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Bits & Bites: Out with the crab cakes, in with vegetables? What Baltimore’s dining scene could look like in 2022

Happy New Year, Baltimore! While some people want to guess who’s going to win the Super Bowl and what stocks will outperform the S&P 500, I’m thinking about what 2022 will offer when it comes to dining out.

Here are my predictions for this year’s big restaurant/foodie trends.

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Out with the crab cakes, in with the breakfast sandwiches

Might Maryland's signature dish soon be extinct on some menus?
Might Maryland's signature dish soon be extinct on some menus? (Capital Gazette)

Last year witnessed food and supply shortages of the likes I’ve never seen — chicken wings, cream cheese, rubber gloves and of course, crab. The prices for Maryland’s favorite crustacean were so high, many restaurants took crab cakes off menus. This year, with global supply chains still jangled, I expect to see that trend continue. Some seafood restaurants, like Hampden’s True Chesapeake Oyster Co., may steer guests toward farm-raised oysters or invasive snakehead. “Since we are unsure of the sustainability of crab meat, our goal has been to concentrate on continuing to cook with invasive species and show our guests how delicious they can be,” chef and partner Zack Mills wrote in an email.

It’s not just crab cakes we may be seeing less of. Overall, restaurateurs will continue to edit down menus into 2022, offering fewer items that they can reliably trust to have on hand in the era of supply chain disruptions. Expect to see different variations on basic dishes like breakfast sandwiches or pizza or pie.

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A rise in bakeries

Speaking of pie, the past two years have seen us rekindle our love affair with freshly-made carbs, from pound cakes to hand pies to 100 different kinds of doughnuts. Next year, look for a large new branch of Ovenbird Bakery in Highlandtown, and Kneads, a huge new bakery/coffee shop from H&S in Harbor East. What can we say? Stressful times call for baked goods.

The year of the vegetable

Maybe vegetable dishes and even cocktails will take center stage in 2022.
Maybe vegetable dishes and even cocktails will take center stage in 2022. (Tom Brenner, Baltimore Sun)

As restaurant owners look to rein in rising food costs and manage supply chain headaches, many will turn to plants, says Dave Seel of Blue Fork Marketing in Baltimore.

“This potentially could be the year of vegetables,” Seel said. “Not only for the plate, but for cocktails.” He points to newcomer Liora, Inner Harbor’s plant-based eatery that serves an array of cocktails with vegetable ingredients.

But that doesn’t mean the comfort food we’ve come to rely on in recent years is going anywhere. “Comfort food is definitely here to stay,” Seel says. Thank social media: “Ooey-gooey-oozy kind of foods just photograph really well.”

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A comeback for Cosmos?

A flirty pink drink makes a comeback.
A flirty pink drink makes a comeback. (Dreamstime)

I couldn’t help but wonder, could 2022 be the year the Cosmopolitan makes a comeback? According to Seel, it’s possible. When it comes to cocktails, “The 90s are very much back,” he said. And in case you haven’t heard, “Sex and the City,” the show that popularized Cosmos when it first aired in 1998, is back on our TVs in the form of HBO Max’s “And Just Like That…”

Restaurant workers of the world unite

Worker-owned food businesses are becoming a hot food service model in Baltimore. Just look at Red Emma’s, Taharka Brothers, Joe Squared, Union Craft Brewing, Thread Coffee Roasters and Mera Kitchen Collective. Advocates say these employee-centered operations are better suited to navigating the chaotic times we’re living in than a traditional top-down hierarchy. That’s because in a worker-owned company, decisions are made by staff, said Emily Lerman of Mera Kitchen Collective “You’re really doing what’s best for the workers,” she said. “Everybody has a stake in the business’ success.”

Would you like fees with that?

Restaurants have long been leery of raising prices on menus. But as the cost of food, supplies and labor go up, they need to find a way to make money. In the past two years we’ve seen an uptick in businesses adding service fees to checks and even fees for inflation. Customers might not like it, but I think it’s a trend we can expect to continue into 2022.

More restaurants will close downtown and in Harbor East, but new Black-owned businesses will arrive

Mother-daughter duo LaShauna Jones and Daejonne Bennett, co-founders of the Sporty Dog hot dog company, operate out of the former Woman's Industrial Exchange.
Mother-daughter duo LaShauna Jones and Daejonne Bennett, co-founders of the Sporty Dog hot dog company, operate out of the former Woman's Industrial Exchange. (Karl Merton Ferron/The Baltimore Sun)

Sadly, we’ll see more restaurants in Baltimore’s downtown and Harbor East areas shut down permanently this year. With wave after wave of the coronavirus, there just aren’t enough people working and visiting downtown to sustain pre-COVID business models. Inventive newcomers, including many Black-owned businesses, will arrive. Just ask LaShauna Jones, who has opened hot dog spot Sporty Dog Creations inside the former Women’s Industrial Exchange building on Charles Street and plans to launch a dine-in restaurant there in June. “I’m super excited for what is to come for the area,” said Jones.

Atlas Restaurant Group will continue to grow

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict that Baltimore’s Atlas Restaurant Group will continue to expand in 2022. Last year, the company acquired several eateries including Fells Point’s Waterfront Hotel and Baltimore County restaurants Perennial and Cunningham’s Cafe. This year, look for Atlas to open a new eatery in Houston, a new Choptank in Annapolis as well as Parlour Victoria at Washington’s Moxy Hotel. In Hunt Valley, Atlas will remodel The Oregon Grille, which it purchased in 2021 along with The Valley Inn. The company’s “plate is very full for 2022!” CEO Alex Smith writes in an email. But the restaurateur continues to look ahead. Post-2022, he added, a high-end Italian concept is planned “in Baltimore County and or Annapolis.”

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