A Modern and Ancient Surprise: Sam’s Cafe and Market

Rockville Pike (Route 355) is a major highway in Montgomery County in Maryland and has connected Rockville (my hometown) to Georgetown (in Washington, DC) since the 18th century. But it’s no bucolic country road. It’s a six-lane highway in my part of town with miles of stores, offices, restaurants, and car dealers lining both sides–and an important generator of tax revenues for government.

So the County and City are looking at ways to improve this stretch of the road, which may include widening to include two quieter side roads and a busier center highway. In a recent meeting with the Planning Commission and Historic District Commission, there were some questions whether there was anything worth saving. I know there are a couple buildings that stand out for their architectural design and this past Sunday, I wanted to take a closer look to be sure. After a couple hours, it turns out to be much bleaker than I expected. Most everything is designed for impermanence and with as little investment as possible.

Sam's Cafe and Market, a new store carrying items from the ancient world in a modern "glass shed".

Sam's Cafe and Market, a new store carrying items from the ancient world in a modern "glass shed".

But I did spot a couple good buildings that deserve a closer look along with a simple “glass shed” so typical of the 1960s but rarely survive. And this one is a treat. Just look at the sign:   “Gelato  Bubble Tea  Kabobs  Hookah”.  I had to go inside and see what was going on.  I was overwhelmed.  Sam’s Cafe and Market opened just a couple months ago and has an amazing selection of food and merchandise from the Mediterranean and Persia.  I slowly walked the aisles to absorb the variety:  roasted nuts, teas, candies, hookas, breads, olive oil, rose water, magazines, video tapes, fresh produce, pastries, rice, spices, sugar, and yes, gelato.  A portion of the store is set aside as a restaurant and orders for kabobs, gyros, kobideh, and kalbas are taken at a window.

So for you adventurous types, here’s what I recommend:  plan to have lunch with a group of friends and explore the store before or after.  I haven’t tried the food so I can’t vouch for it, but you can’t go wrong with gelato.  The young guy at the front counter was very friendly and welcoming, and allowed me to take a few pictures to share with you.

Sam’s Cafe and Market is located in Rockville at 844 Rockville Pike across from the Hollywood Diner (a shiny silver diner) and just north of Edmonston Drive.  It’s actually a nice pocket of ethnic restaurants with Thai, Spanish, and Vietnamese all in close proximity.  The Washington Post gave it a nice write up in its old location and the Gazette provided a more recent review along with Rockville Central.

And if you have any suggestions for great architecture worth saving on the Rockville Pike, post your comments here and I’ll snap a picture to share.