Category Archives: Chop on the Spot

Chop on the Spot: Alternatives to Cafe Hon

Since word got out on Friday that Denise Whining trademarked the term Hon, the outcry against her corny, crummy restaurant and her slimy, anti-social business practices has been nearly universal, with some of the best writing on the topic coming from sources like The Sun’s editorial page, columnist Dan Rodricks, Gutter Magazine, the Baltimore Brew, and Smile, Hon via Baltimore or Less.

We’re not going to editorialize here about how Cafe Hon has been insulting, demeaning, and exploiting Baltimoreans for years. We’ve already spent the weekend doing that in the comment sections of blogs like this one. We’re not going to point out that the real Hons are hanging around in bars that don’t need to be branded. And we’re not even going to call for a general boycott, because (as has been pointed out) we weren’t in the habit of eating or drinking there in the first place.

Nope. What we are going to do is to take this opportunity to bring your attention to three places, three nearby places, which offer better food and drink with friendlier service at lower prices.

The Dizz bills itself as “Baltimore in a bar,” and while that slogan might sound a little hokey, they do deliver. The former Dizzy Issie’s is one of the friendliest and most comfortable bars around, and even caters to your out-of-town touristy friends via the Charm City Cakes connection. Great as it is though, we like the new Dizz Grandview even better. The menu and atmosphere up at ‘Dementia Issie’s’ are direct clones of the original, and the place is an instant favorite for happy hour drinks. There’s a TV in there, but you won’t see much of it. You’ll be too busy watching the sun go down and the lights of the entire city flicker on one by one. At the first sign of snow, you can bet we’ll be strapping on our boots and walking over to Roland Avenue to spend the entire day drinking Grand Marnier and watching a blanket of snow descend on the Land of Pleasant Living. Update: Unfortunately, the Dizz Grandview closed in May 2011. The original location is still going strong.

Anyone looking for good food and drinks in Hampden would be well advised to go around the corner from the Avenue and take a table at McCabe’s. In fact, if you were to correct the myriad criticisms of Cafe Hon, the place you’d end up with would be very much like McCabe’s, and we’d venture that anyone who’s dined or drunk there would fain go hungry than to eat beneath that damn Flamingo again. The menus may be similar, with both serving up comfort food staples like crabcakes, burgers, cole slaw, etc, but the execution is worlds apart. The sophistication of the dishes at the new McCabe’s is matched and complemented by the wine and cocktail options behind the bar, and the friendly service and finished decor allow diners to feel more like adults enjoying their meals than reluctant players in some day-glo cartoon church supper farce.

A bit further up Roland but still in easy walking distance is Alonso’s/Loco Hombre . Anchoring a quaint block of shops and restaurants on West Cold Spring, Alonso’s can sometimes give you a little of that off-the-beaten-path feeling which can be hard to come by in Baltimore Bars. With two full menus under one roof and a well-earned reputation as one of the better beer bars around, Alonso’s has something to offer everyone, and they pull crowds from all walks of life. There’s no shortage of Loyola and Notre Dame students as well as TV Hill types, Roland Springs/Roland Park locals, sports fans, beer geeks and even a few refugee Hons.

Alonso’s has even recently opened up another bar on their top floor. Already known as an excellent choice for football viewing, the upstairs “Alonsoville” bar boasts 7 TV’s, and is a great setting for Ravens fans who are well beyond their collegiate loud-and-rowdy bucket-of-Miller-Lite-and-keep-em-coming days.

Of course, these three excellent choices are only the tip of the iceberg. The truth is that you could have an excellent meal every night of the week in a different 36th street restaurant (like Grano, Frazier’s, Golden West, 13.5%, Dogwood, Holy Frijoles, or the brand new Alchemy) without deigning to set foot inside of Cafe Hon.

With options like that, who needs a boycott? It’s called the free market, Hon.

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Alonso’s/Loco Hombre is at 415 W. Cold Spring Lane in Roland Springs. The Dizz Grandview is at 3838 Roland Ave. on the 15th floor in Hampden. McCabe’s is at 3845 Falls Road, Hampden.

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Chop on the Spot: Bluegrass

You don’t need us to tell you about the food at Bluegrass. There are already plenty of reviews out there in the Sun, The Citypaper, Baltimore Magazine and elsewhere. Baltimore is very much a city in which restaurants are their reputations, and when a place like Bluegrass opens up, everyone seemingly wants to be the first one in, and the first one to make that reputation. We’re not just talking about newspapers and magazines, but also about sites like Yelp and Chowhoud, which tend to fill up with very strong opinions from self-appointed experts soon after any decent restaurant opens its doors.

