On the cover of the Visit Baltimore travel guide reads, “See the Baltimore You’re Missing.” As I flip through the pages, I see I have been missing a lot since attending a cousin’s wedding in 2005. Baltimore continues to grow and thrive no matter what history or current day happenings may throw its way. Although a short trip, it was enough to make me think, “If I ever thought about leaving California, I would seriously consider moving here.” Because as I told a friend, “Don’t sleep on Baltimore.” And here’s why.
Greatest Established Early
Known as “the city of neighborhoods,” Baltimore is Maryland’s largest city surrounded by history and culture that extends back to its independence in 1729. Governor Martin O’Malley coined the slogan, “The Greatest City in America,” as Baltimore is home to more than 65,000 properties designated as historic (more than any other U.S. city) and the second-largest seaport in the Mid-Atlantic.
For those in or entering the medical field, the city is top of mind with The John Hopkins University School of Medicine. For centuries, musical greats from the past such as Billie Holiday, James “Eubie” Blake and Blanche and Cab Calloway to the present with R & B crooners Mario, Sisqo (Dru Hill) and gospel star Bishop Jason Nelson have entertained music lovers around the world. All calling Baltimore their native home. But the city’s greatest goes far beyond medicine and music.
Whether it is a neighborhood on the northeast or southwest part of the city, each provides a sampling of history, culture and personality. Head to northwest Baltimore to Upton and Pennsylvania Avenue that once was the epicenter of Baltimore’s African-American community and thriving entertainment scene.
Spend time in northeast Baltimore where Black-owned businesses flourished on what was known as Black Wall Street on the upper blocks of Charles and St. Paul Street.
Don’t leave without stepping foot into southwest Baltimore to visit one of the world’s most beautiful libraries, George Peabody Library, with a record of more than 300,000 books featured on five tiers of ornamental cast-iron balconies. In the southeast, walk around the water with a stop at Fredrick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and take in information about the country’s first Black-owned shipyard.
A City and People of Resilience
Just as great as its history and communities are of course the people who call Baltimore home. “This city is a hometown city. People who live here are from here, and they have so much pride in their city,” says Letta Moore owner of the scent company Knits, Soy & Metal. Moore is one of hundreds, if not thousands of entrepreneurs and small business owners, who are contributing to Baltimore’s economic and cultural growth.
A fan of the show “Walking Dead,” Moore went into preparation mode by working with her hands which led to opening her business in 2014. “Since the induction of my business, I have noticed there is a huge growth in Black ownership and businesses here in Baltimore and Black women-owned businesses, so how exciting is that.” This is the spot for candle lovers as Moore hosts candle making workshops that are the perfect do-it-yourself souvenirs. I can testify to that after making my lavender mint candle. Locals also love stopping by when they want to try making a new scent or test their hands at it for the first time.
Her new location that opened this past May provides the perfect space for an afternoon with the girls and other social gatherings with candle making in mind.
Entrepreneur Zakiya Shrivers knows the greatest of the city being a third-generation Baltimorean. In addition to running her resale and consignment business, she is the event coordinator for the annual event, Brothers Who Can Cook, started ten years ago by Ujimma Mansani. “I think Baltimore has the potential to be an even greater city, but what I think what people sometimes forget is how great the city was. And how great those ordinary people who had extraordinary abilities and talents, how much they poured into the city to make it great,” shares Shriver. Together with Mansani, they are planning Sisters Who Can Burn, an event to benefit breast cancer awareness scheduled for October 19.
When you want to know where to eat in Baltimore, chef Taueret Thomas of Khepera’s Kitchen is your go-to person. Her 20 plus years of experience in catering and culinary education was the best recipe for rebranding herself and opening her uber-personal eatery that is a neighborhood favorite. “My cooking style is seasonal cooking with classical techniques,” says Thomas who changed the way she eats, opting for healthier fare with more sourcing consciousness. Opened on Saturday and Sunday only for brunch, expect to meet a new friend with the communal sitting as you groove to some oldies but goodies.
