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Lexington Market's jumble of sights and smells is an undiluted dose of the city's personality

By noon, the lunch hustle is already in full swing.

Men with briefcases and women in suits jostle with the locals, retirees scratching lottery tickets and ambling along aisles filled with pyramids of poultry and produce.

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Orders are yelled, numbers hollered back.

The signs beckon. Neon, red and blue.

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The aromas, too.

Polack Johnny's sausage and Krause's fresh roasted turkey. Konstant's sizzling hot dogs and wafts of its bagged peanuts. In the frozen section there is turkey neck and rabbit, oxtail and long cut pig feet. Like your pig feet short? Got those, too.

Muskrat is in season at Faidley's now, and they've got raccoon, too. That's right - $18 will get you a frozen, furless raccoon.

Just about anything goes here at Lexington Market, one of the city's oldest and largest markets and in many ways Baltimore's grandest purveyor of all things unusual - and not.

This is a market burnt down and resurrected, both literally and figuratively, longtimers will tell you. Stalls once run by Jews and Italians and Greeks are now run by a new crop of immigrants, largely Koreans.

Many of the names have stayed; Dave Green's Poultry is run by Dong Bae, who left Korea five years ago.

"I like it," he says, before quickly returning to his task of hammering away at a chicken.

Here you'll get Baltimore's best and worst and everything in-between. Yes, a man in a cowboy hat who has had one too many beers is floating around Faidley's Seafood, bothering no one and everyone. Sure, a woman in a business suit and sneakers who works at a nearby hospital says she's scared by the local crowd.

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But for most this is quintessential Baltimore. Like it or leave. Most say they love it.

"Nothing is ever what it used to be," says Bill Devine, an owner of Faidley's who has been working in the market since 1958.

Devine sounds a tad nostalgic. But love it he does.

"We get an eclectic mix of people," he adds. "We get everything from movie stars to senators to the ordinary people. We get 'em all."

For many, the market is a medley of memories, weekend excursions to what was once the heart of the city. Shopping trips to the department stores long gone. Breakfast at the market - fried chicken and doughnuts. Watching Mom or Dad pick out produce and slabs of silvery fish.

Sylvester Anderson, 44, remembers it well. His father brought him down here when he was a mere toddler. He remembers watching his dad pick out chicken and bacon, the overwhelming hustle and bustle of it all. The Woodstock resident returns every chance his landscaping business brings him to Baltimore for business.

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Perusing the glimmering slices of fish at Cho's Sea Garden, Anderson says it's the best fish around. That and the twisty doughnuts his children love.

"There's a great variety of things here," says Anderson. "The fish is excellent. Better prices. You can't go wrong."

And the people?

"I like all the different people down here. It's like the heart of Maryland is all right here."

Ben Robley, 25, comes here for the fried chicken. All three varieties.

"I'm a big fan of fried chicken," he says while waiting in line for fried fish.

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He corrects himself.

"I'm a big fan of fried food," he says.

He and Kim Hill, 42, walked up to the market last week from Legg Mason, where they work.

They are getting fried lake trout with two sides. Just $4.25.

"They crush McDonald's," says Robley.

Hill comes on the weekends, too, to eat breakfast.

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"It's a different crowd of people during the weekend - more kids," says Hill, who lives in Glen Burnie.

For others, like the retirees, the market is a place to come for conversation and the comfort of being some place familiar, no matter how different.

Joseph Garrett lingers around Konstant's mostly, a longtime vendor famous for its hot dogs, peanuts and candy. He'll get food occasionally. But usually, he and a group of haphazard friends - some he's met by hanging out there - stand at the counter and drink coffee.

"A lot of old retired guys come here," says Garrett, 69, a retired maintenance mechanic for the Baltimore City Highway Department. "We drink coffee. Talk about different things."

And what do they talk about?

"Sports, politics," he says, pausing. "Life, the world, whatever."

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sumathi.reddy@baltsun.com


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