On the Road

Snapshot: Baltimore

By: Erin Byers Murray

One chef couple shares their love for the history and culture of Baltimore

David and Tonya Thomas want you to better understand Baltimore. The chefs—and life and business partners—were both born in the city and came into the culinary scene after other careers: music for David, retail, art, and merchandising for Tonya. Since finding their way into the kitchen about 30 years ago, they have not only celebrated the city’s culinary identity—they’re helping to define it. David’s now-closed restaurant, Ida B’s, sparked a conversation around Baltimore’s Black history and how to represent soul food—today, the couple continues spotlighting that history through their catering and events company, H3irloom Food Group.

“The city of Baltimore is having a resurgence of being very eclectic with a lot of different cultures represented here,” Tonya says. “People who reside here realize they can shine a spotlight on their own cultures—and that’s been an evolution.”

The historically blue-collar city has long lived under the shadow of larger metro areas like Washington, DC, and Philadelphia, but its history rivals both markets due to its being a vibrant port city as well as a bridge between north and south and a gateway into the country for countless immigrants. Today, that history is celebrated across its cultural touchpoints, including the culinary and hospitality scene, where chefs like the Thomases are honoring the past while moving the city forward.

“The excitement comes from us seeing our city rise up,” David says. “We don’t just want to elevate the food scene here—we want to leave it better than we found it.”

Here, the Thomases give us their itinerary for eating, drinking, and discovering the city. If tasting their food is on your agenda, don’t just follow them on Instagram—sign up for their newsletter where they announce pop-ups and other events, all of which sell out quickly. And whatever you do, David says, come with an open mind. “Give Baltimore an opportunity to express itself,” he says. “There is great food and culture here. Come and enjoy it.”

David & Tonya Plating Credit Lisa Heegaard

Get Your Bearings

The Baltimore Farmers’ Market is one of the biggest in the country, brimming with local artisans, farmers, and purveyors, like Jasmine Norton of The Urban Oyster, who provides fresh oysters every Sunday the market is open. The Thomases are at the market weekly to grab a bite and a coffee while they stock up on fresh baked goods, produce, and seafood. One of the pop-ups they visit is Blacksauce Kitchen, a mobile operation that’s only open on Thursdays—go for their biscuits, which have a cultlike following, or do what David and Tonya do and stock up on their barbecue specials like brisket fried rice or lamb scrapple. If you want to break out of the box, head to Clavel, a Mexican restaurant the Thomases love for its authenticity, especially at the bar.

Brush Up on Black History

oxtail biscuit sandwich mango cabbage slaw

Even before slavery was outlawed in Maryland in 1864, the city was home to the largest community of free African Americans in the country at the time. The city wasn’t without its divisions, but this foundation paved the way for the fight toward civil rights and eventually led to the city becoming a center of Black culture. For a jumping-off point, check into the Black-owned boutique Ivy Hotel, where the restaurant Magdalena focuses on seasonal ingredients from around the Chesapeake Bay area. At Black Acres Roastery, which has two locations, they’re roasting their own beans while also serving tasty bites, including a breakfast sandwich from the Thomases’ H3irloom Food Group—grab the frittata-style egg served on an everything buttermilk biscuit at either location. Then find your way to the Sankofa Children’s Museum of African Cultures, a privately owned children’s museum that features a permanent collection of African art and strives to preserve African culture. The Arena Players are also doing their part—this volunteer organization is the oldest continuously operated African American community theater in the US, open since the 1950s, and showcases community-focused theatrical and musical performances.

Snack, See, and Do


For a day of shopping and grazing, head to Howard Street, which features a row of shops offering quick and healthy bites, like dairy-free ice cream at Cajou Creamery, plant-based juices at Vegan Juiceology, and vegan biscuit sandwiches and lattes as Cuples Tea House. While you’re there, pop into Vinyl and Pages to browse through new and used vinyl albums and books. Afterward, head into the heart of the city to visit the Baltimore Museum of Art, a free city museum experience where exhibits like the artwork of women printmakers are on display. (The Thomases regularly cater events there.) For a respite from the action, find your way to Round Falls—this oasis in the middle of the city is situated on a hiking and biking trail that stretches from the Inner Harbor to Mount Washington and is just the sort of discovery the Thomases hope will make you rethink Baltimore.

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