Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Faidley's, Berger's, Caroline's Cupcakes, Dangerously Delicious Pies, Baltimore MD

We’d wandered the aquarium for four hours, the Visionary Art Museum for two, and also been to the Poe Grave – the next stop on our 12 hour visit to Baltimore would be the “World Famous” Lexington Market – one of the oldest community markets in the United States and more importantly the home to two of Baltimore’s most well known establishments – Faidley’s Crab Cakes and Berger’s Cookies. Without getting into too much detail I will note that the market itself and the area surrounding it are not savory at all…as a matter of fact I've never seen so many unsavory, shifty, and downright frightening persons...traveling with three women I felt uneasy throughout our visit that someone's purse was soon to go missing.

Making our way through the various ethnic eateries of the market (largely heat lamps and buffets of unappetizing foods) and browsing the unique selections such as Scrapple we found Faidley’s with minimal difficulty – there are quite a few signs. Arriving at 3:30pm we’d missed the lunch line and made our way straight to the front of the line where we met the owner, Nancy, a pleasant and helpful lady who recommended the Lump cake stating “if you’re going to try one, make it the best of ‘em.” At $13 the bar was set high.

Walking to one of the standing bar/tables in the middle of the area we chatted for a few moments before the Crabcake was delivered – a thick baseball of a cake loaded with buttery and succulent crab, bound with a creamy breading somewhat akin to cornbread and speckled with pepper and Old Bay. Diving the cake into fourths we were each afforded 3-4 bites and while different, I can say it rivals my previous favorite cake from San Francisco Ferry Place Seafood for best all time.

Making our way further into the market our next (and last) stop at the Market was Berger’s, a nearly 175 year old family owned bakery known predominantly for their German Vanilla Wafer cookie topped with thick fudge. As opposed to trans-fat as I am, I figured I should give the cookie a taste given its longevity and fame – for $1.25 we received two of them. Tasting largely like a soft sugar cookie topped with a rich ganache of pure fudge there was certainly nothing wrong with the cookie – it was good, as good as a Black and White cookie minus the white can be, I guess – but for the gram of trans fat and 140 calories I’d sooner have eaten something else. Inquiring about their Red Velvet cake I was told it did not use Cream cheese frosting, but rather “sugar frosting,” and as such I passed and we left the market for more quick bites around Baltimore.

Having done some of the Baltimore browsing my Aunt suggested something sweet – Baltimore Cupcake Company. Setting the GPS we made our way to the storefront only to find them closed…fortuitously a new shop called Caroline’s Cupcakes had opened only two doors down two weeks prior – making our way in the door we were greeted by a pleasant young woman who described the premise of the company to us – quality ingredients, small batches, and unique creations atop of a core “collection” – a concept similar to most cupcake shops but with average sized cakes for a good price – we selected four and made our way to the car.

Titled Vanilla Wonder and Pink Wonder, two of the cakes were quite similar – a buttery and thick Vanilla “wondercake” (essentially a buttercake or vanilla accented poundcake in texture) topped with frosting – rich vanilla bean in the case of the vanilla and a sugar-sweet and somewhat citrus/berry accented version atop the Pink. While my family quite liked both options and I loved the cake I felt the frosting was a tad overwhelming (and ample.) For my taste, the other options were vastly superior, first the PB&Joy featuring a fabulous salty and textural peanut butter cake and rich chocolate frosting with a chunk of peanut butter cup I would not be surprised at all of the cake contained more peanut butter than flour. The second option, the standard by which I judge a cupcakery, was a moist and deliciously cocoa accented Red Velvet with the smoothest and most subtle Red Velvet I’ve had since Sweet Revenge in NYC. Definitely a formidable selection given the young age of the store I hope Caroline does well as she tweaks and refines recipes.

Pulling away from Caroline’s the last stop on our afternoon food-trek through Baltimore was Dangerously Delicious Pies – despite their new location in the DC area and mixed reviews my Aunt had heard about them on Food Network and I have to admit I liked their approach – all natural, hand made, sweet and savory both, and a set price of $6 a slice, regardless of type…they even offer vegan friendly options. Reading their humorous website, titles, and descriptions only fueled my desire to check the place out - finding meter parking only 20 yards from the store didn’t hurt, either. Making our way into the store to the sounds of Pisces Iscariot era Smashing Pumpkins we were greeted by a friendly single server who was baking, cutting, and serving pies while also acting as cashier. Browsing the options we decided on two sweet pies, a coffee for myself (Stumptown blend) and a large milk.

Making our way to the back of the shop to eat, our two options were an old classic – Apple, and their signature Baltimore Bomb with Berger Cookies melted down and swirled into a Vanilla Chess pie. Beginning first with the apple – buttery crust, still-warm Granny Smith apples, Cinnamon, Sugar, and more butter…everything an American Apple Pie should be, without the cheese. While I’ve heard some state high prices, I’ll note this was a pretty hefty slice of pie and the ingredients were far above your average diner. Moving on to the Bomb – what decadence – an almost buttermilk flavor combining effortlessly with the cookies to form a thick and creamy cookies and milk experience. Almost egg-custard in texture, but with chunks of the cookie forming a nice contrast with the smooth pie, I have to say I “get” why this is a best seller.

Heading home from Baltimore I was definitely glad we made the trip…while the Lexington Market was a bit of a disappointment and the Berger cookies somewhat overrated on their own, Miss Shirley’s, Faidley’s, Caroline’s, and Dangerously Delicious Cupcakes made for a great foodie visit while the Aquarium, Visionary Museum, and Poe Grave were all worth the time and effort.

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