We like to eat as much as the next guy, and even more than that we like to cook, and manage to stay busy enough in the kitchen here at the Chophouse. One thing we don’t like to do though is to write about food. This is not a food blog, and never will be. We’ve already gone on a rant about foodies, and it wasn’t until we checked out Bluegrass’ website and found this little gem that we realized we weren’t alone in our opinions. (Click that link. It’s very much worth your time to read.)

We’re here to tell you that Bluegrass has a bar.

My Old Kentucky Home.

We’re here to tell you that Bluegrass has an excellent bar. With its modest portion sizes Bluegrass has become the kind of place that is becoming increasingly popular in Baltimore; the sort where people go to eat a little and drink a lot. To our mind, if the cocktails are the main attraction, then why even bother with the menu?

Thanks to a bit of architectural foresight, the space’s two dining rooms (upstairs and in the rear) as well as the kitchen (in the basement) are well secluded from the bar. It may technically be a restaurant bar, but it feels very much like an updated version of the South Baltimore corner bar that it is. Being on its own, the intimate bar space is left entirely to take on the mood and feeling of whatever patrons happen to inhabit it at any given moment, which should be the way with all great bars.

But the patrons themselves can only do so much. It’s up to the bartender to do the rest, and with their formidable selection of Bourbons Bluegrass does a fine job of holding up their end of the bargain. Throw in 6 regularly rotating taps, a good selection of bottles, occasional firkin nights, and some purely professional bartenders who pour ’em strong, and you’ve got a recipe for a truly great bar.

It’s one that we’ll be back to whenever we’re down that way, and perhaps even when we’re not. Some say Bluegrass is a destination restaurant, but for us it’s a destination bar.

The best part? They’re open Sundays.

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Bluegrass is at 1500 S. Hanover St. in South Baltimore. 410-244-5101. Closed Mondays.

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Baltimore’s Spookiest Spot: Green Mount Cemetery

For those among you who are wont to give credence to ghosts and spirits, there’s no need whatsoever to look toward haunted houses or haunted hayrides or any other seasonal attractions where high schoolers and jaycees put on masks and yell ‘boo.’

Those who wish to seek out ghosts need not look very far in a city like Baltimore, where the past haunts each street with every nightfall. We like to think that our streets are new with their crushed glass surfacing and our homes are new with their double-paned windows and granite counters, but they are not. Virtually every brick and stone was worn well before we arrived, and most all of them will remain unmoved by the time the last of us is gone.

Green Mount Cemetery is one of Baltimore most scenic, historic, and underrated attractions.

In a sense, it’s not our city at all. It’s theirs. They built it, and they continue to dwell here.

They are some our our city’s most prominent figures; men with names like Pratt, Latrobe, Preston, Hopkins, Walters, and Garrett. and here is Green Mount Cemetery, more than 65,000 graves situated over 68 acres, right here in our own back yard.

Unfortunately, because Halloween falls on a Sunday this year, the cemetery is not open to visitors today, although they do keep their gates open every other day of the week both for formal tours and individual wandering. For All Hallows’ Eve, we’d greatly encourage you to spend a few minutes and take your time surfing around their website and discovering the history and scenery of Green Mount for yourself.

The Chop is totally remiss, and almost ashamed to admit that we have never set foot inside Green Mount Cemetery. We’ve been whistling past the graveyard for years, and although always fascinated by it, we’ve never taken a walk around inside. We’re going to change that at some point this week.

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Green Mount Cemetery is at 1501 Greenmount Ave. Hours: Monday-Saturday, 8am-4pm. (410) 539-0641.

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Real Food Farm Market in Belair Edison Today

Apparently we’re very late to the party on this one, but what can you do? It’s better to find out about some amazing open secret like Real Food Farm a little late than never, don’t you agree?

It’s no secret at all that Baltimore is among the cities on the leading edge of urban agriculture in the US, and since its establishment last year Real Food Farm has been at the epicenter of Charm City’s urban ag movement. Their stated goal is to produce no less than 10% of all the food consumed in Baltimore City. It’s a lofty aspiration, to be sure, but who’s going to say they can’t? You? Certainly not us.

 

A lot more productive than playing Farmville on Facebook, don't you think?

 

There are a lot of buzzwords flying around the food scene’s lexicon lately, but of all of these catchy terms like organic, sustainable, and biodynamic, none of them will be more important in the coming years than this one: local.

And you literally can’t get any more local than RFF, which grows all of its produce on a plot right here in Clifton Park, along with a little help from the Civic Works and some Baltimore City school students.

