La Guadalupana Restaurant and Grocery Adds to the Mix of Fells' Point

By Cathy Adams

     Don't go to La Guadalupana looking for aisles of fancy salsas, bean dips and chips. In fact, there are only a few varieties of salsa available at this well stocked grocery and restaurant in Fells' Point that serves a growing Latino population. One positive sign for the neighborhood is that St. Michael's Church, located on Lombard Street and started by Germans in the middle of the last century, now prints its signs for festivals in Spanish and the Mass held in Spanish is the most heavily attended.

     What La Guadalupana offers is an exotic selection of fresh produce, spices, dried peppers, cheeses, dried beans, meats, cookies and sweets; in short, everything to stock a kitchen. Juan Ramos, the owner, formerly had a smaller grocery down the block and moved into the larger quarters, the old Scratch and Dent outlet on the corner of Wolfe and Eastern Avenue, in 1994. He has gradually built up his business to include a restaurant that offers inexpensive, home-style Mexican food. He also will be expanding next door to include a bakery that will sell freshly baked bread.

     Ramos said one reason he opened his own business was "for the whole family to work and to keep us together. Everyone in the family works in the store." Abelina, one of Ramos' school-aged daughters, said, "When we first moved to Baltimore, there weren't many other Mexican families." And she added that the store carries items that "you can't hardly find elsewhere."

     Stalks of fresh sugar cane, coconuts, quince and guava paste, brown sugar logs wrapped in corn husks, yucca chips (instead of potato chips), Cuajada en Terron (fresh cheese curd), jars of Mexican sour cream and cans of tamarind or cashew-fruit juice are some of the more unusual offerings.

     Cases of mangoes, papayas, tomatillas, plantains, yuccas, chayote, pineapples, cilantro and ripe avocados sit side by side with the more mundane potatoes, onions and apples. Pungent with scent of cloves and cinnamon, basil, rosemary and oregano, the aisle of spices share the racks with unfamiliar herbs and spices like dried camomile, whole anatto seeds (used as a food coloring), whole cumin seeds, whole flax seeds, dried shrimp and about a dozen varieties of dried chiles.

     The meat and dairy case holds ropes of chorizo (spicy pork sausages), chicken, beef and imported cheeses, like Queso Fresco (a mild semi-soft cheese) and Queso Dura Blanco (a hard cheese for grating).

     The store also sells tortilla presses and masa harina for those ambitious enough to make their own tortillas; jalapeno, chipolte and habanero hot sauces, and a colorful assortment of dried beans.

     The restaurant offers inexpensive (the highest priced entree is $7.99) Mexican food that is popular with the local community. This is not Taco Bell. Caldo Menudo (tripe soup), shrimp or chicken tostadas, enchiladas, tacos (including barbecued goat, chorizo, chicken or beef) are among the starters. Chicken, beef, pork and shrimp entrees are prepared either very simply or in a Mole sauce, (a complex blend of tomatoes, poblano peppers), Salsa Verde (made from tomatillas) or braised in tomato sauce, and all come with rice, beans and a salad.

La Guadalupana Restaurante
At the corner of Eastern Avenue and Wolfe Street
(410) 276-2700
Hours: Monday-Sunday 9-10
Appetizers and Soups: $1.00-6.50
Entrees and Sandwiches: $3.99-7.99

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