After getting set up in my hotel room, I took a nice stroll down to the Baltimore Conference Center. It's funny how much closer it seems when you aren't handling eleventy zillion bags. I took my sweet time and some pictures.
Once I arrived at the conference center I met up with my group to tour Little Italy and we hopped on a bus. After aimlessly driving in circles through Little Italy, our tour guide flagged us down and showed our driver where to park. And with that, our adventure began!
Our tour began on a bocce court, which is apparently hugely popular. From there we walked through Little Italy as Dave, our tour guide, told us a little about the history of the area. Our first stop was Chiapparellis for soup, bread, and an antipasto platter.
This was easily my favorite stop of the tour. The antipasto platter was outstanding, even including some whole capers. Turns out they are structured similarly to okra, with the little pods I usually think of as capers being the immature buds. The mozzarella was ridiculously fresh and soft.
We talked over the meal and I chatted with another mechanical engineer. She was more on the industrial process side of things so it was interesting to hear her career trajectory--and see pictures of her gorgeous phoenix tattoo.
As things wound down we headed back outside and down the block to Ciao Bella.
Poor Dave was trying to give us a wonderful spiel on the old row houses, but the weather had turned suddenly cold and gusty and suddenly everyone just wanted inside. He took it in stride, cut his speech short, and ushered us into the warmth.
Ciao Bella was home of our main course--eggplant parmesan and meatballs on garlic bread. The eggplant parmesan was unusual in that instead of a breaded exterior, it had an egg based coating. I am not a fan of eggplant, but I tried a couple of bites. It was better than most eggplant, but still not something I wanted to eat a lot of. Everyone else seemed to enjoy it though. I did like the meatballs, but I felt like they could have had more oomph.
The highlight of this stop was the chef coming out to speak with us. He was warm and engaging, self taught and clearly in love with cooking. We were seated at small round tables and my table mates included a woman from Taiwan, still jet lagged from the flight, a bubbly college student spilling over with enthusiasm, and an engineer from Texas.
After our first main course, we walked a few blocks to Piedigrotta.
Let's just pretend that walk actually burned some calories because once we arrived we found ourselves served heaping plates of pasta. The dish was fantastic. The pasta was clearly fresh and the sauce was very light, more oil than tomatoes. Mixed in with the noodles was lean ground beef, carrots, tomatoes, onions, and green peppers. Each serving was sprinkled with ground parmesean. For those with even an ounce of room left (people were stacking up the to go boxes at this point), dessert was a fabulously light, sponge cake based tiramasu. This is especially notable as the owner of Piedigrotta claims to have invented the dessert. It was, as one of my table mates said, certainly good enough to be original.
In addition to the restaurant, and perhaps more notably, Piedigrotta is a bakery. Many of my fellow foodies left with boxes of cookies. I looked longingly at their boxes of still soft biscotti, but left empty handed, knowing there would be plenty of food on the trip (including an ice cream social that night) and I did not need to add a dozen biscotti to my count.
We wrapped up the tour with a brief walk back to our bus. The cold was no longer as biting, so Dave was able to share a bit more information with us. Then it was back on the bus, to the convention center, and to the hotel for a brief pause before heading back out again.