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Baltimore Has Many Options for the Kosher Traveler, Plus Lots of Fun

Baltimore is known as the Charm City because a famous copywriter once wrote that “Baltimore has more history and unspoiled charm tucked away in quiet corners than most American cities out in the spotlight.”

If you are looking for a place where you can go on vacation with tons of options for activities and where the local Jewish community makes many aspects (like kosher food) easier, Baltimore is a great destination. Located only three hours from New York City by car, it makes for a nice place to spend a few days or a week during the summer if you are trying to take a short vacation without needing to fly.

One of the only difficult questions about a Baltimore vacation is where to stay. The vast majority of local Orthodox Jews live in a neighborhood called Pikesville. While Pikesville is outside the city of Baltimore, it is still mostly inside the Baltimore Beltway (I-695) and borders the city. But as large as the Jewish community is (with a substantial eruv to match), the hotel options are basically nonexistent inside the community itself.

After finding this out, you might want to consider staying at one of the many hotels in the Inner Harbor, where many of the activities later in this article reside. Yes, the shul there does have an eruv now (though it’s quite small so make sure to check the map online), but I would still recommend staying in Pikesville, especially if the trip does not include a Shabbat.

DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Baltimore North-Pikesville

The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Baltimore North-Pikesville is just outside the eruv and located where the Baltimore Beltway meets Reisterstown Road (the main thoroughfare of Jewish Baltimore). The hotel is newly renovated and has a few amenities that might be interesting to the traveling religious family.

With more shuls than you can count (even if the closest is a 1.5-mile walk), Pikesville will put you in the center of the Jewish life. That means catching daily minyan, grabbing something from a kosher supermarket, etc. All those things become much easier if you set your home base there.

It should be noted that you certainly can stay at the hotel for Shabbat, even if it is not inside the eruv. They have hard keys for some rooms and 1.5 miles would not be out of the question for some people as a walking distance. In addition, the hotel is often used by large groups for Jewish events and you might just get lucky and find that there are minyanim in the hotel.

One big plus for families is that the hotel features many adjoining rooms, including some where a few rooms can be connected together. This is a helpful feature if you are traveling with multiple children, especially if they might need their own spaces for quiet.

Coppermine Racquet & Fitness Club tennis courts

Another thing that distinguishes the DoubleTree from other hotels is that it has the Coppermine Racquet & Fitness Club attached. The club features six courts (three tennis, three pickleball) that are available for rent. There are also multiple types of fitness classes for women only (including a private locker room and studio). Much like the courts, entry can be purchased at the desk. In addition, the club sports a huge gym with dozens of machines that doubles as the fitness center for the hotel and is free if you have a room.

If you stay at the DoubleTree and are in need of some groceries, you are only about a quarter of a mile from Market Maven, the newer of the two kosher supermarkets. Seven Mile Market is definitely larger and much more well established, but both places are substantial and will have everything you need.

When it comes to kosher dining in Baltimore, the first name that most people mention will be David Chu’s China Bistro, and with good reason. The local staple that has been around for decades and has built a reputation as perhaps the best kosher chinese food anywhere. For a full review, see page 144.

Coppermine Racquet & Fitness Club gym

Some of the top spots in Baltimore are actually also some of the newest. Sticking to the Asian genre, you should make sure to try out Taam Thai. The menu also features Chinese food, sushi and poke bowls, but you can find those things in many places. On the other hand, kosher Thai food is hard to find, even in New York.

One of the best things about Taam Thai is their ability to make your dish with variable protein (chicken or beef is usually the choice) and spiciness level. So if you are ordering their famous Red Curry, you can ask for it to be made with beef and for it to melt your tongue (if that’s what you want). If you like spicy food, I would also recommend the Thai Hot Wings for their interesting flavor.

You might also want to try the Thai Drunken Noodles for their amazing texture and mouthfeel, not to mention the subtle sweet sauce that goes nicely with the vegetables that are mixed in. If it’s rice that catches your eye more than noodles, the Thai Basil Fried Rice is a classic Thai flavor. The basil is strong and goes particularly well with beef, and there’s nothing like fresh fried rice.

The new kid on the block is The Club Deli and Grill. Open for just around a year, this was the biggest surprise for me. A family waiter service restaurant, The Club has a fairly concise menu for its genre, but everything seems to be great. They have the right mix of things that you (and for parents, let’s face it, your kids) will recognize, while taking some of those items and spinning them in some new and interesting ways.

Taam Thai

I know it’s big, but you should really try The Hornet’s Nest. It’s a blooming onion topped with slices of grilled chicken, steak and schnitzel with house sauce and hot honey drizzled on top. This genius invention needs almost no description and tastes just as good as it sounds. There are no criticisms to be had.

