The fun part of travelling coast-to-coast is leaving Vancouver at 6 AM PST, and arriving at the hotel just shy of 9 PM EST. Good times. I don't hate air-travel (anymore), but I do hate lost time/productivity and being stuck behind neophytes who don't know how to navigate airport security.
Plus this leg took me through Chicago O'Hare - high on my list of no-likey airports (it's a technical term I assure you). On the bright side, I did get a chance to visit the airport version of the famous Billy Goat Tavern and got to try an Italian beef sandwich. Didn't get a picture though as my hands were completely greased up by it - in a good way! ... ... ... Wait... is it even possible to refer to a sandwich as greased up in a bad way?
If the Billy Goat doesn't ring a bell, watch this and it might rejog your memory... if you're over 30. Under-30, I got nothin' for ya.
I'm infamous for exhaustively researching dining options of every city I find myself in. This time though, I knew that I would be doing wedding events all weekend long, so I didn't bother... and even if I did, I probably would've just rented a car and driven to Bryan Voltaggio's Volt, which is about an hour east of the city.
When I arrived at the Hilton, everyone was already about an hour out of the city attending the garba, so I had some alone time to explore and find some eats. After a pathetic series of recommendations from the hotel concierge, I walked down to the Inner Harbour tourist area which was jumpin' on this gorgeous Friday evening. Now I'm going to blame Gordon Ramsay for instilling this concept of "fresh" crab cakes in me, and ever since I started watching Kitchen Nightmares (both UK and US versions), I'd been dying to come out East to get me some authentic blue-crab cakes.
I stumbled upon Phillips Seafood, who apparently won "Best Crab Cake" in Baltimore so who am I to argue? It's apparently a small chain of seafood restaurants around the Northeast similar to Legal and this was a HUGE space - 2 floors, sports bar (Orioles vs Yankees at home that night!), 3 patios - pretty ridiculously impressive.
Even though it was closing in on 10 PM, the place was still fairly full, especially out by the patios. I asked to sit inside as I wasn't in the mood for crowds after travelling all day, and there'd be better lighting inside too. It isn't the biggest menu in the world, surprising for a chain, but it is focused enough that there's something for all tastes to enjoy, even the requisite tandoori dish.
I knew there'd be a bit of liquor flowing this weekend (these were the college roommates after all), so I decided to try a mojito - a little girly, yes. Out of place in Baltimore? Yes. Didn't care - I needed the taste of mint to refresh myself.
I started with a piece of jumbo crab cake, which at $16 a piece, is pretty insane! I mean seriously! I SAW blue crabs swimming in the harbour not 100 feet from where I was sitting! I appreciate labour costs et al, but holy cow! That being said, this sucker was good. It was indeed jumbo, a good appetizer size, and built with shredded and large shards of tender blue crab meat. There was also a nice thick bechamel thing going on - this was really creamy! I wasn't expecting that! Apparently it's a Maryland (or Baltimore only?) trademark as I had another crab cake for breakfast the next day which was similar. The crust was broiled nicely, but still soft. Was it worth $16? *shrug* When in Rome I suppose...
My main was a linguine vongole, with some huge guahog clams, and chorizo saffron fennel broth. Some really good flavour going on here - the chorizo wasn't spicy and added some depth to the brodo. Unfortunately, that was it for the good. The pasta was just shy of al-dente and was an annoying chewy ordeal. There were 2 closed clams which is a crime considering how big and few these were. And worst of all? They didn't clean the clams properly and every sip was a displeasurable mess of sand and grime. I actually went back and forth about sending it back, but at the time decided that maybe this is how they prepare it out here? In hindsight -- I'm deeming this a crime of culinaria.
Further down the boardwalk, I spotted the trademark glow of a Ben & Jerry's shop. I love Ben & Jerry's. I'm sorry, but if I'm having ice cream - I'm going all artery-clogging out! And since we get a disgustingly pathetic paltry selection up here in Canada, I visit any Ben & Jerry's I can find. The grocery store just past the US/Blaine border used to have quite the selection, but sadly no more.
But on the way to my table, I spotted that all too classic, all too chintzy, and all too missed staple of 80's dining -- the dessert cart. I glanced this massive cake that of course piqued my curiousity. I found out it was a NY-style cheesecake... STUFFED into a carrot cake. O. M. F. G.
There were 10 other desserts but my waitress' descriptions fell upon deaf ears at this point. Do you remember that scene in the Simpsons where Homer's dancing in the Land of Chocolate? Yeah. That's me right now. Except it's the land of carrot cake and NY cheesecake.
A little background. There is NO good NY-style cheesecake to be found in Vancouver. A few years ago, they were everywhere - but suddenly everyone's gone to a sweeter more Asian-style of cheesecake which I find absolutely disgusting, and with the closing of Morton's -- it was the end of an era for NY cheesecake here. If you know anywhere that has it, let me know in the comments! And if you DARE to mention Cheesecake Etc, True Confections or Trafalgars, I will hunt you down. Seriously.
And you are banned if you mention Charm City Cakes.
My waitress actually recommended the bread pudding. No... actually... she more or less GUSHED at its divine awesomeness, and I do love bread pudding, but the sheer ludicrousness of eating a carrot cake that was in the middle of digesting a NY cheesecake was too much to pass up! Normally I would just order both and be done with it, but this f*cker was massive, AND I just downed a good chunk of crap-pasta, AND I had to fit into my suit in less than 12 hours so sacrifices had to be made.
I know, I know. I hang my head in shame.
So there it is. A glorp of caramel oozing it's way down to the plate. How was it you may ask? Meh. Like something you'd expect from TGI-McFunsters. The carrot cake wasn't anything special - not awful, but just typical. The cheesecake was nice of course, but didn't have that strong flavour I was really looking for, but it did have that authentic NY density. Regret? Not really - I would've regretted NOT ordering it more, but I just wish I had more space for the bread pudding. Nevertheless, I did impress the large guys to the table beside me with my eating skills, especially when they themselves couldn't finish the sucker off, and I had a clean plate (caramel is caramel after all, can't let that stuff go to waste!)
So overall, it was a pleasant meal, but at a bill topping $60, certainly not worth it, especially for the disappointments I received. Take a pass on Phillips Seafood at the Baltimore Inner Harbour, and walk a little further to Restaurant Row or Little Italy for a more memorable eating experience.
On a final note, this was the view from my hotel room at the Baltimore Hilton.
Cool? Yes. Giant floodlights on all night as I tried to sleep? Not so much.