Opinion: The Inner Harbor Needs a Local Cuisine Market

| March 25, 2014 | 6 Comments

In my travels to different cities around the country, whether on a Ravens or Orioles road trip or just taking an urban vacation, I always like to see what other cities are doing well and what I’d like to have in Baltimore.

In September, I wrote A Baltimorean in San Francisco, which discussed my summer trip to the NoCal city, my amazing experience there, some of their successes as a city, and what we, Baltimore, can be doing better in comparison. I was overwhelmed by the positive feedback the article received (a high-level Baltimore executive who grew up in San Francisco even wanted to meet to talk more about the trip and Baltimore.)

photoOver St. Patrick’s Day weekend, I took my first ever trip as an adult to New Orleans to visit a great friend who lives in the city’s Uptown neighborhood. New Orleans is truly a unique place with its own cuisine, music, architecture, and unprecedented spirit while throwing a celebration. Needless to say, they celebrate many things.

Some highlights of the trip were catching cabbages from various floats during the St. Patrick’s Day parade, eating a po’ boy, checking out the architecture of the French Quarter, touring the different neighborhoods, taking in a performance by a band called the Brass-A-Holics, and getting a bit of a reprieve from this brutally long winter.

New Orleans is famous for their Cajun cuisine with popular foods such as gumbo, crawfish, jambalaya, étouffée, alligator, red beans and rice, and more. Po’ boys and muffulettas are also a staple, as well as pralines and beignets for dessert. When you go to the French Quarter, the heart of New Orleans’ tourism industry, the offerings of this cuisine are endless, especially at the French Market. Vendor after vendor offer the flavors and spices of New Orleans.

Much like the French Quarter, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is the center of our – and the state’s – tourism industry, attracting millions of visitors every year. The scenery is beautiful, waterfront activities are abound, and it is certainly one of the most iconic American real estate developments of the 20th century, inspiring similar ideas in places like Sydney, Australia and Jacksonville, Florida. There is no doubt the Inner Harbor has been a giant success and was pivotal to the revitalization of many surrounding neighborhoods.

Similar to New Orleans, Baltimore has its own brand of cuisine that receives national acclaim. This is highlighted by our crab cakes, oysters, crab soup, blue crabs, pretty much all things crab for that matter, as well as pit beef sandwiches. Just about every Monday Night Football broadcast of a home Ravens game includes a discussion about the delicious crab cakes the commentators had, Justin Timberlake made sure to stop at Phillips while in town, and a Chicagoan I met in Cancun told me that he gets G&M crab cakes mailed to him in Illinois every month. Having traveled to many places, I can assure you that Baltimore seafood is truly an original.

Back CameraThe Inner Harbor has some very successful businesses and restaurants that provide many jobs and a positive economic impact, but unfortunately for its millions of visitors, they aren’t overwhelmed by the amazing flavors of Baltimore, they are more so surrounded predominantly by chain establishments. When someone wants great Baltimore seafood that will leave them with an amazing impression of Baltimore’s cuisine, I send them to Federal Hill, Locust Point, Fells Point, Canton or another neighborhood around the city. These are all great neighborhoods that everyone should see, but visitors should have many more options at the Inner Harbor so they don’t leave Baltimore without getting at least a taste.

Just like in New Orleans, San Francisco’s center of tourism, Fisherman’s Wharf, had a market with vendor after vendor selling clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, dungeness crabs, crab legs and more. We got a delicious clam chowder bread bowl and it is still something that makes me think of San Francisco.

So, what am I suggesting? Our Inner Harbor needs a local cuisine market. We need an area with vendors offering crab cakes, raw oysters, crab soup, crab dip, crab pretzels, shrimp, calamari, soft crab sandwiches, crab claws, pit beef sandwiches, Eastern Shore corn, Berger cookies and more. Those who want a nice sit-down lunch or dinner can still hit one of our many restaurants, but for those looking to taste the flavors of Baltimore while they are shopping, passing through or waiting for an O’s game to begin, this is a great option and would put our cuisine in front of so many more people. Heck, I’m sure this would be just as appealing for the daily workers downtown and surrounding residents.

So where could something like this go? The Downtown Partnership is pushing for the redevelopment of McKeldin Square, further incorporating it into the Inner Harbor. That would be a perfect location in my opinion, adjacent to the Inner Harbor, across the street from many offices, and in the heart of our tourism industry. The Waterfront Partnership is also pushing for the redevelopment of Rash Field, which could also be an option for such a market. Grab some crab soup and watch a game of beach volleyball – that would be a great day.

Baltimore is truly a unique place and I don’t want anyone to leave here without knowing what makes our food special. A local cuisine market in the Inner Harbor would make a great place to highlight what Charm City has to offer.

About the Author:

Creator of SouthBmore.com and resident of SoBo. Graduate of Towson University and owner of Incept Multimedia, a full service video production company. Diehard Ravens and O's fan, beach volleyball enthusiast, dog lover and "bar food" foodie. Email me at [email protected] and follow me on Twitter at @SoBoKevin.
  • Renee’ Thacker

    Lets revamp Cross Street Market. It is practically there now. I think if you renew the market you could give a nod to old Baltimore markets and make Cross Street Market new and exciting again.

    • Kevin Lynch

      The Cross Street Market definitely needs a facelift, at least the vendor section. But, I want to make sure our tourists who many only have time to hit the harbor get some local cuisine.

  • Pete D

    I agree w/Renee- You have Lexington Market and Cross Street Market about the same distance away from McKeldin- let’s give the tourists a reason to get OUT of that 5 block radius in the harbor and see a bit of the neighborhoods. Neither market is broken- in fact, more tourist traffic would be just what they need to get more daytime business and get some of those empty stalls filled.

    • Kevin Lynch

      I don’t think it needs to be anything near the size of either market. If someone is spending a full weekend or more in Baltimore, they would have time to check out neighborhoods. But many take a lunch break from a convention, stop at the harbor before an O’s game or are up for a day trip. I want to make sure they know all about Baltimore cuisine if they are in the Harbor.

      I appreciate the efforts to cleanup Lexington Market, but it has a long way to go before it is very marketable.

  • TheBeav

    Thats what the upstairs of Harbor Place building was when I was a kid. I wish it would get back to that rather than a vacant place between chain restaurants on either end. Hell, bring back the Fudgery too while you are at it. I don;t think Cisco and the Dru Hill boys are too busy these days

  • Trevor

    The Brass-a-Holics – those guys are amazing! We saw them a couple years back at one of the Frenchman St clubs. Love that city