The Club features some smoked items on their menu, and they are the real deal. If that’s the path for you, try the Burnt Ends. These are soft, sweet, smokey, and served with some great mashed potatoes topped with sautéed onions. But in case you want something larger, go for the BBQ Ribs. They might be a little messy to eat, but you are on vacation and can live a little.

Lastly, the Goldburger. As the club is owned by the same group that owns the local bagel shop, they decided to serve a breakfast burger on an everything bagel. Fine, it’s not the most elegant thing and it’s pretty difficult to actually fit inside your jaw, but don’t let that stop you from ordering it. I’d recommend eating two open-faced halves (it comes with two smash patties), one with the bacon and one with the egg, with the vegetables distributed as you see fit.

Goldberg’s New York Bagels

Speaking of bagels, let’s stay in that same shopping center and talk about Goldberg’s New York Bagels. Often referenced as the best bagels outside the tri-state area, Goldberg’s has a pretty well-rounded menu for breakfast and lunch. The place gets pretty busy, but the service is fast and reliable.

For breakfast, go with whatever your favorite bagel combination is. They have almost two dozen types of bagels for you to choose from to go along with about two dozen types of sandwiches to make from those bagels. With over 500 combinations, any recommendation here is tough. But for the bagel itself, I really like their jalapeño bagel to add a little bit to a selection that involves cream cheese. Add the whitefish or nova and you can’t go wrong.

Lunch comes at you fast sometimes on vacation. But if you find yourself in Goldberg’s as it approaches midday, no worries, they have options. Both the Pizza Bagel and the Tuna Melt are delicious, hot, filling options. Not only that, but you can add home fries or soup and a cookie to either of those and come out under $12. Let’s just say that Goldberg’s is a good example of the pricing in Baltimore being on the lower side of things.

Mama Leah’s Pizza

We just can’t leave the shopping center without mentioning Mama Leah’s Pizza. Approaching its 30th birthday, the pizza place looks a bit different than in years past due to a bunch of menu upgrades that elevates it beyond your standard neighborhood spot. The selections now include items like quesadillas, a handful of (Beyond) burgers, and multiple bowl options (grain, fish and salad).

If it’s pizza you want, don’t be afraid to just stick with the classic. There are also specialty pies to choose from, but the plain cheese is solid. Another classic you can rely on is the fettuccine alfredo. Neither of these are made in any special way, and sometimes that’s for the best. The old favorites might be old, but they are favorites for a reason.

Maybe you want to taste something a little bit outside the box? Go for the Fish Tacos. The soft tortillas hold up better than you might think, the fish is crunchy in the middle, the slaw and pico de gallo are refreshing, and the dollop of guacamole on top adds a creaminess to the whole dish. For a more basic option, try the Cheesy Garlic Knots. The cheese changes the standard garlic knot texture from being soft to crispy, and we know that cheese makes pretty much everything better.

Sprinkles

Inside Mama Leah’s is a location of Sprinkles (a chain of ice cream shops with locations in New York and New Jersey) where you can take advantage of your dairy status and double down with some ice cream for dessert. They have both hard and soft ice cream (if you intend on keeping it simple), or fancy treats like custom ice cream sandwiches and blended ice cream drinks called Razzles (if you want to go big on vacation). The list of options is endless and the top-line treats are worth the upgrade if you have enough room for more substantial sweets.

All the way at the other end of the spectrum from a pizza place, you might want to take advantage of being in Baltimore to go to Serengeti Steakhouse. While you will recognize most of the menu as your standard upscale kosher restaurant, there’s also a South African flare thrown in there that the real kosher foodie should jump at the chance to experience.

To dip a toe into the pool, you can order a steak and ask for the South African version. They offer the ability for your meat to come in any number of ways, including with different spice rubs. But if you really want to try something you can’t get elsewhere, go for the South African Bobotie. A local delicacy, bobotie is spiced ground beef baked in an egg custard. The version at Serengeti comes with rice and green beans and you will find yourself asking why there aren’t more kosher South African places around after you try it.

Serengeti Steakhouse

For the less adventurous fleishig eater, you might want to head over to Yesh Hummus and Grill. It doesn’t get more familiar than a classic Israeli grill. The menu might be small, but the food is good and the portion sizes are great. I’m always partial to the shawarma in a laffa over everything else. Call me basic, but there’s a reason that order is most common. Yesh had some really juicy shawarma (turkey made with lamb fat, if you are wondering) that hit the spot after the long drive down.

If you are really hungry, get the schnitzel on the baguette. The sandwich is truly massive and could honestly feed two people on a normal day. The schnitzel came out super crunchy and still moist on the inside, which is a perfect contrast for the bread and salatim you choose to dress it with. For a smaller and less carb-heavy option, go with a pargiot plate. You’ll get some really tender boneless chicken thigh on top of your choice of many options like hummus, Israeli salad, fries or rice. There’s really no way to go wrong.

