While many people think of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor as being the area immediately surrounding the water, the neighborhood actually stretches a bit further to the west and includes Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Thus, it seems fitting to conclude our multi-week tour of restaurants from Fells Point to the Inner Harbor with suggestions on where to eat before, during, and after an Orioles game.
Oriole Park at Camden Yards (OPACY) is 25 years old this year. I remember being somewhat skeptical about the idea of putting a baseball stadium downtown. The main reason was that the old ballpark, Memorial Stadium, was walking distance from my family’s home in north Baltimore and I liked the convenience of being able to attend a game at pretty much a moment’s notice. A new park 5 miles away would involve arranging transportation, and even worse–parking. A generation later, I’m quite used to the new ballpark. It’s a beautiful place, and on a warm (and hopefully not too humid) summer evening, it’s perfect for getting together with friends to take in a game–even if the Orioles have been rather disappointing this season. But hey, that makes it better for visiting baseball fans, right? Like all those Chicagoans who came to town a few weeks back to watch the Cubbies score 27 runs in three games against the Os. (Sigh.)
There are several hotels at the Inner Harbor to accommodate all of the out-of-town visitors to OPACY, many of which are right in the thick of a cluster of restaurants. That would be on the east side of the Harbor. But if you’re staying at the Hilton Baltimore or the Marriott Inner Harbor at Camden Yards, however, local pickings are much slimmer, food-wise. The Hilton, directly across from the ballpark, houses the Diamond Tavern, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Fueling up with a breakfast of pineapple upside-down pancakes with Malibu rum maple syrup or Nutella stuffed French toast with candied bacon before an afternoon game should get you through until evening, perhaps with the exception of a soft pretzel or hot dog snack at the ballpark. And beer, of course (although I prefer lemonade).
For dinner, head over to the newly remodeled Holiday Inn Baltimore-Inner Harbor. Pappas Sports Bar is an offshoot of the popular Pappas restaurants in Baltimore and Anne Arundel Counties. Their claim to fame is a fat 8-ounce crab cake, bursting with huge lumps of crab, with very little breading and a light dose of seasoning so you can really taste the shellfish. (Shakers of the house crab seasoning are available to add more spice, if you like.) Pappas’ crab cakes are so good, they are one of Oprah’s Favorite Things. In fact, when she was in town last year filming “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” she ordered their crab cakes for the entire cast and crew. Now that’s love. If you don’t want crab cakes (and I can’t imagine why you would not, shellfish allergies aside), there are burgers and salads and a handful of other items on the short-but-sweet menu which is shared by Eden West, the hotel restaurant adjacent to Pappas Sports Bar. But trust me–like former Baltimore resident Oprah, you want a crab cake. Or two.
There are a couple of other restaurants close to the ballpark. On Pratt Street, there’s Luna del Sea, a real seafood-a-palooza. Nearly 80% of their regular menu involves shellfish, so if that’s what you’re after, that’s what you’ll get. Over in the next block is the Pratt Street Ale House, a brewpub serving 15 or so of their own Oliver Ales, plus a handful of other local and non-local “guest drafts.” My place of employment’s annual holiday party is held at Pratt Street Ale House; the first round is on our boss, so I’ve become pretty familiar with the beers there. <hic!> The food is classic American pub grub–wings, cheese fries, nachos, burgers–with several nods to Maryland cuisine such as the crab pretzel, crab cakes, and chicken Chesapeake. Chicken Chesapeake is one of those things that’s been on local menus since the 50s, but it doesn’t seem to have a standard recipe. As long as it involves chicken and crab in some way, it gets labeled “Chesapeake.” Pratt Street’s version involves a chicken breast topped with crab imperial (crab mixed with an eggy mayonnaise and broiled until bubbly), which seems to be the most popular rendition.
