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October 25, 2007

The Dreaded Crab Cake Question

maryland-crabcake.jpg

 
I'm feeling a little wild and crazy today, so I've decided to tackle the Dreaded Crab Cake Question. As you can imagine, any restaurant critic in Maryland is constantly asked where to find the best crab cake. This isn't a question that's easy to answer.

Do you like crab cakes that are nothing more than lump crab meat ? Or is the right filler important? How about seasoning? Do you like them broiled or do you think a true crab cake has to be fried, even if it isn't so good for you?

The other problem is that I may have been to the restaurant that has the best crab cake, in fact I probably have because I've been to so many, but not ordered the crab cake. It's too boring to describe crab cakes week after week in reviews.

All I'm asking of you is...

 

(Photo courtesy of the Costas Inn) 

...if you want to nominate a crab cake, tell me why it's so good.

I haven't had much luck coming up with ten distinct pumpkin dishes (although some of the ones readers have described sound mouthwatering), so I'm going to make next Tuesday's Top Ten the area's best crab cakes.

And then I'm going to duck. 

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 3:57 PM | | Comments (84)
Categories: Crab Cakes
        

Comments

you'll get a ton of these, but G&M is it for me. the best bang for your buck, not too overseasoned and tons of meat. i do know some folks consider them a bit bland though, but all in all they are a pretty big draw to little old linthicum.

My favorite has always been Duda's Tavern in Fells Point. Not much filler,large size,and just the right amount of Old Bay. Ten bucks for the crab cake sammie isn't too bad either.

I'm more or less convinced that my mom makes the best crab cakes around ... does that count? If not, I know Kisling's has a pretty good one.

As a lifelong Baltimorean, I'd say either G&M or Corner Stable in Cockeysville. Dudas is a close third, but I've occasionally gotten some crabcakes there with too much filler.

I led a dining group on a series of DC-to-Baltimore trips last year to determine the answer to your question. We went to 10 different places in the immediate Baltimore area, and G&M in Linthicum was the overall favorite, with Faidley's and the Costas Inn at second and third. Gunning's, The Olive Grove, Timbuktu - those were all really good as well. All these places use good filler, a lot of crab meat, and don't overcook the cakes. Plus, their prices are relatively stable. G&M's were just a bit more predictably good, which is vital for a restaurant's success.

Sadly, my favorite as a Towson State undergrad, Angelina's, was positively awful. Unedible, in fact, and that was stunning considering how expensive they've become. Their cakes have definitely changed for the worse under the new ownership.

However, the place that surprised us all was the Edgewater Restaurant a few miles south of Annapolis. Those things are amazing! Big, tons of crab, perfect filler. We had liked the now-gone Crabcake Factory (under the original chef) in Annapolis, but Edgewater was fantastic.

I like the Hazelwood Inn's crab cakes in Overlea. I think they rank up there with GM and some of the other good places. They might not be quite as large but I like crab cakes to have a lot of lump crab meat, not a lot of breading and I like a hint of mustard in mine. I've heard good things about Timbuktu in Howard County. I'd like to try Faidley's one of these days... Plus, I love a crab cake platter with french fries and cole slaw. That is part of the draw for me too!

G&M's crabcakes have alot of meat but they also have alot of filler. One of the best crabcakes I've ever had came from a stand in the Cross St. market

I have tried the crab cakes at all the above mentioned restaurants, but By The Docks is absolutely the very best. They are located by the old Bengies drive in. It's a must try. They have just the right amount of filling, which is just a little, and the cakes are large and inexpensive.

Koko's.

Haven't been there in about a year, but Koco's Pub on Harford Rd has been my favorite for years. Broiled crab cakes are big, creamy, and have just the right amount of seasoning. G&M is a close second - convenient location on the Beltway; huge cakes; great value for the $. Drawback to G&M is their cakes are a little bland.

I'm an outspoken G&M hater. My crabcakes there were just horrible -- doughy, bland filler and no flavor. It was like eating a dab of crab in a mound of wet Wonder bread.

My top two were Angelina's and Faidleys, but I haven't tried Angelinas since the switch.

