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March 3, 2009

Top 10 Winter Restaurants



I don't care if by the end of the week it reaches 60 degrees. Today it's still winter. Brrr.

In honor of that fact, I've made up a list of places where you can stay warm, get cozy and be comforted by homey dishes. Some are high-end; others are little more than a bar.

Nobody I talked to could quite define "winter restaurant," but we all agreed it involves more than just a fireplace. (See Red Maple.)

Your list may be different, and feel free to tell us what you would add or subtract, but here are my 10: ...

* I want a bowl of pho right now, so I'm going to include Baltimore Pho in the Hollins Street Market area. Maybe it's just the remnants of the Mother of All Colds talking, but the idea of hot beef broth and soothing flat rice noodles, spiced up with a few Asian green chiles to clear the sinuses, sounds mighty fine.

* Midnight Sun Sam's description of Bertha's hot buttered rum makes the Fells Point pub a must-include on this list, not to mention the afternoon tea and cozy booths. To make the drink, they put a lump of butter rolled in brown sugar at the bottom of the mug, fill it with rum and hot water, and stir it with a cinnamon stick.

* I just learned that Brewer's Art in Mount Vernon has a working fireplace, the one in the lounge. I hadn't realized that, which made up my mind for me. (When I ate there last I had a good meal, but it was a bit drafty.) The haute comfort cuisine and the heavier artisan beers make it a natural for this list.

* I wanted to include one Lauraville/Hamilton restaurant because they tend to specialize in comfort food. I settled on Clementine because of the charcuterie. That's the gourmet side of a winter restaurant. The downside is the Fabulous Gut Buster: chili over mac 'n' cheese ($10). I know, I shouldn't knock it till I try it.

* A friend here at the Sun joked that the Elkridge Furnace Inn in Elkridge should be on the list because of the name, but it's actually a good choice. The prix fixe winter menu has a sausage trio (duck, venison, and boar sausages) and braised veal risotto, among other hearty dishes. The historic setting is another plus.

* If winter makes you think of Old World restaurants and German cuisine, consider Josef's Country Inn in Fallston. It's not a German restaurant, more Continental/fine dining Old World style, but there are three German entrees on the menu, and German dishes are often specials.  

* When I did an informal survey, two out of the first three people I asked said the Milton Inn in Sparks when I asked them to name a winter restaurant. It was the first one that popped into my head, too. The Hearth Room (pictured) is certainly one reason, but dishes like apple and sauterne pork chop and grilled filet of beef don't hurt.

* Lively, noisy, crowded can be good things when it's cold outside. Petit Louis in Roland Park is all those things, and French bistro comfort food like onion soup and duck confit is very appealing this time of year.

* Best fireplace, budget edition, has to go to the Wharf Rat in Fells Point -- it has the biggest one around. Don't confuse this with the Wharf Rat on Pratt Street, which has a new owner and will soon have a new name. The food runs to burgers, meatloaf, fish and chips and roast chicken, all good winter fare.

* The fact that Ze Mean Bean in Fells Point has a fireplace isn't as important as the hearty Eastern European fare it serves. Sure there are more nouvelle dishes on the menu, but we're talking about Hungarian goulash and cabbage rolls stuffed with ground beef. The tiny dining room is cozy, too.

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 4:15 AM | | Comments (34)
Categories: Top Ten Tuesdays


Soup's On Baltimore should be considered as a top winter restaurant. It's cozy and has good, comfort food such as soups and hot sandwiches. Whenever it's cold out, my wife wants to go.

An excellent suggestion. I didn't think about a soup restaurant, of which we have several. EL

It seems like all the restaurant are the same all the time, no matter what the category...there has to be more that 20 restaurants in Maryland...please change them up

This is where you come in. What would you add to the list or subtract? EL

It's been a couple years since I made a winters trip to Elkridge Furnace Inn, but the time I did, it was so chilly and drafty that I had to put my coat over my legs. (Which is why I haven't been there in winter since.) I recommend against a skirt - even a long one, as the draft seemed to have an upward flow - to those headed out.

Petit Louis has a fireplace, too. It was lit when we were there a few weeks ago.

This list is a little similar to the Romantic Restaurant list, but then a romantic restaurant and a cozy restaurant would have a lot in common.

I would like to suggest another Hamilton/Lauraville entry, the Chameleon. The last time I ate there, it was late winter. The place was lively, full, but not overly noisy, and the food was excellent.

Hull Street Blues is very cozy for brunch on a chilly Sunday morning. They have a nice large fireplace as well.

I totally think Akbar in Mt Vernon should be given honorable mention here. Although sitting by the door can be drafty, they always keep it super warm and the heat and spice from the dishes warm even the coldest hearts of Baltimore :)

It is a VERY cozy place.

Baltimore Pho? Is it the atmosphere? cuz the Pho there really doesn't do it for me.

Nope, I just like the pho there. EL

I can report that my linden flower/chrysanthemum tea cure has knocked my cold right off it's feet.

