Miriam DesHarnais on the Value Triangle, Friday Night Dining Challenges, and Baltimore’s Top Veggie Burger
This month Miriam DesHarnais takes over Not-So-Starving Artists, the column founded by Katie Boyts around affordable, delicious, and often carb-loving foods in Baltimore. Miriam has lived in Baltimore since 2002 and is passionate about exploring the often overlooked and tucked-away spots to find food that is satisfying on all levels.
The Value Triangle
I have a theory on dining out. The meals I find most satisfying fall into a specific zone, which I have dubbed The Value Triangle.
The base of The Value Triangle is Deliciousness. Why bother eating out at all if it doesn’t taste great? The two other sides of the triangle are Cost – the price of the meal – and convenience, which I prefer to describe as Lack of Hassle. Cost should align somewhat with what you are getting, portion-wise, and also how much the ingredients are actually worth. For example, a good sushi dinner should probably cost more than pancakes, even very classy pancakes.
Lack of Hassle means that, with reasonable allowances for minor mistakes or inconveniences, no part of the dining experience becomes more complicated than it should, for the type of restaurant I’m in. Kitchens sometimes run out of dishes or mess up an order, but handled graciously, that’s not really a hassle. If I made a reservation but still have to stand in line = hassle. The waitress appears to hate you and slams your plate down without a word = hassle. Tables and bar seats open, but won’t seat you and your parents because not enough people are working = hassle. Emotion associated with hassle: anger. Emotion associated with cost being misaligned to experience: guilt. Emotion when you pay actual money for a meal that is simply not delicious: deep, existential sadness.
I want to bring you more of the feelings you get when you dine within The Value Triangle. Ideally eating “in the zone” will make you feel elated, clever, and possibly a little sleepy.
Friday Night Challenges
Some fancy people say that only novices dine out on Friday and Saturday. I’ll agree that weeknight service is often better, it’s easier to get a table, and the dining experience can be more relaxed. My husband generally thinks weekend brunch is silly, given the high hassle factor and that he can make perfect brunches at home, a truth not incidental to why I married him. But going out on Friday is fun, so you just have to rule out some places that may normally fall squarely within The Value Triangle due to an upped Friday night hassle factor.
This weekend we thought over going to Fiesta Mexicana in Rosedale (unfailingly delicious, cheap, but busy on Fridays and with no waiting area and just a few tables), Samos in Highlandtown (delicious, cheap if you don’t go overboard ordering, but busy even on many weeknights), other Samos (in Canton, almost as delicious, more tables, less cozy, same prices), before settling on a drive to the nicest little bar in Baltimore: The Laughing Pint in Highlandtown.
The Laughing Pint
Do you know The Laughing Pint? If it were anywhere near where I live, I’d be there all the time. Not because I’m especially into hanging out in bars at this point in my life, but because it has a special, welcoming feeling, games, and the thing I care about most in a bar: good food. Not to dismiss their drinks – they have an impressive selection of beers on tap and their Greyhounds are not only cheaper than most anywhere else, they are fresh squeezed. Wow your visiting friends from New York with that item alone.
Whether on a pretty summer day when they open the doors to the outside, or on a chilly and rainy January night, walking into the Laughing Pint is pleasant because everyone is treated like a regular. Plus, even though they don’t have a ton of seats, there’s usually somewhere to set up, even on a Friday. It has its quirks–music plays only when someone pays the jukebox, there’s often just one person serving the whole house, sometimes they are out of their delicious potato wedges, (essentially a whole potato, covered in herbs) but somehow they tend to hold it all together. The bartender working on Friday not only got to every drinker and every diner while staying affable and solicitous, he also checked each glass to make sure it was sparkling before pouring any drinks.
The menu is small and tends towards “pub grub” – burgers, nachos, mac and cheese – with the bonus that it’s on the veggie friendly side and that everything is homemade. Ordering well can be the difference between a meal that’s fine, but not special, and something that’s truly great.
In the interest of fairness and variety, we ordered more than we ordinarily might. The samosa special included a choice of lentil, veggie, or beef samosas and the soup of the day was potato corn chowder with peppers. The samosas were a miss, too greasy and dense, the lentils had a samey quality – too much of one flavor. Apparently the meat one tasted similar, and our veggie was either indistinguishable from the lentil, or we didn’t get one. The chowder, on the other hand, was lovely. Fresh crispy corn, a generous amount of potatoes in bite size chunks, and a not too salty, not too rich, base that featured the peppers nicely.
We also ordered the mac and cheese with scallions. It’s better if you let it cool a bit so you can actually taste the crispy bits and pockets of Gouda. It’s not overly salty or overly greasy, and the portion is large. They have dressed up mac and cheese entrees (a tex mex with pulled chicken) if you want the mac and cheese as your main meal. On its own it’s blandly delicious comfort food and that’s not a complaint – I think that’s what mac and cheese is supposed to be. It tasted amazing eaten lukewarm in handfuls on the car ride home. Maybe ordering more than usual “for science” is a little dangerous…
You may be wondering why, if I think the food is so good, I’m describing a meal that seems a bit hit or miss. It’s because I haven’t yet gotten to what I consider THE reason for eating at The Laughing Pint: the glorious, the hearty, the ineffable (drum roll, please) theeeeee…… cashew veggie burger!
Wait. Was that a let down? Can a veggie burger inspire so much devotion? Oh my darling reader, perhaps you have not met the right veggie burger. The Laughing Pint’s homemade cashew veggie burger is the best thing on their menu. On a golden brioche bun, with a basil aioli, tomato slice under, fresh piece of lettuce on that, lies a burger that’s crispy on the outside and tender in the middle.
It is a toothsome mixture of cashews, carrots and some other veggie burger magic that adds up to a sandwich that’s easily in my All-time Veggie Burger Top Two. The bun is enough to stand up to the fillings; the sandwich has structural integrity (a problem for some veggie burgers) that lasts until the final savory taste. Moreover it boasts perfect sandwich proportions – that better-than-the-sum-of its-parts thing that happens when condiments, bread, patty, and toppings come together in sweet hamburger union.
I think the flavoring of the burger, working with the basil in the liberally applied aioli, is what really seals it. It’s served with a fine pickle (Tanners?) and an average potato salad, which might have been more enticing had I not already scarfed the more satisfying potato chowder. Despite all the other food laid out before us, it was the burger that Lou and I swapped bites of until it disappeared.
The Laughing Pint: come for the shuffleboard and Greyhounds, return for the Value Triangle-embodying, good-to-the-last-bite cashew burger. Do you have other top sandwiches in our fair city that you want people to know about? Vegetarian sandwiches are of special interest. Or do you have thoughts on The Value Triangle? If so, please comment below.
Two pints of Guinness – $11
Fresh squeezed grapefruit juice – free (I think our drinks were billed weirdly)
Samosas – $6
Cup of corn and potato chowder – $4
Mac and Cheese – $8
Cashew burger – $9
The Laughing Pint
3531 Gough St.Baltimore, MD 21224