Baltimore is known by Some as Charm City. I’ve spent some time there, and can attest to the validity of the nickname, but with all due respect to Cal Ripken, John Waters and the Inner Harbor, most of that charm comes from the crabs.
I’ll cop to the occasional pang of carnivore’s guilt when I’m eating meat, but it somehow subsides with Chesapeake blue crabs, as I suspect they’d finish me off with no compunction if I were lying dead at the bottom of that bay. Not that I’d be anywhere near as delicious.
This is clearly the belief of North Mountain Grille owners Diane and Michael Stackwick, Baltimore natives who founded and ran the original Coronado Café on Seventh Street, justly mobbed by Downtown salad and sandwich seekers until it closed in 2014. Situated in the Shaw Butte Plaza at the base of the titular peak, NMG has the same serene, folksy vibe as the former restaurant, with a framed picture or two of Camden Yards and other Mid-Atlantic accents. But what really gives away its Baltimore heritage is all that glorious crab on the menu.
The appetizer list alone includes crab cakes, hot crab dip and, most tempting, smoked salmon crab rolls. The Maryland-style crab cakes – squat, lumpy little cylinders of unmistakably rich yet ethereal shellfish meat – also come as an entrée or in an open-faced sandwich with a smear of tart corn relish and a fistful of greens. For a blast of old-school shellfish elegance, order the Imperial crab, smartly dressed in creamy, egg-y Imperial sauce and grandly served in a ceremonial crab shell dish.
Though crab rules this particular kingdom, the menu does include other noble specimens of the deep. So I splurged on the seafood platter, bulging with two crab cakes, several Old Bay-seasoned shrimp, and an assortment of scallops cooked to just-right-firmness, all arranged so artfully that they were almost too pretty to eat. Almost.
Those of landlocked tastes also have options. The Stackwicks brought many of their Coronado faves with them to the new place, including their much-admired Coronado Café Meatloaf – juicy expressions of ground beef under a blanket of cheese, mushrooms, red peppers and onions, with potatoes and a tangy balsamic drizzle. Pure contentment. The roasted chile chicken sandwich, combining tasty white meat with bacon, green chiles and provolone on focaccia, was such a hit with one of my dinner companions that it warranted a second order on a subsequent trip. From the desserts, I chose the Key lime pie as an appropriate complement to the seafood, but Coronado Café’s coveted bread pudding was also offered.
Unlike the bustling, lunch-minded Coronado Café, the Grille is proudly dinner-oriented, but it does serve a rather ambitious brunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays, with can’t-miss goodies like the Kahlúa French toast – just a whisper of the liqueur cooked in – or, best of all, the Crabby Benedict: poached eggs over focaccia with avocado and a splendid potato and veggie combo.
And, of course, blue crab.
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