For some, the thought of Baltimore reminds you of cracking open blue crabs over newspapers with grandma, visiting an Orioles game, or maybe flashbacks to classic scenes from The Wire. What you may not be aware of is that Baltimore is a Black-owned restaurant mecca. That’s right, there are over a dozen “us”- owned establishments with chef-forward menus and long-standing establishments that defeat the “here for a day, closed tomorrow” turnover of the restaurant world. However, there are also new hotspots like the seafood joint, The Urban Oyster and Ida B’s Table named after the Civil Rights champion. Terra Café, Land of Kush, and Next Phaze Café are mainstays that have been jumping off the restaurant scene in Baltimore for over seven years.
Here are some recommendations of Black-owned eateries for your next visit to Charm City:
Ida B’s Table
In August 2017, Chef David Thomas opened this soul food restaurant (shown above) less than 10 minutes away from the Inner Harbor in the name of legendary journalist and civil rights activist Ida B. Wells. Located in a landmark building once used for candy making, there are still sweets to be had on the menu, such as Brown Sugar Pie, Mississippi Mud Pot Crème, and the Lemon Chess Hand Pie desserts. Of course there are also food staples like gumbo, fried catfish, and fried chicken.
Land of Kush
A reference to the Nile Valley civilization, this restaurant was opened 7 years ago by married duo, Greg Brown and Naijha White-Brown. The delicious culinary destination has local artist work on display inside the quaint eatery. “I wanted to bring a modern awareness to ancient African culture,” says Brown. His inspiration for opening the restaurant was his veganism. “I’m a vegan, and it was hard to find places to eat in Baltimore,” he says. Also, the Brown couple believes in educating the Black community on healthy eating practices. “It’s easier to talk to Black people about healthy eating than having someone outside of the community talk about it, says Brown. “The menu is very diverse and the descriptions would make a meat-eater do a double take. Take the crab cake made from seitan wheat (recently won best “seafood” dishes in America by PETA). The BBQ ribs -made from soy protein, winter squash, pepper, homemade BBQ sauce, and carrots-put us on the map, says White-Brown. However, other favorites include the chicken salad and the live kale.” The Land of Kush also serves fresh juices: the ginger juice is combination of boiled ginger, cinnamon, and spices, and is a strong liquid to the taste.
The Urban Oyster
If you’re a native Marylander, than chances are you grew up eating delicious seafood pulled from the Chesapeake Bay. You’re in luck, because the Urban Oyster is the first female, Black owned oyster bar in Baltimore. “Our inspiration to create the business was based on wanting to establish a relaxed environment for the ripped jean and t-shirt wearers while serving quality seafood,” says Jasmine Norton, Founder of The Urban Oyster. The “urban” aspect can be seen in the oysters chargrilled and flavored like “BBC” (bacon, bbq, cheddar, “cheese Louise” (mozzarella, parmesan, lemon-garlic butter and parsley garnish), and Teriyaki (Teriyaki sauce, crushed pineapple, scallions, and wonton crisps). “We wanted to make oysters more enticing to people who have never consumed or liked them, and use ingredients that most people like on burgers and fries however, dressing them on grilled oysters,” says Norton. The menu also includes lump crab cakes, smoked salmon burgers and oyster tacos.
In Baltimore’s Reservoir Hill neighborhood, this trendy cafe is decked in artfully decorated murals and modern décor. Owned by Aisha Pew and her wife, Cole, the cafe menu items include salmon hash; buttermilk pancakes; and chicken shrimp alfredo for brunch. “We believe in Black self-sufficiency, says Cole. “It’s our responsibility to promote businesses that whites aren’t masquerading as Black social capital. It’s a political statement.” The duo chose to open their business in Baltimore after living in California for several years. “We looked at 17 cities across the country from Detroit, Mobile, to Compton,” says Cole. “We were looking for cities that were currently in a fight against gentrification, and we believed Baltimore to be the last city on the eastern seaboard that is majority Black”.
Located in the Black-owned The Ivy Hotel, the menu here features main courses like Rockfish, duck breast, and lamb. “This is my first time working in fine dining; so I am fine tuning my skills, using exotic ingredients like scallops, sea urchins, fruits from different places, Wagu beef that I wasn’t previously exposed to,” says Chef Catina “Cat” Smith, a gregarious Black female line cook. The line cooks are also able to have autonomy on some of the courses. “On brunch day, we get to bring out shareable items that we can create ourselves like amuse bouche,” says Smith. Her dream is to have a teaching kitchen. “I would like to rent out my space for private events.”
Next Phaze Café
This five year old restaurant is a clever combination of three different buildings from the early 1900s. Three layers of paint were stripped away by owner, William Hudson to reveal the exposed brick underneath. Photographs of musicians like Duke Ellington and John Coltrane line the walls, and southern cuisine lovers will appreciate dishes like shrimp and grits, Next Phaze Café, and fried catfish. However, the cornbread is what they are best known for in the city. “We’re becoming part of the fabric. There are a few places in Baltimore known for their live jazz, and we’re trying to etch out a place for live jazz”, says Hudson. If you’re looking for a music venue, there is live entertainment Wednesday through Saturday, with every Wednesday being open mic jam sessions, and Thursday’s, karaoke.
Opened in 2009, Chef Dickson’s Terra Cafe’ uses made from scratch ingredients cooked up on the premises. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the Black-owned restaurant offers a diverse list of options for every type of palate. From the roasted veggie palate to the turkey burger, to the chicken and waffle and battered fish dish, you can chop it up over casual but artful dining at Terra Café. Chef Dickson’s venue is comprised of wooden floors and beautiful artwork on exposed brick walls located in the Charles Village neighborhood of north-central Baltimore.