Orion Gourmet Takeaway
By Rachel Repper
Wednesday, Sep 21, 2011
It seems fitting that a shop situated across the street from NASA in Greenbelt would serve creations that take up space. Lots and lots of space.
Orion Gourmet Takeaway is known for its extensive breakfast and lunch menus, but its gut-busting meat-and-cheese combo sandwiches have earned a steady customer following in the 10 years since owner Bruce Lee opened the place.
Even without the small strip-mall storefront's usual sign outside (temporarily MIA as the eatery underwent renovation), a weekday lunch rush can transform the unassuming interior into a flurry of organized chaos.
Lee, 40, mans the front counter. Waits can last up to 20 minutes (during which one can overhear fellow patrons discuss algorithms and quantum computers), so he introduced Orion's much-revered free homemade potato chip plate. The tray often is depleted several times a day by those who are in line; it is quickly replenished with a freshly fried batch.
Lee is a bit hazy on how that tradition started: "It happened a long time ago. I think we got the idea from Five Guys, because they make their own french fries," he says, citing the burger chain that's a few doors down. The sweet house sauce that accompanies the chips is also a bit of a mystery; Lee will reveal only that it includes ranch and honey mustard dressings, onions and "a lot of other stuff."
Five Guys-motivated or not, however, Orion isn't about burgers. Upwards of 50 sandwich varieties are detailed on the laminated lists of offerings. Portions are generous, and that's putting it lightly; many deploy multiple Boar's Head meats and cheeses. I enjoyed the warmed Washingtonian, piled high with ham and bacon, then topped with melted Swiss and American cheeses. The Wall Street is just as towering, with hot roasted turkey breast, ham and provolone cheese; the Virginian packs on Virginia baked ham, turkey and Swiss (each sandwich, $6.49). Even one-meat sandwiches have a lot going on; the Tuscan's main protein, chicken breast, sports fresh mozzarella and pesto sauce on ciabatta bread.
Orion isn't above playing up its celestial inspiration. The Hubble, a doozy of a sandwich with turkey breast, bacon, provolone cheese, hot peppers, lettuce, tomato and Italian dressing ($6.99), pays homage to its NASA clientele.
Bread choices can be a bit overwhelming: pita, a sub or Kaiser roll, rye, whole wheat, white, pumpernickel, multi-grain, sourdough, croissant, focaccia, ciabatta, bagel or several wrap flavors. For me, a simple, fresh sub roll was sufficient: not too bready, yet substantial enough to stand up to the massive amounts of stuff inside.
Last Friday, the reconstruction had wrapped up, which meant the return of the full-tilt daily mob. By 8 a.m., the early-morning breakfast crowd was already picking up steam.