While steak, seafood, salads, and wines share the spotlight, it's the fondue pot that transforms the dining experience at The Melting Pot into an interactive one. Bubbling at the center of the table, steel cauldrons steam with cheese blends such as aged cheddar and lager beer, or fontina, butterkase, and buttermilk blue. Diners spear slices of granny smith apples, artisan breads, and veggies, before dipping them into the thick, creamy cheese. While a wine and cheese fondue pairing may suit the evening on its own, a fresh salad followed by lobster and steak turns the experience in to a three-course event. Continue the dipping feast by adding one of nine velvety chocolate fondues and diners can gather around the table to dunk strawberries, marshmallows or chunks of cheesecake.
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 restaurant 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 restaurants and four quick-service cafés, 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.
Caffé Pronto is a wholesale roaster that stocks a variety of coffees, including all-natural decafs from more than 15 countries worldwide and a number of fair-trade, organic, bird-friendly, and Rainforest Alliance blends. Order a bag of beans online or slowly sip a cup of individually brewed coffee inside one of their brick-and-mortar cafés while snacking on a gourmet menu of paninis, breakfast sandwiches, pastries, parfaits, and desserts. A cup of coffee in the morning can mean the difference between hitting the ground running and hitting the snooze button relentlessly. Give your alarm clock time to let its bruises heal with today’s Groupon.
The dark wood façade of Mezeh’s Mediterranean Grill creates a stylish, modern presence in the food court at Annapolis Mall. Patrons walk along the eatery’s glass case, first selecting a base for their meal—salad, rice, tortilla, or fresh-baked pita—to complement one of five fillings, including crisp rounds of falafel and morsels of chicken shawarma. Their dishes can be topped with tahini or spicy harissa sauce, along with vegetable blends such as red cabbage slaw or pickled turnips. All items on the menu are crafted without trans fats or preservatives, making them a healthy alternative to making ham sandwiches out of other ham sandwiches.
Even though Portuguese explorers couldn't pronounce the Swahili name for the African bird's eye chili—pili-pili—the sailors fully embraced its flavor shortly after landing in the region known today as Mozambique. Intrigued by the small, fiery pepper, they combined it with aromatic doses of herbs, garlic, and lemon to create the first peri-peri sauce. That sauce eventually became a wildly popular marinade for poultry, and the tasty concoction made its way to South Africa over the next several centuries. There, in 1987, two friends decided to honor this culinary legacy by founding the first Nando's Peri-Peri restaurant. The eatery continued to remain true to its South African roots, even while expanding to encompass locations in 24 countries across four continents.
Beginning with fresh chickens that never see the inside of a kitchen freezer, the chefs furtively marinate the birds in a secret peri-peri sauce for 24 hours before grilling them over an open flame. Diners dictate the heat level of their order, requesting that the grilled chicken arrive relatively mild or that wings be slathered with even more incendiary spices. The succulent chicken can be plated with hearty side dishes—such as Portuguese-style rice with herbs and peppers or peas with mint—or served in the form of a sandwich, wrap, or pita. To complement the menus' African flavors, Nando's worldwide locations collectively feature more than 4,000 pieces of African artwork.
Each day, the Timonium and Frederick branches brew eight different types of coffee (Annapolis brews six per day), mining from the Baltimore Coffee and Tea Company's coffee reserve, a treasure trove of around 120 different varieties of beans (full pounds start at $11.90). Types of coffee ($1.60 for 12 oz.) are offered on a 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—or go full throttle with a ribbon of 20 Eastern Shore tea bags (starting at $4.75) in more than 100 flavors. Try the fresh baked muffins ($2.25–$2.75 each), Italian gelato ($3.25, small; $4.50, large), bagels ($1.50; $0.75 extra for regular cream cheese), and other delicious pastries. Prices may vary by location.