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July 2, 2009

Yearning for Marconi's

MarconiYearning.JPGI'm not, but some people still are and are still commenting on an old post about where to get the Maison Marconi chopped salad recipe, which led to this joke from Bucky:

Q: How many Baltimoreans does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: All of them. One to put in the bulb, and the rest to talk about how much better the old bulb was.

How true. I don't know how many comments the Top 10 Locations We Miss Terribly got, but I remember it was a ton.

Here's the caption for the photo:

Oct 1, 1998-- Marconi's on 106 W. Baltimore St. offers French and Italian (Continental) Cuisine. The restaurant opened in 1920 and the owner claims it is the oldest restaurant in Baltimore. The owner (proprietor) Ilene R. Booke loves the color green so when she renovated the front dining room, she painted it pale green. It has European touch in the room. It's signature dishes are Lobster Cardinale, Oysters Pauline, and Softshell Crab as well as homemade chocolate dessert dish. It opens for lunch and dinner from Tuesday through Saturday. Photo by Chiaki Kawajiri/staff

Oh, heck. While I'm at it, maybe I'll reprint my whole review, which this photo illustrated. Although it makes me a little sad to read it, because Doug H. died in a car accident not too long after. It was his daughter whose wedding we attended in Argentina this Christmas. If you aren't into nostalgia, don't bother to click "Continue reading..."

Marconi's closed in 2005. ...

Doug H. had lived and worked in Baltimore for 13 years before he moved to Annapolis, but he had never heard of Marconi's. Doug H. got taken to the local landmark for dinner recently, ordered minestrone and shrimp Creole and pronounced the restaurant "nice but dated."

Elizabeth L., a longtime resident of Baltimore who knew Marconi's well, ordered the lobster Cardinale, the fried eggplant, the creamed spinach, the strawberry Melba. She didn't say much (she was too busy eating), but she smiled a lot.   

So it goes. How to explain the appeal of this old-fashioned restaurant to those who don't have it as part of their pasts? How to justify a wine list that not only doesn't list vintages, it doesn't even list vineyards?   

Either Marconi's quirks will seem the epitome of Old World charm, or they will make you grumpy. (As restaurants do in Europe, for instance, Marconi's charges extra for bread and butter.)   

Many years ago I reviewed Marconi's and complained about my veal dish. An outraged reader called and chewed me out. "Everyone knows not to order veal at Marconi's."

Everyone knows not to order shrimp Creole at Marconi's if you're expecting anything but a mild, bland version, because -- frankly -- much of the restaurant's clientele isn't as young as it used to be, and its collective stomachs can't tolerate very spicy food. (At least that's my theory.)

You order the lobster Cardinale if you're in the mood for something extravagant. Lobster meat, mushrooms, lots of cream, sherry and Gruyere cheese are arranged in the lobster shell and broiled for a few minutes. It's a handsome dish. Or you have one of the oyster specials, like the plump little sauteed oysters arranged on a slice of Smithfield ham. Usually the lamb chops are wonderfully reliable, but this evening they had a distinct lamb flavor -- too strong for my taste.

As for first courses, you can order minestrone like Doug H. did, but it isn't much more than vegetable soup. Instead, have the delicious antipasto, which features fat lumps of lobster with Russian dressing, a couple of steamed shrimp with cocktail sauce, quarters of hard-boiled egg, a fine slaw, Italian cold cuts, pimentoes and anchovies.

I'm not a fan of the house salad, which is chopped lettuce, egg and tomatoes in a very mayonnaisey dressing; but Marconi's clientele seems to love it. Instead, I'd have one of the vegetables (everything is a la carte here), specifically the fried eggplant. It tastes like eggplant but has the texture of a cloud and a crisp gold exterior. The creamed spinach isn't bad either.

Doug H. had a slice of the "Dark Side of the Moon" chocolate cake for his dessert. Foolish. Everyone knows that such a trendy dessert wouldn't be a big seller at Marconi's, so chances are it wouldn't be all that fresh. And, indeed, it was a bit dry. Elizabeth L. had rich vanilla ice cream with plump strawberries and Melba sauce. Her husband and their other guest shared Marconi's signature dessert: more of that good ice cream with homemade bittersweet fudge sauce served in a bowl on the side.   

