Wednesday 11 December 2013

Restaurant Reviews- Baltimore, USA - Part 3

Here's the final part of my Baltimore restaurant reviews - I ate out three times a day for a whole week, though I did go to Starbucks for breakfast most mornings.

Blue Agave
 A Mexican restaurant in the historic Federal Hill area of Baltimore, I went here with my US colleagues for a team dinner. They were easily able to cater to a big group, though our booking was fairly early on a weekday evening. To begin, one colleague who had been here before ordered us pitchers of spicy margaritas - japaleno peppers are left in the mixture to infuse and taken out before the drink is served. And boy, was it spicy! The first sip was nasty, the second just unpleasant... but funnily enough by the time I'd had three glasses it seemed ok! We shared some appetizers; the ceviche was very good and was served in a cocktail glass. We also had a mixed platter of starters, from which I ate something like a chicken spring roll that was very tasty. I ordered chicken enchiladas for my main course, with mole pablano, a kind of sauce - I was expecting it to be spicy after the margaritas but it didn't taste hot and spicy at all. Which was good as I don't think I would have enjoyed it so much if it was.

chicken enchilada

Miss Shirley's
I went here for breakfast one day as a colleague had recommended it. Jet lag meant I kept waking up at 4am, and going back to sleep, but one day I woke up at 6am and couldn't go back to sleep. So I decided to go out for a proper breakfast, rather than grab something from Starbucks like I had been doing most days. Miss Shirley's was not far from my harbour front hotel and it was an easy walk. It's a warm, friendly cafe with some interesting breakfast/brunch options on the menu, and huge portions. I ordered the cinnamon roll French toast - three large cinnamon rolls, dipped in an almond egg mix and cooked French toast style, drizzled with icing and dusted with cinnamon and icing sugar, and served with a jug of syrup on the side. I have a very sweet tooth, but not a big enough appetite for all that, so I loved the breakfast but couldn't eat more than half. It was a lovely way to start the morning and I definitely recommend it.

cinnamon roll French toast
Brio,  or Brio Tuscan Grille to give the restaurant its full name is an Italian restaurant near the harbour in Baltimore (and next door to my office building). I went there for lunch with a colleague and thought it was pretty good. At lunchtime they have paninis, pasta, salads and a lunch menu which contains dishes like risotto, crabcakes and fish; I ordered the mezza chicken limone which was a chicken breast in a white wine, lemon and caper sauce, served with roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes. It wasn't overly filling and was just right for lunchtime.

We went here for a team lunch as it is the manager's favourite; Regi's describes itself as an American bistro and the lunchtime menu is mainly sandwiches and salads with burgers as well. As it was coming up to Thanksgiving I decided to have the Thanksgiving sandwich with turkey, cranberry sauce and cornbread stuffing. It was an absolutely massive doorstep of a sandwich and pretty good, though I wonder if it would have been better toasted so the filling was hot. I also got to try tater tots, which I have heard of but never seen or eaten. I thought they were little cubes of potato but actually they turned out to be croquette potatoes. At Regi's they were served with a blue cheese sauce and topped with bacon, and we shared them as a starter rather than have them on the side of the main meal.They tasted very good, particularly with the sauce. I'm curious to know if there are other ways tater tots are served, does anyone know?

Bubba Gump's
There is a character in the film Forrest Gump called Bubba, and after he is killed in the Vietnam war his friend Bubba decides to follow Bubba's dream and set up a shrimping business. This restaurant chain ties in with the film and is full of Forrest Gump memorabilia and merchandise. I was looking forward to going there as I had heard so much about it, really enjoyed the Forrest Gump film and also love seafood, but when I mentioned it to a colleague in the Baltimore office, she was very disparaging and dismissed the restaurant as tacky. There is no denying that is the case, but if you are in the right mood for it, it's great fun. Each table has a "run, Forrest, run" sign which you leave on display if everything is fine, but you can change it to "stop, Forrest, stop" if you want your waiter to stop at your table!

The service was very good; I ordered a strawberry and mango lemonade and my boyfriend ordered a plain lemonade; the waiter brought his drink and at the same time brought me a glass of water as he said my drink would take a few minutes to make, which was thoughtful, but I'd barely sipped the water when my drink came. It tasted absolutely delicious but was quite expensive- $8.99- but you get to keep your glass. I got a plastic tumbler branded with the Bubba Gump logo and the words "Mama says I'm special" - there are three different quotes from the film to collect. And the glass lights up and flashes! There is a button on the bottom to turn it off if it gets too distracting, but I thought it was great fun.

While we were waiting for our food to arrive, the waiter came back and asked if we were in the mood for a Forrest Gump quiz, and asked us questions from the film, all of which we got right. Only the last question stumped us a little - what was the number on Forrest's football jersey? Then I realised the waiter was wearing a football jersey with the number 44 so I hazarded a guess, and it was right! I know not everyone would appreciate a pop quiz from the waiter but it was quite novel and we enjoyed it.

I ordered the Shrimper's Heaven, which at just under $22 was about twice the price of my boyfriend's burger, but it was excellent. I was presented with a red metal stand holding four cones - one had fries and the other three had different types of shrimp: breaded coconut shrimp, chilli shrimp, deep-fried shrimp and Japanese style tempura shrimp, accompanied by three dips. It was really filling and very good.

I've heard rumours that there will be a Bubba Gump's opening in London soon; I highly doubt it's somewhere I would go more than once but it's great fun for something a bit different and the food was a lot better than I was expecting. And I got to keep my flashing glass!

Charm City Cakes 
Finally I couldn't resist mentioning Charm City Cakes though it's a bakery, not a restaurant. Anyone who has seen the TV show Ace of Cakes will know Charm City Cakes is the Baltimore bakery that makes some amazing novelty cakes that are well beyond the standards - and size - you would expect even from professionals. I didn't realise that the show hasn't been made since 2011 and that the episodes I've seen on TV are repeats, but that doesn't really bother me. I found out from the website that the bakery is open for walk-ins on Saturdays only, and only at certain hours; they take commissions for celebration cakes and on other days you have to make an appointment, and on Saturdays you can just turn up. So my long-suffering boyfriend and I jumped in a taxi and went to visit. It was a little disappointing as there wasn't anyone working on cakes inside at the time; there was a girl behind a counter near the door, selling merchandise to fans of the show and presumably taking orders if anyone came there for a cake rather than just to gawp at the television set. She said I could look around and take photos but would only let me go a couple of feet into the shop so I couldn't really see much other than a few display cakes. Still, it was pretty cool to be able to say I'd been here, and yes, I did buy a t-shirt!

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