Eat Like an Annapolitan Series: The Potato Valley Café

Washingtonian Best

Let me cut to the chase here. I love The Potato Valley Café, or as many locals call it, “Potato Valley.” It is the definitive comfort-food eatery in downtown Annapolis that I’ve been frequenting ever since I started working nearby three years ago. Potato Valley is a food haven amongst the touristy hubbub that we have going on throughout the year, such as the summer tourist period, Boat Show season in the fall, and Christmas time. It’s worth every bite, and I hope you’ll venture out to go!

Potato Valley is located in State Circle, an area that I view to be the heart of downtown Annapolis. (Nope, not Main Street!) State Circle is quieter and much more relaxed than the Main Street and the City Dock areas. If you’re not into seeing any corporate giants like Chipotle or Starbucks in a historical travel destination, you won’t be seeing any of that in this part of downtown.

Given that the Maryland State House is State Circle’s biggest landmark, the area is full of history. The architecture of the historically preserved buildings and residential areas are absolutely stunning, and always worth a look. Not too far is the meticulously manicured Governor’s mansion. Then while walking around and shopping, you can go straight to Potato Valley for a wholesome, delicious, budget-friendly meal. Sounds awesome, right?

Beyond the food, one of the reasons that I keep coming back to Potato Valley is because of its sweet and salty owner, Barbs (Barbara). Yes, she herself had told me that some customers take offense to her no-nonsense personality. So when you go, take it with a grain of salt and have a sense of humor.  It’s all in good fun, and this is something Barbs is known and loved for by the regulars!

Within the past year or so, Barbs and I would gradually chitchat and get to know each other. We’d talk about anything from what’s going on with our hair, the latest in national politics, our favorite podcasts and local Annapolitan news.

Barbs
Barbs

While thinking about what restaurant I could talk about next on the next Eat Like an Annapolitan series, Potato Valley came to mind, all because of me being total Barbs fan. So one day, in October 2017, I marched right in Potato Valley, placed an order of potatoes and casually asked Barbs if I could dedicate a post. I am so glad I did because she let me interview her a couple days later and it was so much fun! But before I go on, let me give you the details about Potato Valley so you know what to expect before you go.

Owners/chefs: Barbs and her Swedish Husband
Date established: November 1994
Location: 47 State Circle #1, Annapolis, MD 21401
Cuisine: Americas (US Regional, Central/South American, Tex-Mex, & Caribbean)
Concept: Fast-Casual

Potato Menu: $6.35-$10.00 (beverages, snacks, and dessert items not included in this range)
Seats: ~24 (mainly indoors, limited outdoor seating)
Decor: Clean and simple
Dietary options: Omnivore, Gluten-Free, Vegetarian, Vegan
Catering availability: Yes

Website: http://www.potatovalleycafe.net/

It’s a great place to go when you…

  • have a family member or friend with you that has dietary restrictions
  • not in the mood to fall into a tourist trap while visiting Annapolis
  • looking for a place to eat that is clean, consistent, and friendly
  • want to sample something before you decide

Most popular food items:

  • Cuban Chicken
  • Chicken, Cheddar, & Bacon
  • Vegetarian Combo

My favorites:

  • Cuban Chicken
  • Caribbean Chicken (aka the Jamaican)
  • Vegan Half & Half (Not on the menu–1/2 South of the Valley bean salad, 1/2 Vegan roasted veg)
  • Vegetarian Combo
  • Midnight Sun
Vegan half and half
1/2 South of the Valley (beans salad), 1/2 roasted veggies, salad greens, and crispy onions on a roasted potato

Primarily a place that focuses on serving lunch, the rush is in perpetual motion from open to close. While Interviewing Barbs around 2:00 PM on a Thursday afternoon, more and more customers would trickle in to grab their “usual’s,” caught up with Barbs, and hurried back to their offices.

