During mid-August in Baltimore, work slows down, vacations kick in, and local produce and seafood abounds. But who wants to stand in a hot kitchen and cook? Just in time, Baltimore’s eateries serve up affordable dishes that LGBT folks crave… and everyone comes out for Summer Restaurant Week.

From August 13 to 22, hungry diners get a taste of best that local chefs offer—and at some of the lowest prices of the year. Most Summer Restaurant Week (SRW) menus offer multiple courses; lunches are $20.10 and dinners are only $35.10 each. With more than 100 participating restaurants citywide, SRW is the perfect time of year to impress a date, entertain family and friends, or explore a restaurant for the first time.

Mount Vernon

Fortunately for traveler who won’t go abroad this summer, Baltimore’s “gayborhood”happens to be an international culinary center, too. Intercontinental SRW specials begin at Sotto Sopra with modern Italian fare, and then extend uptown to The Brewer’s Art, where dishes like Resurrection-brined grilled rack of pork can soften the hangovers that come with one-too-many imported ales.

In between these two restaurants are lessons in world gastronomy, from New American at Sacha’s 527 to Marie Louise Bistro’s eclectic, European-inspired fare to Indigma’s deconstructed Indian cuisine. And of course there’s The Helmand—one of Baltimore’s gems—where sensual Afghan dishes seduce and delight.

2 CITY-CAFE-dining room.jpg Escape the August heat in City Café’s cool and elegant dining room, where Baltimore’s Best New Chef Chad Gauss offers different menus for lunch and for dinner. (Photo courtesy Bruce Bodie/City Café)

For LGBT society, though, City Café remains the axis of Mt. Vernon’s flavor-filled world. For more than 15 years, it’s been the place to see and be seen (not to mention to eat). The kitchen is now directed by Baltimore Magazine’s Best New Chef, Chad Gauss, who offers magical three-course menus for SRW dinner and lunch. And during Restaurant Week, reservations are a must.

Canton, Fell’s Point, Little Italy

The SRW celebration continues in neighborhoods along Baltimore’s extensive waterfront. In Canton, patrons can find earthy Moroccan (Tangiers Bistro), eccentric international (Jack’s Bistro), and simple, sustaining American plates (Sauté).

In Fell’s Point, Arcos Restaurante serves nopal (cactus) salad and delicious tres leches cake in the cool, shaded courtyard. And Kali’s Court and Mezze offers delicious Mediterranean plates, like anchovy salad, bouillabaisse, tabouli, tzatziki, and more.

1. executive chef Julian Marucci.jpg Mentored by famed local Chef Cindy Wolf, Cinghiale’s Executive Chef Julian Marucci is preparing house-made ricotta ravioli and pork shoulder cooked in olive oil for Summer Restaurant Week. (Photo courtesy Cinghiale Enoteca Osteria)

For a “re-do” of high school prom—this time with a same-sex date, and wearing matching tuxes or gowns—dinner at Little Italy’s Sabatino’s or Velleggia’s provides quintessential Italian-American food and fun. Or for a refined incontro romantico, glamorous Cinghiale in Harbor East is where lovers can be transported by Executive Chef Julian Marucci’s modern take on Italian cuisine.

Inner Harbor, Federal Hill, Locust Point

Baltimore’s Inner Harbor always appeals to visitors from out-of-town, and during SRW, treating guests to a meal won’t break the bank. Restaurant Week participants include many longtime favorites (McCormick and Schmick’s, Phillips Harborplace, Rusty Scupper, and more), plus La Tasca Spanish Tapas Bar and Restaurant for those with adventurous tastes.

On the south side of the Harbor, foodies can mix culture with cuisine. A lunch of bacon-and-brie stuffed tater tots with a colossal lump crab cake at Regi’s American Bistro would sustain diners for a climb up Federal Hill. And after star-gazing at Maryland Science Center’s planetarium or at Ft. McHenry’s high flying flag, Locust Point’s Pazza Luna serves comforting dishes under an Italianate moon.

3. Mr. Rains Fun House collage.jpg Expect the unexpected at Mr. Rain’s Fun House, such as a kobe beef hot dog with Korean kimchi and seasoned bean paste. (Photo courtesy Mr. Rain’s Fun House)

Or for something completely different, and unique to Baltimore, American Visionary Art Museum’s “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” (entering its final weeks) includes provocative work unlikely to be seen elsewhere. To bolster viewers of this massive show, AVAM’s exciting new restaurant, Mr. Rain’s Funhouse, offers a playful menu of creative gourmet treats.

North of Mt. Vernon, Uptown

No longer is Baltimore’s downtown the only answer to “Where do we eat?” These days, exciting chefs and dining rooms can be found in many of the city’s neighborhoods uptown.

In Station North Arts District, Tapas Teatro offers tempting small plates on their terrace, perfect before or after a film at The Charles. And in Charles Village, the relaxed ambience of Gertrude’s at the Baltimore Museum of Art is the perfect place to enjoy Chef John Shields’s play on traditional Maryland cuisine.

Delightful outdoor dining—and superb Indian food—can be had in Tuscany-Canterbury’s Ambassador Dining Room. And Hampden’s Café Hon offers a homey take on Maryland’s most loved foods, all served with traditional Baltimore flair.

Francophiles can also find the flavors they seek at various uptown venues. For lunch, Mt. Washington’s Crèpe du Jour offers a crèpe stuffed with crab, shrimp, asparagus, and goat cheese. Then at dinner, gastronomes can savor vichyssoise and coquilles St- Jacques at Roland Park’s Petit Louis Bistro or steak frites and beignets at Guilford’s alizée boutique bistro.

Finally, for those willing to stray from the well-beaten path, The Chameleon Café serves meals of unspeakable delight. Savvy diners aren’t discouraged by the restaurant’s Lauraville address, nor by the building’s unassuming façade. The Chameleon Café consistently offers innovative, French-inspired fare, prepared with ingredients sourced close to home—and maintains a wine cellar that’s surprisingly good, too. Serious foodies will make reservations today.

DETAILS

What: Baltimore Summer Restaurant Week
Where: Various locations

When: August 13-22, 2010
Price: $20.10 (lunch) or $35.10 (dinner)
Info: Complete list of participating restaurants, menus, and reservation information:
baltimorerestaurantweek.com

Restaurant Week Sneak Peek
Appetizers Served on Thursday, August 12

The city-wide food fest previews on Thursday, August 12, with “The First Course: Appetizer Challenge” from 11 am to 1 pm at the Inner Harbor Amphitheater. Celebrity judges Reagan Warfield (Mix 106.5 FM), John Shields (author and host of TV’s Coastal Cooking), and Bernadette Woods (WJZ-TV) will judge restaurants’ appetizer to determine Baltimore’s Best. Free samples are also available to the public (while supplies last) to determine the People’s Choice award.

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