Highlandtown: Exploring Baltimore’s neighborhoods

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A look at Highlandtown, a neighborhood in East Baltimore that has embodied the American melting pot for over 100 years.

You could eat your way through world history in Highlandtown. Start with a fat jelly donut from Hoehn’s, which opened in 1927. Make room for a classic Coney Island hot dog — topped with chili, mustard and onions– from G&A Restaurant, which opened that same year. For a late lunch, head to DiPasquale’s – which has served up salami and other Italian delights since the early 1900s. And cap off your day with a hard-earned brew at the Venice Tavern, which opened just after the end of Prohibition.

But don’t get the impression that Highlandtown is stuck in the past. Its present is just as vibrant, as immigrants are coming from Latin America, Africa and elsewhere and bringing with them elements of their home cultures. Salvadoran and Mexican tamales and tortas can be found at panaderias like Don Betos on Eastern Avenue. African Americans and Latinos run hair salons and barber shops, and after work neighbors unwind at a range of artisanal bars, dives and discotheques.

“The people just melt very well,” said Andy Farantos, owner of G&A Restaurant – home to that famous Coney Island hot dog. “Usually neighborhoods in transition – it gets ugly,” he said. But Highlandtown has managed to embrace the old and new together.

Like many Highlandtowners, Farantos’ roots are elsewhere. His relatives moved to Baltimore from Greece – with a stopover in Coney Island, where they got the inspiration for their own restaurant. “They were really straight-off-the-boat immigrants,” he said. He added that the Greek immigrants who once lived in the area lovingly called it “Khayatown.” “Khaya” means “mess” in Greek.

Despite the messiness, one might be hard pressed to find a bigger booster of the neighborhood than Farantos, 51 – which he, like many old timers, pronounces “Hawlin-town.”

“It’s always been a good neighborhood. I say that with a big smile on my face.”