The Potato Valley Cafe in Annapolis began life several years ago as part of a Swedish chain offering baked potatoes garnished with all sorts of yummy things, like mango slices.
It's no longer part of the chain, but Potato Valley remains a first-class carryout specializing in artistically prepared - and tasty - baked potatoes.
While the General Assembly is in session, legislators, lobbyists and staffers cram into the cafe's airy dining area, or tote bags full of potatoes and home-made soups back to their offices.
Tourists who don't want a full sit-down lunch would be well advised to make the trip up from the waterfront to grab a potato, sandwich or salad at the cafe, which sits across the street from the State House.
Don't expect a soggy, fast-food-style potato plugged with a couple of broccoli chunks drenched in gloppy Cheddar cheese. The cafe's potatoes are all extra-large, baked perfectly and served with peppery butter.
I went for the tzatziki, which came with a tangy sauce made of nonfat yogurt and shredded cabbage and was topped with lettuce, tomatoes, bits of Danish onion roasted in canola oil, cucumbers and a sliver of mango. At $5.95, it wasn't cheap, but it was a filling, delicious meal.
Customers can choose from several other potatoes, including one flavored with an artichoke-based yogurt sauce or the South of the Border, which comes with beans, corn, lime and peppers. The cafe also offers marinated grilled chicken on some spuds.
My son raved about his turkey sandwich, which cost $5.95 and was piled high with smoked turkey and crisp lettuce on thick whole-wheat bread. Corn chowder was dense, yellow and spiked with a distinctive smoky flavor. It was, though, a bit steep at $3.94.
Finally, the tosca, a light Swedish poundcake with slivers of almond on top costing $2.63, was wonderful - not too sweet and not overwhelmingly almond-flavored.
The place can get busy during the lunch-time rush, but the staff seems to handle it well. The waiting area might get crowded, but you can catch the headlines on CNN on a television in one corner while you wait, or watch the workers assemble your potato. If you ask nicely, they'll spoon on some extra Danish onions.
As for parking, forget about finding an on-street space nearby. Park in one of the municipal garages and walk.
Potato Valley Cafe
Waiting room: ***
Parking: (no parking but easily accessible by foot)
Where: 47 State Circle, Annapolis
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday. Closed Sunday
Prices: $6.50 to $8.50 for an overstuffed baked potato and drink Credit cards accepted
Phone: 410-267-0902; fax410-267-8783
Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *