- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2017

Baltimore’s Fells Point has been helping to turn around the image of a city that has been far too much crafted by, well, “The Wire” in how many people view one of America’s oldest urbanities. While Charm City has certainly seen its share of issues — and work has been done to help mitigate some of that — and nowhere more than in dining and hospitality has the renaissance of Maryland’s largest and most important city been so unerringly undertaken.

The Italian restaurant Rec Pier Chop House, located at the waterfront Sagamore Pendry Hotel, takes casual fine dining to a whole other level, what with its room-length windows allowing for diners to enjoy a cocktail while people-watching the Baltimoreans ambling buy along Thames St.

(Appropriately enough, I’m dining here tonight with my British girlfriend.)

For cocktail course, Victoria tries the Negroni Sbagliato, while I go in for the Autumn Meadow Maid in the Meadow, a concoction of vodka, lemon, vermouth and honey lavender that is incredibly refreshing.

Appetizers arrive in the form of AC’s Famous Sheep’s Milk Ricotta, which is seasoned to absolute perfection thanks to sea salt and extra-virgin olive oil. It’s positively alive with flavor. We also order up a platter of three salami options: 18-month Coppa, Corsica Soppressata and Prosciutto. The Wild Yellowfin Tuna Crudo served with black olive aioli is decent, if not as stellar as the previous two apps.

As our cocktails have unfortunately vaporized, it’s time for a bottle. Vicky and I together select an Uccelliera Rosso di Montalcino 2015 — a product harvested from the Sangiovese grape. This pairs excellently with the Linguini Fini, a super tasty pasta entre entailing spicy Maryland blue crab. Its spiciness complements the tannins in the wine magnificently. It’s a true prize indeed.

I’ve worked in several restaurants in my day, and I must give proper due to the staff at Rec Pier Chop House, who are attentive and never far away to refill wine and water glasses, disappear finished plates and fold napkins. Our server, “G,” is as equally obsequious, knows the menu backwards and forwards, and is unfailing in his suggestions. A generous tip is called for.

And, after so much food already, it’s on to the main event: 44 oz. Porterhouse for two. This gargantuan steak entree is erved with many housemade sauces to choose from. I find the best to be the house sauce that is similar to A1 and the bone marrow sauce, both of which positively make the steak sizzle.

Somehow, after all of this magnificence, there is still room for dessert. As it’s now the time of the fall harvest, I simply must try the pumpkin option, which is an ice cream served in a pumpkin and topped with espresso — all of this upon a bed of sugar. It’s unique as all get out, and the perfect way to celebrate the autumn.

A stroll around this waterfront property is in order before retiring, which allows me to visit the ballroom, the iconic stairs and the outdoor pool that looks out at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

The renaissance of Baltimore isn’t coming; it’s already here.

To examine the menu, go to RecPierChopHouse.com. To learn more about the Sagamore Pendry Baltimore, go to PendryHotels.com/Baltimore.

 

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Sagamore also offers a package deal wherein you can not only indulge in a first-class meal and stay in opulence at the hotel, but also take to the skies about Baltimore for a helicopter tour piloted by some of the best guides in Charm City.

Called, appropriately enough, the Sagamore Experience, the package deal encompasses staying at one of the Pendry’s Harbor View rooms, a credit for dining at the Rec Pier Chop House or The Cannon Room, as well as a tour of the nearby Sagamore Spirit Distillery, located in the happening Riverside district along the Inner Harbor. (The distillery’s Rye whiskey will go great in an orange-flavored cocktail.)

Best of all, the Sagamore Experience then whisks guests up, up, up and away to a thousand feet over Baltimore via the Charm City Helicopters tour company. Tours vary in the “ground” they cover — be it over Baltimore and the harbor, or taking an adventurous 30-minute trek east to Annapolis and back.

I took that tour recently. After a quick safety briefing at base with owner Caitlyn, we are ushered along Pier 7 to where our pilot entreats us to enter the steel bird.

An older couple sits in the back, and I’m upfront next to the pilot. Going through his safety checklist, he checks his dials, fuel levels and communications to make sure the craft is ready for flight. He asks via our headphones if we’re nervous, and all admit to some trepidation — myself included — as this is all the passengers’ first time.

The rotors spin up to speed, the pilot checks in with the ATC via radio, and soon, ever so gently, we lift from the launch pad. A hearty smile crosses my lips as we angle out and away from the city skyline, with Ft. McHenry just to our right. I can’t help but hear “Die Walkure (The Valkyrie)” from Wagner in my head, recalling how Robert Duvall used the opera in his raid to “liberate” a surfing beach in “Apocalypse Now.”

Thankfully, today’s flight will be far less dramatic. The pilot angles us east over the Patapsco River, pointing out the relative positions of the British ships that bombarded Ft. McHenry during the War of 1812 — and inspiring attorney Francis Scott Key to write a poem that would become our national anthem.

It’s only 10 miles roughly, as the crow flies, from Baltimore to Annapolis, and in just moments we are banking over the state capitol complex and the Naval Academy. Our guide tells us that the statehouse here was briefly used as the early capital of the U.S. at a time between Philadelphia and the still-under-construction Washington City, and he also tells us that many of the buildings of the Academy were constructed upon land that was filled in at the water’s edge. Furthermore, it was here that Gen. Washington officially stepped down from leading the Continental Army so that he could become the nation’s first president.

In the distance on this clear day is the Bay Bridge itself, leading out onto the Chesapeake’s Eastern Shore.

The pilot brings us about, and we head back west toward Baltimore. To the south he points to the distant spires of Washington, barely visible in the late-fall haze.

Soon back over the Inner Harbor, we skim past the downtown skyline to the right as we thread a course in between the stadiums for both the Ravens and the Orioles — both silent this day, with only one to see anymore activity in 2017.

We again come about and, with downtown now to our left, he brings us in gently to Pier 7, hovering and descending ever so carefully until we touch down back upon terra firma with the slightest bump. I applaud the couple in the back, who have made it through their nervousness.

Tipping my pilot (always tip your guides) I have a quick chat with Caitlyn and Freddie, another Charm City pilot, as I scroll through my photos and videos from this most magnificent experience and upload the best ones to Facebook.

Just when you think there’s not another way to experience an urban environment, Sagamore and Charm City Helicopters are presenting another adventurous way to enjoy this most singular cityscape and continue waterfront Baltimore’s ongoing renaissance.

To learn about the tour options, visit FlyCharmCity.com

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