For those seeking some history to go with their market fare, Hollins Market (26 S. Arlington Ave.), which is 16 years shy of its bicentennial and, thus, the city's oldest existing market, is the best Baltimore has to offer. The distinction feels obvious when approaching its main, west-facing entrance, an Italianate red-brick affair that was added in 1864, after the whole thing had been rebuilt in 1839 following the original 1838 market's destruction by a windstorm. Once inside, though-and on your way in, please ignore the obvious, seemingly ever-present drug dealers at Carrollton Avenue and Hollins Street-it closely resembles the stark utilitarian layout of the nearly-as-historic Cross Street Market, yet suffers from a relative lack of dynamism due to only about 15 active stalls, compared to Cross Street's 25 or so.
With the 2010 closing of the Safeway supermarket at the nearby Mount Clare Junction shopping center, Hollins Market became pretty much the sole purveyor of groceries in the neighborhood that bears its name, continuing to fulfill its core function of supplying fish, produce, meat, and poultry to nearby families. And this it continues to do-though, with the December opening of the new PriceRite where the Safeway used to be, it has company again.
Some of the grocery stalls also have prepared options for the hungry shopper. Shucked oysters (75 cents apiece) at Johnnies Seafood, for instance, are a nice treat while you wait for the fishmonger to clean and fillet that shad you're going to bake later. And the sliced mango at L&R Produce ($2.50) is as good as it looks, an excellent, healthful snack while stocking up on their impressive array of fruit and veggies. While ordering up your chicken for the home pot at Jack's Poultry (which also, by the way, has rabbit), stand in line at the adjoining stall, where Chuckie's Fried Chicken (yes, there's almost always a line) offers what it's famous for, plus some delectable fried chicken livers ($2 for a small, $2.50 for a large). This fresh-or-fried cluckers enterprise is on Facebook as LikeJAXnCHUX, hosting a lively community of likers.
For breakfast or lunch, two stalls-Eddie's Lunch and Mike's Lunch-offer pretty much the same thing, at pretty much the same prices, and it's all pretty good. One way to pick your favorite would be to order, say, a scrapple, egg, and cheese sandwich at each and see whether Eddie's ($2.50) or Mike's ($2.50) suits you better.
If you want to eat healthfully at Custom Salads, which also has an ever-changing menu of truly delicious homemade soups, you are not alone. The line moves quickly, though, as the fleet-handed staff makes up whatever combination of greens, toppings, and dressings you desire. Or you can defeat that whole healthful premise and just get a antipasta salad ($9.75), an enormous concoction involving anchovies, Genoa salami, Italian ham, and provolone cheese.
New to Hollins Market is something that just might make it a destination: Carnivore BBQ (carnbbq.com). As its wood-burning smoker/oven chugs, the pork, chicken, and beef brisket come out tangy, tender, and slow-cooked-they claim it takes 22 hours to smoke the brisket and pork. Your mouth will water as you watch a brisket sandwich ($10) being prepared with surgical slices-ensuring that the juicy morsels piled on the roll are the leanest-then slathered with mild, medium, or spicy sauces. Truly divine stuff.
More new offerings are in the works for Hollins Market, according to Caspar Genco, the executive director of Baltimore Public Markets Corporation. "We've contracted with an architectural firm that's drawing up plans for a large, in-market bakery that has an oven," he says, along with a steamed-seafood stall and "a new Asian menu." Once all that happens, "it's basically going to be fully leased," and then there will be "a facelift to the interior of the market, with improved signage and lighting. We're hoping that the new stalls will be built out and leased in the next couple of months."
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