Taste of History
Downtown Restaurant Tour Reaps Culinary Delights and Lessons About Frederick’s Past
Local entrepreneur Sarah Withers has blended two of Frederick’s major drawing cards, food and history—not to mention downtown’s easy walk-ability—into a three-hour tour that provides a satisfying lunch and a chance to hear Frederick’s back story.
“I went on a food tour in New York last year and wondered why we didn’t have one in Frederick,” Withers says as she prepares to lead a group in her second season of operation. Tours run from March until November. Wearing comfortable gold lame shoes that she picked up during a trip to Las Vegas, she is ready to show off the neighborhood that she also calls home. “I love it, and if we only had a grocery store Downtown I wouldn’t need a car.”
Prior to running the tours, Withers was a proposals coordinator for a government contracting firm, maybe not the ideal place to take advantage of her fun-loving nature. “I love to cook,” she says, “I like to feed people,” even if she’s doing it just by introducing the restaurants on her route.
The tour visits six establishments and covers about a mile-and-a-half of Market Street and Carroll Creek Way. “It’s basically a big loop,” Withers says. Tours are always conducted between noon and 3 p.m., and while kids are welcome, she advises, “three hours may be a little long for a kid’s attention span.” Group size is kept to no more than a dozen people.
Brewer’s Alley, at 124 N. Market St., is the starting point. A group of five women gather on the front sidewalk, the noon whistle at McCutcheon’s Apple Store sounding from across town. “It would be impossible to cover all of Frederick’s great restaurants,” Withers tells them, adding later that she is thinking of adding other tours, especially on East Street.
“Please refrain from shopping, otherwise this could quickly turn into a five-hour tour,” she jokes before leading them into Brewer’s.
Withers memorizes the facts and stories she tells, gathering them from combing the internet, visiting the Maryland Room at the C. Burr Artz Public Library and the restaurant owners themselves. The owners will tell Withers about the location’s history and other information. “They often will tell me about changes to their menus and if they’ve won an award for their food,” she says.
Within minutes of being seated, a Margherita pizza hot from a woodburning oven is placed in front of the group along with glasses of the pub’s 1634 Ale. “The mozzarella is made here and the crust contains beer from here,” she says. She enjoys touting the fact that restaurants on the tour make good use of made-from-scratch and local ingredients.
As to the Brewer’s building itself, it was constructed in 1769. In 1873, it was fashioned into a market house and town hall, with auditorium space where entertainment from the opera Madame Butterfly to a sold-out concert by John Phillip Sousa was presented. Frederick had its share of breweries, Withers says, and they were located along Carroll Creek in an alley. “In 1901, fire hit the last one,” she says, and in 1996 Brewer’s Alley brought back the locally brewed tradition when it opened its doors.
While the tour members devour the pizza, Withers talks about her favorite brews and also notes that, “the fried pickles are really, really good here.”
‘MORE FOOD FOR YOU’
The next stop is across the street at Firestone’s Market on Market, 109 N. Market St., an extension of Firestone’s Culinary Tavern, with stocks of gourmet foods, wine, beer and gift baskets. Some in the group wander off to peruse the shelves. “Join us back here,” Withers says, adding sweetly, “I’ve got more food for you.” Indeed. Hot off the sandwich press is a heavenly combination of pastrami, Swiss cheese and caramelized red onions.
“The Firestone’s restaurant next door does a lot of made-from-scratch,” she says, such as ice cream, soup and bread that can be purchased in the market. “They make awesome house ketchup. If you want to taste it go order it with the truffle fries. You’ll thank me.”
“QUITE A BIT OF HISTORY HAPPENED HERE. DURING THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR, PRISONERS WERE MARCHED TO THE HESSIAN BARRACKS SEVERAL BLOCKS AWAY. THE UNION AND CONFEDERATE ARMIES BOTH MADE THEIR WAY THROUGH HERE TO BATTLES.”
At the intersection of Patrick and Market streets, Withers describes the “Square Corner” as the heart of the city’s financial community with three banks and a bank turned jewelry store. “Quite a bit of history happened here. During the Revolutionary War, prisoners were marched to the Hessian Barracks several blocks away. The Union and Confederate armies both made their way through here to battles, and presidential motorcades came through here going to Camp David.”
Griff ’s Landing, at 43 S. Market St., established in 1981 and remaining in the same family all those years, is the third stop. Known for its seafood and sandwiches—the “Bogey,” featuring ham, Swiss cheese, lump crab meat and a house-made sauce, is one of the most popular – Griff ’s also is famous for a wide array of appetizers. The tour is treated to a bacon-wrapped grilled scallop, hush puppies in a Cajun sauce and a macand- cheese popper.
“It’s a great place to come and pretend you’re on vacation,” Withers says, indicating the tropical decorations. “They have a drink, the Pirate’s Pain Killer, that comes with an eye patch.”
A hop, skip and jump down the street is the entrance to the Carroll Creek Linear Park promenade, its landscaping, brick sidewalks, planters, benches and public art a far cry from what was once a litter-strewn field of weeds near a creek that tended to flood, including in 1976 when 100 acres of downtown were under water. The city built an ambitious flood control project soon after, creating a site that has attracted accolades from planners and land use officials from around the country. A main creek attraction is the Community Bridge, painted to resemble stone and containing images suggested by local residents. The bridge’s fame extended such that “people in 33 countries also submitted ideas,” Withers says.
The Wine Kitchen, at 150 Carroll Creek Way, is a seasonal American bistro, Withers says as the group is seated. “Their Sunday brunch is one of my favorites and I trust them wholeheartedly to pick the food that’s served for the tour. They are big on food that is local and seasonal.” On this day a beet salad, both the deep purple and a golden variety, is served combined with goat cheese, toasted pistachios and arugula. A creamy macaroni and cheese is also offered, complete with a crunchy, oven-toasted topping of Ritz Crackers. A sample of wine might have been nice, but the tour contents itself by watching other patrons happily imbibe.
But the next stop is all about the beverage, in this case, soda pop. The North Market Pop Shop, at 237 N. Market St., is a great place to savor childhood favorites like A&W Root Beer and Grape Nehi, to remember carefree days before demanding iPhones and bosses insisting on three meetings a day. The shop boasts 60 varieties of sodas and the tour gets to taste two of them. On this day, it’s white birch beer from Reading Draft Company, which also concocts a red birch beer and one in blueberry. “It’s rather patriotic,” Withers says. The shop also features ice cream floats made with ice cream from Trickling Springs Creamery in Chambersburg, Pa.
Dessert is found at Zoe’s Chocolate Co., at 121 N. Market St., which opened in 2007 and not only satisfies the local sweet tooth but also has provided chocolates for the celebrities’ goody bags at the Emmys and Oscars. Here the travelers are treated to Persephone’s Pomegranate and a liquid caramel with a thin layer of dark chocolate with a little Himalayan sea salt mixed in.
Withers obviously enjoys her forays up and down the streets of Frederick, counting herself lucky to be in business for herself and able to escape the confines of 9-to-5 and an office cubicle. “What’s even better,” she says, “is meeting all the people.”
Taste Frederick Food Tours
Tickets, costing $50, can be ordered from Zerve at 800-979-3370 or 212-209-3370