Simone Phillips, who goes by the name CharmCityTable on social media, started her Instagram, where she shares photographs of the meals she eats in Baltimore and the neighboring communities, over three years ago.
But it wasn’t until this summer, months after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, that her follower counts on both Twitter and Instagram exploded, with the former skyrocketing from a few hundred to over 10,000.
Between missing restaurant food, growing sick of home cooking and hunting for new places to order from, followers were drawn to CharmCityTable as a source of recommendations — and mouth-watering photographs — Phillips guesses.
Phillips, who works as an accounts manager for an education technology company, decided to start blogging and posting about Baltimore’s food when she realized that people from outside of the city had negative perceptions of the city’s dining options.
Employees who worked in Baltimore but lived in other Maryland counties would complain that the food scene wasn’t up to par, that there was nowhere to go in the city after work.
“(They’d) have these really negative opinions and I’m like, what are you guys talking about? We go to these places all the time,” Phillips says.
She also noticed that there were almost no food bloggers based in Baltimore, compared to dozens in cities like D.C., Chicago and New York. So, she decided to fill that void.
One of her goals when she started blogging about food was to show there’s a little of everything in the Baltimore culinary scene. On Twitter, she maintains threads of different types of food in the city — click one thread to find a list of taquerias, another for a list of places that serve crab fries. Her followers also consider her a walking restaurant encyclopedia, and constantly ask for suggestions.
The most common questions she fields are where to find the best brunch (she recommends Water for Chocolate a lot), where to get a great crabcake (Koco’s 11-ounce crabcake ranks above all others) and where to have a date night (La Scala and Limoncello are among her top picks).
She usually finds restaurants to try by searching through the news for openings in the area, invitations from restaurants — who comp her meal in exchange for a spot on her social media pages — and recommendations from her followers.
Over the course of the pandemic, Phillips has had to pivot, alongside the restaurants she covers, to featuring takeout and delivery food. Her Instagram page is now rife with exciting new takeout promotions, such as to-go cocktails, meal kits and multi-course family meals.
These posts have had a major effect on some Baltimore restaurants that have struggled to stay afloat throughout the pandemic. One restaurant told her they sold out of their double crabcake platter the day after she posted a picture of the dish to social media, where it gained thousands of likes and retweets. That same restaurant has seen steady sales since, Phillips says.
“Having these social media platforms where you can post and lots of people see it feels much more important than it did before,” she says. “It feels like much more of a responsibility because you’re a part of the community.”
The Baltimore native works to keep a positive outlook in her posts, promoting restaurants rather than critiquing them. Even if she had a truly negative experience at a restaurant, Phillips says, she won’t make a whole post about it — if anything, she’ll describe the experience in an Instagram story, a type of post that disappears after 24 hours.
“I know people sometimes really want me to dig in, if I didn’t have a good experience, kind of go off about it. But that was never my intention, to be a restaurant reviewer,” Phillips says. “I think it really started from wanting to create a place where Baltimore is seen for the good things that they offer.”