I’m now entering my fifth year of living in New Jersey, but Maryland still feels like home to me. I drove south for 4th of July because one of my oldest friends, Leah, (we were Brownies together!) was in town briefly. She just moved to Alabama, after eight years of living in Florida and Georgia, so I was thrilled for her to be so close. As she and I both consider ourselves Maryland girls despite living elsewhere, it was fun to explore all our favorite parts of the state, united in our nostalgia.
Additionally, we have almost identical tastes when it comes to food, so I was stoked to have a partner in culinary tourism.
Immediately upon seeing her, Leah and I sat down in front of a heaping bushel of crabs and got to work. Crab-picking on this scale (or at all) is one of our most cherished and missed Maryland activities, and it seems to have become a tradition for us to gorge ourselves on crab and beer whenever we’re together in Maryland.
But crab isn’t Maryland’s only claim to culinary excellency. We also had the chance to visit Charm City Cakes, where one of my best friends, Colleen, is currently employed. Once home to the extremely popular Food Network show, “Ace of Cakes,” Charm City Cakes is still a successful purveyor of artfully-designed and delicious cakes.
On our last day in Maryland, Leah and I wandered around Old Ellicott City (aka Historic Mainstreet), a place that we always try to visit when we’re nearby. When I lived in Maryland, in high school and the summers between college in New Jersey, my friends (Colleen and Natalie) and I would come to ‘Old Ell’ almost every week to shop and go to our favorite coffee shop. The shopping there is magnificent, from The Forget Me Not Factory (three floors of faerie and fantasy items) to the antique stores (where I have found countless treasures, like this coat).
With Leah I got to explore two of Old Ell’s restaurants for the first time, and we were extremely pleased with the results.
First, for lunch we went to Cacao Lane (mysteriously called Cocoa Lane by every one I know). My only other experience here was several years ago at an open mic night, so I didn’t know what to expect in terms of the food. The dining room had stone walls and very minimal lighting, making me feel like I was dining in an old castle.
We got a bunch of appetizers to split, and each one was perfect. The sweet corn, apple and leek soup was light and flavorful, the roasted brussels sprouts were tender and well-matched by balsamic vinegar and pecans, and the rockfish tacos were hands-down the best tacos I’ve ever had the pleasure of putting in my mouth. Paired with a Brewer’s Art (a Maryland brewery) Resurrection beer, the meal was a huge success.
After lunch we poked around a bit and then headed over to The Rumor Mill for happy hour. A small building tucked away from the main drag, The Rumor mill can be easy to miss. But if you’re looking for gourmet drinks, featuring their special infused vodkas and gins, it’s worth the hobble over the cobblestone. Just look at this wall of options they had available when we visited:
You may remember from this post how excited I was about this recipe for a Rosemary Gin Cocktail, so you better believe that the first thing I ordered was a rosemary-infused gin and tonic (pictured below). The happy hour deal was unbelievable (or maybe I’ve been going to bars in New Jersey/New York for too long), so we could go on to enjoy second drinks, while still retaining an air of economical responsibility. We decided to be bold and go for straight infused-vodka on the rocks. I’m not much of a vodka drinker, but the Hibiscus infusion was heavenly and Leah’s Mint Lemonade was light and refreshing.
We spoke at length with the bartenders about the various infusion processes, and it has inspired me to attempt some infusions of my own. So stay tuned for that in the coming weeks!
We celebrated the end of our visit with this banana won-tons and Kahlua/esspresso bean ice cream dessert. The banana won-tons may also be making it into my cooking repertoire: such a simple yet tasty dessert!
After dropping Leah off at the airport to send her back to Alabama, I spent the drive up to New Jersey thinking about how my perception of Maryland has changed since the first time I drove up to New Jersey to start college in the fall of 2009.
When you return to a place intermittently but consistently, you become conscious of how it changes. Your relationship to it becomes more objective. Maryland will always feel like home to me, but the place I visited this weekend isn’t the same place I grew up in. My parents don’t live in the same house (or the same county) anymore and the vast majority of the friends I grew up with have since drifted away. But every river reflects the memories I have of rafting in Leah’s backyard and every park reminds me of all the high school nights we would spend sneaking onto playgrounds after dark. Something in the Maryland air contains the essence of what makes me, me. I have yet to put my finger on what it is exactly. Maybe it has something to do with the crabs.