Pat Messick kicked off 2010 with a corned beef sandwich. Not any old corned beef sandwich, mind you. This was an Attman’s corned beef sandwich, her first ever.
Pat had been to other Lombard Street joints, but Attman’s had eluded her, a somewhat extraordinary situation for someone raised in Baltimore— and an oversight she decided ought to be set right. And as she and her husband, Ray, sat in the Corned Beef Row deli that day in January 2010, noshing on pickles and inch-thick corned beef on rye, Pat wondered how many other Baltimore restaurants they might be missing.
“We found that we were going to the same places over and over,” she says. “And I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be kind of neat to visit different restaurants or ones we hadn’t been to in a while?’” So amidst rye crumbs, waxed paper and mustard-smeared napkins, Pat and Ray came up with their New Year’s resolution: they would sample the Baltimore restaurant scene A to Z.
The Messicks’ rules were simple. They did not have to make visits in strict alphabetical order, any meal of the day could qualify (which is how the Whetstone Grill on Hull Street became their new breakfast go-to), and no chain restaurants would count toward their list (though Qdoba or Quiznos would have made life a whole lot easier when it came to “Q”). They wouldn’t use old favorites like Salt or Henninger’s for “S” or “H,” but they would keep their Thursday night dates with friends at Perring Place, Peter Angelos’ venerable restaurant in the Perring Plaza Shopping Center, just because (Pierpoint became their official “P” restaurant).
At the beginning of January, Pat drafted a list and posted it on the refrigerator, crossing off a restaurant after each visit. They were charmed by the service at the Carlyle Club and returned to Ze Mean Bean several times for Chicken Kiev and pirogis. They hit places they hadn’t been in years— Obrycki’s and Josef’s in Harford County! And when they couldn’t decide among multiple choices, they ate at more than one, so that “S” included Sabor, Sam’s Kid and Sobo Café. They were stumped only by a few letters— they used vacations to Maine and California to satisfy E, Q and Y— and, of course, they were disappointed by a few places that will remain nameless. But mostly they found a new world of food in a city they thought they knew well. “It got us doing different stuff and taking a chance on new things,” says Pat. And isn’t that what New Year’s resolutions are about?
I look back at the food-centered resolutions I’ve made over the years— eating vegetarian for a month, learning to make sausage— and find that I’ve kept very few (making beet pickles was one resolution I actually accomplished last year). And I know I’m not alone. So many food resolutions revolve around diet and deprivation (“I’m giving up ice cream,” one friend told me. “Eating out less,” said another.) and so much little change in our lives is often prompted by greater change. We must learn to cook for one after years of cooking for two, or we begin buying organic in earnest when our family of two becomes three.
What makes Pat and Ray’s resolution attractive and workable is that it builds on something they already love to do— eat out— and gives it shape and challenge. They made a food resolution they looked forward to keeping.
In that spirit, I, too, decided I wanted a fun resolution. Pat says that in 2011 their goal is to eat alphabetically through diners in Maryland and around the country (though Ray is pushing for bars instead), but I already eat out an awful lot, so I wanted my resolution to be kitchen-contained.
So Pat suggested trying a new recipe every week or month (something I already try to do) or focusing on a new ingredient (she’s been having a ball with ginger). But I kept toying with the idea of resolving to bake bread once a week, a leftover resolution from last year that went south with a bad batch of yeast (or an impatient, unskilled baker— I’m not sure which).
Then it struck me: what if I combined bread baking and the alphabet? I’d only be obliged to bake 26 loaves of bread (or maybe less— what bread starts with an “X?”), and I’d be forced, er, encouraged, to try a range of recipes, from challah to rye, anadama to sourdough. The more I thought about it, the more it sounded like a manageable plan. And isn’t breaking bread with family or friends the best way to start off a new year?