Tag Archives: Food

Why Won’t Baltimore Food Trucks Operate at Night?

Well Baltimore, the heat has finally broken. The cold has snapped. The mercury is beginning to drop. Very soon the trees will be bare of leaves, the woodland creatures will burrow in, and birds will fly south for the winter. There’s also another species whose ranks are about to be thinned out a bit… namely Baltimore food trucks.

Food trucks have been multiplying faster than mosquitoes all Summer long. After the great city hall food truck crisis of May 2011, trucks were given their own zones, as well as carte blanche to operate anywhere in the city. A new truck seemed to hit the streets almost once a week.

Believe it or not, people get hungry at night too.

That was Summer though, and this is Fall. While there is certainly no shortage on the supply side, demand for street food is sure to wane as the weather grows colder. Curbside Cafe has already served its last burrito for one reason or another, and we’d be willing to bet that at least a few of its competitors will end up on the scrap heap.

The food trucks that survive the long, cold winter won’t necessarily be the ones with the best food or the most advantageous lunchtime parking spot, but the ones that are willing to work the hardest and put in the longest hours. Up until now, gourmet chuckwagons have catered almost exclusively to the downtown lunch crowd. A few of them will gear up for a Saturday event now and then, but by and large their operators have treated their enterprises mostly like a nine to five job.

Not only does this limited-to-lunchtime business plan completely ignore an entire segment of the local market, it runs counter to the whole purpose of selling food from a truck in the first place. Historically, food trucks have catered to blue collar workers at places like construction sites and steel mills, or any other remote location where people may be hungry. Baltimore’s fleet of trucks has for some reason chosen to operate only in areas that are already glutted with restaurants, and to compete with them directly from 11 to 3.

But what about the other 11-3? The one after dinner and before breakfast? The one where all the restaurants are closed but people are still out and hungry? The trucks that fill this niche are the ones that will survive the winter.

Baltimore has a serious deficit of late night dining options. There’s the Sip and Bite and Captain James’ Carryout, which despite all their charm are frankly pretty crummy restaurants. The Papermoon Diner is still crucial, although they’re no longer 24 hours, and often feature a post-last-call rush and lengthy wait times on weekends. There are a few traditional diners as well, though these are mostly on the outskirts of the city and can be inconvenient for those of us living downtown. We’re sure we don’t speak only for ourselves when we say that after a long night of Chopping it up at the bars, we’d much rather sample some delectable mobile fare than coming home and eating drunkfood like a fatty.

We’re out of luck though, because even though every weekend there are plenty of starving students at Power Plant, Hungry hungry hipsters in Station North, and famished folks in Fell’s the city’s food trucks refuse to claim their rightful place in its nightlife scene. Food truck owners: You are literally leaving piles of money sitting on the corner. All you’ve got to do to double your profits is just show up.

It’s not just insatiate imbibers who would be well served by food trucks hitting the streets at night. There are also plenty of cops, EMT’s, doctors and nurses and other public servants in the downtown sphere who don’t keep regular hours, but enjoy a mid-shift lunch nonetheless. They deserve better than what’s left on the shelf at 7-11 or a sack lunch brought from home. Serving up hot food on cold nights would not only boost a truck’s profits, it would bring the concept full circle, serving hard-working people who can’t get a restaurant meal.

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If The City Shuts Down Food Trucks, What’s The Next Big Trend in Lunch?

If traffic has seemed to move faster and parking spaces have become more available in the last 24 hours, it might be because Baltimore City sent some obscure bureaucrat out onto the streets at lunchtime yesterday, a day after this article was published, to shut down the ever-growing fleet of food trucks that has been dieseling all over downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods the last couple of years.

We were able to watch the whole thing unfold on Twitter, as well as following the live updates on the Dining at Large Blog on the Sun’s website. It almost seems as if social media, the food trucks’ greatest advertising asset, could also be their downfall, since the Mayor is on Twitter too, and can see exactly where to levy fines. Of course, twitter is a good way to yell at city officials as well, and there was no shortage of that until the operators of food trucks, the upscale ones anyway, were granted an indefinite reprieve later in the afternoon.

One of Charm City's many mobile nosheries.

The Chop is a bystander in all of this. We typically aren’t around downtown during the lunch hour, and even if we were, we’d favor an actual restaurant like Werner’s or Burke’s. (Oops. Guess we’re SOL, huh?) We see food trucks mostly as a trend and a fad, and we don’t think Baltimore could support many more than it has now anyway. In the meantime we’re kind of dubious about the whole notion of ordering and eating as quickly as possible. If you’re not getting a full hour for lunch, you’re getting screwed. We’d rather stick with table service.

It got us wondering though… if the streets were emptied of food trucks, what will be the next great trend for lunch in Baltimore?

