The food culture in Baltimore is not just one thing. It’s not all about pouring Old Bay onto everything or messy crab bakes spilling all over butcher’s paper (even though both of these forms of preparing food has its merits). It’s also about the culinary hubs of all the distinct groups of people that make up Baltimore, like the Ethiopian, Korean, Dominican, Chinese, and Indian food that you can find depending on whether you’re in Mount Vernon, North Avenue, Upper Fells Point, or in a random warehouse 20 minutes outside of the city. And, the Baltimore food scene is about the re-envisioning of classic American cuisine.
And this brings me to the new restaurant in town. It has the same aim as restaurants like Woodberry Kitchen, or Parts and Labor(both are owned by the same people), or Johnny’s; they all want to refine the experience of an American restaurant and source it locally, to give a contemporary, but still grounded, twist to it. This new place is called Rye Street Tavern. It is south of Inner Harbor to the point where you think you’re going to hit Fort McHenry before you get there. However, this distance gives the location a great view over the water leading into the Inner Harbor, which they definitely took advantage of, with romantically strung lights, and fire pits surrounded by chairs, interspersed between the tables outside. The tavern located next to a distillery, where it gets its name from.
However, as it should be with any restaurant, the food was the main occasion. To start, since my family is obsessed with all kinds of oysters, from the sweet and mild to the briny, tastes like the ocean variety, we got a dozen oysters, and to try their spin on a southern classic, we also ordered their version of fried green tomatoes. They were all amazing! My favorite way to eat an oyster is with a squeeze of lemon and with either a bit of hot sauce or cocktail sauce, depending on how ‘ocean-like’ the oyster is and how much I want to taste that. The fried green tomatoes were also super yummy with panko breading, an light tomato sauce with random assorted garnishes that I can’t name, but I would remember them if I ever tasted them again.
For the main course, even though I claimed in the beginning of this blog that Baltimore cuisine is not all about Old Bay and crabs, I got a seafood bake featuring both. It contained prawns, potatoes, bacon bits, mussels, clams, and crab claws, and the whole thing was sprinkled with Old Bay. But, even though it breaks my rules of trying to explore outside of stereotypical Baltimore classics, my meal was pretty great. It was super cold outside and the aromas of the bacon and the Old Bay are definitely the food equivalent of what a sitting by a warm fireplace is like. And, to top it all off for desert, I had some palette-cleansing pineapple-lime sorbet, that was not only refreshing after such a large meal, but also strangely reminiscent of home.
Rye Street Tavern is the new kid on the block when it comes to upscale American food, and I hope it stays a contender. The only negative is the price. But that’s why you have to bring your parents. You know, and also because you love them and you want them to have this amazing culinary experience with you. Duh.