As readers of this blog may know, I didn’t hatch out of an egg in the state of Florida. Instead I spent my formative years, with a healthy collection of angst, in Maryland, the seafood state of crabs and rich local history. Living in Maryland, to me, has always been like that of being a natural growth in a laboratory far, far away, and Florida is like the city that the growth either spreads mischief (in a family film) or destruction (in a oh no! monster film), though the hardest part of logic is the meaning that such an analogy overrides any prior contemplation of nostalgia for the “Free State”, after all laboratories are safe, secure, experimental, and interesting.
As the years have gone by, though, I’ve regarded Maryland as more of a curiosity, a kind of Southern state (though I think that its designation as a border state during the American Civil War is more apropos to its regionalism) with northeastern politics, a state which, if you’ve lived in it, was the perfect setting for something like “The Blair Witch Project”, due to its haunting nature and its rows and rows of forests. Almost creepy, Maryland can be. It does have greater character than I saw at the time, though it hasn’t changed my mind about the move I made after graduating from High School. Maryland was the past; Florida is my future.
And as the past can turn magnificent entities and buildings into ruins of memories and other eras, so has the same turned the old house that I used to live in from a large red storage unit to an empty museum. While these memories of mine are preserved well enough that I don’t need to see the full closing of the gallery of Merrick lore, I decided to take one final look at the house and the state in which I had spent so many years, during a short visit a few days ago. Short visits may always be the best way to approach my childhood memories..
Once I flew into Maryland, I felt the cold, harsh grab of its hand. There was chaos all around at BWI (Baltimore-Washington International Airport), bundled up in four layers of clothing to take on the constant gray skies that, along with the fog, were accurate representations of how I view Maryland, my Maryland. Now, it was the wintertime when I was there, but at least I could’ve seen remnants of snow, even abandoned orphans of the cold. Maryland has always had its dynamic highs and lows when it comes to snowfall though.
When I got to the house, it was mostly empty except for a few rooms. Strangely enough, even with all of the cautionary invisible tape around the structure, that was one of my most enjoyable times in that weird contraption in a while. I enjoyed watching fantastic movies, including “Fistful of Dollars,” one of the great westerns, reading an interesting book, “Land of Lincoln” by Andrew Ferguson of the Weekly Standard, and playing an excellent video game, “Drawn To Life” for the Nintendo DS, while sleeping on the couch, and having little to no disruptive allergies, Plus, the fantastic food, cozy theaters, and playing “house archaeologist” (even finding a very important part of my family’s history) all made my last visit, perfectly done.
But, that may be the most surprising thing for readers here, the food. Unlike Florida, Maryland has a lot of fantastic local places, especially for Mexican food. But the no.1 thing Maryland is known for is its crab cakes; in fact the last place I ate at before leaving the state (maybe for good) was a fantastic restaurant in Baltimore called G & Ms. It’s a real old-timey place with what you would expect from a continental steakhouse, of sorts, except their highlight is the crab cake sandwich, the biggest, and maybe priciest crab cake sandwich you can have. For 17 dollars, you can get a crab cake that completely falls off of the roll, or crackers, as you bite into it, with a side of nicely prepared steak fries to complement the fantastic meal.
Second place of honors goes to Romilo’s in Severna Park, my Maryland hometown. One of those unique Greek-Italian hybrids, the unfortunate case of Romilo’s is that it is the place that made me fear pizza for years, although their pasta and other Italian meals were pretty good, but not to an exceptional standard, and I hardly ever had their Greek food but, besides the Greek salad, one of the best versions ever produced, none of them are extremely memorable. Interestingly enough, their best meal is neither Greek nor Italian, but the Greek flair enhances it, and those are their Philly Cheese Steak Subs, some of the best that I’ve ever had, and north Palm Beach County residents should know that I’ve been to Baldino’s. At Romilo’s, they give you the lettuce and tomatoes from their Greek salad, add some Greek seasonings, along with the steak and the cheese that the sub is known for. Not only that but none of the ingredients are over-emphasized at the cost of the sandwich, and they don’t spoil you too much, keeping the sub restrained, fresh and compact with a twist that makes it go from “alright” to “great”.
But the hall of famer was a place that has been a family tradition for decades, Ledo’s Pizza. You can find these restaurants all over Maryland, and on other parts of the Southern east coast. There is even one in Tampa. How glad I was to have this pizzeria so close to the house I used to live in, during a time when my faith in pizza, itself, was low. It’s often hard to explain the miracle of Ledo’s, the best pizza pie I’ve ever had, although Grimaldi’s and CPK come very, very close. At the start of your meal come sides dishes like their salads, especially with their house dressing, and spicy toasted ravioli – thinking about it makes me drool buckets – and then comes the pizza.
First, what is unusual is that they give you two medium pizzas on two pans instead of one huge pizza on one huge pan. Second, the concept is of a large rectangular pizza cut into squares, almost bite-sized pizzas. Third, nothing is wasted, you can have stewed garbage on the pizza and it will still taste great, the sauce is restrained but works very well with the cheese, the crust, if you can get those slices, is some of the best crust I’ve ever had, thin and crispy enough that it goes down with the same grace as the slices themselves, add on either the best pepperoni you’ll ever have (greasy, solid and flavorful), or a round of excellent vegetables and you’ve got yourself a great pizza. If only I can get a sponsor for a franchise out here on the east coast.
So that is a summation of my trip to Maryland, especially of the fantastical food highlights offered by its hometown kings. While, I may have discarded the state nowadays, the one thing that I may always miss is the good homegrown cooking, thankfully it’s only a two hour and 30 minute plane ride to get there!