G&A Restaurant takes it back to new beginnings | The Baltimore Watchdog

By John C. Lynch
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer

Let’s
take it back to when the G and A Restaurant first opened in 1927. The famous
Coney Island Hot Dog was introduced to the neighborhood of Highlandtown in
Baltimore. These same hot dogs would win the Reader’s Choice Award for best hot
dog seven straight years in a row, from 2002 to 2007.

Let’s
take it back to when the prominently known Coney Island Hot Dogs, topped with
mustard, chili, and onions, were only 15 cents. Now, these hot dogs have been
featured on the Food Network show, Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.

The
G&A Restaurant in Baltimore is famous for its Coney Island Hot Dogs, but
the restaurant isn’t often recognized for its contributions to Baltimore as a
community. Residents of the community can’t even fathom a time when this
establishment wasn’t used as a meeting ground for friends and family. The
restaurant also hosts local events such as a writer’s workshops, Pennies for Poe,
and many others.

“Here.
Let’s take it back,” said regular customer Kim Miller, who was sitting in a
booth across from her husband, George Miller. “My mom is 80. She and her sister
used to come here as little girls. They would get a hot dog and eat here,
before they were on their way down to the Patterson movies. So, they came here
as kids. My mom and my grandmother used to bring me here as a kid. I brought my
kids here.”

Enduring
family traditions have deep roots in this restaurant. It is also the spark for
new ones.

Kim
and George sat at the diner booth across from each other. Both had a small
plate with a plain hot dog on it. In the middle of the table was a pile of
french fries covered in gravy. They each wielded a fork, poking and prodding at
the fries.

“He’s
from the west side of town,” said Kim, gesturing towards George at the other
side of the table. “I’m an east-sider, and for our first date—”

“We
came here,” said George, finishing the sentence.

“We
came here,” Kim repeated, echoing her husband. “Came here and had hot dogs.”

“Forty
years ago,” George added.

Owner of the G&A Restaurant, Andrew Farantos, lining up hot dogs on his arm and dressing them with toppings in mass amount. Photo by John C. Lynch.

Let’s take it back to when Highlandtown was the place where everyone wanted to be.

Business
was booming for this blue-collar neighborhood and hot dogs were flying off the
grills.

“That’s
the Epstein’s Department Store,” said Andrew Farantos, owner of the G&A Restaurant.
“That was the anchor store. We had all these little shops you know it wasn’t
phone stores like now. It was actually tailor shops and shoe shops and you know;
everybody had a trade.”

Then,
he said the shop workers would walk over on their lunch break and all the
shoppers would drop by to the G&A Restaurant. A customer might have seen a
young Farantos, “just running around here, peeling potatoes, cleaning toilets, doing
whatever my dad told me.”

Farantos is a third-generation owner of this family business. Just like his father and his grandfather before him, Andrew can line up almost a dozen hot dogs on his arm while dressing them with the toppings.

Farantos
moved around the restaurant floor swiftly, carrying dishes from the kitchen to
the tables and dressing hot dogs at the grills. He had to fill in as the head
cook that night because the chef had his car jacked earlier that day. The waitress
showed her experience in the restaurant as well, bobbing and weaving behind the
diner counter and the booths lining the walls. She has been working at the restaurant
over two years, after getting her first job there.

“I
actually walked in and ordered something. They were so nice and friendly,” said
Jessica Fuentes, waitress at the restaurant. She needed a job so she thought she
might as well ask for one.

Farantos
also greets every customer that walks in with a greeting and a smile.

“I
just love people in general,” Farantos said. “I love people and I wouldn’t be
in this business if I didn’t.”

This
love for people extends to love for the community of Baltimore. Farantos
remembers participating in Pennies for Poe. When the city decided that they
were no longer going to fund the Edgar Allen Poe house anymore, bars and
restaurants raised money via coin jars and collected funds for the monument so
fond to Baltimore.

Walking
outside, Farantos took in his surroundings and began to talk about the history
of the neighborhood around him.

“We’ve
seen the whole cycle, from everybody and their mother wanting to come down to
Highlandtown and shop in Highlandtown, to nobody wanting to come down here and
it got really bad and depressed,” said Farantos. “And now it’s on its way back
up again.”

A
mural of rainbow striped horses galloping across the brick wall of a building
drew attention from people wandering by on the street.

“My
daughter kind of helped him a little bit,” said Farantos, after mentioning the
muralist. “She was an art student at the time at Towson State.”

The
G&A restaurant looks to the future, with new beginnings for the
neighborhood of Highlandtown and the people in it. But, let’s take it back to
40 years ago, where Kim and George sat across from each other in that booth,
sharing the first of many plates of fries covered in gravy.