The Dutch Country Farmers Market has re-opened in Laurel, and it is still worth a drive by anyone interested in exploring food -- it's just a drive on Rte 198.
This market was a Burtonsville landmark for years, and, as I said about that location, you could go to Laurel just for the spectacle and the pretzels. Dutch Country is the size of a small supermarket with a dozen vendors selling everything from meat to candy, fresh-squeezed juice to ribs you can carry out. The new market has shopping carts and wide aisles. But it is still chaotic. It's still friendly. It's still 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 right at the front door. 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 dip everything in quarts of melted butter. 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. Think pasta and potato salads, sweet desserts like cheesecake, fudge and pies, and canned items like jams, pickled vegetables (brussel sprouts!) and pickled eggs. Don't expect a "Whole Foods" array of ethnic items. The meat counter has three different kinds of bologna, but doesn't sell pastrami. The prepared foods sells lots of fried chicken and ribs, but you're not going to get Asian-flavored grilled chicken breasts.
Sample your way around the Dutch Market to see what catches your eye. I have found great ingredients to cook and many little treats. The Laurel market has a machine that stamps rice cakes similar to the popped rice bowls at H Mart. They blow out of the machine every nine seconds, which would be a little show if you shop with kids. 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. But you should definitely check out the central stall with bulk candies, spices, and baking items. (This weekend, I saw the wafers/cookies that you use to make ice cream sandwiches. You could make your own with your favorite ice cream.) You should also check out the restaurant, which had lines out the door from 8:30 past 9 am.
You should also read the comments. The first reports from other people are here, and TVMom posted photos on A Million Things I Love. I hope that other people will comment on this post about why they drive to the Dutch Country Market. These are my current favorites:
- The hot pretzels, including the breakfast "bacon, egg, and cheese" pretzel log. (I'm not kidding.)
- The fresh-squeeze orange juice and lemonade at a stand that is in the center across from the BBQ and meat stands. Juice can run $7.89 and $3.59 for a half-gallon respectively, but it's delicious. You can buy smaller bottles as well ($4.29 and $1.99).
- The dairy products -- including Trickling Springs Creamery regular or organic milk in glass bottles -- in a dairy section across the aisle from the juice stand. It is right next to a machine that makes rice cakes.
- 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. One tip: Grab a number from the middle of the long counter. If you just stand around, they won't help you.
- Bacon. Six slices of thick-cut bacon beat a pound of plastic-wrapped stuff at the grocery store. Beiler's sells pepper, smoked or regular bacon.
- The baked goods, including all kinds of dinner rolls, sweet breads, cakes and even loaves from the Breadery in Ellicott City. But read the ingredients. This is a business, not just home baking. Some of the items are packed full of of potassium sorbate, polysorbate 60, and other not-so-country ingredients.