"Even in the grave, all is not lost"
Edgar Allen Poe
State 39: Maryland May 12, 2018
We woke up at a Walmart in Baltimore well rested, and ready for a brand new day. We spent three days exploring Western Maryland, and could not wait to see what adventures lie ahead! The first task of the day was a drive across town, to visit the Cross Country Couple’s "Famous Person" for Maryland: Edgar Allen Poe. Edgar Allan Poe was a writer, editor, and literary critic best known for his poetry and short stories. Poe is credited as the founder of the literary detective fiction genre where a detective investigates a crime. With literary masterpieces such as “The Fall of the House of Usher”, “The Raven”, and the “Tell-Tale Heart”, Poe’s works influenced literature in the United States and throughout the world. An annual award named in Poe’s honor called the “Edgar Award” is annually presented for distinguished work in the mystery genre.
Poe was the first prominent American to make a living by writing, which required him to move wherever work could be found. Many of the homes where Poe once lived have been turned into museums, and his Baltimore dwelling is now the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum. Since the neighborhood surrounding the museum was very sketchy, we instead visited Poe’s grave at Westminster Hall and Burying Ground. Established in 1787 and designated a National Historical Landmark in 1974, Westminster Hall and Burying Ground is a graveyard and former church located in downtown Baltimore. Although the cemetery serves as the final resting place for a plethora of prominent early Baltimorians, the most famous person interred here is writer, poet and author Edgar Allan Poe.
Edgar Allen Poe died at a Baltimore hospital at 5:00 am October 7, 1849 at the age 40. Four days prior, Poe was found wandering the streets of Baltimore delirious, wearing someone else’s disheveled clothes and unable to explain what had happened. Poe’s medical records and death certificate have long been lost, but a few of the speculated causes include: hypoglycemia, murder, suicide, cholera, rabies, syphilis, brain disease, delirium tremors, epilepsy and the flu. A 2006 test conducted on a sample of Poe's hair ruled out led and mercury poisoning. Complicating matters further, Poe was posthumously subjected to blatant character assassination from his literary critics contributing to further blurring of the truth. The circumstances leading up to Poe’s passing and exact cause of death remain unknown to this day. How ironic the death of the author who pioneered the detective fiction genre is still shrouded in mystery!
Poe was originally buried in an unmarked grave in his family plot in the rear of the cemetery. After the public raised funds for a proper monument, Poe’s body was exhumed, and reburied in a more prominent site near the front of the church on October 1, 1875. Apparently, the grave diggers had difficulty finding the exact location of Poe’s burial site, and first accidentally dug up the wrong body. Oopsy! Please see the pictures below of the first and second graves sites of Edgar Allen Poe.
If Poe’s literary work, circumstances surrounding his death, burial and reburial was not peculiar enough, things actually become even more creepy! The “Poe Toaster” is an unidentified person who annually visited the original grave site of Edgar Allen Poe during the early hours of January 19th; Poe’s Birthday. For over 7 decades, the “Toaster” would pour himself a glass of Martell Cognac, raise a toast to Poe’s memory, and then vanish into the night. The mysterious figure would leave behind the unfinished bottle of Cognac, and 3 roses in a distinct pattern at the grave. While the symbolism behind the Cognac is unknown, the roses are believed to represent Poe, his wife Virginia, and his mother-in-law Maria Clemm whom were all once buried at the site. The “Poe Toaster” has been rarely photographed and has never sought publicity. He is described as a tall thin man dressed in black, wearing a wide brim hat, carrying a silver tipped cane, with his face obscured by a white scarf. As the story became more widely known, people annually gathered at Poe’s former grave site in the early morning hours on January 19th in hopes of encountering the elusive "Toaster".
The annual tradition reportedly began in the 1930’s, and abruptly ended on Poe’s 200th birthday in 2009. In the years since the “Toaster” no showed, people began to insist the tradition be resurrected. In 2015, the Maryland Historical Society held a competition to christen a new "Toaster" in a more tourist friendly manner. The new "Toaster" made his first appearance during the day on January 16, 2016. Dressed similar to the original "Toaster", he played a violin, raised the traditional Cognac toast, placed the roses on the grave and before departing proclaimed to the gathered crowd “Glory paid to one's ashes comes too late".
Fortunately there were no grave diggers, Cognac toasting, violin playing, or creepy dressed people during our visit to Poe’s Grave. What I did discover was a fantastic example of a late 18th century cemetery. I have always found it eerily peaceful walking through an old graveyard. Although the architecture and mason work was quite impressive, the cemetery is allegedly haunted, so I made sure not to over stay my welcome EEK! Please see the pictures below of our visit to Westminster Hall and Burying Ground.
After departing the grave site of Edgar Allen Poe, we drove across town to partake in the Cross Country Couple’s “Famous Food” for Maryland: Crab Cakes. Varying in size from a small cookie to a hamburger, a crab cake is a patty traditionally consisting of minced seafood, bread crumbs, mayonnaise, eggs, blend of seasonings, then broiled and served with a lemon wedge, tartar sauce, mustard, cocktail sauce, ketchup, or a dash of Worcestershire. Crab cakes are typically found on the menus of coastal restaurants where the crab industry thrives. Although the meat from any species of crab may be used, the blue crab native to Chesapeake Bay is hailed by enthusiasts as the crab of choice forever linking Maryland with the crab cake!
