Monday, January 28, 2013

Why Ed Levine Must Die (Or "At Least Smack Us Down With A Writer Who Has Eaten In Baltimore")

I'm all for unsubstantiated opinions, but someone has to tell Ed Levine how to identify an interstate highway -- and maybe teach him a few things about food in Baltimore.

Levine's normally-wonderful Serious Eats site just shelled Baltimore in an article comparing the foods in Baltimore and San Francisco.  Over-wrought outrage being a fine ingredient for food blogging, we can't just let the insult lie.

Bottom line:  Second place is honorable against San Francisco's food, but I'd rather a comparison written by someone who appears to have eaten in Baltimore.

What makes me think Levine hasn't eaten here?  My first hint was that only the San Francisco sections are excited and detailed about what he's eaten.  In contrast, the Baltimore sections are tired leftovers -- the spots that Food Network interns find on blogs and suggest to Guy Fieri.  (Trust me.  That's why they loved hearing about R&R Taqueria.)

Chaps?  Obrycki's?  Faidley's?  Pitango?  That's all Levine knows?  In San Francisco, the team gets credit for picnics on a beach in Marin County.  In Baltimore, he picks a crab house that closed.  He cites nine sandwiches in California.  He can only think of two around here.  What's next, is Levine going to have Alice Water referee Sunday's game?

But I'm knew that Levine was just fronting on Baltimore when I re-read the first-quarter analysis of sandwiches:
Baltimore Ravens: Pit Beef is Baltimore's sandwich legacy. Roadside stands all over Baltimore county charcoal-grill hunks of well-seasoned meat, achieving a nice char and a rosy pink interior. Out on Pulaski Highway, Chaps is a longstanding favorite near the city for their tender, thin-sliced beef sandwiches. Set out on the rolling hills of the county roads in Woodlawn, Pioneer Pit Beef uses a wood-fire to cook their meat, infusing the moist slices with an intense smokiness. The pit beef sandwiches are pretty swell, and we can't forget the excellent tea sandwiches at the Women's Industrial Exchange or the fine crab cake sandwich at Faidley's (though why would anyone put a crab cake on a sandwich?).
"Rolling hills of the county roads in Woodlawn?"  Really, Ed?  Pioneer Pit Beef backs against a two-story embankment carrying I-70 out to Oregon.  That's probably 14 lanes above Pioneer, which in my reality sits in a relative-rough slice of suburbia.  It's the best pit beef.  It's just nowhere near rolling hills or county roads.  Too bad Levine didn't describe the quaint, small-town feel of the Security Square Mall.

Of course, that's just the most-egregious evidence.  Levine's bias shows in each quarter as he picks a different food and lauds the stuff that he ate in San Francisco.  What he really needs is Kathy & Neal Patterson's new book Food Lovers' Guide to Baltimore.  But for now, we can use Levine's cute four-quarter format to write a cheat sheet for his first visit to eat in Baltimore.
  • Q1 Sandwiches:  Attman's.  Seriously, if I could assume by name that Ed Levine is one of my people, you didn't give us a few points for spectacular corned beef?  I'm actually with Ed that I don't see bread improving a crab cake, but Pioneer, Attman's, and Bon Fresco's London broil have to warrant three field goals.  Real score:  SF 14, B 9.
  • Q2 Shellfish:  Baltimore was awash in crabs when San Francisco was Mexico.  Levine named one place to eat oysters and claims the Californians almost squeaked out a tie.  No way.  Crab cakes are shellfish, so we'll take Bo Brooks for the hard shells, pile on the Pattersons' top crab cakes at Pierpoint and Koco's Pub & Grill, then drive out to the Eastern Shore for oysters and crabs sitting on someone's pier.  SF 7 B 20.
  • Q3 Pizza:  Okay, I have to give him one.  I like Joe Squared, but the San Francisco places sound awesome so 14-3 may be defendable.  (At least until the Pizzablogger gets his spot open in Hamden.)
  • Q4 Ice Cream And Gelato: Taharka Brothers.  Awesome ice cream.  You'd know if you had been here.  That's one, plus we just bury Levine in snowballs.  I'm not saying they're gourmet.  I'm saying that a city that pours syrup and marshmallow over ice on street corners will just beat down a town whose ice cream Levine says is "fanciful" "whimsical" and a "great local producer" -- unless we get, say, a two-point safety for my local stand that offers combinations based on nearby high school colors.  SF 17.  B 12.
In the end, we're going to let Ed Levine live.  (After all, Serious Eats has great stuff like a report on maggot cheese.)  Even with revised scores, San Francisco still wins, but it's an honest 52-44 instead of the original biased ref 32-point victory.  We need to get him the Pattersons' book -- and maybe some crab cakes -- so he can Amtrak from New York for food down here.


