Did anyone see Anthony Bourdain's segment from Baltimore last night on his show, No Reservations?
While I wouldn't call myself an avid fan of Bourdain's, I do respect him and enjoy his show (and his writing). Sometimes I feel like he struggles to keep his ego in check, but for the most part I relate to and applaud his wanderlust and eagerness to experience varying cultures and cuisines. Having read a preview of the show by Sun blogger David Zurawik yesterday, I feared the worst. But after watching last night's episode, curiously entitled "The Rust Belt," while I agree with much of what Zurawik has to say about Bourdain's take on our fair city, I tend to give him a bit more credit.
Predictably, Bourdain approached the episode by disparaging Baltimore, and the other "Rust Belt" cities he was to visit, Buffalo and Detroit. He continually called Baltimore f***ed up, and mentioned its crack problem several times. That's all well and good, but painting any city with that broad a brush is simplistic at best. A fan of the brilliant TV series, The Wire, it seems much of what Bourdain thinks about Baltimore stems from the show and a few months he spent working here in the '80s.
After a few more digs and jabs, Bourdain visits Chaps Pit Beef with Jay Landsman, an actor on The Wire, and Mo's Seafood with Felicia "Snoop" Pearson, also a Wire actor. He rounds out his culinary visit with a trip to The Roost for lake trout, collard greens, and mac and cheese (all of which looked delicious). Bourdain's take on Baltimore seemed to evolve, and by the end he was acknowledging its friendly people, unique food, and thriving arts scene, while not glossing over its problems.
The city comes off looking like, well, Baltimore, warts and all. There were no shots of the shiny Inner Harbor or Fort McHenry, but haven't we seen that enough? I also was pleased to see Bourdain munching on something other than a crab cake (no one loves crab cakes more than me, but there are a ton of great restaurants and dishes around here that deserve to emerge from the crab cake shadow). It would have helped if the weather wasn't dreary and overcast (it's as if the producers waited for the worst weather so the visuals would fit their storyline), but so be it.
If you missed it, the episode reairs Thursday at 11 p.m. on the Travel Channel.
Photo: Anthony Bourdain might not be a fan of Baltimore, but he seems to respect it. (Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)