Southern Living
March 2001


 

Square Root of Baltimore

When gift shop owner Stephanie Yesko looks out her front door at O'Donnell Square, she likes what she sees. "The neighborhood has become such an exciting place," she says. "Young people are moving in and renovating, yet it still has a cozy feel."

Restaurants surround a tree-shaded park in the center of the historic square in the heart of Canton, one of Balti­ more's oldest neighborhoods. There's so much business on weekend nights, Stephanie keeps her shop, called 2910 on the Square, open late to serve diners waiting for tables.

Canton's graceful two-story redbrick row houses have attracted many new residents, but O'Donnell Square hasn't lost its neighborhood flavor. Stop in for breakfast at Needful Things restaurant, and the regulars eating at the bar make you feel at home even if your name isn't etched in brass on the back of a chair, like many of theirs are.

"We have people who live here and work in the area who stop in two or three times a day," says Debbie Har­ kins Brooks, one of the owners of the restaurant, which is named for a Stephen King story. ("I'm a big fan of his," Debbie explains.) Originally this was going to be a gift shop, but opening a restaurant turned out to be a good decision. Omelets, pan­ cakes, waffles, and other breakfast offerings are so popular that there's a line to get in on Saturdays and Sundays.

Debbie grew up in the Canton neighborhood but moved away to Florida. When she came back to open Needful

Things eight years ago, O'Donnell Square looked deserted enough to spook even Stephen King. Most of the businesses had closed around the square, where a statue honors Capt. John O'Donnell, founder of Canton. With his own fleet of merchant vessels, O'Donnell opened trade between Baltimore and Canton, China, in 1785. The neighborhood thrived as an industrial center, but it eventually fell on hard tiples.

"When I first came here to open the restaurant, the street was almost empty," Debbie says. "I'm thrilled at the way it has come back."

Until you look close enough to see that it's only a carved wooden statue, it looks like Elvis himself is waiting to get into Nacho Mama's, one of the most popular restaurants on the square.

Scunny McCusker moved from Ocean City to Canton eight years ago to open the restaurant, which is stuffed with sports and music memorabilia. Margaritas are served in automobile hubcaps. The decorations may be funky, but chef Sean Fisher loads the menu with stylish Mexican specialties that change weekly. The jalapeno-corn chowder is so good customers even eat the bowl-fortunately it's a pepper shaped pastry shell. Santa Fe Chicken baked boneless chicken breast rubbed with special spices and stuffed with seafood-is also a favorite with regulars.

"When I opened, there were only two Mexican restaurants in Baltimore. I saw the potential this area had," says Scunny. "Now there are 11 restaurants around the square. All of a sudden, it's a night out, where it never was before."

If you have to wait for dinner, browse for nifty gifts at 2910 on the Square; (410) 675-8505. You'll find handmade soaps from California along with artistic cement tiles of the sculpted hands that Montreal sculptor Daniel Pierre Lamothe makes for holding keys, candles, flowers, toothbrushes, and hand towels.

LesThomas