The Harper's Choice shopping center is the perfect weeknight escape in the summer. It's the classic Columbia story because we might never have found it except that Mrs. HowChow was humming the Rita's theme song ("You've got to go Rita's, You've got to go to Rita's") and reminiscing about how she had loved the gelati when she was growing up in Philadelphia. Deep in the story, we realized that she was humming the song because she had been hearing it on the radio, then realized that people only pay for ads if they have a store somewhere nearby. We ran to The Google.
Twenty minutes later, we were sitting in Harper's Choice eating gelati -- cherry Italian ice layered with vanilla cream. It's a great scene. Families sitting out. Teenagers checking each other out.
Make this a simple night out. Go to Harper's Choice and start at Maiwand Kabob across the parking lot from the Safeway. Go simple with some kabobs, rice and tandoori bread. Definitely start with an appetizer like the pumpkin or bowlawni. The grilled meats are mouth-watering -- beef, lamb, dark-meat chicken tikka kabob, white-meat chicken kabob. On a summer night, you can feast at the outside tables for less than $10 a person, then walk across the parking lot for a cup of Italian ice at Rita's to end the night.
Some time, I'll write up Maiwand Kabob's whole menu, which includes wonderful appetizers like aushak and some complex lamb and chicken specials. It's a take-out joint, but the food is as good as you can find anywhere.
(Another option: Dinner & Rita's in King's Contrivance in southern Columbia. Rita's opened there in the summer of 2008. Have a pizza at Trattoria E Pizzeria Da Enrico, then have Italian ice in the center courtyard. The fountain there is even more pleasant than Harpers Choice.)
(Update 6/8/08: Took my own advice and got caught in Saturday night's monster thunderstorm while sitting in Maiwand Kabob!)
Rita's -- Harpers Choice
5485 Harpers Farm Road
Columbia, MD 21044
(and just opened in Kings Contrivance, see below)
5467 Harpers Farm Road
Columbia, MD 21044
NEAR: This is in central Columbia. Harpers Farm Village Center is on Harpers Farm Road east of Rte 108 and west of Cedar Lane. There is a gas station and a McDonalds right on the road, and the shopping center is behind. Maiwand Kabob is on left with a cleaner. Rita's is on the right in the main shopping area.
Rita's -- King's Contrivance
8640 Guilford Road Ste B10
Columbia, MD 21046
NEAR: This is in the shopping center with the new Harris Teeter. It is south of Rte 32 just east of Rte 29.
For a review of Maiwand Kabob's bigger cousin The Helmand, check out the Baltimore Food and Wine Blog here.
(Update: A new Maiwand Kabob opened in 2009 near Arundel Mills Mall and the BW Parkway. There is also a branch in Burtonsville just off Rte 198.)
Arundel Mills Preserve shopping center
7698 Dorchester Boulevard
Hanover, MD 21076
NEAR: Take the Arundel Mills exit from the BW Parkway. That road only goes east. The Arundel Mills Preserve shopping center is on the left almost immediately. There is a Starbucks in that shopping center.