Chef Josh Hershkovitz makes awesome pizza (among other things, including breads, cheeses, fresh pasta, and sausages) in Baltimore at Hersh's, which he owns with his sister, Stephanie. They grew up in the suburbs of Baltimore and Hershkovitz now lives in Baltimore's Lake Walker neighborhood.
"I know it's a cliché," he says, "but I love that Baltimore is a bit of South in the North and North in the South. I'll sum it up by saying we get lots of snow here, yet when you say hello to somebody on the street, they acknowledge you and say hello back, instead of just looking straight ahead or down at their shoes."
I asked Hershkovitz to give us the scoop on the current Baltimore eating scene. "While we sometimes follow other cities," he notes, "We certainly pick up on trends here and get after them with vigor. Right now, there is a move toward smaller, less formal (usually without liquor licenses) joints that are just killing it with their food. Baltimore used to be of the mind that serious and casual could not coexist in a restaurant, but that is changing."
Where are the best places to eat in Baltimore now? Here's what the Hersh's chef had to say...
Where do you go for a crab feast?
Nick's Fish House in South Baltimore is my go to spot for crabs. Nick's has a patio right on the water and there is no reason to sit anywhere else. We always start with the crab pretzel (just a soft pretzel with crab imperial and cheese baked on, but it always hits the spot).
Where do you go for pit beef? Who does it right?
I know I'm going to make enemies here—Baltimore folks feel strongly about their pit beef. I stuff my face at Chaps (Charcoal Restaurant), on Pulaski Highway. I usually am not one to be wowed by quantity of meat, but at Chaps, they pile it on and it is tasty. The beef is smoky and just barely cooked. Even the lowly turkey is done right here, coming out both smoky and moist at the same time.
Where's your favorite deli?
With the great number of Hebrew brethren in the Baltimore area, you'd think there would be some temple to Eastern European/Jewish deli food that I grew up savoring. Unfortunately, nobody has really thrown down the schmaltz gauntlet in these parts. The best deli is run by my paisanos at DiPasquale's in Highlandtown. Their Old World Italian sub is outta sight. The muffaletta spread and homemade rolls really punctuate the skillfully sliced cured Italian meats. The spicy Italian tuna sandwich is also quite nice. This is also the place to go for authentic Italian grocery, meats, and cheeses.
Where's the best spot for breakfast or brunch in Baltimore?
Without a doubt, my favorite place to eat breakfast is the Baltimore Farmer's Market under I-83. We always go as early as we can, when the day is full of potential. There are just so many fantastic things to eat. Blacksauce makes delicious biscuits and the fillings, often smoked, do them justice. The spicy honey fried chicken as well as the smoked apples and aged cheddar biscuits are among my favorites.
Next we grab a chorizo burrito from Carambas Mexican Food. It is spicy, salty, meaty and just everything you want to eat for breakfast.
We almost always finish with the oyster mushroom fritters at The Mushroom Stand. They are topped with feta cheese, hot sauce and basil. The batter is just heavy enough to get crispy but not mask the delicious mushroom taste. There is so much good about this market and eating breakfast there just makes for such a great Sunday.
Where's the best burger in Baltimore?
Baltimore has actually had a burger revolution in the past few years. It took a long time to crawl out of the 1980s, when burgers were like bangs and shoulder pads: the biggest was considered the best. Baltimore's burgers then entered their political phase, wherein burger places didn't actually make quality burgers, but offered you so many different toppings and condiments that you felt secure because the patties were surrounded by so many good friends. Now we are in Baltimore's Burger Golden Days! There is great beef being produced right here in Maryland, and the best burgers take full advantage of this.
I am going to have to call a tie on this one. Johnny's and Hamilton Tavern both use Roseda Farm dry aged, grass fed Angus beef in their burgers. The star here is Roseda Farm. This meat arrives smelling like butter. Both Johnny's and Hamilton Tavern get out of the way and let the meat do the talking. Effing delicious!!
Where's your favorite pizza, other than Hersh's?
