Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Papa Joe's (Westminster, MD)

It has come to my attention that, despite having lived in Westminster for almost a year and a half, I have yet to review my favorite restaurant here! This must be remedied, especially since I'm home from work today with some yucky feverish achy illness and have nothing to do but write restaurant reviews, catch up on lesson planning, and watch back episodes of "Glee".

In a town where almost every restaurant features an practically-interchangeable menu of traditional American fare that one would expect from a small rural area, Papa Joe's is an anomaly. This little Mexican restaurant faces the back entrance of Westminster's historic Main Street, fairly well-hidden unless you're coming through the back parking lot. Noah and I happened upon it last year when we were looking at Westminster apartments, and though we didn't expect it to be any good, we were tired and hungry and decided to take our chances.

Luckily, Papa Joe's is a pleasant surprise! Apart from lettuce and sour cream-laden American tacos and the like, Papa Joe's does a nice variety of traditional Mexican standards. Their Mexican-style tacos, with just meat, cilantro, and onion, are a standby order for me. I also tend to order their tortas, particularly the egg and chorizo laden down with jalapenos and avocado and all manner of other goodies. It's hard to even eat the thing without bits of everything falling down on the table (and, in the winter, down your sleeves--my least favorite thing about long-sleeved shirts).

The real time to go to Papa Joe's, however, is on the weekend when they have off-menu weekend specials. Here's where the real traditional food comes out, like pozole and menudo and more authentic tostadas than the ones featured on their regular menu. Here's an example of some tostadas we had over the summer:

Although I don't see nearly enough people ordering the more authentic dishes, the restaurant is extremely popular and frequently has a wait, especially on weekends. The real test of its excellence? Noah currently lives in Jackson Heights, the hotbed of traditional Latin American food in Queens, and he still looks forward to going to Papa Joe's when he comes here. What higher praise could you ask for?

Papa Joe's
27 E. Main St. (in rear municipal parking lot)
Westminster, MD 21157
Mon.-Thurs. 11am-10pm
Fri. and Sat. 11am-11pm

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Local Sprouts (Portland, ME)

We're back, with news from Portland, ME!

"Wait," you say. "Maine?? Isn't this a Maryland/New York food blog?"

Well, it is. But it just so happens that earlier this year Noah and I went on a fantastic vacation, exploring New England. And by "exploring New England", I actually mean "eating our way through New England", because that's what we do. We even planned our trip primarily around a book, Jane and Michael Stern's 500 Things to Eat Before It's Too Late. This wonderful little book was our primary source of good eats around the country (we're hoping to eat our way through as many of these as possible one day), but once we got to Portland, there wasn't much in the book to guide us. Luckily, as we soon realized, Portlanders are rather fanatical about their food. Every single place we went clearly put extensive time and energy into putting forth fantastic food--even the smallest of restaurants are run with great care, and everywhere from bars to cafes serves locally brewed beer. Even The New York Times praises its food (though we didn't actually go to any of the restaurants featured in that article).

We were in Portland for several days, and we would frequently pass by a small cafe near our B&B called Local Sprouts that looked extremely interesting. On one of our last nights in Portland, we finally had a chance to stop in and eat, and we're very glad we did. When you first enter the cafe, you notice the kind of artistic, slightly all-over-the-place atmosphere that a good cafe does so well. The walls were covered in art from local artists, every table and chair in the building was a unique piece, there were shelves of things to read, and children ran around and even played with us at our table. Everything was very laid-back and friendly, and that demeanor extended to the staff. We ordered a jerk chicken plate and a roasted vegetable soup, and while we were ordering we chatted with the person taking our order, and I told him I was getting the vegetable soup specifically because there was eggplant in it (eggplant, for those of you who aren't aware, is my favorite food). When he told him that he said, "wait here. I can't promise anything, but I might have something for you." To my incredible surprise, a minute later he came back with a huge eggplant sandwich, and proceeded to give it to me--for free. He said they sometimes have food leftover at the end of the day, and if the opportunity arises they give it away to a good home. It made a spectacular lunch in the car the next day.

Now, onto the food. The jerk chicken plate that we shared was excellent--well-spiced, and plenty of food. It was served with a cabbage salad that I honestly don't remember much (I ate most of the soup, and was in a soup-related trance for much of the meal, so I don't remember much about the jerk chicken other than that I liked it), and rice. One thing you definitely notice when you eat at Local Sprouts is that you're getting plenty of food for your money, as the bowl of soup I ordered was probably enough for at least two people, not the small perfunctory bowls you get at most places. The vegetable soup was tomato-based, and had eggplant and zucchini and all manner of other vegetables. Big, huge chunks of vegetables. The kind of vegetable soup that makes me wish it were winter all the time so it would be seasonally appropriate to sit around and eat this stuff all day. By the end of the meal, with the combo of jerk chicken and vegetable soup and the promise of an eggplant sandwich later, I was in a happiness coma.

The one complaint I notice from online reviews is that you wait a very long time for your food, even for food you wouldn't expect to take a long time. It is true that the service is one of the most relaxed parts of the place, but it's easy to deal with if you don't expect to rush in and out. Sit down, look at the art, read a book. Listen to the live music, if they have it, which they sometimes do. Chat up your 7-year-old seat neighbor. Local Sprouts will make it worth your while.

Local Sprouts Cooperative
649 Congress St., Portland, ME
Mon.-Sat. 8am-10pm
Sun. 9am-3pm

Local Sprouts is a Community Supported Cafe, which means that you can pay to become a member and get discounts on food and things like that. All their food is produced locally--if you want, you can even look on their wall, where they have a map of every farm and local producer where they got every ingredient they use. It is also worth noting, particularly if you are into making life happier and more enriching for individuals with disabilities (as I am; it's only my career), that the Bomb Diggity Bakery also runs out of this place. They provide a baking and arts program for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Pretty cool stuff.