With a menu that includes Omellete Your Way (selection of spinach, mushrooms, peppers, onions, kale, cheese, bacon, rosemary potatoes), shrimp and grits or fish and grits, Eggs Your Way (eggs your way, choice of bacon or house-made turkey sausage, rosemary potatoes or cheese grits and biscuit) and a falafel burger (with red pepper aioli, fennel and carrot slaw, hand-cut sweet potato fries) cooked to order, the Yelp score of 4.9 is every bit deserving. My favorite? The slow-braised brisket with wilted spinach, rosemary potatoes, fried egg, cheddar cheese. Thomas was more than accommodating substituting the egg and cheese for quinoa. I still can’t get the dish out of my mind. That is just how good it was.
Thomas is part of a movement started by fellow chef Catina Smith called Just Call Me Chef launched 2018. Intending to increase diversity and inclusion in the kitchen, Thomas, Smith and other female chefs came together to create a calendar that showcases each of their talents. The calendars have been sold and shipped across the country. I picked up mine while visiting Knits, Soy & Metal. With the success of the first calendar, Smith is currently raising funds to print the second edition. To contribute, check out her Facebook page.
When looking for meatless alternatives, there is certainly no shortage in Baltimore. Since co-founding Baltimore’s premier vegan and vegetarian soul food restaurant, The Land of Kush, eight years ago, Naijha Wright-Brown has witnessed the growth of other animal-free lifestyle eateries first-hand. Together with their team, The Land of Kush creates all of their recipes while nabbing awards such as 2017 Best Restaurant by Baltimore City Paper and Top 10 Seafood Award for their “crab” cakes. I had the Kush BBQ rib tips with a kale salad and sweet potatoes and quickly became a fan.
With something for everyone on the menu, Wright-Brown celebrates the diversity of her customers that includes those who don’t claim the lifestyle full-time. From chickpea burgers, curry chicken, eggplant parmesan and black-eyed pea fritters, you won’t go hungry. They also offer desserts, ensuring you don’t miss a thing.
Continuing their mission of health and wellness through what you eat, Wright-Brown and her husband stay quite busy as co-founders of Baltimore’s Vegan Soul Fest, Vegan Restaurant Week which happens twice a year and run the non-profit, Black Vegetarian Society of Maryland which held its first Children’s Vegfest and Book Fair this past June.
Other popular Baltimore eats that should make your food itinerary include “Chopped” Champion David Thomas’ Ida B’s Table for soulful dishes with a twist, Terra Café for a casual vibe and comfort favorites, Breaking Bread for great food for “chewmanity,” and Avenue Bakery for buttery rolls like your mom, or in my case aunt, made them.
Arts and Culture in Charm City
If creativity runs through your veins, Baltimore certainly is the place for exploration and discovery. The city boasts three official districts designated to arts and entertainment. This is in addition to the Black Arts District in Penn North. It is no wonder that the travel booking site Expedia called Baltimore one of America’s “Most Artistic Towns.”
Find artistic expressions at the Motor House Baltimore, which is home to Graffiti Alley, the only legal place in the city to create street art. When browsing through the venue, check out the Showroom on the first floor which doubles as an arts venue and bar with a DJ booth for events. With a team dedicated to the arts, the second floor is a creative sanctuary for Motor House’s resident artists which include Amy Sherald, Michelle Obama’s portraitist.
With more than 30 museums and cultural attractions, it’s no surprise that Baltimore has garnered attention and accolades for its commitment to preserving and creating culture and art.
On any given day, immerse yourself in Baltimore’s Black history with visits to The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture (a Smithsonian affiliate) and Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center.
Additional must-see attractions worthy of a visit include the American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore Museum of Art, The National Aquarium and for all of you baseball fans out there, the Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum. A full list is available on the Visit Baltimore website.
Looking Ahead to the Future
This July, Baltimore will celebrate its 290th birthday with a bash on July 26. Baltimoreans are invited to come out for an evening of light fare, local brews and spirits and birthday desserts as DJ Impulse keeps the party going.
As many reminisce on the past 290 years, many are also looking forward to the future. A city that sometimes has its greatest dimmed, it is still one with moments of leading the country. As we all look ahead to what is yet to come for Baltimore, Shrivers says, “I really see it as a better version of itself.” And I agree.