Doug H. glanced around and probably wondered what he was doing sitting on an uncomfortable bentwood chair in a dining room that looks like a pale green and white wedding cake (with elaborate crystal chandeliers). Elizabeth L. sat back and enjoyed being waited on by a truly professional and responsive waiter -- one who never even introduced himself.

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 1:11 PM | | Comments (21)


You shouldn't have reprinted that joke. Not everyone thought it was funny, as I recall.

FYI - I went on a mission one day to find the chopped salad recipe. I even found a former GM of Marconi's, through Linked-In, and we e-mailed about it, but he didn't have it. His suggestion was to check with Peter Angelos, who bought the property. I never did that. If any of y'all are tight with Mr. Angelos, you might want to do that.

Bucky, you can say that about any joke.

I think it is funny, but I'm not a native. I do find myself getting nostalgic, though, for old Baltimore, which is completely ridiculous because I wasn't here (and sometimes, not even born) yet.

But, one of the things I love about Baltimore is our love of the absurd.

Things were always better in the old days. Back then you always had a homecooked meal (because women knew their place) and neighborhoods were safe and homogeneous (none of that pesky desegregation). As anyone who watches Mad Men knows, things were ALWAYS better back then.

A quick correction: Maison Marconi was at 106 West Saratoga (not Baltimore) Street.

I have no idea where to put this link, so I'm putting it here. Sorry, EL

I went looking for a web cam to watch the Inner Harbor fireworks on and found this site. I'll probably spend the rest of the afternoon shooting off fireworks, since it is sort of slow today.

(Hint, leave your cursor in one place and click it repeatedly and quickly...very colorful!)


Bucky, you really need to come visit for real. Baltimore fireworks webcam?

Um...please ignore the tab I have open with the Akureyri webcam...

Lissa - Recall that I tried to watch them on web cam on New Year's Eve, but they cancelled them because of the wind. (I believe you were the person who saved me an hour of frustration by letting me know that, as a matter of fact.)

Don't worry...I'll see real fireworks, too. The two-hour time difference will allow for both.

I love the 4th of July.

Hee hee hee @ the fireworks webcam!

We're going down to the Fort for the reading of the Declaration and to hear the music - I love me my fifes and drums.

Lissa - I was just at your place of employment, sweating and cranky in this sudden onslaught of humidity (I'm the Amy at the place that uses the same automation system you do - you graciously helped me a while ago).

Looking back at the old post from February 2009 really takes me back. That's back when the world was a better place. Everything was better back then. Boy, those were the days. The good old days if you will. Ahhh, to be young and back in February of 2009 again.

Amy - are you the Amy who is a SYTYCD fangirl?


Nope, sorry, the allusion is lost on me...

Hey, Amy. Welcome! Humidity makes me cranky, and I swear the a/c isn't working right in the automated dungeon.

RoCK, I *was* younger in February.

Bucky, I'm a SYTYCD fangirl! Are you watching, too?

Dahlink - no, I'm not but an "Amy" commented, you know, over there and I was wondering if she was our new friend Amy from here.

SYTYCD is waaaaay out of my league.

I can't see why you would think that, Bucky.

Since both Amy and I were left scratching our heads, I figured perhaps there were others who didn't know that SYTYCD is So You Think You Can Dance. This is apparently a TV show, according to the SYTYCD wiki.

Makes me long for the innocent days of Hogan's Heroes.


Sorry about the lack of air conditioning - the people at your front desk are always giving me the evil eye. :(

On to food: we're off for lobster rolls and martinis at Sascha's tonight. Yay!

SYTYCD? I know nothing - nothing!

RoCK, the Sgt. Schultz defense doesn't seem to go very far nowadays. :-)

"Remember when the days were long
And rolled beneath a deep blue sky
Didn't have a care in the world
With mommy and daddy standing by
When happily ever after fails
And weve been poisoned by these fairy tales
The lawyers dwell on small details
Since daddy had to fly"

Saw a show on National Geographic Channel last night on the Zambelli fireworks company which featured what it took to put on last year's (delayed) New Years Eve show at the Inner Harbor. Said it was one of the largest in the country.

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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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