Tugboats and gentrification have historically not mixed in Baltimore. Maybe food is the missing link.

Tugboats. Part of the appeal in the food truck movement has always been the same appeal offered by the likes of Bourdain and his ilk, namely co-opting the culture of the working class and repackaging it for the leisure class. Take for example the lowly hot dog. Traditionally, a hot dog truck would be limited to places like construction sites, quarries and Bethlehem Steel, and workers would settle for hot dogs because their jobsite site was inaccessible, and they were likely too dirty to sit down in a real restaurant even if they could get to one. The hot dog was ground up pig guts, two for a buck, not something that was “finished with onion and tomato jam” or listed at “market price.”

Tugboats have long been renowned for their excellent food, and they’ve all got galleys already built right in. This was the next logical step in foodie fads anyway, wasn’t it? We can see it now, some enterprising chef steaming back and forth between the Inner Harbor, Fell’s Point, and the new Under Armour compound at Locust Point, with customers sitting out on the stern eating $12 bowls of pea soup and posting pictures to Facebook.

A bunch of trendy New Yorkers line up to buy junkfood from a wall.

Return of the Automat. Most people in today’s workforce are far too young to remember the automat, But it ticks all the boxes on the potential food trend checklist: Arcane and obsolete? check. Made for the Poor, re-sold to the Rich? check. Plain food with the potential for dressing up needlessly? check. A novelty which is more about the experience than the menu? check. Nostalgia for something you never lived through? check. Potential to overcharge? That’s a check, my friend.

There’s even a template to follow. It seems New York City has a shiny new upscale automat on the formerly gritty Saint Mark’s Place, complete with ‘opulent brownies’ and ‘Tijuana Taco Krokets.’ Their over-designed website even features a full page of schmoopy media gushing. Since Baltimore pretty much stole the whole foodie-food truck idea from NYC anyway, we might as well pony up $200k and jump on the automat franchising opportunity before the trend peaks.

Lexington Market is "ripe" for gentrification.

Lexington Market. Lexington Market has long been ripe for gentrification by the downtown lunch crowd, yet in 220 years of operation, it’s managed to retain its character. ‘Authenticity’ is at a premium these days though, and it could be the only thing that’s saving Lexington Market from an influx of suburban office workers is the fact that Polock Johnny’s isn’t nearly as adept at rebranding, merchandising and franchising as say, Ben’s Chili Bowl has been.

Of course, it’s kind of tough to repackage the working class experience with all those pesky working class folks hanging around and ruining it for the rest of us. If Lexington Market is ever going to become Baltimore’s hot new food destination, we’re going to have to cut off bus and subway access, and add some valets to the garages. After all, that’s not the safest neighborhood for parking your Prius. Why do you think you don’t see more food trucks there?

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House Rules: Free Food for Happy Hour

The Chop is jumping on the Bolt Bus and heading up to New York for a party tonight. As much as we’re loathe to admit that any city anywhere has some advantage over Baltimore, and especially New York City, we can’t deny that there is one aspect in which the Big Apple is thoroughly and completely superior: free food at happy hour.

The tradition of free food at happy hour traces back to some time of yore in some place that we don’t really feel like Googling right now. However it is mentioned in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1906) in a scene in which Jurgis is low on money and chooses to go to the bar and buy whiskey in order to enjoy the free meal being served with it.

Rudy's in Hell's kitchen has been giving away hot dogs for decades and hasn't gone broke yet. Baltimore bar owners, please take note.

The Jungle is set in Chicago, of course, but we believe the tradition of free food to have originated in Manhattan, probably in bars with specific ethnic clienteles who all enjoyed specific ethnic foods. Rudy’s Bar in Hell’s Kitchen has made itself famous nationwide as ‘the place that gives away free hot dogs all day every day’, and any New Yorker who is hungry or broke or both can easily pull up many lists of plenty of bars which are more than happy to feed customers for free during happy hour. And we’re not just talking wieners here; these bars are serving up everything from dogs and burgers to wings, hummus, cheese plates, pasta dishes and even bagels and brunch spreads on Sundays.

In an era when people are as thirsty as ever and still feeling the lingering effects of the Bush Economy, free food at happy hour makes perfect sense. Baltimoreans are always quick to embrace a deal, and a local bar scene in which taverns compete not on the basis of who can throw the best dance party or tap the most microbrews, but who gives away the best and most food is a winning situation for everyone.

If Baltimore wishes to hold onto its claim of being The Greatest City in America, we need to get our act together on the happy hour food giveaways.

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Elevenses: A Mini-Brunch For the Weekdays

You already know that The Chop Approves of Brunch. How could anyone not approve of brunch, really? In an age when most breakfasts consist of things like Nutri-grain bars, cereal, frozen waffles and drive-thru fare, it’s nice to sleep late once a week and wake up to eggs benedict, French toast, and fresh fruits and cheeses. Perhaps the menu is not what we like most about brunch. We suspect that these things taste most savory because we have the luxury of time in which to enjoy them.