I loved your Dining Guide in today's Live section but.....Tatin's and Kali's are wonderful restaurant's but how did they manage to make a list of 40 places with affordable prices??

I think the idea was places that were more than worth the money, even if they were expensive, not affordable prices.

The list should begin and end with Faidleys.

G & M

I drove out to try the crabcakes at By The Docks once after hearing a couple orf rave reviews on chowhound.com. I was not impressed. The crabcakes were large and beautiful, but were lacking in crab flavor. I suspect they may have been using that Asian swimmer crab meat that Phillips has unfortunately inflicted on the Baltimore area.

I can't believe no one has mentioned Faidley's yet. It's not a restaurant, per se, but their jumbo lump (broiled or fried) is just about as perfect as you can want - good texture, just right binder, and the spicing doesn't overwhelm the flavor of the crab.

But don't just take my word for it, they have a bazillion awards from around the world to support this claim.

And, aside from a grandmother's kitchen, there's nothing more quintessentially Baltimore than enjoying one with a tub of beer an maybe an oyster chaser at Lexington Market.

The best crab cake I've had in Baltimore is at a place you'll least expect to find a good crab cake -- J.R.'s Bar and Grill in Locust Point on Hull Street. The crab cakes are huge, full of lump crab meat with just enough filler to keep it together. And the best part is the price -- $10 for a huge crab cake sandwich with fries! Another place that has good crab cakes is Little Havana. I know, seems odd, but they are good and on Thursday nights the crab cake sandwiches are ½ price – that’s only $5 for a yummy crab cake and french fries! I think G&M is way over-rated for their crab cakes although they have great rice pudding! :-)

Okay, I had vowed to not enter this discussion. Then I read Hal's comments and was compelled to say that I agree with his sentiments. In the last ten years or so, we have been introduced to lovely, large, expensive specimen that look wonderful but have no hint of crab flavor. I too lay this phenomenon at the feet of the imported crab meat that has no taste. Couple the crab meat with the 'healthy' broiling and what you have is something that I don't want to pay top dollar for.

Every time I see big beautiful chunks of cream meat floating in soups or atop a peice of fish, I automatically asume that the crab will be tasteless. Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised with sweet crab flavor; most times it is just more of that imported stuff.

My solution: I purchase a can of domestic crab meat and make my own. Even crab cakes made from domestic claw meat are better than those tasteless behemoths being foisted upon us.

Rank them! Rank them!

One word - Faidley's! If you're on a budget, get the backfin. If money is no object, get the jumbo lump. Quite simply, it's to die for! I'm salivating just thinking about it....

You definitely have to try the crab cakes at Captain Larry’s!!!! Very little filler, mostly Lump with a bit of back fin for flavor. And they are a very size!!!

Wednesday nights are 1/2 price crab cakes (both the platter & the sandwich) & the sides usually include the home made mac-n-cheese, hand cut fries & ceasar salad. It's the best tasting & best priced crab cake it town!!

1. G&M
2-10 everyone else.

Box Hill Pizzeria has delicious crabcakes. Big lumps of crab and reasonable prices. Their fries are great too. http://www.boxhillpizzeria.com

By far, Captain Larry's is the BEST. I've tried G&M and they are okay, but Capt. Larry's are simply perfect. No filler and done just right. Friendly atmosphere, great crabcakes and a good beer... Captain Larry's is the way to go!

Captain Larry's has the best crabcakes hands down!! And half price on Wednesday nights!!

If you have not tried the crab cakes at Capt. Larrys you are definitely missing out .They are just the right combination of ingredients.Great Fries and side dishes.

Crab cakes, the best; well it depends on your expectations. Try Captain Larry's, they are huge, great flavor and are not compromised in any way by filler, filler, and more filler. (And I think everyone know who I am talking about) Their crab cakes are huge and the whole time you are eating them you'll keep saying to yourself, "I really should not eat all of this". "I should take some home". Guess what you won't!

The crab cakes at Captain Larry's are hands down the best I've had anywhere. They have just the right amount of filler and a generous portion size. They seriously can't be beat.