K8teebug said...

If his idea of crabs is the black pepper version they served at Obrycki's, he clearly has not eaten in Baltimore.

I do agree that San Fran probably has better "foodie" places, but you cannot go wrong with a good pit beef sandwich or meatsauce pizza from Squire's.

And NO ONE beats Baltimore's blue crabs. No one.

Rob said...

Consider yourself b*tchslapped, Ed Levine. What did you expect for "phoning it in?"

Randy said...

I spent my wonder years (i.e., high school and undergrad) in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I lived in Columbia, MD for the past 4 years. Although my time in the SF Bay Area was largely before my time as a true foodie, and many of the places that I frequented have sadly closed down, there are a few staples of SF Bay Area cuisine that I always insist on indulging in whenever I go back to visit family and friends.

1. Mexican food - One of my favorite burrito places in Berkeley unfortunately closed down shortly after I finished my undergrad. I have never been able to find anywhere in the Baltimore/DC area that even approached the greatness of SF chicken mole. I may be angering a lot of local people here, but I still maintain that there is no such thing as good Mexican in the DC/Baltimore area.

2. Crab - I have to say that overall, I prefer the big dungeness crabs characteristic of the West Coast over what I usually find in the Chesapeake region. However, nothing tops a Maryland-style crab cake. Believe me, I had a rather pitiful crab cake made out of dungeness crab during a recent visit back home.

3. Creperies - This is a portion of the cuisine that for some reason seems unique to the SF Bay Area. There seem to be dozens of amazing creperies that amazingly have similar decor designs: Squat & Gobble Cafe, The Crepevine, Creperie Saint Germain, etc. Someone really needs to take this restaurant model and bring it here. I have no doubt that once someone sees and experiences it here, it would be a hit here!

4. Fast-food burgers - Just like any other red-blood Californian, I practically worship at the feet of In-N-Out. It features a simple menu along with a wonderful (not-so) hidden menu. I finally did find its organic cousin in Elevation Burger. I have yet to find out if Elevation Burger also allows Animal-Style (i.e., grilled onions plus grilled cheese plus thousand island/mustard mixture) menu items. Sorry, but i'm not a Five Guys devotee. I do like to indulge every once in a while in the Columbia Fatburger, which has its roots in CA.

5. Pizza - Zachary's Pizza was another undergrad mainstay. Granted I haven't really hunted one down, but I have yet to find a Chicago-style stuffed pizza pie that offers the unique ingredients that Zachary's did; if you ever get the chance, check out Zachary's Mediterranean pizza. I would welcome suggestions from Howard County residents on where I might be able to find something like this here.

6. Finally, there are some regional and national chains in San Francisco that for some odd reason have not branched out to the Baltimore/DC area: Sweet Tomatoes/Soup Plantation, Jamba Juice. I feel like they would fit so well here.

Zevonista said...

Randy -

1 - I assume you've tried R&R for Mexican? I spent a lot of time in the Bay Area in the 80s, and had some great Mexican food. R&R is authentic and definitely compares to the best I had out there.

3. - Sophie's Crepes, several locations. I've been to the one at the Charles Theater a couple of times. It's good, but I wouldn't call it amazing.

4. - In and Out - I've never understood the devoted worship. Been to them about a dozen times in CA and AZ. It's a fast food burger. It's fine, but nothing to get excited about. What I like about the place is that everybody who works there seems happy and engaging, which I can't say for the fast food joints around here!

5 - stuffed pizza isn't really big around here; I guess you can try pizzaaria uno, but I've never been to one. NY-style pie, and Neapolitan are bigger hits here.