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July 31, 2007

Broadway Market

Dominic Armato
One thing Baltimore does NOT lack is markets.

I love old-timey permanent markets. Decrepit buildings, specialized vendors, a little hustle and bustle... love 'em. Which is why I've always found it so frustrating that Chicago doesn't have one. Where's our Tsukiji? Where's our West Side Market? While Baltimore's have the same classic market feel as Cleveland's massive edifice, the charm city has substituted multitude for magnitude. Baltimore maintains six public markets, three of which I've had occasion to visit, and one of which is a scant five blocks from our new home. Broadway Market is smack dab in the heart of Fell's Point, stretching away from the water right down the middle of Broadway. It's been around, in one form or another, for over 200 years. I can't imagine a more ideal location for a place to drop in and get a few fresh ingredients for a simple dinner or some prepared foods, pick up some deli meats, grab some fresh bread, have a bite to eat and walk home. Which is why it was so disappointing to find that Broadway Market has so little to offer. This isn't to say that Broadway Market doesn't have its highlights, it's just that... well... first the highlights.

Dominic Armato
Seafood has, unsurprisingly, been pretty good in this town. Sal's Seafood is at the far north end of the northern building (the market spans two blocks, split by Aliceanna), and while it isn't mind-blowing, they have a pretty nice selection of fresh fish, mostly whole. On the day I visited, there were also a few sides and filets, scallops, a few types of shrimp, bivalves and, though it's obviously not the focus, a small bushel of live blue crabs to pick through. They will, of course, clean anything to order. Though I didn't partake and can't speak to it, there's also a small raw bar down on one end of the counter, offering a small selection of the basics, freshly prepared by the fellows in between flinging fish. My socks were firmly on my feet, but for a neighborhood fishmonger you could do a whole heckuva lot worse.

Dominic Armato
Moving down towards the south end of the north building is a stall that makes me wish I knew something -- anything -- about Polish food. I know, I know, I grew up in the town where Casimir Pulaski Day is a government holiday. Let's just call it an embarrassing shortcoming and move on. In any case, the cooler at Sophia's Place has to have at least twenty different varieties of sausages, which can't be a bad thing. There's also some more typical deli fare as well as a case of Polish baked goods, but what's really impressive is the wall lining the back of the stall. It's jam-packed with all manner of products from Eastern Europe -- mixes, drinks, candies, canned goods, prepared foods -- you name it. If somebody who's more familiar with the foods of the region could confirm my suspicion that this place is a little Eastern European goldmine, I'd love to hear.

Dominic Armato
Moving into the south hall is Dangerous Dave's, a place that somehow combines panini and gelati with spices and hot sauces. In the store, not in your mouth, but it's still an odd mix. The gelati, however, were quite good. More importantly, in the south hall I had the first good tuna melt I've had in a very, very long time. You wouldn't think it should be so hard, but I've been trying them everywhere since leaving Los Angeles and Bob's '49 behind back in 2001 and this is the first one that wasn't a technical mess. Sadly, the name of the place escapes me. Patty's Diner? Peggy's Diner? In any case, it's the southernmost booth on the east side of the building. The fries came out almost white and a little raw tasting (though I thought vinegar and Old Bay as condiments was a nice angle), but the tuna melt was perfect... warm salad, not too moist, melted cheese, crispy griddled bread... this isn't rocket science, but man, everybody screws it up. Wet tuna, cold tuna, cold cheese, English muffin... keep it simple, please.

Dominic Armato
Seems like a good start, I know, but that's pretty much it. The diner where I got the tuna melt? One of four that all look exactly the same. The only other food stalls are a pizza place, the looks of which don't inspire confidence, and a small Mexican restaurant that failed to grab me, mostly because it's one of forty or so within a three block radius. A large banner out front heralded the arrival of One Eyed Mike, who seems to have some kind of name recognition in this town, and his prepared food booth seemed okay, just thin. A few premium deli meats, a few prepared dishes, some cheeses, marinated olives and vegetables... nothing eye-popping and a very limited selection. Really, limited selection was an issue across the board. The entire market houses one produce stand with a very small and mundane selection. And butchers? Zip. Bakeries? Nothing. So there are twice as many diners as there are butchers, fishmongers, bakeries and produce vendors combined, and the empty stalls outnumber the diners. Broadway Market's official site doesn't indicate that I'm missing anything, but web searches turn up reports of a butcher, a cheesemonger and some other stalls that are now absent, so I have to wonder if this is a recent decline. Whether it is or not, it's a damn shame. It's a great little pair of buildings in a perfect location. Just seems like a waste.

Broadway Market
1640-1641 Aliceanna St.
Baltimore, MD 21231
Mon - Sat7:00 AM - 6:00 PM

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