I had been meaning to find Greektown in Baltimore for some time, unable to imagine a neighborhood called Greektown not having some of the best food, coffee and pastries one would associate with anything calling itself Greek. When I had to be at Baltimore International Airport on a snow Monday and nowhere else to be, I took my son and daughter on a little afternoon adventure to find it.
You know immediately when you are in Greektown, evidenced by the white facades with blue trim, the blue and white Greek flag, Greek alphabet and other Hellenic symbols.
Looking for some Greek pastries to introduce my son and daughter to, we shopped briefly the store fronts before choosing the shop at 4705 Eastern Avenue. Something about the hand painted sign above the window filled with exotic olive oil cans, bags of cookies and candy and a row of hanging Greek Ibrik looked authentic and inviting.
Inside we were greeted with a nod from a stout, rustic old man with a worn blue wool sweater and black Greek fisherman's cap.
We looked over the assortment of pastries behind the glass case and decided, opting for a few pieces of baklava, cookies and a few pastries that just looked good.
The old man carefully placed the baklava into a plain white pastry box and the pastries and cookies in another, then weighed the contents on a scale at the far end of the glass case.
He totaled the bill and it came to a little over $10. Reasonable. After making change for a twenty, the old man reached below the counter and put a handful of candy on top. "For you" he said, looking at my daughter, "Greek candy." My daughter smiled and thanked him. Later, I popped one of the candies in my mouth and immediately knew. It was indeed a Greek candy. I looked at the blue wrapper and smiled when I read the word "ouzo." The licorice flavor is unmistakable, and very good.
Before leaving the store I asked the old man where I could get good coffee. He smiled and asked if I wanted Greek coffee or American coffee, then pointed us to a coffee house across the street, adding "They are good people."
I thought about that for a minute. I've learned people chose words for a reason. He didn't say the coffee is good or it's a good place for coffee, what was at issue here was their character. The man was clearly from another place and time, where coffee is judged by the content of the character of those who serve it. The difference seemed to matter.
I should have taken a picture of the kind old man behind the counter, but instead thanked him and walked out, thinking to myself I would be back soon.