 

There was also a hilarious group of local customers that ordered food and completely forgot what they had ordered. I had never seen such commotion over forgotten menu items by customers before. Thankfully, Barbs remembered that everyone at the table ordered the daily special and the confusion was quickly put to rest with a lot of laughter. Barb’s looked at me while laughing and said: “I can’t believe they forgot what the f*** they ordered!” There’s never a dull moment at Potato Valley, I’d say.

A little history: Barbs and her husband discovered a roasted potato franchise during a trip to Sweden. Together, the couple bought the rights to the franchise to learn how to operate it, then brought it back to the States. The Swedish franchise had toppings on the potatoes that had European influenced flavors, something that Barbs did not want to bring to Annapolis.

Barbs was not interested in having European-themed ingredients on a baked potato because potatoes are historically known to be native to South America. (If you ever strike up a conversation with Barbs, ask her about Charles C. Mann and his discovery of the potato!)  As a result, Barbs decided to place a focus on the “foods of the Americas” covering North America, South America, and Caribbean regions. This means that many of the menu items focus on regional flavors of the Americas with use of native ingredients such as avocado, beans, tomato, corn, and so on.

Food of the Americas
Blurry, but the sign says “Food of the Americas,” something Barbs wanted me to emphasize on this blog.

Barbs shared that the first three years after Potato Valley opened, business was a little slow.  She explained that most people associated the baked potato as a side dish and not the main dish, so getting the right footing on having a steady stream of customers took a little time. Barbs further commented that she took time to study her new customers as well, and often tested out what would end up being today’s current menu staples.

And another fun fact. Outside of managing Potato Valley, Barbs works as a Psychotherapist!

Concept: Potato Valley is a casual dine-in eatery that serves fresh oven roasted russet potatoes with a variety of toppings. The toppings include flavorful sauces, salads, caramelized onions, chili, roasted/stewed meats, cheeses and some fruit. If you’re not in a loaded potato mood, opt-in for their regular salads, soups, or sandwiches. Also, check out the daily specials menu. There is always something fun and trendy to try on there.

There is special care taken in all of the ingredients that are used in each menu item. Since the turn-around of the café is so quick, the food is persistently fresh. All of their ingredients for the potatoes, salads, and soups are natural and without preservatives. The veggies are cut fresh each day, and nothing is ever frozen. Potato Valley special orders particular ingredients for their menu items as well. For example, the Caribbean Jerk Chicken seasoning is made is specially ordered from Jamaica. Potato Valley does not make their dessert items in-house but procures it from a local bakery nearby (apologies as I did not ask the name).

Ambiance: Potato Valley is a tiny shop that is on the corner of Cornhill Street and State Circle. You are greeted with the daily special menu as you walk in. It is likely that you will encounter a line as soon as you open the door moving towards the counter.

 

To the right of the line, you’ll see the seating area with some tables, benches and utensil station where their hot sauces are stored, along with some water. For your viewing pleasure, there are cute potato-themed images, and portraits of Peruvian women (I think) in traditional dress surrounded by potatoes.

Interior
From Barbs –The dining area taken from the back of the cafe

Since Potato Valley has opened, its customer base has spread as far as Virginia. It’s no wonder that they’ve been featured in Washingtonian’s Best Cheap Eats lists for many, many years. If you’re a non-local in for a day or weekend trip, make sure to swing by Potato Valley for a satisfying meal. Don’t forget to introduce yourself and share fun stories with Barbs!

Notes

Many thanks to Barbs for taking time out of her busy schedule to meet with me at Potato Valley.  Barbs also let me use some of her own photos for this post–which I really appreciate!   I’m sorry that I was not able to catch Barb’s husband’s name, shoot! Barbs even took the time to write a list of notes for me to take along to guide me through this post. I still have them, and will keep them in a little box of mementos that I have with me. Thank you!

I wish it didn’t take me this long to write this post. It is something I had planned to do in October. However, the last two months or so has been rather chaotic– between working two jobs, family matters, and the holiday season coming in. I now have a little room to breathe and plan to make new posts more frequently. I missed food blogging!

Until next time!

 

Lots and lots and lots of love,

 

E.

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