Like bedtime stories told each night, I grew up hearing that Maryland food was naturally the best; there was never any reason to defend it; no one seemed to care about glossy food magazines ordaining it as special.
We just knew there was nothing better in the world than a softshell crab sandwich and a cold beer. The Chesapeake Bay was the only body of water from which to eat shellfish. Peaches, tomatoes, and corn from Maryland were bigger and sweeter than any others. I actually remember Mr. Clay, who still delivered fresh fruit by horse and wagon to my childhood home in Baltimore — “Straaaaaaaaw-ber-RIES, Straaaaaaw-ber-RIES!” the old black man called out coming down our street. When my mother committed the crime of moving to New England, my grandmother sniffed with disdain at foods such as New England lobster, which only the vulgar would choose over Maryland crab.
My aunt and uncle, Marilyn and Henry Conway, recently re-introduced me to the Baltimore food scene, starting with an entirely modern culture that has inspired a visit by Alice Waters. My first night in Baltimore we dined at Artifact Coffee, the second restaurant opened by Spike Gjerde.
Gjerde is one of the most dedicated local foodists I’ve seen. He does whole animals. He pickles and preserves all those amazing Maryland foods. He would have loved Mr. Clay and his strawberries.
Artifact prepares breakfast, lunch and coffee with such art and terroir that no one should even ask them to make dinner. But they do that, offering one prix fix choice that changes every day. Our evening featured ramp and watercress flatbread, and then rockfish and shellfish stew, both set family-style in the middle of the table. We served our stew steaming from a Staub casserole. I was so happy I forgot what dessert was. Sorry.