So Baltimore obviously has you covered from a food perspective. But you don’t just get to spend your whole vacation bouncing around from restaurant to restaurant. You have to earn those calories by bouncing all over the city doing all the best tourist attractions. And, trust me, there are a lot of things that you are going to want to do.

Yesh Hummus and Grill

Almost all of the following activities are near the Inner Harbor, about a 20-25 minute drive from Pikeville. Be aware of the time that it takes to get between your food options and your activities, including having to park your car downtown.

The biggest attraction of all is probably the National Aquarium. Known as perhaps the best aquarium in the world, the building houses so much more than just fish tanks. In fact, there are multiple exhibits that would likely feature as the best in any other aquarium. The most interesting part of the National Aquarium is its structure. If you start your journey through Blue Wonders, you will ascend through a multistory Atlantic Coral Reef where you will see so many creatures at the depths you would usually find them in the water. This leads you to the top of the building and the Upland Tropical Rain Forest. If you have ever wondered what it’s like to be in a jungle, this will give you a taste before you descend back through the reef and Shark Alley, where you will be surrounded by sharks swimming all around you.

Or you could head in another direction. You might be there for the dolphins, who have their own part of the building mostly to themselves with great ways to view them both above and below water. That section of the building also features a virtual reality experience that will help you truly understand the ocean and its ecosystem. Lastly, there is another multilevel experience called Australia: Wild Extremes. Here you can immerse yourself in types of wildlife that are much less familiar as they reside both on the other side of the world and in extreme climates. Tickets to the aquarium are certainly not cheap, but you could easily spend a day there, especially if you are driving back to Pikeville for lunch in the middle.

National Aquarium

Maybe you love animals, but favor the outdoors a bit more? Try heading to the Maryland Zoo. The size of the zoo means that it can’t be in the downtown area, which may help with your itinerary as it’s located not that far from Pikesville. The zoo is laid out in rather interesting fashion as you first walk through a somewhat historical zoo where you see old style cages that we have luckily moved beyond. After that, you will have a choice between an area of more local wildlife, or a much larger area called the African Journey.

The walking paths are built with inventive bridges and overlooks so that natural barriers can often keep the animals from escaping, but without the need for actual cages or bars. You will be able to get pretty up-close and personal with dozens of animals along the way including giraffes, elephants, rhinos and cheetahs. There are also some indoor exhibits for chimps and alligators that you will not want to miss along the way.

What if you would rather learn about prehistoric animals instead? For that, the Maryland Science Center is the place to go. With over a dozen full-size dinosaur skeletons or casts, this will blow away your inner paleontologist. If that isn’t exactly your thing, they will have something else that is. Maybe it’s Newton’s Alley, where you can learn all about the power of the laws of nature using machines that bring those laws to life in front of you. An IMAX theater can also be found on the first floor here if you would rather be more passively involved in the science.

Maryland Zoo

Upstairs there are more rooms to focus on different genres of science. One centers on space, another on electricity. There is also one based on math and another for kids too young to know how to do math. An exhibit on the human body, or one on life itself and if we are alone in the universe? They have both. Or just pop your head into a science lab during the day where you can do an experiment and learn something first hand.

Does all this stuff sound too serious for vacation? If so, the Port Discovery Children’s Museum might be for you. The learning at Port Discovery is a little bit more undercover than a typical museum. There are also elements that are entirely for fun like the SkyClimber. This structure rises through the middle of the building and allows kids to climb three stories up and either climb or slide back to the ground. While there are some areas of the museum that are great for toddlers, I would say the target age is probably 5-12.

Make sure to pack a change of clothes if you want your kids to be able to explore Wonders of Water (they will probably get wet), but otherwise everything can be handled on a dry basis. One of the cooler areas is called Adventure Expeditions. It is kind of like an Indiana Jones adventure with some physical obstacles and escape room elements for kids themed around ancient Egypt. There are plenty of other areas that have larger versions of amazing toys. Your kids might never want to leave.

Maryland Science Center

You can’t discuss the kid-friendly tourist attractions in Baltimore without mentioning the Urban Pirates Cruise. Hop aboard a boat that looks like a pirate ship with a crew of the scurviest dogs that ever sailed the surf. Your kid will get a pirate nickname, learn how to talk like a pirate, fire water cannons off the side of the boat, and will even get to take home a piece of treasure. The crew tells a colorful pirate tale in dramatic fashion and teaches kids some pirate games as you sail from historic Fells Point around the Baltimore Harbor. Some parents are reading this right now knowing that their kid will never stop talking about being an actual pirate for a day.

For a more historic and less fictional harbor cruise, try taking a sightseeing cruise with Watermark. These 45-minute trips are just long enough for you to relax and enjoy hearing about the history of Baltimore while taking in some of the stunning views of the area. The boats are two floors with the top being an outdoor observation deck while the bottom is indoors with windows surrounding tables, chairs, and a snack stand for refreshments. The narration will take you through the different eras of the harbor’s development and tell you where to look to see local landmarks.

As great as both of those are, boats aren’t for everyone. If riding the rails is more your thing, Baltimore is the place to be. Due to the resources coming in from the harbor, the first railroads in the United States began in Baltimore as the famous B&O Railroad dates back to 1830. The B&O Railroad Museum is a large complex just outside the Inner Harbor that houses many historic trains that have been restored to their original beauty. Any history buff could spend a whole day here looking at the evolution of trains over 200 years, riding the first mile of commercial track in the country, and seeing powerful exhibits like the one about former slaves using the railroads to escape to the north.

B&O Railroad Museum

On a more local level, the Baltimore Streetcar Museum (open only on Sundays) is a spot that youngsters might enjoy a bit more. Ride on the museum’s collection of streetcars that hail from different eras as the operator tells you about each car’s specific specifications and use. Though the museum is located outside the harbor (near the zoo), it strives to give people a look into what it was like to take public transportation in an American city in the distant and not-so-distant past.

If it’s pastimes you are looking for and the season is right, do not leave Baltimore before attending a game of baseball. Oriole Park at Camden Yards is the stadium that started the Retro Modern (or Retro Classic) era of ballparks. With the iconic brick warehouse behind the right field fence, Camden opened in 1992 to remarkable praise. The park revolutionized baseball (leading to many copycats around the country over the last few decades) and is a gem in what became the new neighborhood near the harbor.

The details of history throughout the ballpark make this a great place to just walk around before or even during a game. The statues of great Orioles past in centerfield are matched only by the mini baseball-shaped plaques that can be found in the sidewalk on Eutaw Street to mark every home run ever hit that landed outside the iron gates that fence in the park on non-game days. Eutaw Street may be inside the park when the Orioles are playing, but you can actually walk the street and even look onto the field if the team is not playing that day.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Camden Yards also features slightly in Jewish history as it was the first stadium to ever feature a kosher concession stand. Trouble finding a full time mashgiach forced the kosher stand to close recently, but there are now packaged food items from FresKo that can be found at Birdland Markets (sections 17, 49, 212, 272, 334). The offerings feature a wrap, a salad and desserts that all rotate monthly throughout the season.

Baseball history in Baltimore didn’t start in the late 20th century. In fact, George Herman “Babe” Ruth was born just a few blocks away from Camden Yards around a century earlier. You can visit the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum if you are looking for a little bit more baseball for your trip. The museum features history about the Babe, Baltimore, baseball, and all combinations of those topics. The path to the big leagues was a little bit different back then and this is your chance to learn about the life and times of one of the greatest athletes of all time.

If you just can’t get enough of 19th-century houses of world famous people from Baltimore that have been turned into museums (all right, that’s a fairly niche interest), head over to the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum. Less than a mile away from where the Babe was born, Poe (best known for authoring the poem “The Raven”) is a beloved figure in the city’s history, to the point that they named their NFL team after his poem. The museum tells the story of his life and houses several artifacts including a writing desk where he wrote many famous works. If you love books over baseball, this is a spot for you.

The more cultured tourist would certainly also point out Baltimore’s three famous art museums. The Baltimore Museum of Art is known for holding the largest collection of works by Henri Matisse along with other interesting pieces from all over the world. The Walters Art Museum holds a reputation as a respected collection of art that goes back deep into history to the dawn of civilization. It has one of the oldest conservation labs in the country for preservation and treatment of ancient works of art. The American Visionary Art Museum specializes in what is known as outsider art. These are works of art made by those who were self-taught and created art without real guidance from art history as we know it. Any of the three would be a great destination if you have a great appreciation for art of various types.

While I would usually also recommend a trip to The Jewish Museum of Maryland, the refurbishment of the building is not yet completed as this article goes to print. It is slated to be reopened in the summer of 2024. Stay tuned to their website for updates on the reopening and what exhibits will be available at that time.

Lastly, I’d recommend a trip to the Top of the World Observation Level to really get a good view of the city and everything it has to offer. On the 27th floor of a pentagonal building, the observation deck offers a 360-degree view of the harbor and the city beyond. With so many landmarks so close together, this will really give you an appreciation for the beauty of the Charm City.

Baltimore is a great place to visit and has tons of possible activities for any kind of person or group. Make your own itinerary and enjoy a vacation for the ages.


Nati Burnside is a freelance writer living in Fair Lawn and is a man of many interests. He can be reached at [email protected].

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