I am falling back into an old habit, eating at the Lexington Market. My primary motivation for eating in the market is pleasure. And the Faidley's crab cake that I ate there recently, lump crab meat held together by little more than will power, delivered plenty of joy.
But I am also eating at the market out of loyalty. A recent spate of news stories about crime in the market neighborhood has prodded me to get off my duff and patronize the market. I am not a native of Baltimore. But one of the things living here for 16 years has taught me is when a friend is in trouble, you turn toward him, not away from him.
I had read the newspaper stories. One told of a homeless man hitting an acquaintance with an ax, sending the victim to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center. Another told how gunshots from a passing car wounded at least five people who were standing on a corner at 2 a.m. about a block from the market. Even though these incidents did not happen inside the Lexington Market or even during the market's prime hours of operation, it does not take a genius to figure out that having an ax attack and a shooting in your neighborhood is not good for business.
Worried that a terrific source of good food was in danger, I began to reacquaint myself with the joys of the Lexington Market.
When I ate at Faidley's, for instance, not only did I remember how much I liked the crab cake, I also was fond of the furnishings.
I ate standing up, at one of the chest-high tables scattered around the first floor of the market. Standing is what I regard as the correct posture for market eating. There are tables where you can sit down upstairs in the Arcade section of the market. But market food was meant to be eaten standing up.
The particular table I was leaning on was made by Bill Devine, the cigar-chomping patriarch who presides over his family's seafood operation, Faidley's Seafood. He makes the furniture and his wife, Nancy, makes the crab cakes. It is a division of labor that has worked well.
The crab cakes have attracted fans from around the nation. I was there with a fellow from Southern Living magazine helping him do a little knife-and-fork research for an article, slated to appear this fall, on Maryland crab cakes. The furniture in Faidley's has its admirers as well. The tables in Harborplace seem to be modeled after the ones in Faidley's.
My trip to the market reminded me it had been too long since I had ordered a fresh ham sandwich at Mary Mervis' delicatessen. I love to do this for two reasons. First of all, the sandwich, pork on rye, is perfect. Second, the floor in that part of the market, near Eutaw Street, slants. The deli counter looms above me, so when I order a sandwich, I am standing downhill and "ordering uphill." So far as I know, ordering uphill can only be done in the Lexington Market.
It has been too long since I have feasted on a Pancho's combo: a burrito, with meat and beans, cheese and extra hot sauce. A few years ago I almost got heartburn when I walked into the West Market, on the western side of Paca Street, and couldn't find Pancho's stand. It had moved across the street to the main market. When I found Pancho's new location, I was both delighted to be back in burrito heaven and embarrassed that I did not know it had moved.
It has been too long since I checked on who was Baltimore's current cult hero by seeing whose image appears in the icing that decorates the birthday cakes made by the market bakeries. Hulk Hogan had his run atop Baltimore birthday cakes, as did Michael Jackson and Prince. Now word has it that the Power Rangers rule.
I recognize that getting to the market can be an effort. Parking on the street is difficult. Parking in the nearby garages is an extra expense. If you walk to the market, chances are good that you could be panhandled. Visiting the Lexington Market isn't like visiting a small town in the Midwest.
But I grew up in a small town in the Midwest, and lunch tastes much better here.
The other day when my 13-year-old son and I were running errands, he requested that we make a special stop. I pulled the car over to the curb, gave my son a dollar and sent him sprinting through a crowd to the Konstant's peanut stand on Eutaw Street in front of the market. He soon returned with a bag full of hot peanuts.
City life has its hassles, but thanks to the Lexington Market it also has its fresh-roasted pleasures.