(Update: The market moved to Laurel and reopened on September 10, 2009. Hours will be Thursday 9-6, Friday 9-8, Saturday 8-3.)
You could go just for the spectacle and the pretzels. Dutch Country is a supermarket-sized area with a dozen vendors selling everything from meat to candy, fresh-squeezed juice to ribs you can carry out. It's chaotic. It's friendly. It's a well-stocked middle ground in a world where so many stores specialize in organic or cheap.
Start your trip with a $2 hot pretzel from Lydianne's Soft Pretzels, which is just past the candy shop when you enter. They're literally right out of the oven, and you can't beat that kind of treat. Personally, I ask for a pretzel that hasn't been dipped in butter. They literally have a few quarts of melted butter, and they dip everything before they go to the counter. That's delicious, but I prefer a little more crisp and little less butter.
Then, take a walk. As far as I can tell, the vendors are all people from Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Obviously, this is a perfect place if
you like Pennsylvania Dutch food. There is an entire display of pasta, potato, tuna and other salads. There are great sweet desserts like fudge, cheesecake and pies. And there is a wall of preserved items like jams, pickled vegetables (brussel sprouts!) and pickled eggs.
But you should sample your way around the Dutch Market to see what catches your eye. I have found great ingredients to cook and many little treats. I actually haven't tried the vegetables stand. Usually, I'm in the midst of errands, and the full selection of vegetables -- clearly not grown in Pennsylvania -- always makes me wonder whether they're really "farmers market" special or just nice-looking stuff from a wholesale market. Stick your head in the candy area and look for the unusual gummies. Check out the spices and jarred items across from the candy for pickles, jams, spices and soup mixes. Spend a long time at the meat counters, especially if you're looking for something unusual. These are my current favorites:
- The hot pretzels, including the breakfast "bacon, egg, and cheese" pretzel log. (I'm not kidding.)
- The dairy products -- including Trickling Springs Creamery regular or organic milk in glass bottles -- just inside the entrance.
- The Beiler's Meats counter with a broad selection of steaks, veal, pork, interesting sausages, organic meats, and butcher-store specialties like ham hocks, cow feet, and goat meat. Beiler's sells three levels of meat -- USDA grain fed, a "natural grain fed" free of steroids, hormones and antibiotics, and a certified organic.
- The baked goods, including all kinds of dinner rolls, sweet breads, cakes and even loaves from the Breadery in Ellicott City.
- The fresh-squeeze orange juice and lemonade around the corner from the candy stand. That can run $7.89 and $3.59 for a half-gallon respectively, but you can watch the machine squeeze juice right there in the store. It's delicious, and you can buy smaller bottles as well ($4.29 and $1.99).
(Update: See the detailed recommendations from HowICook in the comments.)
The Dutch Country isn't an organic wonderland. Despite the beards and bonnets, these are modern folks selling manufactured goods. The goods are delicious, and it's cool that they're made in Lancaster County. But the pickles that I bought contain polysorbate 80, and that is going to be similar if you're looking through the candies or at Lydiaanne's zesty horseradish mustard. So keep your eyes open and buy something because you like it -- not for the romance of the "Dutch Country." (And watch the prices too. The $1.39 Claeys candies are 99 cents if you buy them at Laurel Meat Market.)
Overall, this is a fun place to check out. The key fact is that it is only open Thursday to Saturday and only 9 am to 3 pm on Saturday. Check out the Web site below. It gives you a superb feel for all 12 vendors, plus the hours and address. In 2007, there was talk that the Burtonsville market would close and move to Laurel, but the Web site and signs at the store say it will be open until further notice. I don't know exactly what that means because they still list the new location on Rte 198 in Laurel.
If you are checking out Burtonsville, turn west on Rte 198 and check out the restaurants in the next two blocks. There are outlets for Rita's and Mainwand Kabob, plus Cuban at Cuba de Ayer and Ethiopian at the Coffee Oromia.
Dutch Country Farmers Market (to July 4, 2009)
15642 Columbia Pike
NEAR: The Dutch market is at the intersection of Rte 198 and Columbia Pike. This is a block west of Rte 29. From Howard County, take the first exit in Montgomery County. You'll go around a traffic circle at the top of the exit ramp, and then you'll ride down the old Rte 29 past Meadows Farms nursery. The market is in the shopping center on the right just before the intersection with Rte 198.
Dutch Country Farmers Market (after August or September 2009)
9701 Fort Meade Road (Rte 198)
Laurel, MD 20707
NEAR: The market will be on Rte 198 just east of U.S. 1. It is very convenient from downtown Laurel.