Lately, we've had several requests for recommendations for out of town visitors. I'd like to step back for a moment and toss out some philosophy/strategy on that subject.
It seems to me that one thing we can do to help our out of town guests is to be conscious of what they may really be looking for, no matter how well they may state it. Some state specific requirements, but others require a little reading between the lines. Here are some categories I've noticed:
The "best in town" of a generic type - Steakhouse, seafood, Italian, "dining out with clients", etc. May not care about "local flavor", or regional specialties. Folks in this class may be happy being steered to something they can get elsewhere if there's no comparable local competition. For example, we might point them to Morton's or Shula's or others in the "dark wood/leather decor, aged steaks" model, given that there aren't a lot of strong non-chain local favorites in that particular niche.
The "typical Baltimore" request. This type or requestor may be looking for a paricular type, but also seems to be looking for more of an emphasis on "local color". We might send the to Faidley's, Marconi's, Obrycki's(spelling?) or Martick's, depending on what category they are looking for, but they are looking for someplace that says "Balmer, Hon", not "generic, Could-Be-Anyplace, USA".
The "local specialties" request - crab or crab cakes, anyone? Argue about whether it's "name" places like Obrycki's, Bo Brooks, or , or the little local hole in the wall, but these folks are looking for a *dish* they can't get elsewhere, not necessarily the Baltimore *ambience*. There are other examples, but crabs are the first that came to mind.
The "best in Baltimore". This is a subtle variation on the preceding. These folks want the best "unique" dining experience - something they may not get elsewhere, but not necessarily because of unique local connection or foodstuffs. I'd put Helmand and Ras Doobie's in this category. These are places that we might send someone to even though the culture/cuisine are not tied specifically to Baltimore. Many cities do not have comparable Afghan or Jamaican restaurants, we have very good examples, and they fill the "something I can't get back home" slot, even though there's nothing uniquely "Baltimore" about them. Even Matthew's Pizza might fall in this niche - ever find a pizza like theirs *anywhere* else? It's only a "Baltimore" thing because the only place like it in the universe happens to be here.
Then there's the "something safe" category. This is the type that may have some unique Baltimore twist (a nice harbor view, crab dishes on the menu), but otherwise be totally interchangeable with something in Aunt Millie's home town. Something that's *in* Baltimore, but otherwise comfortably familiar. Marconi's might be an example, as might many of the less adventurous Little Italy stand-bys.
Any other categories, or perhaps suggestion of other examples that we might use in the categories I've mentioned? Aplogies if this is a bit esoteric, but it seemed to me to be the best way to make the point that all "where should I go?" requests are not the same. Hope this concept proves useful.