Recently, I attended a non-food-related conference at the Pier 5 Hotel in Baltimore. This is a small hotel built on one of the piers at the Inner Harbor, and I was surprised to learn that it has conference facilities, let alone a catering department that turns out better-than-average food for those conferences.
The highlight, though, was the “crabby hour” it dishes up for both conference attendees and regular hotel guests. Every weekday at five o’clock, a counter in the lobby is set with burners and chafing dishes, and a chef holds forth with a demo dish of crabby goodness, together with complimentary wine. Old Bay crepes with crab filling and creamed crab dip were featured during my stay.
Josh is billed as a “Harbor Magic Specialist.” He is not only a chef, but an evangelist for good works that the hotel’s management participates in, such as partnering with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in their oyster re-seeding program. They aspire to be a green company, and they want their guests to know it!
I had a free hour during the conference, so I walked over to Harborplace and the McCormick store (McCormick World of Flavors) I had spotted on the way to the hotel. Those of us who have lived in Maryland for a while remember when McCormick was a major presence at the harbor. Their headquarters building was torn down some years ago now and replaced by a hotel, but I still remember how the smell of spices would waft out on the wind and scent the Inner Harbor. To get that experience now, you have to truck out to Hunt Valley.
But now McCormick is back – and how! The store is enormous, and contains not just the herbs, spices and extracts you would expect to find at any supermarket, but products from McCormick subsidiaries specializing in Latino condiments, French baking mixes and decors, and Canadian honey; package sizes from single-serving blister packs to gallon industrial jugs; tea, both black and herbal; and experimental products (“some available only here,” according to Nijah, who helpfully answered all my questions), like fruit preserves and jellies; about a dozen varieties of chocolate bars; candles; tapenades, salsa, olive oil, vinegar, salt, not to mention wonderful old-style mixing bowls and other kitchen equipment; and Old Bay. Not just the original but different flavors of Old Bay. I sprung for some “with blackened seasoning.” Paul Prudhomme would probably frown, but it smells amazing.
Oh, and there are interactive experiences (Find Your Flavor Profile), and static exhibits of historic packages, teapots, advertisements, cookbooks, and text detailing the history of the company from its founding by Willoughby McCormick in 1889 to the present. And cooking demos. And helpful recipe cards, and helpful staff. And custom gift baskets; and shipping, back to where you can’t get all this wonderful stuff, for you tourists. Am I gloating that I live in the neighborhood?
This is their first retail outlet, more are planned if it does well. The scent of cinnamon wafts through the store, much like that of mixed spices used to just outside the doors. Excuse me while I have an attack of nostalgia.
Oh, one more thing: at the end of the block, there is a parking garage draped to look like a huge tin of Old Bay.