Top 10 Recession-Proof Restaurants
I liked this suggestion by a reader for a Top 10 Tuesday because it got me to thinking about what makes a recession-proof restaurant. Of course, no place is really recession-proof, and I'm sure each of these has been hurt by the present economy. It's just that they have a better chance than many of our local restaurants to survive.
It's a completely subjective list, although I've asked for suggestions from friends and colleagues. I've tried to give you the reasons they seem to be doing OK. Feel free to tell me why I'm wrong or if you have some better choices.
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* Clementine in Hamilton. It's relatively new with good buzz; kid-friendly; and BYOB (which in another economy could be a negative). Everything on the menu, with one exception, costs less than $20. And the food is comfort plus.
* Helmand in Mount Vernon. It isn't as cheap as it used to be, but it comes darn close. Inexpensive, good ethnic food is usually found in a hole-in-the-wall, but at the Helmand you can dress up and celebrate a special occasion. Plus it's had a national rep ever since a critic from the Big City Up North discovered it.
* Mari Luna Latin Grille in Pikesville. People love the original Mari Luna, and this has the advantage of newness, plus the quality of food, fair pricing and service that the Mexican grill has. It's festive at a time when we need some festiveness.
* Matthews Pizza in Highlandtown. The perfect balance of an incredibly loyal fan base, cheap eats, landmark status, and a hard-to-get table, in part because the place is so small.
* Mr. Bill's Terrace Inn in Essex. This has acquired a mantle once owned by Bo Brooks before it moved: The place that's most recommended by critics when people want steamed crabs in authentic, non-touristy digs. In the Baltimore area, that's pure gold.
* Peter's Inn in Fells Point. Locals take their out-of-town company here for the same reason they like it, to show them the "real" Baltimore or the "secret" Baltimore: Fells Point funkiness combined with haute cuisine. No one can ever get in because it's tiny and doesn't take reservations, so it's even more desirable.
* Phillips in the Inner Harbor. I would feel more sure about this choice if it weren't the dead of winter, but there are always enough visitors to Baltimore who want to go to the Inner Harbor and want Maryland-style seafood. Not to mention the fact that Phillips is now such a large operation it can weather most storms.
* Sabatino's in Little Italy. Obviously I had to include one Little Italy restaurant because the neighborhood is such a tourist attraction. I eliminated the most expensive choices and thought only about the ones that are considered institutions. I chose Sabatino's over Chiapparelli's because the late-night hours give it a slight edge in my mind.
* Samos in Greektown. Baltimoreans have always headed to Eastern Avenue for good, cheap ethnic cuisines; but over the decades Samos has replaced Ikaros as the restaurant most adored for its Greek food. Customers are so fanatically loyal they don't even mind that no credit cards are accepted.
* Woodberry Kitchen in Hampden/Woodberry. It's still the hottest table in town, and if "philosophy-driven restaurant concepts" are a top trend, as we've been told, then its greenness and locavorism will continue to be a drawing card.
(Photo of Mari Luna Latin Grille by Monica Lopossay/Sun photographer)