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Five and dine: 5 Baltimore-area restaurants to try this weekend, from pizza to cheesecake to brandy

1. JBGB’s

A few weeks ago I was watching old episodes of Rick Steves, burning up with pandemic jealousy and yearning for the Before Times. Steves was in Naples, Italy, eating in a restaurant considered “the birthplace of pizza.” Minimally adorned and fired up in a wood-burning oven, the pie looked like the most beautiful — and out of reach — dish in the world.

Steves’ Neapolitan pizza was on my mind as I bit into the pizza puttanesca at JBGB’s, a new restaurant on Howard Street in Remington. It’s lathered in tomato sauce but skimpy on cheese, cooked in a wood-fired oven. The crust is crispy without feeling like a cracker. I’ve yet to travel to Naples, but I’d wager it’s as good as the pie Steves ate.

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JBGB’s is far from the first restaurant in Baltimore to serve pizza, but it presents it in a way that feels both ultra-simple and slightly radical.

“I like things that require very little ingredients and can result in a wide diaspora of outcomes,” said owner Robert Voss. “Sometimes it’s easy to hide a dish behind 35 different flavors,” Voss said. Not so with pizza.

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Voss is also behind John Brown General & Butchery in Cockeysville, which sells great sandwiches, locally raised meats, hard-to-find pantry staples, and has managed to do brisk business during the pandemic. They’re doing so well that Voss has expanded to Baltimore City, into a space formerly occupied by Parts & Labor. It’s a perfect fit for the location, which has been mostly vacant since Parts & Labor shut down. The full-scale restaurant gives Voss’ team ample room to flex their muscles beyond just sandwiches, and diners will no doubt appreciate the menu, which is streamlined without feeling basic.

We started off with a fantastically fresh-tasting pork pate that combines pork livers and figs. It’s served with an assortment of mustards, crostini and housemade pickles. Future menu rotations could be even more adventuresome. “I’m sure we’ll swap out the pate for head cheese from time to time,” Voss said.

When it comes to dessert, pastry chef Becca Carten appeals to my inner child with her gourmet take on the snowball. An upscale snowball isn’t a totally new idea, but Carten’s approach feels fresh and Baltimore

Executive Chef Tyler Johnson prepares a pizza at JBGB's in Remington on Tuesday, September 21. 09.21.21
Executive Chef Tyler Johnson prepares a pizza at JBGB's in Remington on Tuesday, September 21. 09.21.21 (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Sun)

-specific. A base of lemon curd gets topped with luscious watermelon granita and torched watermelon cream. A server advised us to get the spoon all the way in to ensure we got every flavor in one bite — advice we gamely followed, no matter that we made a huge mess at the table. I think the 5-year-olds next to me were more tidy dinner guests.

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Speaking of children, you have to love a restaurant where kids are welcome. During a slightly slow dinner service, our server sat and listened while one young customer seated near me sang him a song. He even applauded at the end.

While this stretch of Howard Street doesn’t quite have the “country roads” vibe of John Brown’s Cockeysville location, the outdoor patio still feels like an oasis, and a COVID-safe one at that.

2600 N. Howard St., Remington. 443-835-4611. jbgbutchery.com/aboutjbgbs

2. Blk Swan

This recently opened restaurant in Harbor East is the latest place to see and be seen in Baltimore, with name-drop guests including Lamar Jackson and Marilyn Mosby. The decor is glam and gothic and the music gets loud. You’ll want to dress up, and keep in mind the “attire policy.” Ready to order? I recommend the completely addictive, high-end take on the chicken box with well-seasoned French fries. Or try the crispy flash-fried lobster dish served over caramel popcorn. For the main event, comforting entrees like gulf shrimp and lump crab hit the spot. Guests who want to social distance should be advised, there’s no outdoor seating available and the restaurant may feel crowded for some.

1302 Fleet St., Harbor East. 443-552-1956. eatatblkswan.com

3. Codetta’s Bake Shop

The next time anyone asks who makes the best cheesecake in Baltimore, I’ll tell them: Codetta’s Bake Shop. Creamy, decadent and somehow light at the same time, it’s the kind of dessert I wanted to share with a neighbor just to have her bear witness to how tasty it was. I also adored the company’s homemade ice cream: A pint of cookies and cream comes with an Oreo on top. The business currently operates out of Light Street Presbyterian Church, offering pickups in Federal Hill and deliveries around the Baltimore area. Founder Sumayyah Bilal, who left her job as a music teacher during the pandemic to begin her baking career, is raising funds for a brick and mortar space.

809 Light Street, Federal Hill. 443-492-9565. codettabakeshop.com

4. The Common Kitchen

Next time you’re in Clarksville, it’s worth taking a detour to The Common Kitchen, a food hall where you can sample international street fare from Egyptian koshary to savory kathi rolls from India. Every stand has its own story and a unique section of the world to represent. Afterward, stop off for a coffee, fresh juice or cocktail at Trifecto Bar, or perhaps pick up a sweet alfajor cookie. Indoor and outdoor seating is available, including a spacious tent to accommodate guests in the rain.

12250 Clarksville Pike, Clarksville. thecommonkitchen.com

5. Ellicott Distilling Company

Readers seem to love learning about hidden gems — the kind of place that makes your friends say, “How did you ever find this place?” Even if you’ve noticed the new distillery on Ellicott City’s ever-charming Main Street, there’s a chance you missed the fact that the place has an upstairs cocktail bar plus two tucked-away outdoor patios where you can order drinks like a gin rickey or a liqueur flight as well as charcuterie. Or pick up a bottle to go. Among their offerings: slivovitz, an Eastern European plum brandy that seems to be making a comeback in the food world. Somewhere my late Slovak grandfather is happy.

8090 Main Street, Ellicott City. 410-988-5356. ellicottdistilling.com

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