Sometimes you want to give someone a little gift, the kind of thing that says, “Hey, I like you and I thought you’d like this,” but you don’t want the person to feel bad because they’re not the kind of person who does that whole gift thing and besides they probably didn’t get you a gift in return, so you’d feel silly if you got them something fancy. Or you’re flying somewhere for Christmas and you say, “Can I bring you anything from Baltimore?” and your hosts say, “Bring me some crab cakes, ha ha!” and you would like to expand their notion of the city and say, “Excuse me, but we are more than just crab cakes here.” Or you have to take it up a notch from the bottle of wine you usually bring to a party with some little gift-y treat.
Food is good. Food is always good.
Food straddles that great $2-$6 divide between what you’d buy for yourself as a cheapskate consumer and what you’d be delighted to receive as a gift. (There is no way I’d drop $8.95, plus a dollar jar deposit, for a small jar of Atwater’s pear and plum with star anise jam, but I’d be delighted to smear it on toast if someone gave it to me as a gift. And on the flip side, as the buyer, $10 seems reasonable.) And holiday travelers: It’s small enough to tuck in your carry-on.
Belvedere Square Market (529 E. Belvedere Ave., belvederesquare.com) is good on this front and offers—not to be downplayed—a respite from holiday shopping with great lunch choices ranging from Atwater’s ( 323-2396, atwaters.biz) comfort foods—gourmet soups and sandwiches (ranging from $3.75 for a cup of creamy kale and potato to $11.50 for a grilled muffaletta)—to the Louisiana-inflected menu at Tooloulou ( 627-8090, tooloulou.com)—spicy sausage pizza ($14.50), oyster po boys ($7), and collard greens with pork ($4)—to the smoked concoctions at Neopol Savory Smokery ( 433-7700, neopolsmokery.com)—cheese tarts ($10), smoked salmon and apple salad ($10.50), and the most amazingly delicious (I know it sounds weird) smoked egg salad sandwich ($7.95). After relaxing, a strong double espresso from Atwater’s ($2.15) sets you on your feet again for more shopping.
Duck into the back of Belvedere Square for a tiny shop (barely bigger than an office cubicle) that sells a perfect delicacy, chocolate. Pure Chocolate by Jinji ( 937-8675, jinjichocolate.com), owned by father-daughter team Jinji Fraser and Guy Fraser, sells exquisite raw, organic chocolate that is gluten-free, vegan, and uses no refined sugar. As a non-vegan, gluten-consuming chocolate lover who always hopes her mother remembers to slip some Belgian Leonidas chocolates—doubtless rife with refined sugar—in her stocking, I was skeptical. So I bought two. Or maybe I just wanted a reason to buy chocolate? In any case, they are deliciously mysterious, curiously complicated, and deeply satisfying. Jinji Fraser, a nutritionist, says she created the chocolates “for people transitioning from refined foods to holistic ones, to make the transition easier.” But I think she’s down-selling her products. The chocolates—Grapefruit Persimmon, Tahini Orange Juice, and a very dark chocolate called Ninety-Seven—are pricey ($2/each for the above) but one rich truffle is a full dessert and some pretty gift-packaging options make this special.
For something a little more lowbrow—especially if the gift spurs a conversation about the benefits of gut flora or intestinal bacteria—pick up some fermented sea kraut ($10), miso kimchi ($12), or juniper caraway kraut ($10) at Hex Ferments, right next door to Jinji’s.
On the way out, grab a wine from Grand Cru (527 E. Belvedere Ave.,  464-1944, grandcrubaltimore.com) and be off, leaving laden with gifts that people will actually use (consume). (Karen Houppert)
Butterfly Lime Kombucha 750 ml ($12, plus $3 bottle deposit), Hex Ferments, 529 E. Belvedere Ave., (410) 775-5044, hexferments.com
Glow Kraut 15 oz ($12), Hex Ferments, 529 E. Belvedere Ave., (410) 775-5044, hexferments.com
Artichoke cheese pie with gouda, ricotta, swiss, and fontina cheese ($11), Neopol Savory Smokery, 529 E. Belvedere Ave., (410) 433-7700, neopolsmokery.com
Goat cheese decorated with pepper and paprika ($7), Neopol Savory Smokery, 529 E. Belvedere Ave., (410) 433-7700, neopolsmokery.com
Four-flavor chocolate spread ($11.50), Pure Chocolate by Jinji, 529 E. Belvedere Ave., (410) 937-8675, jinjichocolate.com
Original bark ($7.50), Pure Chocolate by Jinji, 529 E. Belvedere Ave., (410) 937-8675, jinjichocolate.com
Mini bark ($4.25), Pure Chocolate by Jinji,529 E. Belvedere Ave., (410) 937-8675, jinjichocolate.com
Louthan Distilling Oak-Aged Corn Whiskey ($37.50), Grand Cru, 527 E. Belvedere Ave., (410) 464-1944, grand-cru-baltimore.blogspot.com
RdV Red Blend ($33), Grand Cru, 527 E. Belvedere Ave., (410) 464-1944, grand-cru-baltimore.blogspot.com