Meshing the experience of food and drink consumption with a tangential activity is hardly a new phenomenon—think nightclubs, dinner theater, bowling, and ballparks.
In Baltimore, culinary fusions are going several steps beyond the ordinary with inventive pairings like shoes and chocolate, comic books and beer, and customer-selected butchery and dining all in one establishment.
For instance, there’s Parts and Labor, where the concept of farm-to-table is moving into a new realm of customer participation. Spike and Amy Gjerde, the husband-and-wife team responsible for Woodberry Kitchen, Artifact Coffee, and Shoo-Fly, opened Parts and Labor in April, and they welcome guests into the production area. With a six-person butchery team, led by head butcher and executive chef George Marsh, the heart of the restaurant is the production butchery, which is combined with a retail shop and full-service dining area.
The philosophy behind the concept, explains Spike Gjerde, “is all about buying whole animals from local sources, and doing all the butchery, including curing and salting, on site.” Guests can purchase meats at the retail counter to take home, or they can enjoy their custom cuts prepared for dining in the restaurant. The butchery also supplies fresh and cured meats to the Gjerde’s other three restaurants.
Proud that this is taking place in Baltimore, known more for its blue crabs than agricultural offerings, Gjerde is making it his mission to spread the word about the amazing work underway so that foods are grown and raised in the region.
On a more frivolous note, chocolate and shoes are in full supply at Ma Petite Shoe in Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood. In addition to selling fashionable designer shoes, proprietor Susannah Siger stocks artisanal chocolate like Fran’s Chocolate from Seattle, one of the first to offer chocolate-covered caramels prepared with sea salt, and Vosges Mo’s, known for launching the Chocolate Bacon Bar revolution. And in her recently opened Ma Petite Shoe Café, located next door, Siger also stocks chocolate from well-known local producers such as Cacao Lorenzo and Charm City Cook.
In addition to footwear and chocolate, the Ma Petite Shoe Café sells other mouthwatering foodstuffs as well as handmade local jewelry.
And finally, just to show the niche restaurant movement truly knows no boundaries, consider Eightbar, which opened last October, when Benn Ray, owner of Atomic Books, realized a long-held dream of transforming part of his iconic Baltimore comic bookstore into a café serving beer.
Located in the back of Atomic Books, Eightbar, named after the 1989 comic book, Eightball, by Daniel Clowes, serves a smattering of local and craft beers, sandwiches, and snacks, and is decorated with the cartoonist’s work, from New Yorker covers to scenes from his most famous comic book, Ghost World.