By the Docks in Essex... They have one of the best crab cakes I have ever had, very meaty, the right amount of old bay and not much filler.

Hmmm... Think someone's shilling for Capt. Larry's? Check the times of the posts! Looks like Patty @ Capt. Larry's was passing the laptop around.

I go to Capt Larry's at least twice a month for their Crab Cakes - I wake up on Wednesday mornings going "It's crab cake wednesday!" Amazing food, great service, friendly people. I dream about these crab cakes.!!

fairfax - maybe you should just try the crab cakes at Larry's for yourself...

By far the best crab cakes I have ever had in a restaurant were at The Prime Rib. They were made with big lumps of sweet crab and just the right amount of filler.

How much they cost, I have no idea.

Born and bred in Baltimore, and have eaten crabcakes from one end of Maryland to the other. I happen to love the ones at The Bowman on Harford Road. Beautiful lump crabmeat, little filler, seasoned and broiled perfectly every time.

Best kept secret for crabcakes -- Hella's in Severna Park/Millersville. Much better then G&M's and a lot less wait!

Patrick's in Cockeysville - these are simply the best. The restaurant is like taking a step back in time.

I am surprised no one has mentioned Gertrude's.... After years of trying crab cakes every where, Gertrude's is on the top of my list! G&M and Olive Grove are all too "processed" for me.

Koko's is by far the best in Baltimore. Big and tasty, broiled and no filler!! Gertrudes is second. Maybe because the Mrs. Tawes is just like my mom's! I don't love G&M.

I'm with Fairfax. When a half dozen people, presumably strangers, use similar verbiage to rave about a restaurant, I get suspicious. Maybe it's just a coincidence that KMS and Krailor both think Captain Larry's crabcakes are the best "hands down." One reccomendation might have piqued my interest. But on the chance that the Cap'n's cronies stuffed the ballot box, I'll disregard their enthusiasm -- and stick with G&M.

I don't think it's not ballot stuffing, I think it's the lack of filling in their crab cakes!! I have had both G&M's & CL's and I prefer the Captains! And Mike G - should I disregard the enthusiasm for G&M since they have also had a half dozen recommendations?

We recently had the crabcakes at the Portside Grill in Port Deposit. Lots of crab, almost no filler - just enough something to hold them together. Combined with the view of the Susquehanna just before it enters the Bay, it was Maryland at its best for the transplanted Pennsylvanian who's lived in Baltimore City since 1969!

Koko's hands down. All jumbo lump and no fillers, they are awesome. I live in South Carolina now and I really miss them. Anyone want to send me one?

well i have to say that it would be the OWL Bar in the belvedere i created them from the best of baltimore i took some aspects of G &M and some of KoKo's and a little idea of my own and to be honnest they all just about have the same things in them but its how you mix everything at the OWL BAR you get 2 eight ounce cakes that are packed with everything that makes maryland about crab cakes

my 2 favorites for crab cakes are CJ on Reisterstown Rd and Glenmore Gardens on Bel Air road. the really best ones are made at my home by me.
thanks

Hands down, my mom's. She uses the McCormic recipie on the back of their crab cake seasoning. They are amazing! One of the greatest questions ever, I can't wait to read the answer.

I have yet to find a crab cake I enjoy as much as Faidley's. The fact that they're in Lexington Market makes it even better. Our Baltimore ex-patriot friends and family always request Faidley's when they visit!

Gertrude's crab cakes are also excellent, but it's an entirely different experience.

Why G&M is so popular is a mystery to me. I find their crab cakes bland and goopy.

Since no else has mentioned it, I'd like to add Woody's Crab House in lovely North East in Cecil County. Plenty of delicious lumps, little filler. And you can buy them as take-out, cooked or uncooked!

I just got a e mail back from the owner of truffles and the owl bar, and we talked about the crab cake war. he said that he would host a crab cake throw down in january at the belvedere and we will envite everyone in baltimore and surounding areas. lets bring the crab cakes and throw our hats in the ring. we can have a panel of judges and i know you can not come ms large but you may be able to tell us some people to call in your place to make great descisions so with that being said i will be meeting him monday morning to start planning the baltimore crab cake throw down. good night and good eating

Chef Joshau Hill

I want to vote AGAINST G&M and By the Dock's 'crabcake-like' creatures. I don't know what they are, but they sure don't fit my definition of crabcakes.