Of course, this is also the one drawback to brunch… this once a week status. Why should something so delicious and luxurious be relegated to Sundays only? Do we not deserve the chance to stuff our faces mid-morning 7 days a week? Is that not the American way?

Want to be like Joe Strummer? Skip the Wheaties and take elevenses.

The British have one-upped us on this score, America. The English may not be know for their culinary ambition, but they have brought something to the world table which we have by and large failed to sample and savor: Elevenses.

Granted, they may not be very good at this even, with many of them subsisting on Hydrox cookies and Earl Grey, but that doesn’t mean we can’t pick up the ball and run with it. We’ve actually got some pretty good convenience foods here stateside, and if your office happens to be near one of Baltimore’s many bakeries, cake shops or cafes, you’re already set to pick up breakfast at 7:30, and a little something extra for elevenses. Just think of it… all that time you spend forwarding emails and fooling around with Facebook, you could be sneaking off to the break room for a fresh cup of coffee and one of these.

For our part, we’re a lazy blogger. We sleep until 11, so for us it’s just breakfast. When we’re outside the country though, you know, doing real work and waking up at 7 am every morning, we always take elevenses. Of course, we don’t call it that. We call it a coffee break. But it’s a perfect chance to sit back for half an hour, relax a bit, and tide yourself over until lunch. It really makes the work go by much more quickly and pleasantly, and is easily one of our favorite moments in the day.

Maybe you’re reading this at your desk right now. Maybe you’re a little hungry and a little bored. (You must be if you’re reading blogs at work.) Go ahead, take elevenses. Right now. If your boss asks, just explain that the English do it every day, so it must be right and proper. And after all, aren’t we better at eating than the Brits?

It’s not just a small, mid-morning meal… it’s a matter of national pride.

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Throwdown Viewing Party, Live Music @ Mum’s Tonight

If you’ve been following this blog with any sort of regularity, you might already know that we’re definitely not a foodie, but you definitely know that the last thing we’ll recommend doing is watching primetime TV.¬† In a bizarre twist of fate tonight, that’s exactly what we’re recommending¬† in one of the most random events we can remember happening… ever. Tonight is the night that the Food Network is set to air the Dangerously Delicious episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay.

The show will premiere at 9 pm, and Baltimore will be celebrating with a viewing party at South Baltimore’s own Mum’s. Yep. Mum’s. This is going to be sublime in so many ways.

If you know Mum’s at all, you know it’s not the kind of place that lacrosse players, condo-board types and tourists just stumble into on a whim. The show will not be competing with the World Cup or the NBA Finals for screen space. Nope, this is going to be a dedicated crowd, and they’re all going to be giving their full attention to booing, hissing and cursing Bobby Flay. And why not? It seems to us that there could be no more stark contrast in the culinary world than Flay and Rodney Henry. One is one of Baltimore’s prominent small businessmen who literally invented what he’s made from nothing. The passion and dedication that Henry has poured into his shop comes through in each bite, and he certainly deserves every bit of success he’s found. He can also rock a hat better than just about anyone in Baltimore. The other is a grating prettyboy with a rich-kid attitude who revels in his own celebrity and is the antithesis of everything Baltimore is about.

The Chop loves us some quiche, and broccoli mushroom cheddar quiche alll-most made our list of the top five late-night drunkfoods. We’re hoping the that the Dangerously Delicious crew will bring along a few varieties to go with Mum’s cheap drinks.

One thing we know the Pie Man will bring along is his guitar. In addition to the throwdown, tonight is one of the more unconventional bills you’ll find in the Baltimore music scene. We haven’t actually seen Rodney Henry play since his days in the Glenmont Popes, and the last time we saw the Popes was right around the same time we got a driver’s license. So yeah, it’s been a while.

He’s also got H.R.’s Human Rights Band to agree to play. They don’t make too many appearances, so the chance to check them out at Mum’s is worth noting. There’s been a lot of talk on Baltimore streets about H.R. since that citypaper article came out a couple years ago. The Chop has heard plenty of gossip and rumors that we will not repeat here. We’re going to go see the man for ourselves.

The bill is going to be rounded out by the duo of Lazlo Lee and Heidi Lynn and Baltimore’s Link Wray influenced garage-a-billy Young Jaguars.

Come on Baltimore. It’s time to put your fork where your mouth is.

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Mum’s is at 1132 S. Hanover St. in Federal Hill. Doors at 8. Throwdown airs at 9, and will be re-run at midnight if you’re watching at home.

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The Best Midnight Snacks After a Night Out Drinking

We know you like to eat, Baltimore. We know you like to eat well, too. You’re all about your farmers’ markets and your new restaurants and your local, sustainable, seasonal ingredients and everything else.

