My brother-in-law is a foodie. It was his idea to check out Una Bella Salute, an olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop, in Berlin, MD. He was there for the olive oil; I was there for the architecture. When I pulled open the screen door to the shop the door made a soul-satisfying creak that reminded me of the whine of the rusty spring hinge on the door of the neighborhood deli of my childhood. The other features of the building, the plank flooring, exposed brick, and narrow double hung windows, transported me to the 1700s.
The town grew up around what was part of the Burley land purchase of 1677. The town’s name, Berlin is a result of a misunderstanding of Burley Inn. Travelers asked for directions to the Burley Inn pronouncing the first syllable with a strong accent. The establishment was thus renamed Berlin.This is a great example of how the vernacular shaped the place.
Berlin was a trade outpost for the Assateague Indians and the Pocomoke Tribe. Before the 1800s, the Stevenson family homesteaded here, so the town was first known as Stevenson crossroads. The agricultural history lives on in the acres of corn and soybean farms surrounding Berlin, Rehoboth, Bethany, and Ocean City on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. But more and more, the acres of farm lands are dotted with islands of new developments of pseudo-estates (McMansions) located just a couple of miles from the beach.
We were in Berlin for the olive oil trade. The olive oil shop is nestled into Broad Street and Gay Street. Oregano, basil and fruit scent the air filling the shop with a comforting smell of an Italian kitchen. The aroma encourages browsing a little longer. The polished stainless steel casks that line the shelves of the tasting room contain flavored balsamic vinegar on the left wall and infused olive oil on the right wall. The convenient single-ounce plastic sampling cups invite taste testing. I spied the chocolate flavored vinegar, and decided to be adventurous. My taste buds detected an initially tangy flavor, but the reward of sweet won me over and I bought a bottle. My brother-in-law bought $100 worth of balsamic vinegar and infused oil. While owner Deborah Nicolle wrapped our purchase, I asked how long had the building been there. She guessed it dated back to around 1850 and then added that she knew the space had previous incarnations as a massage parlor, a cigar shop, a spa, a restaurant, and the town jail.
Budget Travel voted Berlin the “Coolest Small Town in America” in 2014. The criteria for cool didn’t include history cool, but it should have. It could be a destination for history buffs who want to explore all 47 sites on the National Register of Historic Places. Runaway Bride (1999) and Tuck Everlasting (2004) were filmed in this iconic town. If your aren’t interested in the history, well, at least you could get some tasty olive oil and vinegar. For me the reward was when Deborah Nicolle told me that Una Bella Salute was once a jail house.