Monday, February 11, 2008

Burtonsville: an interesting place for people who eat food

I work in the middle of nowhere.

The church is on a former farm, on a short stretch of road strung between two more significant roads. Some things about the area seem very rural, but it's too developed and well-traveled to be really country. And while some of the woods and ex-farmland nearby are pretty, there is nothing scenic about the piece of 198 where I work.

But let's put aside the very real challenges of suburban ministry (more like exurb ministry)for the moment...and talk food. I came to a stunning realization on Sunday afternoon - that Burtonsville, Md, which lacks so many things, is really up to its metaphorical neck in interesting places to eat.

I realized this as I waved goodbye to Genet and walked out of Oromia, the brand new coffeehouse that has opened in a strip center on 198. As well as excellent coffee drinks, and iced tea that actually taste like tea (!), they serve excellent sandwiches - and Ethiopian food!

I had never had African food before last week, when my friend Sarah and I visited Oromia. Sarah had lived in Africa, and as soon as she saw the design of the coffeehouse's sign, as gasped "It's Ethiopian!!" and RAN through the doors. We had a delicious lunch, and great coffee, and now I have somewhere besides Starbucks to deal daily with my caffeine issues.

We had lunch there Sunday, and as I was leaving the shop with the kid, I looked around and could see:

Hunan Manor, which serves a fine menu of inexpensive (Gringo-oriented) entrees. On Sundays, they offer a special menu, a page or more of fresh, authentic dishes (you know, those foods that your inlaws are scared of?) I've never had anything bad there. The staff will not steer you wrong.

a Cuban restaurant that the Post lists in its top ten

a great Afghan kabob place

brilliant homemade ice cream (and - sorry to have to say this - a great staff but horrid food.)

and a Mexican/Salvadoran restaurant that we eat at all the time.

Across Rt 29, there's a family-owned Italian white-tablecloth place, and a pretty good wine shop.

And of course, there's the Dutch Market, which is like paradise for me, combining, as it does, spiffy meats and produce with fresh baked good and cheese...and the strange flavors of my rural central PA childhood. Chicken corn soup with rivvles! Real pot pie! sour cherry custard!

Apparently, we about going to lose the Dutch Market soon; the owners of the (admittedly down-at-the-heels) strip center are going to re-develop it, and the market will have to go (Post story here.)

I'm guessing that low density and relatively low income has kept Burtonsville off the radar for most chain restaurants (we have plenty of fast food and sandwich franchises, and, of course, The Man) and so some small local chains and family-owned places have been able to make it work.

It's been interesting seeing the area change - get more diverse and interesting - in the years since we built the church. I can't imagine what will happen in the coming years.

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