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Restaurant review: Orchard Market and Cafe is a home away from home

The line "treated like family" gets tossed around a lot when it comes to restaurants. But rarely do you feel that comfortable or connected by the time you pay the check. Orchard Market & Cafe in Towson doesn't just make you feel at home — it also serves up a first-rate Persian meal.

Hidden in the back of a strip mall off of Joppa Road, Orchard Market is almost impossible to find — unless you know where to look. It's a testament to the restaurant that it has been open for 22 years despite such a terrible location.

Inside, the Orchard Market does the best it can with the space it has to work with: Columns, bas-reliefs, photos and the obligatory Persian rugs decorate the diminutive dining room. The lighting conveys a sense of warmth and comfort.

Our waiter, Jason, we soon realized, was also one of the owners. He, his wife, Sharareh, and mother-in-law, Nahid (who are the cooks), have run the restaurant since 1997, taking over from the previous owner. Charming and extremely informative about Persian cuisine, Jason gave us some of the best service we've ever had. We didn't know much about Persian cuisine, and Jason took it upon himself to make us feel comfortable and instruct us on what to try.

Orchard Market & Cafe is BYOB. They do have sodas and juice, but it was suggested we try their cardamom iced tea, which turned out to be really refreshing. A squeeze of the lemon served on the rim of the glass rounded out the fragrant and bitter cardamom.

Both of the appetizers we ordered turned out to be dips. Heleem Bademjune ($7.50) was a puree of eggplant and beans topped with chopped walnuts and sour cream. The walnuts added texture to the creamy dip which, after I added salt, had a pleasant eggplant flavor. The portion of pita was a small compared with the big plate of dip, though.

The eggplant and artichoke ($8.95) was a chunkier dip that combined salty with sweet and tangy. Silky eggplant stood out among the salty feta and olives, while the artichokes were improved by a dill mustard sauce that bound the dish together. It was a wake-up call for our taste buds.

An order of the mixed kebabs ($16.95) was altered slightly when Jason accommodatingly added what he said was the "must try" lamb kebab. The dish traditionally featured a chicken kebab, a koobiedeh (ground beef) kabab and a filet mignon kebab (which was replaced by the lamb). Each kebab was expertly grilled — the lamb was prepared medium while the chicken and the koobiedeh were both cooked through while remaining juicy. The rice and the meats were all accented by a sprinkling of sumac powder. Made from the berry of the sumac bush, the brick-red spice lends a lemony kick that cut through the richness of the meat wonderfully.

The dish that best showed the versatility of Persian cooking was the duck Fesenjune ($17.50). Translated to "my favorite pheasant", the pheasant in the recipe has been replaced with the more locally available duck. The poached duck leg and breast were surrounded by a surprisingly delicious sauce of tomatoes, pomegranate and walnuts. By itself, the sauce almost tasted like a dessert, but became complex and savory when mixed with the duck. It is a must-try dish that, while not much to look at, will have you rethinking what an entree should taste like.

Our desserts were picked from a tray brought out by another server and were hit-or-miss. The baklava ($4.95) was hard to eat — so tough that it was almost impossible to cut, it wasn't a good interpretation of the sweet pastry. The saffron ice cream Napoleon (7.95), in contrast, couldn't have been more delicate and flavorful. Phyllo dough filled with fluffy whipped cream sandwiched the soft and beautifully tinted ice cream. It was a delight to eat and a wonderful ending to our introduction to Persian food.

Couples who once went on their first date to Orchard Market & Cafe are now bringing their children back to celebrate graduations. It's something the owners take pride in — and they should. Given the owners' great service and welcoming nature, it's easy to see why. You might have a hard time finding the Orchard Market, but once you, do this family-oriented restaurant could easily be a regular date-night destination for years.

IT'S YOUR TURN: Have you been to Orchard Market and Cafe? Write your own review.

Orchard Market and Cafe

Where: 8815 Orchard Tree Lane, Towson

Contact: 410-339-7700, orchardmarketandcafe.com

Open: 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m., 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m., 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 11:45 a.m.-4 p.m., 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Sunday

Credit Cards: Visa, American Express, MasterCard

Appetizers: $4.95-$9.95

Entrees: $14.95-$18.95

Food: ✭✭✭

Service: ✭✭✭1/2

Atmosphere: ✭✭✭

[Outstanding: ✭✭✭✭; Good: ✭✭✭; Fair or uneven: ✭✭; Poor: ✭]

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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