[Baltimore Sun] Bits & Bites: How Baltimore restaurants are helping after the Key Bridge collapse

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In tough times, eating can be an afterthought — but Amanda Mack knows the power of a warm meal.

In the aftermath of the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse, which claimed six lives and left a local landmark in ruins, Mack, the founder of Baltimore bakery Crust by Mack, is helping the best way she knows how: by feeding people.

On March 29, three days after a container ship hit a Key Bridge support column, sending the bridge into the Patapsco River, Mack delivered prepared meals to first responders from the Baltimore City Fire Department, who have been working around the clock since the collapse. The spread included breakfast sandwiches from Catalog Coffee, a rice platter from Tio G’s Empanadas, coffee, tea and baked goods.

“It’s a different level of care,” Mack said.

She’s hoping to cook for more people in the weeks to come through her Dinner in the Mourning initiative, which raises money to fund meals for first responders and others affected by tragedy. Mack is among many local restaurateurs who are stepping in to feed the city in one of its toughest moments. I’ll share some examples in this week’s column.

‘We mourn with food’

Mack started Dinner in the Mourning last summer, in the wake of another loss.

After the Brooklyn Day mass shooting in July, in which two people died and 28 others were injured, the chef wanted to find a way to support a grieving community.

“Food is my sacred space,” Mack said. “Especially in the African-American community, we mourn with food. When someone passes, you bring food to their home, everybody gathers and has a candlelight vigil. It’s a symbolic way of showing support for somebody.”

Eight months later, she’s reactivating and expanding Dinner in the Mourning’s network of support. Mack said she’s been in contact with more than 30 restaurants and chefs who are eager to help. A GoFundMe campaign to finance the effort had raised more than $4,000 of a $5,000 goal by Tuesday night.

Amanda Mack, the owner of Baltimore bakery Crust By Mack, delivered food March 29 to first responders who have been working overtime after the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse. (Bernard Fogg/Handout)

Mack is working with City Councilwoman Phylicia Porter, who represents swaths of South Baltimore near the Key Bridge, to connect with families of the construction workers who were on the bridge died when it fell. She and chef Analisse Diaz, of Afro-Puerto Rican pop-up Orgullo & Soul, are planning care packages that take into account the cultural background of the families, who come from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

“My style of cooking is not something they might necessarily relate to culturally,” said Mack, who specializes in crab pies, purple sweet potato pound cakes and other sweet and savory baked goods. “That’s something I take a lot of pride in, that intentionality behind the meals. We are taking into account who the families are that we’re feeding.”

With Porter, she’s also trying to plan a community-focused event in Curtis Bay next week. Like so many Baltimoreans, Mack has a personal connection to the area: Her family is from Turner Station, on the other side of the Patapsco, and her great-grandfather worked on the Key Bridge. Her grandfather, a former employee of Bethlehem Steel, has volunteered to serve food at the gathering.

“It’s a full circle moment, and that’s what this is about,” she said. “Community is so important, and it helps you heal faster just knowing that you have people who care.”

Crab balls, sandwiches, stir fry and mac and cheese

Marc Tsakiris also has close ties to the community surrounding the Key Bridge.

Tsakiris, co-owner of the Boulevard Diner in Dundalk, grew up in the area. His restaurant, open since 2001, sits on property where his grandfather used to run a crabhouse. When Tsakiris was a child, the two would head to the banks of the Patapsco River to catch minnows with a view of the bridge.

After the collapse, Tsakiris got a call from Carnival Cruises, which operates cruise ships out of the Port of Baltimore (for now, they have had to divert the ships to Norfolk, Virginia). Carnival wanted to know if the diner would be interested in catering a meal for first responders.

Tsakiris and his staff whipped up 250 crab balls, 375 sandwiches and two giant pans each of chicken stir fry and seafood mac and cheese. Employees volunteered to deliver the feast to a staging area.

“Everybody kind of wants to help,” Tsakiris said. The meals, he said, are “not necessarily help — it’s appreciation.”

Though most of his staff live on the Dundalk side of the bridge, Tsakiris has felt the absence recently of his regular customer base of workers from the port.

“It’s weird, because we haven’t seen much of them lately,” he said. Normally, “they’ll come a couple times a week for lunch; we know them by name and what they like to eat. That’s kind of up in the air now.”

Discounts and donations

Some Baltimore-area restaurants are offering their support in the form of a discount.

The Point in Fells, a Thames Street bar and restaurant, is offering half-off the check for first responders. In Hampden, gourmet crab cake eatery Capt’n Crabby has a 25% discount for Port of Baltimore workers and longshoremen. Through April 4, Locust Point Caribbean eatery Peppa Flame will take 30% off the check for port workers.

Max’s Taphouse is raising money for victims’ families while supporting a Dundalk brewery. The Fells Point bar said it will donate 100% of sales from Key Brewing kegs for the next month.

“We know this is only a drop in the bucket, but we hope to send some support to those who lost love ones while also supporting a brewery that has certainly been impacted hard as well,” says a post on the bar’s Instagram. “Baltimore is a strong and resilient city. We are honored to be a part of it. And together, we will rebuild.”

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