Friday, June 17, 2016

Shaking the Bag

Of all the unlikely places, I find myself in staying in Roland Park, the first planned suburban community in North America.

And while I'm no fan of suburbia, we're talking a turn-of-the-century house - I've gotten confused more than once as to what all these doors lead to - in an upper class streetcar suburb (sort of like how the Museum District was a streetcar suburb, except this one was for Richie Riches).

For a nerdy type like me, what's especially fascinating is that the landscape architect god  Frederick Law Olmstead laid out the early phases of the neighborhood, including sweetly named trails.

Everything about my friend's house is grand, from the double parlor to the hallway longer than my entire apartment to the third floor turret room. The front porch curves around the house, practically inviting you to linger a while on it.

His cat's name is Chewy (similar-looking fur to Chewbacca) and he prowls the premises like he owns it, staring down the frisky beagle and the elderly dogs (one was 17!) that live across the street when they came over to meet me.

Never pass up a chance to pet a beagle, that's my motto.

Despite the fact that I've been to Baltimore more than a few times (my sister lives in Canton), I was nonetheless startled when the dogs' owner casually mentioned that he was thinking of going to Pennsylvania to kayak this afternoon and it was already 4:00. My friend reminded me it was a 45-minute drive and the neighbor that thunderstorms were forecast for 5:00.

All I'm saying is I'm still getting my Baltimore bearings.

Knowing how I like to walk, my friend had planned a local evening for us at - wait for it - the world's first shopping center (certified by Guinness Book of World Records, no less) and spectacularly named the Roland Park Shopping Center, barely two blocks away.

His plan was to begin at Petit Louis Bistro, a charming spot with a standing-only zinc bar, a bartender who'd been there since 2001 and, from the Loire, Bouvet Brut Rose  "Excellence" by the glass, a nod to my upcoming trip.

Because he's lived in the 'hood for three decades, my friend knew everyone by name, staff and customers alike, so I was kissed on both cheeks by short French men and introduced to others. The bartender made sure to rib my friend for having made our dinner reservation at another place in the historic center, but we placated him by having a cone of frites with our drinks before leaving.

"Our frites are better than theirs!" he informed me proudly.. They were damn good fries, too, appropriately salty, crisp and likely double fried with lots of tiny brown bits.

Johnny's, an upscale diner, was on the side of the historic shopping center, although not part of the original stores. Instead, the owner had excavated underneath to create a subterranean restaurant that seemed to go on forever, room after room.

The breakfast part looked very diner-like with stools bolted to the floor around a counter, but the other rooms were sexier, with booths, low lighting and and a cozy feel given the low ceilings and brick walls. Okay, maybe it was the second glass of sparkling Rose.

Spiced lamb empanadas got us started before he went to duck breast with lemon mushroom risotto and I headed directly to fried North Carolina softshells under a flurry of jicama slaw, I have to admit, a portion too large to finish after frites and lamb.

Because we were underground, we'd had no idea if the storms had arrived but had been prudent enough to both bring along umbrellas, which, as it turned out, we needed.

Lightening and a gentle rain accompanied us as we strolled home through this leafy old first suburb, admiring the century-old architecture of rich people .

I wouldn't want to live here, but it sure is easy to visit.

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