Monday Miam-Miam: Chez Donna’s in Charm City

One of the most pleasurable aspects in my life now that my kids are no longer kids is to meet them on their turf.

Especially when they are making their lives on unknown territories, away from familiar states.

One of our daughters is currently a PhD candidate at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

When she chose the university over other offers on both coasts of the country, a difficult history and mixed reputation preceded the city nicknamed Charm City in an effort to counter its challenging image.

We had passed through Baltimore once in the early 2000s and the six of us had lunch at the now closed Legal Seafood in the Inner Harbor. So the city being totally new to our daughter teh parental unit offered to accompany her to Baltimore for orientation day and housing matters. I wrote a French post about these unique forty-eight hours.

We spent one night in Annapolis, home to the United States Naval Academy, and strolled under a steady rain through the compact lovely downtown.

The following day, while our daughter was at the university, my husband and I toured Baltimore and explored the areas that she had selected as potential housing options. Charles Village was one of her picks. The two of us voted unanimously in favor.

With the university’s undergrad campus rolling on one side, including the Baltimore Museum of Art and its lovely restaurant Gertrude’s, rows of grey and brick buildings and gorgeous Victorian houses, Charles Village felt like a good fit for a young woman pursuing higher education in the city.

And of course when the parents spotted the small restaurant, right across the building our daughter had also put on her priority list, they were sold.

With its black awning, sidewalk terrace, white-clothed tables, Donna’s restaurant would have been home in Paris. Minus the American trademark fire escape. So this is where my husband and I had lunch, surrounded by a mix of grad students, young professionals, a few professors, and locals while dreaming out loud about our daughter’s future 🙂

Photo courtesy of Charles Village

The food at Donna’s was fresh, light, perfect for lunch. A mix of meal-salads and burgers and small dessert plates. Espressos were served with a lemon twist. The décor was a great balance between urban and comfy. Moreover the service was impeccable, quick, low-key yet attentive. I noticed some people who just stepped in for a cup of coffee and spotted when I left the small bakery counter in the entrance corner. Perfect for a morning coffee/pastry to go.

When we met our daughter later that day she had no doubt about her decision: she would leave Berkeley and her home state for Baltimore, Maryland.

Still donning the infamous Cal’s colors through Baltimore

The following day she signed a lease for the apartment across Donna’s.

I envisioned lunches when we would listen to our daughter’s exciting new life. Possibly dinner too.

Alas Donna’s closed its doors. Like Doreen from Baltimore, I was crushed.


Lonely bench in waiting 


Late spring, I spent a lovely extended weekend in Baltimore, right after a brief but significant winter storm swept across the city.

My daughter took me to small cafés and even bars – a rare thing for me- tucked in pockets neighborhoods. I discovered Baltimore through the eyes of a young woman now closer to be a professional than a student. Over the recent years, the city has worked hard at bettering its image. Baltimore has even stepped onto the foodie scene. Quietly but decidedly, new restaurants have opened in former industrial buildings. Farm to fork food is fairly easy to serve in Baltimore, thanks to the proximity of the coast but also to rural Maryland and Virginia.

Sunday Brunch

Now that our daughter has moved from her first apartment to one of Baltimore typical row houses, steps away from the medical school, near the sought-after Patterson Park, a galore of eating options are available to us when we visit.

But Donna’s with its easy-going yet classy setting that reminded me so much of Paris neighborhood restaurants, my all-time favorites in the city, remained on my mind. Like local resident Doreen, many lamented the closing of the café restaurant. Don’t know if tears poured over the closing of the old Donna’s helped, but a new Donna’s reopened in town.

Over one of his recent trips my husband met our daughter for dinner there. I couldn’t join him, so for once I break the rule that I would only write about restaurants where we ate together.

But we were a duo at Donna’s Charles Village, so here is Donna’s Cafe at Cross Keys. Sans moi.

The covered terrace (Donna’s website)

J’adore le pain! (Donna’s website)

Coffee at Donna’s (Donna’s website)

My husband told me that the restaurant is located in The Village of Cross Keys. It’s a complex made of luxury condos, high end shops and nice restaurants. Very different from the urban Donna’s in Charles Village.

Outdoor terrace (Donna’s website)

Supposedly Oprah Winfrey has lived there for a few years. I think I would have known if she had shared dinner with my husband and daughter. Which according to him was good but somehow lacked the feel we had both enjoyed so much over lunch. Now I wonder if our memories of food and ambiance can be altered by our mood. Of course, they are.  That day, we were both happy for our daughter, enthusiastic for her, so eager for her. In this café-like setting we were once again young and full of dreams too.

So this is what they ate together at the new Donna’s.


Tuna Tartare: avocado, scallions, jalapeno, apricots, butternut squash, lime juice, curry oil, cripsy tortillas.

Pan Seared Trout with Kale Salad, Raisins, Olives, Feta, Pine nuts, Tomatoes

Now food for the mind:

Thanks to Johns Hopkins University, bookstores abound in Baltimore. The Barnes and Noble near the university is a mix between a regular Barnes and Noble, a university gift shop, and a bookshop that highlights local writers and the work of alumni. Located in the Inner Harbor, the other Barnes and Noble store is worth a visit. With three levels packed with books and a large café at the top overlooking the bustling area, it’s a bookshop with a view. I found an excellent selection of children and young adult’s literature and bought a couple of books.

But I always favor independent over big business, so I bought two more books for my husband and my San Diego daughter at Trohv on the lively artsy W. 36th.   This is not a bookstore but a place to find artful objects and gorgeous stationery, one of my weaknesses. In fact, the store is open to artists’ submissions. Which is found a great unusual initiative.

Since our very first trip to Baltimore, the city has clearly developed a more sophisticated vibe. You could argue (I do, too) that a city needs much more than lovely shops, vibrant bars, and a hip food scene to be an inclusive, affordable, and safe city for all.

Yet I feel a palpable desire for change over my visits. Our daughter is now at home in Baltimore. Unlike some strikingly beautiful California cities Baltimore hides behind layers of tough history and sadly too many tragic brutal deaths.

But as I rode the university shuttles with my daughter and countless students coming from all over the country and the world hope for Baltimore never left my mind.

That and the plan to share dinner with her next time. At Donna’s or not.







  1. Looks fabulous! Donna’s looks like a place for foodies! 😀 I love Maryland — The Mister and I once spent three days on the Chesapeake Bay, nothing but hotel-ing and eating crab. It was a fine getaway. Love Legal Seafood, too. Oh yes, that’s right good.

    • I would love to discover more of Maryland. Like you I find the Chesapeake bay lovely. Eating crab there is a must. Definitely. The last time I ate at Legal Seafood was at Logan airport in Boston. Not a bad place to kill an hour or two 🙂

  2. Thanks for sharing ! It seems like a nice city, and the food looks amazing !

    • Baltimore is much more than what we see on the news. There is always work to do when it comes to justice and equality. But I like to see how vibrant some neighborhoods are and how much the residents are eager to build a strong community. And the good gets better and better 😉

  3. Behind the Story says:

    “One of the most pleasurable aspects in my life now that my kids are no longer kids is to meet them on their turf.”

    I totally agree. Not only to meet them on their own turf, but to explore the cities and towns where they live. It’s like having many homes. Through my daughters, I’ve been a part-time resident of Berkeley, Burke VA, Chicago, Providence RI, Magadan, Russia, Soap Lake WA, and Nashville. Now they live in Carmel IN, Pasco, WA, and Rockville MD. When I visit my youngest in Rockville, I always fly into Baltimore. She does a lot of work in Baltimore, and they have a season ticket to the Aquarium there. Such a beautiful waterfront.

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