In our humble opinion though, where RFF goes really right is in their market schedule. The Chop does not generally favor waking up weekend mornings at the crack of dawn to buy vegetables. And if you miss that damn Waverly Market on Saturday, you have to wait a whole week for it to come around again.

As you can see above, RFF markets are from 5-7 in the evening, which is much more convenient, and there are not less than three market days each week, all of which are convenient to residents of North Baltimore.

So we’re going to head over to Belair Edison today and sustain a little agriculture. Maybe even find some good ingredients for vegan chili, since it’s getting to be that time of year.

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Real Food Farm markets take place Mondays at Belair Rd. and Erdman, Wednesdays at Kirk Ave. and Abbotston, and Fridays at Montebello Elementary (next to the lake). See real-food-farm.org for more information.

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Chop on the Spot: iBar

We probably shouldn’t tell you about iBar. We should probably keep our big mouth shut for once and leave well enough alone. Or maybe we should use some reverse psychology. Don’t go to iBar. It’s not very cool.

There. That ought to insure that iBar remains one of the best kept open secrets in Baltimore. If you’re anything like us, you’ve driven by iBar 10,000 times and always meant to go in, but never quite did. When you say to your friend ‘Where do you want to go?’ they probably never told you iBar. We were guilty of this for quite a long time. It’s so close to Club Charles, Joe Squared, Ottobar, etc that it’s always just been easier to go with the familiar.

Photo from the iBar Website.

Of course, sometimes you just don’t feel like dealing with the Club Charles. Sometimes you just want to have a cheap beer and watch a few innings of baseball and chitchat with people who are cool, but yet don’t know or care about design aesthetics, electronic music, or bicycles. That’s when you go to iBar.

True to the name they offer free wi-fi, as well as a public internet connected PC at the end of the bar. That’s where the technology connection ends though. The rest of iBar is just a good old fashioned corner place (although it’s not on a corner) with cheap cold beer, pretty and nice bartenders, an awesome pub grub menu, and a decent jukebox well stocked with solid un-ironic 80’s pop. There’s also one nice sized flatscreen which has been tuned to baseball every time we’ve been in.

Next time you’re driving by and idly wondering about the place, do yourself a favor and stop in. You’ll be glad you did.

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iBar is at 2118 Maryland Ave in Old Goucher/Charles North/Charles Village South/Whatever the hell you want to call it.

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Chop on the Spot: George’s of Mount Vernon

You might be surprised to hear it, but the Chop fully approves of hotel bars.

Most often we find ourselves in one when we’re overseas. Many times hotel bars are the cream of the crop, and some countries’ bars are found to be so wanting that the hotel bar with the western visitors is the only place you can count on getting a decent drink poured and not have to put up with a lot of the unsavory things that are prone to happen overseas.

The clientele in a hotel bar is, obviously, mostly out-of-towners. They seem to be of a few certain types, which are easy to identify at the hotel, but are fairly rare away from it. There’s business travelers, who are pretty straight-laced, and then there are people who travel a lot for work, who aren’t what you’d call “businesspeople” and pretty much drink from the time the trade show closes until it opens again. There’s cougars and hospitality employees and tourists and even the Chop.

Geroge's is located inside the Peabody Court Hotel at the west end of Mount Vernon Square.

Sometimes the Chop needs a break. Sometimes we just get tired of Brewer’s Art and Dionysus. Sometimes we want to drink in a place that’s actually not a basement, and be served by someone in a tie and not a Dead Boys T-shirt. It’s times like this when we hie down to one of Midtown’s best kept secrets, George’s of Mount Vernon.

We’ve been to George’s a few times for dinner, and are never disappointed. The ambiance is hard to beat, the food is delicious and without pretense, and the service is much more personal and friendly than you’d expect in such a place. It also doesn’t hurt that the prices are set so that one can easily pick up the check on date night.

We didn’t get the full benefit of George’s though until we went there for happy hour. The bar in there feels more like home than any bar in the city. But not like your fixer-upper Hampden rowhouse… like a really, really nice home.

The 12′ ceilings, crown molding, 10 foot windows, chandeliers, and posh leather furniture all give the impression that you’re in the sort of place that Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein drank when they lived in Baltimore, and hell, maybe they did. There’s something nice about stepping back into the jazz age for an hour, and a stiff old-fashioned in this place will set you right. It’s just the thing to brace you up for the travails of modern life.

Best of all? George’s happy hour is Sunday- Friday, and all beer, glass wines and rail drinks are 2-for-1.

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George’s is in the Peabody Court Hotel, 101 W. Monument Street in Mount Vernon. (410) 727-1314.

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