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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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Best Bets: Christmas Shopping at the AVAM Sideshow

Remember the first time you ate at Paper Moon Diner? You were probably in your first year of college, or maybe it was even over the summer in high school. Remember how you had to put your name on a list, and amuse yourself outside for like half an hour while you waited for a table? Remember how all the girls were unabashed about making eyes at the dessert case and how it was a big discussion whether or not to sit in the smoking section?

Most of all, remember the first time you saw all those toys?

Of course you do. You had a good buzz on. Maybe you were even a little high, and you sat down in there and had to put forth a Herculean effort not to roam around the dining room touching everything you could reach, putting figures in dirty poses and telling everyone crap stories from your childhood. You did that. We all did that.

The Sideshow gift shop at the AVAM has toys for kids from 6 to 66.

That, Baltimore, is the very same feeling you will get the first time you step foot into the Sideshow, the gift shop at the American Visionary Art Museum.

Far from your typical museum gift shop, the Sideshow’s curiosities rival the museum itself. Part Dime Museum, part Toys-R-Us, and part Art Mart, this place is literally a one-stop non-mall Christmas shop with gifts for kids from six to sixty-six.

The last time the Chop was down that way, the Sideshow was closed because it was nighttime and the time before that the place was packed because the museum was free, so we didn’t spend as much time browsing and playing around as we might have liked, but we were definitely impressed enough that we’re planning to make a separate trip down there just to see the gift shop, which you can do without paying for admission to the museum.

This time we’re going to block out at least a solid hour for playing and perusing among their shelves, which are densely packed from floor to ceiling with everything from the highbrow (art books, tea sets) to the lowbrow (plastic dog poop, fake vomit) and everything in between. We can’t wait to get a proper look at all those toys, as well as their selection of original artworks and goods curated from around the world. We’re also especially interested in their archive of screen printed posters from indie rock shows around the country, which are art in their own right and suitable for framing.

We’re going to be bringing two lists with us when we go: one of the people we’ll need to shop for for Christmas, and a blank list for all the stuff in there we’re going to want.

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Sideshow at the Visionary is located at 800 Key Highway in Federal Hill. 443-872-4926. Of course, we’re not actually going today, because like everything else in this crummy town they are closed on Mondays. Their hours are Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-6pm.

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