For me, it's Faidley's. I tell people to be prepared for sticker shock, and just to go for the jumbo lump. No one has ever regretted it. My second is a carryout place, Breezy Point Seafood, on Old Philadelphia Road, amazing lump seasoned with amazing crab mustard. In a word, 'amazing!'

I agree that Captain Larry's are the best. I am a big fan of Box Hill also, but sometimes they have too much mayo in them. If you want a huge crab cake with hardly any filler that is consistently great, I would go with Larry's.

OK, so the usual suspects show up year after year in the Best Crab Cake derby. I want to start a new category: Best CHEAP crabcake.
To me there is no place in this world for a 29 cent hamburger but there is a place for a $6.00 crab cake. So, for best cheap crab cake I nominate John's Sub Shop on O'Donnell Square in Canton. A sleeper pick to win a medal is IKEA in Whitemarsh. Yes, you can get a crabcake at a Home Furnishings store and it is actually pretty good. Now, we are not talking heavy duty lump or backfin, but still, a good blue collar $6.00 crabcake is nothing to sneeze at.

I love this idea.

Elizabeth, I came to look at how the voting had been going because I was thinking about how you are going to resolve this quandry on tomorrow's list. I was tickled to find Beerman's suggestion. What a wonderful idea. My mother used to lament the prices for crab cakes at local restaurants. Seniors without deep pockets find themselves in the same predicament as students awaiting parents to come to town and take them to a nice restaurant. When I think about the crabcakes of my very blue collar youth, they were made from claw meat mixed with special grade crab meat with minimal filler and lots of flavor. These have to still be available.

Where is Kokos??? I want to try their crab cakes!

It's Koco's with a C at
4301 Harford Rd
Baltimore, MD 21214
(410) 426-3519

I think Captain Larry's has the best crab cakes. As a Baltimore girl born and raised, I think a CRAB cake should taste like CRAB. Their crab cakes are full of tasty lumps of meat, not the filler like so many others. My friends from the 'burbs are forever wanting to meet us at Larry's, so they can get a crab cake. To me that is a ringing endorsement.

While not in the Bmore area, the best crab cakes in the entire world are hands down found at Stoney's in Southern Maryland. There are 3 locations in Calvert County - the original in Broomes Island (right on the water), one in a strip mall in Prince Frederick and one on the water in Solomons Island. Its a 1.5 or 2 hr drive down there, but the crab cakes are worth it. I have tried every crab cake in Bmore and Stoney's are the best.

CAPTAIN LARRY's are the best crab cakes in Federal Hill. You can have them on crackers, a bun, or atop a delicious salad and the flavor is awesome.

pls stop putting these beautiful photos of these crabcakes on this website!!! I'm from B-mo but living in NC. These folks put everything BUT crabmeat in a crabcake. They think Special crabmeat makes a crabcake!! I make my own from Jumbo Lump - which is cheaper here by the way - but you have me salivating looking at these photos!! Think we'll come home this wkend - just for some crabcakes!!

I have tried crab cakes all over the State and I believe that Koco's is by far the best. I don't get the attraction at G & M they are too bland.

I have lived in Baltimore most of my life, and for years I thought the best crab cake was at Faidley's (Belvedere Square or Lexington Market). My grandmother from Boston, would fly into town and demand her first stop would be Belvedere Square (until they closed down). G&M is okay, but the service is noisy and rude, and way too much ground mustard to cover the blandness. Recently I discovered Jerry's seafood in Seabrook, MD. It is the BEST!!! You have to try the Crab Bomb!

This is the restaurant that's now also at the Metropolitan in Annapolis.

