There are some destinations about which Anthony Bourdain was effusive and flattering. It is perhaps an understatement to say that Baltimore, Maryland was not one of them.
Anthony Bourdain visited Baltimore to film his “Rust Belt” episode (season 5, episode 13) of No Reservations; this was his only on-screen visit, and the city shared screen time with Buffalo and Detroit. While these cities might not all seem like Rust Belt cities (Baltimore especially), Tony also describes them as messed-up cities that need a chance to revive and shine – back when he visited (the winter of 2008-2009), they certainly were cities struggling on the back of the recession.
Also important to note about this episode/visit: Tony explored Baltimore with multi-time travel companion Zamir Gotta; he jokingly called it “payback for Romania” taking Zamir to this part of the country in the wintertime. The two explore Baltimore through the lens of the TV show The Wire, of which Bourdain was a big fan.
I was born not far from Baltimore, and visited a few times as a kid. Mind you, that was not long after the same era as The Wire was set, so it’s no surprise my parents weren’t taking me for play dates in a city with the struggles Baltimore faced.
Nevertheless, the Baltimore of The Wire – or the Baltimore that Tony visited 15+ years ago – are not the Baltimore of today. If you’re planning a trip, you can still eat at some of the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Baltimore, and strike out to find your own foodie spots and holes-in-the-wall. Don’t let the controversy surrounding Tony’s visit deter you; Baltimore has plenty to offer.
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Susquehannock and Piscataway peoples, among others. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
Chap’s Pit Beef
Tony and Zamir’s first stop in Baltimore (and the whole episode) is Chap’s Pit Beef, which Bourdain describes as “the local idea of barbecue.” Pit Beef is a Baltimore-area specialty, unique to the city in both its preparation and how it’s served: grilled beef, crispy on one side, rare on the other, served on rye bread or a Kaiser roll, with tiger sauce (horseradish and mayonnaise) and raw onions.
The two friends dig into their sandwiches, accompanied by Jay Landsman, the Baltimore homicide detective who became a character in The Wire.
Mo’s Crab and Pasta Factory
Speaking of The Wire (again), Tony’s next food stop is with Felicia “Snoop” Pearson – also from the show – at a local spot she loves. With Zamir off exploring the city, the pair head to Mo’s Crab and Pasta Factory to try more local dishes.
There, they dig into fresh oysters, a huge crab cake, garlic crab in the shell, and “the hookup” a dish that includes shrimp, crab, and chicken over rice. They try all this alongside “The Obama” cocktail, a blue drink that Tony calls “dangerous” (as in dangerously delicious) – and he ends up buying a round of for another table.
While there was commentary that Tony was either stereotypical or denigrating in the places he chose to feature in Baltimore, as someone who was born in Maryland, I can say that crab cakes are something people definitely eat and worth seeking out if you’re visiting.
The Roost (CLOSED)
The final spot that Bourdain and Gotta visit in Baltimore before traveling elsewhere is unfortunately now closed. (Actually, I’m a little bit fuzzy on the details; my research suggests that The Roost closed in 2006, but Tony and Zamir visited in at least 2008/2009 based on the filming schedule… Even more strangely, there are Yelp reviews through 2016ish… If you’re able to clarify the timeline for me – just for my own interest – please let me know in the comments.)
In any case, under its original owner, The Roost was a notoriously great spot for soul food including “lake trout” – which Tony points out is neither trout nor from a lake. Instead, it’s whiting – a trash fish – fried and served with collard greens, macaroni and cheese, and chicken. The friends enjoy plates of food from the restaurant
Baltimore Food Tours to Try
Say what you will about the amount of screentime he gave it or the foods that he chose during his visit over a decade ago – Baltimore has come a long way since Bourdain walked its streets, and there are even more delicious foods to try today. Bypass the commentary about Tony’s choices and opt for a food tour if you want to see what I mean; these are a great way to sample the city in addition to visiting the spots above:
Have any questions about the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Baltimore – or can you clear up some of the confusion and controversy? Let me know in the comments below.