The charming historic downtown of Frederick, MD is an easy day trip or weekend destination from DC. Only one hour north of the city (if you avoid weekday rush hours), Frederick’s downtown offers history, arts, and a lively restaurant scene.
Frederick Town was originally laid out in 1745 by land speculator Daniel Dulany, who sold land to the first settlers building homes along Carroll Creek. Both Union and Confederate troops moved through the city during the Civil War, leaving stories behind them, like the infamous Barbara Fritchie, who at 95 was rumored to have waved a Union flag in the street while booing Stonewall Jacksons troops marching through town. The accuracy of the story is dubious but you can visit her house and museum for just $2.
The streets of Downtown Frederick are lined with independent restaurants as well as art galleries, antique shops, and boutique retail stores. The clustered spires of its historic downtown churches provide Frederick’s signature backdrop, while the centerpiece of the city is the stunning Carroll Creek Park.
Carroll Creek Park is the result of a flood control project to divert the flow of Carroll Creek, which would historically flood the city every 100 years. Catastrophic back-to-back floods in 1972 and 1976 were the last straw. Frederick’s leaders began a monumental plan to run the creek through underground conduits, allowing storm waters to bypass the city. A channel of water following the original path of the creek flows above the conduits, forming the basis of the linear park. Visit Baker Park to see where the conduits begin and to get a sense of the massive scale of the project. Carroll Creek Park officially opened in 2006.
The creek has been transformed into a work of art, with brick paths connected by lovely pedestrian bridges that, while new and modern, seem as if they have always been there. The most impressive of these, The Community Bridge, looks like an old stone bridge but it’s actually a mural painted by local artist William Cochran. Look closely, the bridge is covered with symbols representing the community.
Benches along the way provide lots of places to enjoy the fountains and waterfalls along the length of the creek. What can I say? We are smitten with this enchanting little park. So much so that I have almost forgotten our reason for being here…the food. There are many great restaurants within walking distance in this small city that would be worthy of including in a food crawl. These five just happen to be our current favorites and the ones that we sought out on a recent visit to Frederick.
We started at Reina on Market Street, a “modern Latin bistro” serving South and Central American small plates. The bar is tucked into an awkward space in the middle of the restaurant – a reminder that this is an old building. For a full meal we would prefer to get a table, but the small bar is okay to grab a quick bite and pisco sour.
Believe it or not, we were able to get properly made pisco sours in Frederick, with egg whites cracked fresh from the shell. These were our primary reason for coming to Reina and the perfect drink to accompany the excellent scallop ceviche. On this particular day, they also offered a squash taco with Vermont cheddar that we had to try. The seasonal tacos change frequently and we didn’t want to miss this one. (Update 3/2017 – Reina has changed their menu to Contemporary American Cuisine, which makes me a bit sad. I will miss those pisco sours, but I look forward to trying their new farm to fork concept.)
With our taste buds wetted, we walked to the furthest point on our crawl to an area called Shab Row. These three blocks of buildings on East Street used to house artisans in the 19th century before falling into desolation, hence the name Shab Row. They were restored in the 1970’s and 80’s to become a quaint shopping district.
Nezih Pistar opened Pistarro’s on East Street in April 2014. This popular Italian spot specializes in traditional Napoletano style pizza baked in a wood fired oven handmade in Naples. The pizza is topped with mozzarella that is house made fresh daily. While the restaurant is usually crowded with families, we’ve always been able to get seats at the large bar that takes up the center of the space.
The atmosphere is bustling and the prices are reasonable. Pastas range from $8 to $10, and pizzas from $9 to $14. We had the Trofi pasta: short twisted bits of al dente pasta tossed with pesto and sun-dried tomatoes. So simple, but so good. The wine is also very affordable by the glass or the bottle.
Walking down East Street past Patrick Street, we detoured down to Carroll Creek and walked back toward Market Street along the water. We were here in early autumn and the water lilies were still blooming, setting an idyllic scene. Several restaurants border the east side of the creek.
Our favorite is The Wine Kitchen on the Creek, which opened in 2011. This is one of three Wine Kitchen restaurants co-owned by Jason Miller and Michael Mercer. The seasonally inspired menu comes from local executive chef Jeff Beard, who was born and raised in Maryland.
They serve over 40 wines by the glass, which can be tasted in flights. Each wine comes with a poetically descriptive note card. In nice weather there is simply no prettier place to enjoy a glass of wine than the patio next to the creek. We had a cheese plate with three selections provided at the chef’s discretion and glasses of the Cape Bleue Rosé from Marseille France. Simply perfect, like summer on the Riviera, as the card says.
Why would we leave this spot? Because just up on Market Street, Olives has happy hour from 4pm to close every day. Every day! That means $5 glasses of wine, as well as $3 beers and $3.50 rail drinks. Chef Angel Rojas developed his culinary skills in local DC area restaurants, including Brian Voltaggio’s Volt from 2010-2013.
The cuisine at Olives is contemporary Italian. We had the Linguini Con Granchio, which was topped generously with crab in a sauce with white wine, garlic and tomatoes. The Planeta “La Segreta” white blend from Sicily paired nicely with the pasta. As you can imagine, after two servings of pasta in one day, our hunger was satisfied. Dessert would have to be of the liquid variety.
The Tasting Room, on the corner of Market and Church, was opened by well know local Frederick chef and restauranteur Michael Tauraso in 2001. The Tasting Room was rated Best Overall Restaurant of 2015 by Frederick Magazine, and for good reason with a creative menu and wine bar with wine flights and two dozen wines by the glass. We’ve had some fantastic meals here but wanted to try some other restaurants on this night, so we saved it until last for a night cap drink.
The bar at the Tasting Room mixes some creative craft cocktails. In fact, they were also voted Best Cocktail of 2015 by Frederick Mag. Our favorite, The Girl From Ipanema, was a tasty mix of brazilian rum with grapefruit liqueur, aperol and lemon. This was just the elixir we needed to cut through the mass of pasta in our bellies.
If you’re still in town the next morning, Café Nola on Patrick Street is widely thought to have the best breakfast in Frederick and is a great place for a cup of coffee before heading back down the road to DC.
A note on lodging in Frederick: If you don’t have a designated driver, then you will be needing lodging. Unfortunately, there are just not enough lodging options in walking distance to the downtown. There are a few bed and breakfasts in town, but the hotels are on the outskirts of the historic area. Rumor has it that a Marriott hotel and convention center will be opening along Carroll Creek sometime in 2017, but for now you will be a mile or two away and will need to drive, taxi, or Uber into town.
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