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January 1, 2010

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)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 8:04 PM | | Comments (10)


Sounds like a fun time, RoCK. A tamale from Rosa's would have been a good addition.

Shame one can't get a raw beef sandwich there any more. I must get a grinder attachment for my Kitchen Aid, so I can make it.

thanks for the reminder of what a treasure that Lexington market is, RoCK (even without the Utz booth). I remember going to the Palmer House for lunch with 'the girls" and then going through the market for our "take home" items after finding out how long we were going to live and how many children we were going to have.

Some of those readers really knew!

As for Rosa's, I've never been there, but I think a Tamale would be a good addition to the feast.

Actually, I did get a bag of Utz chips to go with my shrimp salad sandwich. The Utz stand is still there. You just can't buy an uzi there anymore.

I also went to Palmer House when I was a kid. Was that around Lexington Market? I knew it was in the city, but I didn't remember where it was.

Good memories, RoCK. I still pine for Ortmuller's taffy from Lexington Market. As for the Palmer House, I think in its later years it was actually part of or attached to the Market on the South side.

I can't disagree with anything on the list although I haven't eaten at Mary Mervis's. But you should definitely try the fried haddock sandwich at Faidley's. It's fantastic. And at Park's I forgo the livers and the wings and go for a gizzard box -- fried gizzards mixed with a few chicken hearts. That's good eatin'.

I've never had the fish sandwich at Faidley's, but my dad says it is very good. It is on my list of things to try at the market.

Lexington Market. Fond memories of being dragged through theplace after my mother finished shopping on Howard Street, We'd wait in line at Panzers fro pickles and such,then my mom would buy this unbelievably tough peanut taffy from some where. I could never bite it; it was just too strong for my mouth.(Maybe not NOW!) Then it was off to Arthur's Bakery for a bite to eat and if I was good,a treat from their bakery case. Then we'd end the day out at a movie which we hardly ever saw to completion because we had to catch the #23 bus to make it home on time for my dad's dinner.

While I am in total agreement with your tradition of visiting the *WORLD* Famous Lexington Market, I have been building a similar experience with my kids and now their kids the day after Thanksgiving. May I only add that since you cannot handle the chicken livers, and truth be told neither can I, try the chix gizzards. You will never regret it. May our traditions live on FOREVER!

You bring back some great memories of my dad and brother from the late '70s. We started off with hot dogs from the other hot dog pace, Konstant?. Then to Mary Mervis and Utz, always turkey on white. Then to Park's for the chicken gizzards. We always had raw ground sirloin on fresh kaiser rolls. Finished the day with raw clams. Had to take home fresh roasted nuts for mom. Damn, what memories.

RoCk, that was sheer poetry! I've only been to Lexington Market once since I retired. I miss Krause's warm-off-the-carcass turkey sandwich, fresh fruit salad from a Korean vendor, Berger's red velvet cake, D. Barron's shrimp salad or chicken salad, Park's cheeseburger sub, Dudley's fries, and Faidley's crab cake. I think I need to get downtown soon....

The fabrics ... Cleatus' rock group.

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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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