Baltimore Isn’t All Crab Cakes and Harbor Tours: Smoked Duck Pizza and Cold Beer

Baltimore isn’t all crab cakes and harbor tours. I was on my way out the hotel door Friday night when, on a whim, I decided to ask the front desk for a dinner recommendation.

Wearing my baseball cap and Angelo State baseball hoodie, I clearly wasn’t in the mood for upscale and high class.

I probably should buy some lottery tickets because I’m on a hot streak, getting rock solid suggestions here of late. The guy in New Orleans pointed us to Coops and the woman tonight sent me up Federal Hill to the Metropolitan.

“It’s my favorite place,” she said looking at my clothes, “and definitely casual.” I decided to take her comment as an observation not a judgement. I was, after all, wearing my cleanest hoodie and my least stained cap.

Federal Hill, if you don’t know Baltimore very well, is the area where Nora Ephron filmed parts of Sleepless in Seattle. Meg Ryan and Rosie O’Donnell eat dinner in the Mount Vernon area, Ryan has her apartment in an area near Federal Hill, and they hang out on S. Charles Street. (Ephron, just as an aside, was an underrated screen writer and her films captured a simple but important romantic sensibility in contemporary America. What, Ephron’s screen plays asked, does it mean to be in love in the face of shifting social ideas regarding relationships in America? If you don’t know her works, you owe her movies a viewing.)

But romantic comedies can be a post for another day.

Federal Hill is one of those rejuvenated areas so common to American cities this day and age. If you travel to St. Louis any time soon, head over toward Washington University or St. Louis U and walk among the town homes and old industrial areas. Like so many places, governmental investment in the inner city areas in the form of tourism, professional sports teams, and tax deductions have revitalized run-down neighborhoods, rescuing them from crime, poverty, and drug infestations. These are areas that began as working class family homes but fell into ill-repute as the blue collar jobs fled to China, India, and anyplace else corporate bosses could find cheap labor.

With a little spit and polish (and a healthy dose of police, money, and hotel taxes), though, these areas have been transformed into homes and communities where the pretty people live. I was worried I might get kicked off the streets as an interloper. Cool and groovy I am not.

The Metropolitan is about 3/4 of a mile off the harbor down a tree lined S. Charles street. The coffee house and wine bar sits across the street from the Federal Hill Wine and Spirits Liquor store and in the midst of townhouses and walk up apartments. The streets have that vaguely European-feel, reflecting their architectural birth as homes for immigrant, industrial workers. The Metropolitan is a true neighborhood bar and restaurant.

It’s also worth the walk. The bartender downstairs sent me up the stairs with a friendly wave of her hand. I scored a seat near a window propped up by a liter beer bottle. Necessity and invention is always a good sign.

The music sets the tone. Neil Young, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Dylan, Hendricks–I heard them all but they weren’t dominating the scene. A group of folks sat at the bar holding a conversation. They didn’t have to yell to beat out the music and, in what probably says more about me than the bar, I didn’t hear a single cuss word while I was sitting there. It’s an odd thing to notice, but I’ve grown weary of language that shows about as much imagination as a football locker room.

Don’t go to the Metropolitan if you only drink Bud Light, though. They serve craft beers from around the world. The waitress brought me samples since my palate tends toward Schlitz and Lonestar. I never really know what kind of beer I like. I did reject the Pumpkin Beer. If I want pumpkin, I told her, I would order pie. No one has ever accused me of being a beer snob. I thought about just asking for more samples, but instead I started with a Green Flash Saison Diego. It’s a lighter beer with just a hint of hops. Crisp and clean.

Like so many things in life, our moods are a product of the historical and contextual moment. I was tired of big meals and the waitress, to her credit, didn’t try to sell me the most expensive thing on the menu. And take note that the Metropolitan has a full menu for such a small place. When I told her I just wanted something light, she pointed me to the Smoked Duck Pizza and a house salad.

“It’s better than it sounds,” she told me.

She was right. The pizza is about 8 inches, the size of a medium size plate, with a thin, fire cooked crust. They use a pesto sauce with basil covered in mozzarella and a slice of smoked duck sitting on top. There is just enough of the smoked flavor that each bite carries the meaty duck taste as it blends with the cheese and pesto. Importantly, they keep the pesto mild enough that it helps keep the pizza moist without getting too wet as it sits on the plate.

Combined with the house salad, it was just enough food to satisfy my hunger but not leave me waddling back to the hotel. And that’s good because I’m not sure waddling is allowed among the young, good looking people in that area.

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About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

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