I slept well last night and woke feeling better than last night. While yesterday and today would have been great days to just give in and let the virus have its way with me, I didn't have one hour of downtime, although I was quite achy and whiny last night. Flower power!

That being said, I am offering $50 to anyone who will bring me a gallon of good phở.

You know what would be great in winter? A place that delivers winter food. Is there any Thai or Vietnamese food delivery downtown? Maybe terriermom could hook her varmints up to a sled and deliver hot cider and cookies to be feeble and needy (8>) Never mind, a terrier dog sled is a funny image with 85 little dogs all buried in four inches of snow. Mush!

Time for another Aleve-atini.

... swerve ..
Xanax causes monkey rampage..

So why are people all up in arms about our monkey brothers? Shouldn't the real issue first and foremost be Don't Give Drugs to Monkeys? Seriously. Hypomanic episodes from anti-anxiety and anti-depressants in humans are very well known.

Hey Monkey, Just Say No.

Victoria's in Ellicott City also has that lush, warm feel -- again with a German emphasis. And given that it's ALWAYS crowded, there's plenty of body warmth to go around ...

Annabel Lee's is one of my favorites in the winter, the cozy atmosphere and the comfort food.

Delivery might be on to something there, Owlie.

I just ate at the Owl Bar last night after the great snow storm of '09 and in addition to the atmosphere, the brick oven constantly burning creates a little of that desired winter warmth...

I can never get a table at Annabel Lee. Last time we were there, the bartender suggested we eat dinner with our stools shoved against the back wall. There's a little rail there to put your drinks on. Obviously, we had no intention of eating dinner on a tiny rail in the middle of the bar. My point is -- their food's obviously delicious, or they wouldn't be so slammed all the time, and I wish they'd put more tables in there.


Varmints? They can't pull a sled but they do like to chase birds Mr. Owl! Arf.

No baking for this sick dog. Bartender, get me another Theraflutini.

The new Stony River Legendary Steaks in Annapolis (and soon to be in Towson) is perfect for winter, especially if you can get a seat at one of the tables in front of the huge fireplace with couches for seating!!

Sunset in Glen Burnie is a place to go to get a good hot bowl of French Onion or Cream of Crab soup. They also offer Beef Stew and hot open-faced prime rib or turkey sandwiches on the lunch menu.

How about Ultram?

Hey terriermom, I'm having Theraflutinis too. Alternating with Dayquil-ritas. The plague has begun.

Fifty dollars for a gallon of "good" phō? First I'd need to know what you consider "good" phō (see Matt's comment immediately prior to yours). Next I'd want to know where I could get a gallon for less than $50. Lastly, I'd need to know where your nest is (as would, I imagine, many of my fellow sandbox posters).

I had brunch at the Elkridge Furnace Inn this Sunday. I was seated next to the fireplace and was warm and toasty.

I was on the far side of the room from the fireplace. Oh! And the window next to our table was drafty.

I'd have to add Birches and Woodberry Kitchen

Any place that is quiet and toasty is cozy enough for me. Cracker Barrel restaurants are cozy.

Owl: Don't know about their Pho but I ate at the Mekong Delta on Saratoga downtown and had some vegetarian noodles and was very impressed. I'm glad that good vietnamese food has come to downtown.

Mekong Delta's pho isn't bad at all. It is a bit...lighter? than some versions I've had.

It was very tasty, though, and I've been wanting a bowl since Owl mentioned pho.

Argh, shill alert.

I would like to suggest another Hamilton/Lauraville entry, the Chameleon. The last time I ate there, it was late winter. The place was lively, full, but not overly noisy, and the food was excellent.

We haven't been to The Chameleon since we moved out of state, but we loved the food and atmosphere. However, we used to go there with a disabled friend who uses a walker [and a scooter when/where possible]. Because the restaurant was not easily accessible, and because his ability to haul himself up those steps diminished, we stopped going. Has The Chameleon changed in the last 2 years? [Don't go there OMG]

Another day and no pho, I guess the cost of buying friends is more than $50 ... in ... this ... economy. Faux friends (are) however (are) cheap, but not pho-y ones, except for hamsters and fuzzy cheese, no doubt a faux-amis, mes amis, fo sho. Nurse! Check please!

Its been almost a year that I have been there, but it was a great place. I want to go there the next time I'm in Baltimore. Waiting for that cold and snow to leave!

Fl Rob - us too (waiting for that cold and snow to leave!)

I hope it does soon. That was no fair dropping all that snow in March.

Has The Chameleon changed in the last 2 years? [Don't go there OMG]

Too easy. Besides Heraclitus said you can never step into the same Chameleon twice.

Besides Heraclitus said you can never step into the same Chameleon twice.

And Thomas Wolfe said you can't go home again, but PCB Rob and I do once in a while. If home is where the heart is and my heart's in the highlands, does that mean that my home's in the highlands [which in Florida is really just a landfill we call Mt. Trashmore]?

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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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