Public markets are common in Europe, but are rarer in the United States. But many older cities have them. Washington DC has Eastern Market. Buffalo has the Broadway Market. And Baltimore has Lexington Market. For awhile now, I have been meaning to visit the Lexington Market. When it recently reopened in a brand new building, I decided the time was now.
The Lexington Market has been serving the people of Baltimore since 1782. As the name implies, it is on Lexington Avenue, between N. Paca Street and N Eutaw Street just a few blocks north west of the Inner Harbor. The new building is located right across the street of the building the market had been in since 1952. The original location was destroyed in a fire then.
The new market has two levels. The lower level is where the shops are, while the upper level has the restaurants. I was a bit surprised that there are many more restaurants than there are shops. I only saw a handful of storefronts, but I was there shortly after the new market opened so I expect more to open over time.
With over a dozen restaurants in the market, there is every kind of food you can think of. From bakeries, delis, and coffee shops to pizza, burgers, and fried chicken, the Lexington Market has it all. The cuisines of Malaysian, Korean BBQ, Jamaican, German, and Latin American are present. I am not sure how many are new. I only saw one restaurant with a “Lexington Market Original” sign and that was Connie’s. I hope there are more, as there were many eateries in the old market that had been there decades.
With all the places, where to have lunch was a tough choice. I was in the mood for something light, and decided on the OvenBird Bakery. OvenBird has an assortment of baked goods, including bread, pastries, cakes, and sandwiches.
From the handful of sandwich offerings, I chose the Ham, Brie, and Fig Baguette. The sandwich has a good amount of ham and the Brie and fig accompanied it well. But the real star was the baguette. It was perfect: crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. I guess it is not too surprising that a bakery would have good bread.
Despite the variety of bakes goods that OvenBird has, I had planned on getting dessert elsewhere.
Berger’s cookies are a bit of an institution in Maryland. Their most famous offering is a shortbread cookie dipped in a chocolate fudge sauce. It can be found in many supermarkets and some restaurants even have specialty desserts made from them. The stand in the Lexington Market has been there for over 50 years. As long as I have lived in Maryland, I have never actually went to the bakery itself. Turns out Berger’s Cookies and Cakes has many other items besides their cookie.
Again, I was faced wth a tough decision. Dozens of choices are available. Highlights include eclairs, cupcakes, cookies, and many kinds of cake. I went with one of those: the Oreo cake. It is a chocolate cake with vanilla cream icing and topped with an Oreo. The cake was soft but not quite moist. I was pleased as I often find chocolate cakes too dry. The icing was very sweet and, somewhat surprisingly, tasted just like the filling in an Oreo. This is a good dessert.
As I said earlier, all of the shops were on the ground floor. However. there are several booths on the upper floor spread throughout the market. I saw booths selling books or jewelry. The shops on the ground floor were Berger’s Cookies and Cakes, Plum Good, Brookdale Farms, Garden Produce, and a florist (not pictured).
I have already talked about Berger’s above. Plum Good sells a variety of condiments as well as some hot food items such as Chili, salads, and Red Beans and Rice. I tasted several of their hot sauces and ended up buying a bottle of their Sweet Chili Plum Sauce.
Garden Produce is a vendor that has been at the Lexington Market since 2014. Besides produce, they also sell freshly made smoothies. That seemed to be a hot item, as many people were in line ordering one. It’s good to see they are still there.
Brookdale Farms sells poultry products, with many different cuts of turkey and chicken. They are another returning vendor, having been at the market for over 20 years. I noticed they were selling rabbits. As I had recently acquired a cookbook with recipes for rabbit, I decided to take advantage of this serendipity and buy a couple. I made a Fried Rabbits with Gravy recipe that was delicious. The second rabbit is still in my freezer.
Because the new Lexington Market is mostly eateries, it felt to me more like a food hall than a market. But the layout is similar to modern ones I’ve seen in Europe, so I feel it is still legitimately a public market. Lexington Market had a reputation as a place to go to buy discounted produce. It now feels like a high end shopping destination. But the market has not abandoned its roots. SNAP and FSP benefits are accepted, accommodating the low-income community that had been shopping there. While I was happy with the shops I supported, I do hope the number of places selling groceries increases.
Many people who grew up in Baltimore have fond memories of the Lexington Market. Here is a nice remembrance. Photos of the market from the late 1800s exists. And here is a cool “then and now” photo .
For more about public markets in general, this article provides a good historic overview of public markets. And this one describes the impact they have on communities.