Baltimore is a romantic city. We might not have postcard-ready landmarks to draw lovey tourists: the bridges crowded with love locks, the arches known for kissing beneath or an iconic LOVE sculpture. But we have miles of walkable waterfront, sensory food halls and farmers markets for planning dinners, writhing club music for togetherness, aphrodisiac oysters, and 50,000 tulips in a place perfect for picnics.
The city is also flush with romantic dining options, so many that narrowing them down is a challenge. But as Valentine’s Day approaches, these five restaurants offer something particularly special for date night in Baltimore.
The Brewer’s Art
1106 N. Charles St., Baltimore
The lure of The Brewer’s Art as a date location is in its options. With plenty of seating and no need for reservations, the Midtown-Belvedere brewery and restaurant offers multiple atmospheres: white-tablecloth-clad dining room, vintage bar, pub-like basement, lounge by the fireplace. This is ideal for the couple who aren’t 100% sure where they stand, perhaps dating only a couple months and just barely making it into Valentine’s Day territory. The Brewer’s Art allows for the flexibility to figure out what a date will look like after it’s already started.
A mix of comfort foods, the same menu is served in each space. Fluffy pretzel is complemented by house cheese sauce, but it’s the puckering Resurrection mustard that could make one selfish. Skillet mac and cheese and Caesar salad are standard but solid picks. With a beet and lentil patty, sauerkraut and a marbled bun, the vegan Reuben is a thoughtful choice for a date with dietary restrictions.
Brewing beer on-site, The Brewer’s Art isn’t geared toward the Champagne crowd but has an admirable wine and cocktail list. The Beaz Knees is a brewer’s take on the gin and honey classic, adding rosemary, bitters and a splash of Beazly ale. But for Valentine’s Day, the 26th anniversary ale grand cru — fruit-laden with orange peel and sloe berries, dark but not heavy, high-alcohol but not sharp — feels downright celebratory. Cheers to more anniversaries down the line.
The Corner Bistro & Winebar
213 Penn St., Baltimore
Not all date-night eateries mean white tablecloths and Champagne buckets. This wine bar in Ridgely’s Delight is a more low-key pick. Servers are informed and helpful, happy to help guests through the beverage list, but fine to leave a couple alone to talk. The ambiance is on the sparser side, but low lighting and gentle R&B music set the mood right.
Start with the crab cake sliders, bursting with meat that tastes fresh even in the offseason, accentuated by a toasted bun and the tangy house sauce. (My dinner partner called it a favorite Baltimore bite.)
Strong flavors are a motif on the Southern-forward menu. Charleston shrimp and grits bring the heat with a blend of peppers, bacon and smoked turkey sausage, served over a bed of cheese grits.
Diners who aren’t afraid to eat with their hands on a date can go for the fried chicken wings and waffles. (You’ve got to pick it up to fully enjoy the high crunch-to-meat ratio.) Soft sweet potato Belgian waffles feature housemade cinnamon vanilla butter.
3600 Clipper Mill Road, Baltimore
The format of La Cuchara in the Hampden area just works for a date. The clamor of the giant bar and exposed kitchen are part of a dining show, and tapas are something to talk over, something to share. The small bites make a date last exactly as long as you want it to. Having the time of your life? Order a couple more cheeses. Ready to head home? “Those olives really filled me up.”
Couples could get lost in a wine list of about 500 bottles, all Spanish and French. The selection of vermouths and ciders also impresses. (Ciders lean toward the Basque-like, drier style. No Angry Orchard here.) The False Idol cocktail resembles a whiskey sour but with charred lemon providing smoky depth.
A four-course dinner awaits for Valentine’s Day ($119), but the regular menu is made up of dozens of small plates, divided into tinned seafood, pintxos snacks, the slightly larger raciones, ham and cheeses, tapas and entrees. Try the croquettes, either jamón or spinach and cheese; the gooey cheese is perfectly secured within a fried shell, served, respectively, alongside mojo picón or a sharp aioli with a little garlic funk to it. Cantabrian anchovies have a luxurious mouthfeel, not too salty or aggressive, with piquillo peppers. Try them with La Cuchara’s pillowy table bread and butter.
Délice de Bourgogne (cow’s milk triple crème cheese) was already beloved, but the addition of dates balances the thick dairy. Crispy oysters somehow maintain their moisture despite the fried shell; blistered shishito peppers, charred lemon and pimentón aioli round out the plate.
Of course, there has to be a Basque cheesecake on the dessert menu. Cooked individually, these lean more crumbly than creamy, almost like a pound cake. Poached pear and thick dulce de leche are a nice way to diversify the bites of the confection, best shared between two spoons.
Marta Fine Food & Spirits
2127 E. Pratt St., Baltimore
New to the Butchers Hill area since Nov. 1, Marta Fine Food & Spirits is the opportunity to surprise a date with an upscale experience they probably haven’t had yet. And the menu, ambitious-looking even just on paper, turns out to contain surprise after surprise.
Take the autumnal agnolotti with honeynut squash, sage and brown butter — pretty common ingredients for a cold-weather pasta dish. But when you bite into the well-shaped pockets, the taste of spiced squash and apple filling gratifies every time, interspersed with candied pepitas.
The agnolotti is arguably the more composed dish, but the rustic simplicity of mafalda noodles, expertly curved to catch the sauce, is a singular delight. Wild boar has been braised in sweet Lambrusco, then topped with Pecorino Romano and garlic herb crumbs.
“I find the effervescence and slight, subtle acidity of Lambrusco cuts through the gaminess of boar more so than traditional red wine,” chef-owner Matthew Oetting said.
Crudo is a safe bet to begin fine dining, but the surprises continue with the yellowtail, sliced unbelievably soft with no lines of grain to stick to teeth. The tinge of Maldon salt and ground peppercorn hit first, then the acid of green apple and pickled ginger, a crunch of jicama, and Calabrian chile oil. A tableside pour of apple hibiscus sauce brings it all together.
On the Italian dessert list, luscious opera cake stands out with layers of ganache, chocolate-coffee mousse, almond cake and chocolate glaze, crowned with candied hazelnuts and gold leaf. The delicacy is also available on the four-course Valentine’s Day fixed-price menu ($140) with a wine pairings add-on ($55).
Thames Street Oyster House
1728 Thames St., Baltimore
There’s a table at Thames Street Oyster House — second floor, south side, near the window — that’s a little removed from the bustle of the Fells Point favorite. With views of the Patapsco, this table is small enough to hold hands over but won’t crowd a few of the restaurant’s seafood plates. If you’re lucky enough to nab this spot for a date (not to mention Valentine’s Day), the restaurant changes from somewhere you might have been before, a prominent destination on one of Baltimore’s most iconic streets, into a place just for two.
But no matter where you sit, this food speaks to romance. Oysters and sparkling wine, obviously, but think zinging ceviche with coconut and tobiko; butter-poached lobster with polenta; tender octopus with peperonata and salsa verde.
I don’t usually recommend straying from seafood at an oyster house, but Pennsylvania duck, confited for eight hours before becoming a soul-warming ragout with cannellini beans, deserves an exception. For Valentine’s Day, the full menu is available, plus several additional specials from executive chef/partner Eric Houseknecht, according to owner Candace Beattie.