We like to eat as much as the next armchair gourmet, but even more than that, we like to drink. A sub-par meal can always be salvaged by a stiff Rusty Nail beforehand, a bottle of Boordy Rockfish during, and a generous pour of Cognac afterward.

Of course sometimes when we’re out on the town, we have such a good dinner that we forget to actually order any food. When we stumble home at 2:15 am and realize that our kitchen is not air-conditioned and that brown rice and whole vegetables often require a lot of time-consuming and messy work over a hot stove, our palate becomes a lot less sophisticated real quick.

Still though, eating Captain Crunch by hand right out of the box or smothering questionable leftovers with ketchup is a low to which we cannot stoop. After a long night of boozing it is necessary to walk that fine line between quality and convenience. It’s at dire times like these we’re glad that we make a point of always keeping on hand one of our top five favorite midnight snacks.

Morningstar Farms Burgers

At only about 2 minutes in the microwave, these things are already done before you can reach for the buns and plates. They come in several varieties (including vegan) and you can top them off about a thousand different ways. These might be our favorite food, period.

V8 Soups

A little pricier than your average can of soup, but well worth it. These things are good enough on their own, but once you throw in a handful of baby spinach and heat up a couple of slices of frozen cheesy garlic bread, you can easily pass off your booze blackout as a food coma.

Knorr-Lipton Pasta Pouches

These things also come in several flavors and usually cost less than $2 each. They boil up in under 10 minutes in one pan, which is just enough time to add your own frozen vegetables to the mix and have them end up just right.

Zatarain’s Black Beans and Rice

This product takes a little longer to cook up, but it won’t cost you any more effort. It’s a good choice if you’re making it home before last call, and you’ve also got plenty of choices on what to add to it or top it off with. As an added bonus, these boxes are just big enough to feed two people.

Noodle Bowl

Nowadays there’s a lot more to instant noodles that the old nickel packs of Top Ramen. Rice noodles cook almost instantly, and while a noodle bowl is not quite substantial enough to be a meal unto itself, you can pair it with any sort of microwaveable spring roll, or add some frozen potstickers for a quick and tasty nosh.

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The careful reader may have noticed that all of these choices are vegetarian friendly. The fact is that the Chop is a vegetarian, and we wouldn’t recommend anything we’re not eating ourselves. While after a long night’s drinking you may be more interested in Esskay franks or a bologna sandwich, we at least hope it goes to show that eating vegetarian is a lot easier than most people think, and even when you’re getting tipsy and microwaving, you’re still getting a better meal than what you find on most bar food menus.

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House Rules: The Chop Approves of Brunch

It’s Mothers’ Day in Charm City, and that could only mean one thing; its time to sit down to brunch.

At this very moment, cooks all over Baltimore are scrambling massive quantities of eggs, bartenders are making sure the Champagne is well-chilled, and servers are already daydreaming about how to spend an apron full of tip money. While Mothers’ Day is very closely associated with brunch nationwide, this scene plays itself out here in town every Sunday, and most Saturdays too. Baltimoreans have fully embraced brunch culture, and if you’re looking for a late-morning repast on the weekends, its almost easier to ask yourself who doesn’t offer brunch around here?

Nothing says decadence like Pernod and eggs Florentine in a fancy hotel on Sunday morning.

The Chop approves of brunch. If you find yourself at a brunch table, you know that you’ve done something right. More than a meal, brunch is a lifestyle choice. Even more than that though, its a lifestyle choice that is almost exclusively the province of the urban middle and upper classes. You won’t find proper brunch offerings at Granny’s Country Kitchen in Podunksburg, WV. Likewise you’ll notice that most of your better options for brunch are more Manhattan than they are Bronx.

Its always been this way. According to some website we found, the English invented brunch near the turn of the century when their aristocratic, fox-hunting, Tory asses came back to the Manor after a ‘hunt’ and had their butlers lay table with a proper meal decidedly different from a traditional English supper. Supposedly the practice was adopted at places like Oxford and Cambridge when the Brits wanted to combine eating with all manner of WASP-y pursuits like tennis matches, crew rowing tournaments, yacht regattas, etc.

Some other website we found suggests that the popularity of brunch is in inverse proportion to the popularity of Churchgoing. This would explain why its so well favored by coastal elite types and not the ‘real’ ‘heartland’ Americans in the flyover states. Still other sources note the link between urbanites who make a habit of drinking heavily late into Saturday nights and look to a long, leisurely meal of fruits, carbs, and protiens (along with a couple of brunch cocktails) as the best remedy for a hangover. The Chop falls firmly into this category.

A little old-fashioned, just a touch elitist, Godless, gossipy, drunk and delicious. Is it any wonder the Chop, and Baltimore, approves of brunch?

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