I've lived in Baltimore my entire life. I am now 40. Every visitor wants a crab cake. Every friend says they know the best Crab Cake. I've had them all McCormick and Schmick, Phillips, The Chesapeake Crab Co., Faidley's, G&M, The Crack Pot, Kislings, The Rusty Scupper, John Steven's, So when my buddy said he would take me out and treat me to the best crab cake of my life I was certain I would find as usual a competent but somehow lacking crab cake. I have had good, and even really good crab cakes at these restaurants, as well as bland etc...,
but I've always sought that HOLY GRAIL. I will never ever send or take or reccommend any crab cake again from anywhere but KOCO's on Harford Rd.. I was expecting a dive pub atmosphere. It's bright, cheery, family friendly, 4 stars for atmosphere. The Crab Cake is the size of a football players fist. Jumbo Lumps are lovingly and very gently combined into this giant ball. Each lumb is uncompromised and visible they are not mashed into one another whatever they use to hold the crab cake together is unique. It is creamy yet somehow just enough to gently hold lumb to lump. Since each lump is individually apparent, there is clearly no filler used at all. This is the best Crab Cake in Maryland. Which means that it is the best Crab Cake in the world. Koco's I love Thee.

Forgive me, but I've done it again. I ordered a crab cake in a "foreign place."

(I'm posting this here for lack of a better venue. I wonder if there's a chance to have a dedicated place to post the good, the bad and the ugly about "Maryland Style" crab cakes from menus around the country and beyond.)

Tonight I ate at E.R. Bradley's, a local waterfront pub in West Palm Beach. I only went there because the oyster bar I aimed for apparently closed within the last two weeks -- at least the last review on Zagat was then. (Memo to self: you carry the damn phone, learn to use it!)

There it was, third under the Seafood Appetizer heading: Maryland Crab Cake. What tempted me was the note "Market Price." Could they actually buy crab meat and make them here?

Yes they could! It was terrific. No hint of onion, scallion, or bell pepper of any color. Just a hint of seasoning, almost as if they had mixed a little batch of red pepper, salt, celery seed, and yes, a little bit of ground bay leaf. A taste of mustard and discernible saltines in the minimal binder.

The "sweet young thing" waitress came around to ask how it was, and I explained that it was simply the best foreign crab cake I had ever had, and worth the exorbitant market price. Coming back later she said, "The chef says the owner was originally from Baltimore. This is his grandmother's recipe. Most people around here don't like it much 'cause it doesn't taste right."

Let me guess ... his grandmother was a Faidley?!?

MD Canon (in West Palm Beach)--maybe this explains why a real Maryland crab cake came in last in a West Coast competition. People just don't know what it means to "taste right."

Dahlink, my theory exactly! I think, for example, people in the NC outer banks LIKE their crabs boiled and would not like MD steamed crabs.

MD Canon (in West Palm Beach), I think you were brave and lucky! Once I got a crab cake in Orlando that wasn't at all what I'm used to but still good none the less. But, they didn't call it "MD style" or "MD".

The same down here. I have had "MD style" crabcakes down here at a couple of different places. They were good, but not like a good crab cake you'd get in Baltimore.

The most recent place was from a chef originally from Overlea. The crab was minced, not lump, and only the slightest hint of Old Bay. I couldn't tell what the binder was. It was good, but I would have hoped a chef from Baltimore would have a more authentic crab cake. Then again, he might have modified it some for local tastes.

PCB Rob--MINCED crab??? Is nothing sacred?

I make the best crab cakes I've ever had.

Also, it definitely looks like someone from Captain Larry's was passing the laptop around....BUT I will agree that they are damn good.

G&M's are always good too, but my vote goes to Capt. Larry's.

Timbuktu and Gunnings are not that good IMO...they are just very big.

Eric, Timbuktua and G&M are owned by the same people as I understand it. I hear their crab cakes are exactly the same.

Dahlink,
Sadly, yes. minced. So far, I haven't found a jumbo lump crab cake down here. Which is why Koco's is one of my first dinner stops when I come up.

Another place down here does a "southernmost crab cake" that evokes the Keys-has some lime thing on top. I will admit the remoulade served with it is excellent.

It's becoming disturbingly common for Baltimore restaurants to sell crabcakes made with the relatively tasteless but less expensive Asian crab meat. I've had enough bad experiences that I've gotten wary of ordering crabcakes in restaurants. It's sad.

