Bethesda’s Best Take-Out: Elm Street Edition
Try some no-fuss comfort food during this busy time of the year.
Many Bethesda restaurants cater to individuals and families who want to take freshly prepared foods home or to the office. Since there are so many excellent choices, I decided to investigate by neighborhood or street. This first issue in our "Bethesda's Best Take-Out" series features Elm Street.
I started off by talking with Brian Baczkowski. As as a media specialist at Bethesda- Chevy Chase High School, Baczkowski spends a lot of time eating in downtown Bethesda. He is also a self-professed foodie who seeks restaurants that serve "sharp flavors." I met up with Baczkowski when he was dining at Taylor Gourmet. We discussed why he is a fan: "Well, first they bring in the rolls in from Philly--crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, with seeds on top. Also, the flavors here are not muted--they use topping like sharp provolone and broccoli rabe—both very strong tastes. The pork and beef are freshly roasted in-house." You could see the meat in the sandwich was right off the bone and very tender.
Baczkowski has eaten at Taylor Gourmet about five times and his favorite hoagie is the Pattison Avenue, although today he ordered the Girard with sautéed mushrooms, peppers and broccoli rabe. His wife prefers the vegetarian sandwiches, like buffalo mozzarella, tomato and basil. He says it's best to order the full sub sandwich, which, for just $1.50 more, provides leftovers. As a side, he decided to brave the calories in the crispy fried risotto balls with melted mozzarella inside. They were actually a bit spicy and came with marinara sauce--delightfully decadent.
I was happy to have this expert to guide me. "Food is more than daily sustenance to me -- it's a hobby," Paczkowski explains. He recommends following commentary on www.donrockwell.com, where local chefs participate on a discussion board. He often gets tips for what to order from reading it, he said.
Next, I talked with Mary Koles, director of Spidersmart tutoring company, who gets most of her take out from Elm Street eateries. She loves the delicious sandwiches at Spring Mill Bread Company, regularly orders the lentil soup from Lebanese Taverna ("They give you bread with that"). But her true passion is for "Café Devo," as she puts it.
Koles is referring to Café Deluxe, where she says they offer a frequent dining card that generously rewards regulars. It's interesting to note that, while new places pop up monthly around them, Café Deluxe's market share is stellar. I asked Eric Gonzalez, bar manager at Café Deluxe, to explain why the restaurant remains an institution on Elm Street: "We've got the martini and wine crowd, but we're still a family restaurant. They come for comfort food, like chicken pot pie or meat loaf with mashed potatoes. And the prices are really reasonable." He compared their fare to Taylor Gourmet, saying Café Deluxe's prices were actually lower in many cases. By the way, Gonzalez shared the secret of their mashed potatoes—its horseradish!
I ordered a few of Kole's recommendations, including the top-selling macaroni and cheese, made with gruyere and pillow-soft curly noodles--it definitely earns the hype. Sandwiches, like their lamb or the grilled chicken, come with savory toppings like pickled ginger mayo, chipotle crema, lime caper sauce and balsamic onions. The sandwiches are fulfilling enough to qualify as dinner and come with sides of crispy, tangy sweet potato fries and mixed greens.
Other options: try a slice or two from Mamma Lucia. At Baja Fresh, the fish tacos are really the best thing on the menu. For a French twist, sample one of Le Pain Quotidian's tartines (open faced sandwiches) or entree salads. Dessert? There's the amazingly addictive YogiBerry with its slightly sour plain yogurt and a cornucopia of toppings from which to choose.
Next time, we'll investigate Cordell Avenue, but in the meantime, bon appétit!