Orchard Market & Café in Towson is like an old friend who seems a little weary but still musters up the grace of her glory days. The service may be slow, the wait between courses toe-tappingly long, and the décor and columns dated, but the Persian food is as elegant and polished as ever.
Despite its name, Orchard Market is a restaurant. At one time, early in its 22-year history, it did have products for sale. Now, it’s all about the authentic food served in a peaceful setting of olive and mustard hues.
To get there, though, you have to persevere. The restaurant’s location hasn’t gotten any easier to find over the years. In fact, the increased traffic and congestion of shops along East Joppa Road may cause you to zip past Orchard Tree Lane. Hint: Look for Gardiners Furniture store. The road is next to it.
Once you turn into the street, you still have to meander down the lane a bit. Soon, you’ll see several small strip-shopping parcels. Orchard Market is a storefront with a bright yellow canopy on your right.
A genial host seated us promptly. The restaurant is BYOB, so if you’re toting a bottle of wine, a server will bring you a corkscrew and glasses. There’s no corkage fee, a nicety.
The salads are visual and palate pleasers. Do try one. The salad Shirazi is a colorful mix of tiny diced cucumbers and tomatoes marinated in a lemon-mint dressing with herbs and Bulgarian feta. Our server told us that the feta is like Greek feta, only from Bulgaria. Well, now we know. The mango pear salad was artful, too, with crisp mixed greens set off with sliced ripe mangoes and pears, tomatoes, cucumbers, and a big hunk of feta, all glistening with a sweet-tart pomegranate vinaigrette.
We particularly liked the shirin polo and chicken fesenjune entrees. Both are exotic Persian comfort foods. The shirin polo was a rich stew of chicken in an orange-mango-saffron sauce with fragrant basmati rice studded with carrots, currants, raisins, and nuts. The fesenjune, another traditional dish, starred a poached breast in a walnut pomegranate sauce with basmati sprinkled with saffron threads.
The soltani, advertised as “the Shah of kebabs” on the menu, suffered from dryness. The brown, log-shaped grilled marinated beef tenderloin and ground beef were unappealing in looks and taste.
For lunch one day, we paired a thick and savory aash soup with a grilled Persian portobello pita pocket. The soup nurtured us with chickpeas, lentils, barley, red kidney beans, and vermicelli noodles redolent with herbs and spices like fenugreek, cilantro, and garlic. The sandwich was fresh but sparse on the mushroom chunks and grilled vegetables.
Orchard Market is a place to linger for desserts, most of which are homemade, like the candied-orange-sour-cherry cake with ground walnuts. The baklava, provided by a local purveyor, was soft and flaky and got a boost from sour cherries (prepared Persian style by the host’s mother-in-law, we were told). Add a cup of organic Sumatra coffee, and you’ll leave happy to have returned to this family-run restaurant.