Tone Kitchen in honor of his friend Antonio “Tone” Anderson, who was killed in 2015. More recently he created the line of Neva Tew Much spices while working in a commercial kitchen owned by the Maryland Food Bank.
The name, of course, is a nod to the Baltimore accent, which Johnson says he only became aware of after graduating from the city’s Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School. Friends at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, where he studied engineering, laughed when he said words like “too,” or “dog.”
Johnson puts his warm personality and Baltimore pride front and center of his business — not to mention an enormous tattoo he has of the city across his back. Last month he prepared free brunch for Father’s Day and Juneteenth before heading off to Druid Hill Park’s Afram festival, where he sold his seasonings as well as Neva Tew Much barbecue sauce.
Expect to see more of this dynamic and charismatic entrepreneur in the future. In addition to running his spice line and catering company, Johnson is looking to open a restaurant with New Orleans-based chef Kevanna Gilmore. Their new concept will combine Baltimore and New Orleanian flavors with offerings like tasty voodoo shrimp and salmon eggrolls. I sampled some at Johnson’s aunt’s house: they were exquisitely spicy and perfectly fried.
Dear Globe makes moves
Add to the list of places that relocated during the pandemic: Dear Globe. The coffee shop shut down its spot on Howard Street’s Antique Row during the pandemic and reopened this year just a few blocks away at 422 W. Mulberry St.
It was originally planned to be a second location for Dear Globe, says owner LieAnne Navarro, but, she said of the Howard St. venue, “I couldn’t see it making it through the pandemic.” Dear Globe also has a coffee roasting facility in Mt. Vernon.
In addition to a new location, Dear Globe has a new menu. Like many of us, Navarro took up baking during the pandemic, and her offerings, particularly muffins, are now available for sale at Dear Globe, in addition to breakfast burritos, a nod to the owner’s Southern California upbringing. Moving forward, expect to see more Filipino-influenced dishes like the ube muffin I picked up during a recent visit. Ube, or purple yams, are a staple of Filipino cuisine.
The new shop is on the ground floor of an artists’ residence apartment building, where it’s adjoined with a gallery space called Cotyledon Arts that highlights emerging artists. Navarro, who coordinates art shows in the room, says her goal is to create a community space in the Bromo Tower Arts & Entertainment District.
Navarro also filled me in on a new biergarten that’s popped up just around the corner from her coffee shop. Named for a castle in Germany, Maienfels Biergarten is taking place every Saturday from noon to 10 p.m. at 319 N. Paca St., adjacent to a historic fire house.
Founder Georgia Howard, a nurse, who runs the business with Stella Mavrophilipos, said it’s inspired by her own travels to Germany and desire to create a COVID-safe way to gather outside. In addition to Hofburg beer on draft, the biergarten has sausages and veggie sausages for sale.
Some of the proceeds go to support the St. Francis Neighborhood Center. “I wanted to give back to Baltimore city,” Howard said. “The more we make, the more we’re going to give back.”
Though the pop-up event is supposed to wrap up October 15, Howard said she’s already looking to extend through late fall and possibly into the winter with a German-style Christmas market.
What I’m eating now
On the quest for a tasty but affordable weeknight dinner, I swung by JBGB’s Butchery in Remington, where a staff member steered me toward the butchery’s oyster steaks, well-marbled but surprisingly economical (under $9 for two). My partner fried them in a cast iron skillet and we enjoyed them with a side of JBGB’s kohlrabi, which had a tangy mustardy flavor and crunchy texture that made me think of a potato salad for the 21st century.