When chef Jim Wilder put out an ad seeking a front-of-house and catering manager for his restaurant, he had no idea that he'd also find a soul mate. A pastry chef by trade, Karen seemed the perfect business partner, and two years later she became his life partner as well.
Together, the Wilders opened The Wild Orchid Café in 1995 in a homey, cottage-like space. Their recipes and shared cooking style favored locally sourced produce and protein, long before "farm to table" became a foodie catchphrase. In 2010, the restaurant outgrew its original home, and the Wilders pulled up stakes to move to a larger, more modern headquarters with stone columns, generous windows, and lofty ceilings, plus an outdoor patio guarded by blossoming trees.
"We have always cooked like that," says Karen of the pair's propensity for seasonal fare. On any given day, Jim, as executive chef, can be found inspecting the newest produce and meat offerings at local farms.
Jim and Karen work together on recipe writing, and though the menu changes according to what's in season, a few hard-and-fast staples remain. Grilled oysters burst with flavor when smothered in bacon and beurre blanc. Sweet wine, bacon, and grapes enhance sautéed chicken livers, and grilled bison sates appetites with much leaner bites than beef from cows or beefcake calendars.
Private dining rooms accommodate large groups, and one comes with a stone fireplace to warm up hands before they dig in.
In the dead of night in 1976, the Abi-Najm family boarded a cargo ship bringing only what they could carry; an escape from Civil War in Lebanon called for a quick getaway. They traveled across the ocean to safety in Arlington, Virginia, where they were able to open a small cafe in 1979. To save money, they changed the eatery?s name from ?Athenian Taverna? to ?Lebanese Taverna? so that they only had to update one word on the eatery?s marquee.
From these modest beginnings grew a series of eateries that today comprises of six cafes and four quick-service caf?s, all still operated by the Abi-Najm clan. One look at the menu explains the success: chicken shawarma, spicy hummus, lamb tartare?all Lebanese staples that helped the restaurant earn a spot on Northern Virginia magazine's list of 25 Iconic Eats. There's even kibbeh, or stuffed meatballs, which blend ground beef, lamb, almonds, and pine nuts into fried spheres suitable for felling miniature bowling pins on top of the table before entrees arrive. The decor is as striking as the cuisine; inside the Bethesda location, light filters through the colored glass lanterns that decorate the dining room.
Each day, the Timonium and Frederick branches brew eight different types of coffee (Annapolis brews six per day), mining from the Baltimore Coffee & Tea Company's coffee reserve, a treasure cove of 120 different varieties of beans. Types of coffee ($1.60 for 12 oz.) are offered on rotating basis, with flavors such as coconut cream and pumpkin spice introducing new aromas to bored taste buds, as well as Swiss Water–decaffeinated varieties for those that love the taste of coffee but find themselves inadvertently building a shrine to Grease after two cups of regular joe. Introduce yourself to the well-crafted wares of Mother Earth with a cup of tea ($1.95 for 20 oz.)—the shop features more than 1,000 kinds of leaves for consumption, from medicinal herb tea to an Eastern Shore variety—or go full throttle with an espresso concoction ($1.50–$4.25).
My Butcher and More's meat-cutting masters acquire grass-fed or naturally fed beef from local farms, from which they prepare juicy, flavorful cuts. Roseda Black Angus beef arrives from a 350-acre farm, where steers enjoy an all-natural diet, natural ponds, and frequent games of patty-cake. The protein emporium also carries Creekstone Farms beef, a 100% Black Angus blend processed according to stringent guidelines to ensure quality. The staff precisely grinds each hearty slice of steer by hand, and customers can chow down content in the knowledge that the shop's sources shield their cows from hormones, antibiotics, and violent video games.
To say Capital Teas? founders, Manelle and Peter Martino, know tea might be a bit of an understatement. Fifth-generation tea merchant Manelle?s great-great-grandfather, Francis Van Reyk, was a Dutch tea planter who immigrated in the 1870s to present-day Sri Lanka, where he planted and managed the Diyagama Tea Estate, from which the Martinos now source their Great Grandfather?s tea. Manelle?s family has been in the tea trade ever since, a tradition she has carried to her own specialty tea business, which has boutique locations throughout the Washington D.C., Northern Virginia and Maryland area. Additionally, Peter has become a popular speaker at World Tea Expos, where he frequently educates and inspires the tea world.
In addition to tea from Sri Lanka, Capital Teas carries more than 200 loose teas and herbal infusions from 18 countries including India, China, Japan, Malawi, and Kenya. A sniffing wall dispenses wafts of black, oolong, and green teas, and knowledgeable employees drift around the store?s tasting stations to explain each flavor?s nuances.
Capital Teas also pairs customers with accompaniments such as teapots, infusers, treats, and artisanal honey. In-store patrons may sample free tea samples?which are brewed fresh daily?while online purchasers receive a free sample with every order.
As they cross the Spa Creek Bridge and spot the bright-red exterior of the Carrol's Creek Cafe, fans of the restaurant know that they're just a few steps away from a delicious bounty of bay treasures. Planted along the famous restaurant row in the Eastport section of Annapolis, Carrol's Creek overlooks a bustling dock and the city's waters. Such a location hints at the restaurant's specialties, which include Maryland cream of crab soup and herb-encrusted rockfish fillets served over sun-dried tomato pesto risotto. An extensive selection of wine, craft beer, and cocktails complements the restaurant's new-American spread. The views aren't bad, either, since diners can peer out into the bay and watch the sail boats play round after round of Marco Polo.