Over on the other side of the Hilton, where Paca Street curves around the ballpark and branches off into Washington Boulevard, there are a handful of popular pre-game spots. You won’t find gourmet food at any of them, just a lot of beer, pub grub, and good times. And on game days, big crowds. There’s Pickles Pub, which is pretty much a Baltimore institution. They have all the predictable nachos/wings/burgers, but also a bunch of other stuff like the sandwich called “Pilgrim.” It’s not the turkey and cranberry sauce combo one might think, but a spicy vegetarian-friendly melange of hummus, guac, pepperjack cheese and veg served hot on flatbread. There’s also the unusual “Crabby Pig” featuring pulled pork topped with crab dip and cheddar. Pickles also serves clam strips, fried pickles (naturally), and beer-battered pepperjack cheese balls with marinara, which go great with a cold one or three. Next to Pickles is The Bullpen. They serve food, but people mostly seem to go there for their “cheap ass beers,” (that’s how they advertise them). Then there’s Sliders, a restaurant that claims to be 771 feet from home plate. I’ve never measured, so I’ll take them at their word. Sliders’ game day menu includes hot dogs at a far more reasonable rate than you’ll find inside Oriole Park, their namesake slider sandwiches, and various wraps largely featuring chicken, including a chicken Chesapeake (this one with crab dip). Their non-game-day menu is slightly longer, with cheap daily specials like $1 tacos and $5 margaritas on Mexican Monday, and 50-cent wings on Wing Ding Wednesday. (No idea what the price of a ding might be.)
Behind the cheap beer joints, on Pratt Street, there’s a Potbelly Sandwich Shop, and a sports bar called Frank & Nic’s West End Grille, which is a bit classier (and pricey) than the places mentioned in the previous paragraph. Vegetarians are also slightly more likely to be able to put together a more substantial meal there. They have a chipotle black bean veggie burger and a wrap with roasted veg, goat cheese, and pesto. Grilled asparagus is also offered as a starter, as is mac and cheese.
Inside Oriole Park at Camden Yards itself one can find Dempsey’s, named after former Orioles catcher Rick Dempsey. Their hours are a bit confusing, as they serve lunch and dinner to the general public only on non-game days, and lunch on days when a game is scheduled to start at 7:05pm. During games, however, only game attendees may dine at Dempsey’s. Like most of the other restaurants in the immediate vicinity, Dempsey’s is a pub and the menu includes pretty much everything you’d expect. Burgers are of the “build-your-own” variety and proteins include tuna, bison, and black bean in addition to the usual beef and turkey. The most unusual thing on the menu is the Bacon on a Stick. Not just any bacon, but thick-cut bacon coated in an Old Bay maple glaze. Mmm. The sticks are served stuck into a six pack of beer bottles, which sadly do not contain beer. Still–candied bacon on a stick!
In the stadium proper there’s everything from classic hot dogs to Korean tacos and dumplings. (The Baltimore metro area has a pretty substantial Korean population, so that’s not as strange as you might think.) Orioles great Boog Powell runs a pit beef stand on the promenade of Eutaw Street, serving up sandwiches that are Baltimore’s answer to bbq. Generally, pit beef involves top round that has been charcoal-grilled, sliced, and piled onto a bun, ideally sauced with mayonnaise and lots of horseradish, and maybe some thinly sliced raw white onion. Other stadium favorites include various things topped with crab dip: potato chips; waffle fries; hot dogs. Personally, I haven’t been impressed with any of the crabby offerings at Camden Yards. Give me a jumbo Esskay hot dog with mustard or a Roma Italian sausage with peppers and onions and I’m a happy camper. Especially if the Orioles can eke out a win.
Minxeats Baltimore food blogger and Co-author of the new book, Maryland’s Chesapeake: How the Bay and its Bounty Shaped a Cuisine, plus Food Lovers’ Guide to Baltimore, and Baltimore Chef’s Table.
Editors Note: One thing we like to do when launching in a city is to partner with local writers. This is a key part to the City Walker experience, we don’t only want our app (iOS and Android) to have a local prospective, we want our blog to have it too! This gives the authentic personal prospective that no one other than a local can offer. We are honored to have MINXEATS be a guest writer for City Walker in Baltimore.