Houston we have a problem! Nate and I are vegetarians, and crab cakes are most certainly NOT part of a plant based diet! Since crab cakes are so closely tied with the state's identity, I am hoping somewhere in the state a vegetarian had creatively concocted a vegan version of this iconic Maryland entrée! After a lengthy Google search I discovered “The Land of Kush”. It’s not what you are thinking!! Recreational marijuana is illegal in Maryland! Hailed by Baltimore City Paper’s “2017 Best Restaurant” and “2015 Top 10 Baltimore Dishes: "Best Vegan Crab Cake”, the Land of Kush is a vegan soul food restaurant, owned by Chef Gregory Brown, Naijha Wright, and Drious Waters located in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon Community. Clearly, The Land of Kush is Baltimore’s current raining champ for vegan crab cakes, but be forewarned they are only available on the weekends! How good is the food at the Land of Kush you ask? It is so damn good Stevie Wonder eats here!!! Unfortunately, Stevie Wonder was not present during our visit, but how cool would it have been if he was? Please see the pictures below!
Even under the most ideal circumstances, crab cakes are quite a challenging entree to make. Most are either under cooked mushy bread blobs, or burnt to a crisp. More often than not, you would be fortunate to find a single shred of crab within. Even when I was a carnivore, I cannot recall ever having a good crab cake. I was excited to experience how the Land of Kush had overcome the aforementioned obstacles plaguing crab cakes for centuries, and in a vegan manner nonetheless!
Although I am currently a vegetarian, veganism is, “My part time lover”. I was so shocked to find a vegan version of crab cakes, I felt like picking up the phone dialing the number to the restaurant and singing “I just called to say I love you, and I mean it from the bottom of my heart”. Instead, I decided to just call to confirm they were serving their signature vegan crab cakes, and sure enough they were! Off we went across town to the Land of Kush, and after parking Rosie we eagerly entered the restaurant. Typically, vegetarian restaurants have cutesy names such as: the “Gratitude Café”, “G-Zen” or the “Plum Bistro”. With a name like the “The Land of Kush” I was not sure what environment I was about to encounter, but was pleasantly surprised upon entering.
In most restaurants, the kitchen is tucked away in a far off back corner, which one can only grab glimpses of when the door occasionally swings open. However, at the Land of Kush the majority of the cooking and prep work openly occurs in the main dining space. The food was handled properly, and the kitchen was impeccably clean! Since the kitchen is in the main dining room, customer seating is somewhat limited. Tables line the perimeter of the space, and bar style seating faces the restaurant's front window. The environment of this restaurant can best be described as a quality cruelty free casual dining experience. So far so good! There is nothing “Superstitious” about the Land of Kush. Now let’s eat!!!
Upon approaching the counter, I placed a single order for a 4-piece vegan crab cake for $10.99, and took a seat on the bar stool facing the window awaiting their arrival. Twenty minutes later, my name was called, and I approached the front counter singing, “Here I am baby signed sealed delivered I'm yours”! I gingerly retrieved my crabless crab cakes, and took my seat back at the bar stool overlooking the street. Each crab cake was generously sized proportionate to a hockey puck, and the aroma being given off by these cruelty free crustations was just heavenly. I was overcome with the beauty of my crab cakes, and began singing, “Isn’t she lovely, Isn't she wonderful, Isn't she precious, Less than one-minute old".
As soon as I took my first bite there was only one thing I could do. I sang “My cherie amour, pretty little one that I adore, You're the only girl my heart beats for”. I was expecting the restaurant to use tofu or hearts of palm in place of the crab meat, and was surprised to see the crab cakes are made with seitan. Seitan is wheat gluten commonly used as a meat substitute. I am no stranger to seitan, and use it in a variety of my vegetarian recipes. However, the dense chewy texture of seitan is more reminiscent of steak than the soft and sweet taste of crab. I still have no idea how the chef pulled it off, but the consistency of seitan was extremely soft, tender and reminiscent of a crab experience. There was a complex and expert blend of seasoning and spices which I can’t even describe other than delicious. The most impressive aspect of these vegan crab cakes were how they were perfectly cooked. The outside of the crab cake possessed a perfect sear, and the inside of the crab cake was soft and moist.
I do have a few points of critique! Albeit, generous to offer three different dipping sauces, all were extremely poorly executed. The first sauce was bland, the second was boring, and the third was inedible. If they have the wherewithal to create the “Best Vegan Crab Cake” in Baltimore, surely someone in the kitchen can concoct a simple vegan tartar sauce! In addition, celery was missing depriving the crab cakes of a much needed internal crunch. I would have liked to have seen the Old Bay seasoning kicked up a notch and mustard powder toned down just a tad. Aside from the aforementioned, the vegan crab cakes at The Land of Kush were quite spectacular! Should I ever find myself in Baltimore over the weekend, I would certainly stop back at The Land of Kush for another order of vegan crab cakes. Stevie Wonder certainly has good taste in both food and music! By the way, how many Stevie Wonder lyrics did you find in this post? If you answered SIX then you are correct! Congratulations!!!
After departing The Land of Kush we drove 11 miles South to Glen Burnie where we found a Walmart to spend the night.