When I need a pizza fix and don't want to think about work, we head over to Pizza Johns in Essex. They have been open since 1966 and they are always packed. They turn out a large, floppy New York-inspired pie. Their cheese pie is sweet and salty and cheesy and everything the word pizza brings to mind when you are craving it. While it's a mom and pop place that makes its dough in house (so many don't, believe me), it runs so efficiently and is always so clean that it feels as though its a larger corporate affair. I love the white paper hats the runners wear. Also, and this is HUGE, they have crinkle cut fries. You could go just for those perfectly fried, mouth geometry marvels and be perfectly happy.
What's your favorite date-night spot?
My wife and I love going out to PABU in the 4 Seasons Hotel. The restaurant looks great and the food impresses every time. Everything tastes super fresh and there are so many different types of things to eat. We definitely eat and drink ourselves silly. I know everybody says this, but its true, the Happy Spoon [made with oyster, uni, ikura, tobiko, ponzu crème fraîche] is superb, what a way to start a meal. The fish is also more skillfully sliced than at your neighborhood sushi spot. Chef Jonah Kim really walks the line between bringing Baltimore authentic Japanese food it is not used to and creative sushi items that bring folks back to their reference points.
Where's the best Mexican food in Baltimore?
Tortilleria Sinaloa in Fells Point is such a unique and delicious joint. They (as the name suggests) make their own tortilla (which you can buy fresh and warm by the kilo) and ridiculous tortilla chips. You can also buy taco fillings, tacos and tamales there which you can take to go or scarf down at the few seats they have. I am partial to the beef tongue and any egg dishes they do for breakfast. Yeah, I said it, Mexican breakfast. Outta sight, my man!
Where do you go for Chinese food?
You have to step outside the city for great Chinese food. Baltimore has yet to have a wave of authentic Asian joints wash over it. Grace Garden out by Fort Meade is unlike any Chinese food you've had before, if you've just been eating in Baltimore. The husband and wife team serve mostly Cantonese and Sichuan dishes. The Fish Noodles are ethereal. The chef pipes a ground fish mixture into hot broth, thus the noodles are actually made of fish. Paired with Chinese sausage, mushrooms and cilantro, this dish is ridiculously delicious. The crispy eggplant is also fantastic.
What's your favorite old-school Baltimore restaurant and why?
Does old school mean restaurants that have been around for more than 30 years? Well, my favorite hasn't been around quite that long, but I'll take Charleston any day of the week (though my wallet might disagree). Cindy Wolf has been turning out the best food in town long before Harbor East was Harbor East, 17 years to be precise. If it's spring, eat the soft shell crabs. If it's any time of the year, eat the foie gras.
Their excitement for food is evident in the attention to detail. Chef Wolf knows quality ingredients and how to squeeze the height of deliciousness out of them. This is Baltimore dining at its best, for nearly two decades now. (Full Disclosure: Charleston was the first kitchen I cooked in, thus they have an extra special place in my heart.)
What new restaurants are you most excited about?
I am very excited to go check out Puerto 511. While I have not eaten there, the menu looks ridiculous, I hear fantastic tales. Based on what it hears, my mouth is excited to eat at Bottega. These are both smaller, BYO restaurants serving great meals despite the city's best efforts to prevent organic growth. There are also several new ramen places opening up and Baltimore is certainly hurting for good noodles.
Also, an I swear this is all, I am very excited for the redesigned Belvedere Square. I hope it is like Chelsea Market.
Where do you go for a beer?
I am a beer snob, as the me-curated list at Hersh's will attest, so when I want to grab a pint of something new, I head over to Alewife. They have 40 beers on tap and, with a list that large, they are always changing. The vibe is also much more my style than other big beer bars in town. It is also very close to the various stadiums in town and well worth a visit before or after a game as a respite from the life-negating, overpriced beers at the stadium. I also like Brewer's Art a lot, as they've been making and serving their own delicious beers since before anybody knew what a brewpub was.
Where do you go late-night, after work?
Anybody who has worked in a kitchen know just how famished you are at the end of a crazy night. Baltimore definitely has a small selection of places where you'll find booze and decent food in the middle of the night. I'm exhausted, starving and need beers and shots...Korean BBQ, of course. For some reason, every Korean spot in town is open until the wee hours. You get grilled meat, spicy pickled veggies, and a great seafood pancake if you are lucky. Jong Kak, Nam Kang, and Honey Pig (when you feel like heading out to the burbs) definitely get me what I need late at night. Give me bulgogi, dolsot bibimbap and that seafood pancake any day.