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Eat and be merry on the cheap in Bmore

The 32nd Street Farmer's Market - Arianne Teeple
The 32nd Street Farmer's Market - Arianne Teeple

It started with a question to a few local folks: Where do you like to go to eat or be entertained? The answers resulted in one commonality; Baltimoreans love to revel in the vast array of local restaurants throughout the city. "Eating out is a really big deal for my wife and me," says Francis Rahl. "It's kind of like our entertainment." For Rahl, who live on the border of the Union Square and Hollins Market neighborhoods, eating out around Baltimore happens several times a week. He has his favorite spots, including Jack's Bistro in Canton where he likes to enjoy the Guinness tenderloin, or The Dogwood in Hampden where he goes for the lobster bisque, but in general he says he loves the plethora of choices that are minutes from his doorstep. "Outside of maybe New York City, I can't imagine a place where you can get the variety you can get here." Another Canton spot he frequents regularly is Helen's Garden where he says the portabella ravioli will "knock your socks off."

Good eating and greeting

For fellow border resident Chris Everett, Zella's Pizzeria on Hollins Street is the place to go not just for the food, but also for the atmosphere. "I never go in to Zella's without seeing at least two or three of my neighbors," he says. "Usually someone will sit at my table or I'll sit at theirs and we'll catch up on things. They've got a lot of neat appetizers, pizza, strombolis and some really nice sandwiches on artisan bread. It's affordable and really good." Just down the street, Everett says he likes to stop at Sweet Tooth Dessert Shop to end things on a sweet note. "When you want to give yourself a treat, that's the place to go." For a less casual night out, Everett heads over to Patrick's of Pratt Street where he says the crab cakes are huge and delicious.

On Saturday mornings, Ednor Gardens/Lakeside resident Erin O'Keefe, likes to start the day by walking to the Waverly Farmers Market on 32nd Street and Barclay. "It's a fun and resourceful start to the weekend. You can grab a cup of Zeke's Coffee and an Atwater's blueberry muffin, a local mushroom sandwich or a ginger lemonade, pick up your veggies, fruit, bread, milk and eggs, treat yourself to wildflowers, and see all your neighbors and their families while listening to local musicians."

Hoe's Heights resident Catharine Robertson says her neighborhood is walkable, easily within distance of Hampden or Roland Park. She heads there to the cozy coffee shop The Evergreen Caf�, where she likes to go for a sandwich or salad. She also likes to check out The Dizz on West 30th Street when she wants a tasty burgers and an ambiance that's "a little slice of hometown working-class Baltimore." Rocket to Venus on Chestnut Avenue is where Robertson goes as much for the "people watching parade" as for the $7 jerk chicken salad. "A lot of items on their menu are a really good value," she says.

Jim O'Toole lived in Baltimore most of his life and still comes into the city several times a week from his Nottingham home to enjoy local culinary. "I like to go to Hull Street Blues Caf� because it's like the Cheers of Baltimore. It's a place where people really do know your name and get to know you personally. It's a local icon." For O'Toole, it's now a 30 mile drive round trip since he moved north of the city, but he still can be found at Hull Street at least once a week for dinner and a few times a week for lunch. "It's worth the drive for me � it's got great people, great food, good street parking, a great neighborhood, all the stars are aligned." At Frank's Pizza and Pasta on Belair Road, O'Toole has ordered the same pasta dish with capers, chicken, angel hair and pesto sauce so many times that he says they now refer to it as the Jimmy Special. "They make it to order. They are very accommodating there," he says. "If you want a fabulous Italian meal at a ridiculously low price, that's the place to go."

Not just food

Though Americans are eating out more and more according to a nationwide survey by the USDA, Baltimoreans are going out for more than just a tasty bite. "You can find local stores that still work on credit where you sign your name to a piece of paper and settle up at the end of the month, or corner diners with the same waitresses for the past 20 years," says Anna Custer, executive director of Live Baltimore. "Can you imagine Baltimore without those kinds of venues? We wouldn't be the same city we are now."

Custer says events like Ignite Baltimore, where artists, technogeeks, and local personalities get up on stage for five minutes to share their insight on a smattering of topics, or Betascape, the technology festival at Artscape, are the cool, hip things. She also recommends checking out Mobtown Modern, which puts on contemporary music concerts throughout the city, Unsilent Night, the annual boombox Christmas parade, the Moonlight Madness bike ride, a 20-mile bicycle tour of Baltimore, the newly opened Back Alley Jazz, a live jazz and blues club in the Hollins Market neighborhood, or The Laughing Pint, a corner bar in Highlandtown that she calls "a hip hangout with cool drinks and good comfort food."

Robertson, who is the executive director of the Baltimore Improv Group, says you don't want to miss their shows which include an hour and a half to two hours of made up comedy based on suggestions from the audience. "For $10 or $12, it's tailor made for each audience that walks in the door and will never be repeated. It's a great value." Or on Sunday mornings, she says the Cinema Sundays at the Charles Theatre are a must. "You get bagels and coffee, a movie screened by people who know what it's about and afterward someone leading the discussion about the film. That's a couple of hours of entertainment with breakfast included and you can't beat that."

For these Baltimoreans and many others, venturing out for good food or merriment is just footsteps away to nearly endless possibilities. "There are a lot of neighborhoods with a lot going on for them," says Custer. "We commonly talk about the charm of Charm City, but besides the people and diversity of neighborhoods, our attractions, most notably our locally owned businesses, are part of what makes Baltimore great."

A graduate of both Towson University and University of Baltimore, Nicole Jovel lived in the Baltimore area for nine years. She writes for both corporate clients and local and regional publications.

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