The Avenue Market

The Avenue Market stands as something of an outpost along the western frontier of North Avenue (1700 Pennsylvania Ave.). In an area with few amenities (can you say "food desert"?), it fulfills the role traditional public markets were invented to serve: food for the citizenry.

For groceries, the west end of the market has a sizable-also impressively well-lit and orderly-Murray's Fine Foods with a decent variety of wares. Inside the market proper, though, things get funkier and a lot more fun.

Douglass Fried Chicken and Seafood sells what I am convinced has got to be the crispiest fried chicken in Baltimore. The seasoned breading is dense and substantial but shatters at a bite, while underneath the moist and tender meat is just the right amount of greasy. Even better are the lightly battered western fries, that same irresistible salty-crispy coating sealing in thick, fluffy potato centers. The No. 5 box with half a chicken and fries-plenty of food for two-runs $6.99.

I'd been hoping to find some righteous, down-home Southern food, but the stand named Jimmy's Soul Food is, sadly, more like Seoul food. Still, Jimmy's addictive honey barbecue wings (five pieces for $3.99) are every bit as good as Bruce Lee's more famous version-crunchy balls of meat, skin, and batter slathered in sweet sauce that still has a bit of backbiting heat in it. Imagine General Tso's chicken without all that bothersome broccoli.

The highlight of the Avenue Market, though, is Leathornia Bailey and Just Juice It. She has run the juice stand (and, at various times, several other stands in the market) for 16 years with the abundant help of her husband, three daughters, sister, and brother-in-law. I'm a fan of the Baileys' stand at the JFX farmers market and was delighted to learn that their fantastic wraps, juices, and smoothies are available year-round at the Avenue Market. There is a compact food menu, including curried chicken and Mediterranean tuna sandwiches (starting at $6), homemade soups, and powerhouse salads (starting at $5). As I watched Lea's daughter DeAndra toss up a delectable bowl of baby greens, berries, and gleaming fresh veggies for a customer, I wondered how many blocks in any direction one would need to go to find another place serving mesclun.

Everyone running the Just Juice It stand is just so energetic and enthusiastic and clearly bursting with good health that they are their own most compelling advertisement. The juice and smoothie blends ($3.50 small, $4.50 large, $6 jumbo) use organic ingredients and tend toward the therapeutic. "Liver Rights" is a combination of juiced dandelion greens, wheat grass, carrots, and garlic guaranteed to make your liver stand up and live right. Next time I'm under the weather, though, I'm heading straight for the "C-Plus" smoothie. It can be served hot; has extracted citrus juices, ginger, garlic, honey, and black sesame seeds; and according to Leathornia, is guaranteed to kill a cold dead in its tracks. For the time being, though, I went with an "Energizer"-the apple, carrot, beet, and ginger elixir gave a zingy boost that carried me through the entire afternoon.

I'd also head back to the Avenue Market simply for a morning-power meal at Hellen's Breakfast and Lunch. Their salmon, egg, and cheese sandwich-hello, omega-3s for breakfast-was, at $3.75, a cheap and tasty way to start the day, with a cup of Starbucks coffee brewed at the stand.


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