Once again, I couldn't pass up another one. J & J's Seafood Bar on Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach had a crab cake sandwich on the menu (choice of roll or herbed tortilla) and a crab cake appetizer, over greens with a fruity salsa. At $12 I thought it might have a chance. For that price, there were two on the plate. They tasted quite good, though it was impossible to discern what was crab from what was not. I was especially happy that the predominant taste wasn't bell pepper. The salsa worked quite well with them too. I'd order them again, though I'd be happier if they were called fritters or something.

The naming has a lot to do with it. In high school we used to get packets of Lipton Instant Iced Tea mix, and we had an old, "KoolAid" style glass pitcher that held just the right quantity of water to mix one packet. I called the stuff "soccer juice" in high school, cause I would make and drink a quart of it in one shot after soccer practice (in the days before Gatorade). Calling it that helped it to taste perfectly acceptable, because it certainly didn't taste like iced tea.

MD Canon is onto something here. This deserves a post of its own!

i think that the best crabcakes are at koco pub on harford road and timbuktu on coco cola drive. those crabcakes are big like softballs and they have a wonderful flavor to them. you would be most satisfied with this choice.

Well, gang, we finally got to Koco's last night. I think everyone had some sort of crabcake--either the regular platter or the crabcake with crab soup and onion rings. They are ginormous--I have a little box in the fridge with the makings of a fine lunch here. I don't think anyone mentioned that the waitresses could probably double as bouncers if the need arose.

They are ginormous

But did they taste good? Were they made with real blue crab?

They tasted good, Hal, but I didn't ask where the crab came from. I actually prefer a smaller, less "creamy" crabcake, but people were scarfing them down. The crab soup was well seasoned and had a generous amount of crab in it, I thought.

Hal,
I can't say for sure it was blue crab, but my last time there, around Christmas, the crabcakes had large lumps in them, just like the blue crabs I've picked during summertime family get-togethers.

And they tasted great. But not less filling.

I've heard that something like 90% of the crab meat used in restuarants in Maryland comes from Texas or New Orleans. Actually, I've heard that a huge percentage of the blue crabs come from those places too.

The odd thing to me is that we had Texas oysters last night at the bull and oyster roast we went to.

I'm fine with Texas or Louisiana crab meat. It's the right species of crab. The stuff from Venezuela is not as good, and the stuff from Asia is even worse (although it is pretty).

I've heard that something like 90% of the crab meat used in restuarants in Maryland comes from Texas or New Orleans

If that was true, I'd be much happier. My experience is that the inferior foreign crab meat is becoming way too common.

They were using all the parts of the bull, Joyce?

No, Lissa, not Prairie Oysters, just everyday water type. I'm not sure an all you can Prairie oyster would do well in Essex. Just guessing here. Just pit beef (ham and turkey too - very good too!)

Hal, I know what you mean. There is an abundance of Asain "jumbo lump" turning up at a market or restaurant near you. I don't even think it's from a blue crab. And, yes, it's very pretty and has no taste at all. Perfect for something with a heavy sauce because the delicate taste won't shine through anyway.

The places that I'm referring to sell crabs as well as crabmeat so (hypothosis) it's a (kinda) safe bet they're picking over the "leftovers" for their crabcakes and for sale crabmeat. Maybe someone who works at such a place can enlighten us though.

The Hazelwood Inn has my vote. The Olive Tree in Glen Burnie was not bad, though.

The Hazelwood Inn has my vote. The Olive Tree in Glen Burnie was not bad, though.

I had the crabcakes at the Hazelwood this evening, largely based on Ken's review. I was headed there, anyway for a club event, and figured I'd have the crabcakes.

On the plus side, they were flavorful and broiled nicely. I was put off, though, by their texture. I don't think I've ever had a crabcake quite like these. They had uniformly sized "chunks" of crabmeat dispersed through a more finely textured "cake." Hard to describe...but, to my taste, strange.

I will say, though, that I was *very* impressed with the Hazelwood itself. My companions' entrees (ribs, chops, pasta) were all very appealing (large servings!), and the waitstaff was both cheerful and far beyond competent, handling our large group with immense grace.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.
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