RoCK's Lexington Market feast
As far as holiday eating traditions go, Robert of Cross Keys has us all beat. EL
Back in the 1970s, around the time I was born, my dad and uncles started going to Lexington Market just before Christmas. Originally, the intent was to buy fresh turkeys and Rheb’s candies for holiday parties, but it soon became an afternoon of feasting at the market. We haven’t purchased turkeys for years, and last year was the last for Rheb’s at Lexington Market, but the annual pilgrimage of gluttony continues. ...
I have been invited for the past few years. This year, snow prevented us from getting together before Christmas, but we were able to observe the feast according to its order, ordinances and customs this week.
The day always begins at Pollock Johnny’s at 1 p.m. Everyone gets a Polish sausage with The Works: a spicy red relish that you can only find at Pollock Johnny’s. I know The Works is really just doctored-up ketchup, but it is really good. Its sharp flavor is a great complement to the juicy grilled sausage.
The next stop is at Faidley’s for oysters, coddies and beers.
The oysters are huge, plump and very fresh. The cocktail sauce, dispensed from nasty-looking squeeze bottles, is not a worthy pairing -- it’s watered down and lacking in flavor. I should have forgone the sauce and just gone with a squeeze of lemon, but unfortunately I’m a creature of habit.
The coddies are probably my favorite food at Faidley’s, and that includes their upscale brother, the crab cake. Their coddies are flaky codfish mixed with mashed potatoes and onion, then deep fried and served on a saltine cracker with mustard. It is such a simple dish, but it has a lot of going on. Cod and potato bring a buttery flavor and a creamy texture, which is a great contrast to the bite of onion and mustard and the crunchiness of the deep-fried coating and the saltines.
As for the beer at Faidleys, it is nothing special, but it’s cold and it’s available to drink on premise. Years ago, the liquor laws at the market were much more lax. A brown paper bag or a plastic cup was all that was needed to get your drink on. Of course back then, the market smelled of urine, so the limited beer selection is a small price to pay for progress.
The action then shifts to Mary Mervis Deli. When I first joined the party a few years ago, everyone got seafood salad sandwiches there. Now, I am all in favor of tradition, but seafood salad? Seafood salad is something you eat at an office party, not something you go out of your way to order. I remember standing in line and when I heard what everyone was going to order I spoke up.
“This is Mary Mervis, get the shrimp salad. When it comes to Baltimore delis, everyone knows it is Mary Mervis for shrimp salad, just like it is Attman’s for corned beef.”
My suggestion at the time was not well received. My uncles taunted with me with the label of “rookie.” The owner of Mary Mervis asked me not to use profanity in his line. When I inquired what he was talking about, he told me to watch the language…the A word (referring to Attman’s).Well, this year everyone got a shrimp salad sandwich on rye, and I once again refrained from using certain verboten words while in line.
I’m by no means an expert on shrimp salad. I’ve never been to Kibby’s, and I’ve never had the shrimp salad at Bay Café, but from what I’ve tasted I can say that my favorite is from Mary Mervis. What I like about theirs is the shrimp are tender and the Old Bay is held in check. Too many shrimp salads are ruined in Baltimore by cooks who view excessive Old Bay as some kind of provincial badge of honor.
The feast then moves to Parks Fried Chicken for fried chicken livers. I’ve started adding fried chicken wings to the order.
I’ve tried to embrace fried chicken livers, but I can’t. I try them every year, and every year they taste like dirt. This is nothing against chicken livers, nor is it anything against Parks. I love chicken liver spread, and the fried chicken at Parks is great.
Everyone else enjoyed the fried chicken livers, while I was happy with the fried chicken wings. The wings at Parks are well seasoned, juicy and crispy. Plus they are mammoth, and you get a whole wing, not some half wing like you get when you order hot wings.
The last stop is for dessert at Berger’s. Everyone else goes with pound cake that they take home, but I opt for Berger Cookies that I eat on the way to the car. The fudge frosting is creamier than what you get when you buy the cookies in the grocery store, but the cookie itself is probably better when fresher the day before.
I understand that this sounds like a lot of food, and it is, but it used to be a lot more. In the past there were burritos and raw beef sandwiches involved. You can still get a burrito at the market, but raw beef sandwiches are nowhere to be found. I figure they stopped being available after one of the many food scares of mad cow or E. coli or insert intestinal illness here.
I decided around the same time I started going to the market with my dad and uncles to bring back the tradition of raw beef. Since we couldn’t have it at the market, I would make it my contribution to my parent’s holiday party.
This year I went with ground sirloin from the Fresh Market. I asked for it to be ground on the spot, but they couldn’t accommodate me. They assured me what I was buying was ground 20 minutes ago, so I decided to trust them. It ended up being fine, but I was a little concerned, especially considering that I witnessed the consequences of my wife's last year making the mistake of eating raw beef after the meat sat out on the kitchen table for a few hours.
The ground beef has a deep red color that is visually pleasing when placed on pumpernickel cocktail bread and topped with white onions. Seasoned with a healthy shake of salt and pepper, it is incredibly satisfying and pleasing to the mouth.
I won’t have raw ground beef again until next year, and while I’ll go back to Lexington Market before then, I won’t be doing it up on the same scale until December 2010. In fact, after the way I’ve been eating during this holiday season, I think my thoughts need to turn to a different kind of scale for the next 11 months.
(Glenn Fawcett/Sun photographer)