200 North Paca Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
MTA Subway or Light Rail: Lexington Market
Mo-Sa: 9:00 to 17:00
Lexington Market is the place for local food in Baltimore. It's been here since 1782. It has successfully avoided the relentless touristification that is such a feature of the Inner Harbor. There are no compromises to make outsiders comfortable, which shows in some of the Yelp and Zagats comments. And while one Chowhound commenter dismissed it as "downmarket", another said it was refreshing they weren't given to following "foodie fashions of the moment".
I think some of the folks who think it's beneath them are afraid of being outnumbered by working-class black people. This is not a yuppie food hall. If you can't deal with modern life in Baltimore, don't come here. But you'll miss out on some fine food.
I did a circuit of the East Building of Lexington Market looking around for portable food I might be able to eat in transit. Then I was at the entrance to the section for Faidley's, which is tucked in an alcove towards the back and I realized I really just had to get an all-lump crabcake from one of the best in the business. Practicality be damned. I could always catch a later bus.
Faidley's is renowned in the region for its all-lump crabcakes. The name is accurate: there's almost enough binder to hold the big chunks of crab together. Stick a fork in it and the thumb-sized pieces of crabmeat fall right apart. The a la carte crabcake ($12.95) comes with nothing more than some oyster crackers, a slice or two of tomato, and a bit of lettuce. Nothing more is necessary, although they do also offer a meal option which is a couple of dollars more and adds a side dish. They also serve other, much less expensive ($4.95) crab cakes which are not all-lump. Why one would bother with those is beyond me. Maybe if you come here every day for lunch.
The cake is flavorful, carefully spiced, and dense. I took a bite of vegetable with every couple of bites of crab, just to clear the palate a bit. You eat here standing up, either at the oyster bar or at a couple of high tables. This is part of the deal; if you want to sit down, you can carry your crab cake out of Faidley's to the seating area upstairs and share tables with folks eating burgers or chitterlings.
One final note on the crabcakes: Faidley's does ship, but from all accounts they do not travel well. Some feel they have a different, inferior recipe for shipping. Eat them freshly-made on site for the best flavor.
After my crabcake I considered moving on and getting a sub from one of the other vendors, then decided the lure of a half dozen large oysters for $9.40 from the oyster bar was simply too much to pass up. I bellied up and gave my order, and the shucker picked out some damn fine oysters, full of flavor and remarkably large.
I munched at them happily while the visibly drunk African-American man standing next to me who had been having clams and beer (Faidley's serves beer and wine) peppered me with questions about oysters. He had never had any before, and wanted to know whether they were like the raw clams he had just eaten. How do you answer a question like that? He was friendly enough, and even offered to buy me a beer after realizing he was being pushy, but really I had a bus to catch.
The shucker, most likely to get him off my back, said, "I'll give you one," and did. By that time I was finished, so I never did find out what the man thought of them. The shucker was busy giving him instructions as to how to eat the thing "like an ice cream cone", as I left.
I made my bus easily, mostly because it was running late. Reading Terminal Market was my next planned stop. But by the time I got there it was after 7 and it had closed for the day. I'll get to it tomorrow, if I don't decide to go to Italian Market first instead.