Just Visiting

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Laurel Maryland is certainly a curious place to behold. It lies equidistant to both Baltimore and Washington DC, and is perfectly nestled between Interstate 95 and the Baltimore Washington Parkway (295). One may consider it the perfect compromise of travel between the raging city beltways and therefore also be an attractive place to live.

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One would be largely incorrect.

While it is by no means the worst place on earth (for instance it is easily trumped by Kondopoga Russia, Johannesburg South Africa, and virtually every major city in Michigan), Laurel doesn’t have a whole lot going for it. I would akin the atmosphere to Murfreesboro TN, and depending on what neighborhood you find yourself in, you could decide it to be pleasant, progressive and bustling, or decrepit, crime ridden, and outdated. There are some really nice developed parts that contrast sharply with some of downtown which essentially looks like one super large Texaco truck stop.

The biggest selling point for Laurel is that it is obviously the only headquarters for the National Security Agency. This could be cool except that if you even so much as whisper “NSA” in the Laurel area, the natives assume you just mispronounced “NASA”… which is located in Greenbelt.

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Perhaps it’s simply plausible deniability.

But one of the most ironic twists in US history is the fact that Laurel was also the temporary home and point of resources for the 9/11 terrorists during the months leading up to the September attack on New York and DC.

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It may be for this aspect alone that Laurel MD is a strange and even perhaps uneasy place to live.

But say you actually find yourself in the pleasantville of Laurel with nothing to do. As long as you’re in the right part of town, the people are actually very friendly and polite (unusual for the DC area.) And one thing Laurel does have going for it is: Restaurants. The ratio of people actually living in Laurel to places to eat in Laurel is about 1:1. On the Baltimore Ave strip alone, you will find a Red Lobster which is right beside The Green Turtle, which is adjacent to the Brow Cow Diary, which shares the intersection with Ed’s Black Pirate bar, which is across the street from the Red Sky grill, which is next to Hooters.

However, if you have the time and urge to consume something tasty, I say skip the Olive Garden and Coldstone, and give the following little joints the old college try:

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Shane’s Rib Shack started in McDonough GA, so the little eatery is quite a ways from home. It’s become quite the franchise now, and I’m sure a little bit of that family tradition and homemade taste has trickled out as the Shack has expanded up north. But for a Tennessean far from Music City and with a Cracker Barrel and a Waffle House nowhere in sight, a plate of dry southern style BBQ is like an oasis on the surface of Mars.

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And the food ain’t too bad either. Strangely enough, Shane’s sauce reminds me more of influences from South Carolina – a mustard based sauce with quite a bit of zing and kick at the end. If you’re not in the mood for pulled pork or ribs, you could always try their chicken fingers or hot wings.

And they serve sweet tea all day.

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I have come to the conclusion that if you take a two mile walk in the DC area going straight in one direction, you’ll smack right into around 30 Pho restaurants before you’re done. I’ve actually seen three “Pho” shops in one shopping strip alone, and that’s not including the little Vietnam in VA.

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The closest one in the area is Pho Saigon which serves what its title suggests: Tasty and simple Pho. If you’re in the mood for light and fresh, try pretty much any of their Pho or noodle salad offerings which emphasize mild sauces, piles of crisp raw vegetables and herbs, chewy noodles, and peppery thin sliced meats. And if you’re into strangely colored tapioca pudding drinks (I’m not), look no further, as they seem to specialize in bubble teas with flavors such as: strawberry, kiwi, pineapple, avocado, and peanut butter sesame.

Strange sure… but oh so scrumptious.

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The Five guys chain enjoys a local reputation as being the best place around here to get a burger and fries. While not being the absolute best dressed beef patty I’ve ever had, it’s still a darned good local joint that serves super fresh to order burgers, first class steel sliced fries, and hot dogs.

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Their fries are pretty much incredible. The first above picture shows bags of potatoes (not pre-cut frozen fry flakes) that are cut right before your eyes (as are also the hand patted burgers by the way). When you order them, they are flash fried, lightly salted or seasoned with Old Bay, and dumped to the top of a plain brown paper bag. And that’s the small size.

Burgers fair just as well. There’s a whole list of free condiments and toppings ranging from BBQ sauce to sauteed mushrooms and onions to hot peppers. This list goes for both the burgers and Hebrew Nationals which can be even further dressed with cheese and bacon (I feel my veins clogging just by typing this). And remember, only their “small” burgers have just a single patty.

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The Mid Atlantic Seafood & Produce Market is something that I am not familiar with having lived well south of the Mason Dixon line all my life. The building is literally cut in half, one side being a fresh seafood and International market and the other being essentially a home style buffet. I really didn’t know what to think of it the first time I saw the place, but after noticing how many cars were always in the parking lot during dinner  time curiosity got the best of me.

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The food at the buffet side is surprisingly very good considering they have everything there from fried chicken and ribs, to mexican rice and plantains, to raw oysters, lo mien and char grilled marinated vegetables. They also have an extensive selection of fried, stuffed, grilled, and broiled fish, clams, crabs, shrimp, and scallops. For an asian this is truly a dream come true.

If you feel like cooking it all yourself, you can just hop on over to the other side, where you’ll find what I believe to be the freshest market of seafood in the general area. Prices are good, great selection, impressive presentation, and the service is absolutely fantastic. The place also looks immaculate. You could eat off the floors.

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For those just wanting some affordable family Italian, look no further than Ledo. There’s something about it, maybe it’s in the sauce. For such a bloated industry as Pizza joints, it does manage to stand out.

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Ledo only serves square pizzas (they say it’s because when it comes to quality, they don’t cut corners). The rest of their menu, while not being overly complicated, is just right for a family looking for some real taste without breaking the budget.

And that’s kinda a plus right now.

I have also found their service to be prompt and heartwarming.

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While we’re on the subject food and drink, I might as well mention Corridor Wine & Spirits. If you like drinking a lot of alcohol, this is kinda your place to be. It’s a wine, beer, and liquor store only it’s about the size of a Harris Teeter.  You need 1,000 bottles of Bud in an easily portable box? The Corridor has it. They’ve got a ridiculous selection of imports and micro’s. You could pretty much get lost in the wine section. And they even have a tasting bar in the middle of the store.

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2 Responses to “Just Visiting”

  1. Karen Lubieniecki Says:

    Too bad you didn’t take the time to drive around Laurel. It’s Old Town has blocks of beautiful historic homes; there is a thriving community museum and historical society (www.laurelhitoricalsociety.org) that documents the history of this town, which was originally a factory town and was an early suburb. You also missed some of the more distinctive eating places Like Red Hot & Blue (we were the second of the franchise); Linnys (best chicken salad on the planet); fabulous Tampico, the long-lasting and delicious Toucan Taco, and even a Tastee Diner.

  2. Actually, Karen…. I live here! (well, in the general area)

    Thank you for commenting, your eatery suggestions sound most fabulous… I will try them immediately. Maybe even for lunch, I’m hungry right now and chicken salad sounds good.

    I always wondered why there were so many bars in this town. Factory town makes sense.

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