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At Ma's Kettle in Savage, food is served with 'a slice of home'


It's been voted "Baltimore's Best" for its shredded pork barbecue sauce. But to locals, Ma's Kettle in Savage is the place to go for talk.

"Hell is six inches of ice covering the land," waitress Metta Lash says to no one in particular.

It's the kind of free-flowing talk that characterizes the old restaurant off Baltimore Street across from Savage Guilford Road.

"It's a slice of home in an otherwise inhuman world," says Pete Dykstra, a Crownsville resident who stops in at least twice a week.

"People talk to each other here," he said.

That's the kind of atmosphere owner Mary Ann Mitchell likes to maintain.

"In this weather you can't do anything," Ms. Mitchell says to some customers sitting around the bar.

"It's about 18 degrees, 18!" one customer shouts.

Dykstra responds, "I'm getting out of here. I'm going to Miami. . . . I can't take this weather anymore."

That kind of byplay forms a kind of background music at Ma's Kettle, along with talk of traffic snarls at U.S. 1 and Route 32 and the flap over the Redskins' plans for a stadium a few miles away.

Since 1976, the restaurant has been a hub for the Savage community. That's when Ms. Mitchell bought the place after she saw an advertisement in the newspaper.

Back then, the talk at Ma's Kettle was about harness racing at nearby Freestate Raceway. Since the closing of the raceway in 1989 and with the proliferation of barbecue and fast-food restaurants along U.S. 1, Ma's Kettle has lost some of the crowds that used to pour in.

"Some days, you had lines waiting outside the building," recalls Bobby Mitchell, Ms. Mitchell's son, who runs the business with her.

Many of those people once lined up for the traditional country breakfast that Ma's Kettle used to serve.

"There used to be a group of old guys who would get together there in the morning for breakfast and have coffee talk," says Savage resident Ellen Waff.

Though the crowds have dwindled, Ms. Mitchell maintains the homey environment because she and her son believe it sets them apart from the fast-food competition.

Old mugs sit on a mantel, with plates hanging above them. Plaques and signs with sayings such as "The cuisine here is superb! . . . and the food ain't bad either!" decorate the walls.

And the symbol of the restaurant's name hangs on the wall, too -- a copper kettle with a light shining on it.

The menu is simple, home-style fare: pork barbecue, hamburgers, barbecued meatballs, chicken Parmesan with spaghetti. And the prices are low, generally $5 to $7.

The Mitchells also have expanded their business to include Baldwin's, the cafeteria in the Historic Savage Mill, and a catering service, called ...Putting on the Ritz, which holds the contract for Howard County government events.

Their food service businesses generate a combined $1 million in business a year, Mr. Mitchell says.

Much of that success is connected with the low turnover among the dozen full-time employees, he says.

The waitresses are likely to strike up a conversation at any time, and they almost always punctuate the end of a meal with a cheery word.

"Bye-bye. Have a good one," says Christine Midkiff, giving her signature farewell to regulars, who are certain to come back for more camaraderie and home cooking.

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