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H.L. Mencken's Cultured Pearl to return for candidate's campaign launch

Nate Loewentheil, left, and his father, Stephan Loewentheil, prepare chili for a launch party for Nate's campaign for the state legislature.
Nate Loewentheil, left, and his father, Stephan Loewentheil, prepare chili for a launch party for Nate's campaign for the state legislature. (Sarah Meehan)

The smell of red onions sauteing over a gas stove wafted through Nate Loewentheil's house on Patterson Park as he and his father, Stephan Loewentheil, prepared a second batch of "Marvelous Marty's Mexican Chili" on Monday morning.

It's a recipe the elder Loewentheil spent years perfecting, and a dish he previously served at his restaurant, H.L. Mencken's Cultured Pearl, in the 1980s and 1990s. And tomorrow, for one night, the chili and other favorite dishes from the Mexican restaurant in Hollins Market will make a comeback.

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Nate Loewentheil remembers the Pearl as a community gathering place as much as a restaurant. And as he looks to make community building a focal point of his campaign for a seat in the state legislature, he's hosting a one-night revival of the eatery to launch his run.

"The restaurant was kind of a family business we were around a lot, and so I kind of got to know Baltimore through the restaurant," he said. "It was kind of like a mixing point for Baltimore. … It was a point of intersection in a city that, as you know, doesn't always mix all that much."

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Loewentheil, 31, is running for a spot representing Maryland's 46th District in the state House of Delegates during next year's midterm elections. Current delegates for the district include Luke Clippinger, Robbyn Lewis and Brooke Lierman.

He most recently served as a special assistant to President Barack Obama and a senior policy adviser at the National Economic Council, where he led the White House task force on Baltimore. He holds both a bachelor's degree and law degree from Yale University.

Baltimore officials had an idea to help neighborhoods that were torn by last year's riots: They wanted to expand a federal program that provides free meals to children during the summer.

As part of the state legislature, Loewentheil said he hopes to address chronic divestment in Baltimore, and the cycle of poverty and crime plaguing the city.

"That's just not an issue that state delegation has been talking about or working on," he said. "I don't see a lot of action on it."

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His campaign launch party, open to the public, will be held at SkyLofts Gallery & Studios at 3701 Bank St. in Highlandtown from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday.

The Loewentheils worked with the Classic Catering People to re-create some of the restaurant's best-known dishes, like fajitas, tacos, guacamole and the massive "SoWeBoBurrito."

"For $8 — $7.95 — you got a plate of food you couldn't possibly finish," Stephan Loewentheil said, describing the dish. "It weighed about a pound."

The Obama administration has directed $110 million in new funding to Baltimore since last year's riots, according to a report to be released today by a White House task force that is winding down as President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take office.

The chili is the only item on Tuesday's menu they're making themselves.

"He worked literally hundreds of hours perfecting it," Nate Loewentheil said.

The recipe incorporates seven types of peppers, onion, garlic, ground beef and chunks of brisket strip steak.

"The reason I use so many peppers is it's easy to make a burning hot chili, and it's easy to make a tasteless chili," Stephan Loewntheil said. "But a great chili has variations in spice, and each chili that you add, each has a separate taste and a separate level of heat."

H.L. Mencken's Cultured Pearl was open from 1984 to 1998 at 1116 Hollins St. When Nate Loewentheil returned to Baltimore and began talking to residents about running for office, they asked if he was related to the restaurant's owners. Bringing the restaurant back for a night seemed an appropriate fit.

"I said, you know, it would be a wonderful thing perhaps to do something with a pop-up to bring people out together again like they used to do in the old days," Stephan Loewentheil said. "We thought it would just be something really special to show Nate's commitment to community. That's how he grew up."

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