Sidamo Coffee and Tea - Fulton

$$$$ ($14 and under)

Editorial Review

Since its debut in this Howard County community last fall, Sidamo Coffee and Tea -- like its older, better-known sibling in the District -- has been busy satisfying beyond-the-Beltway tastes with winsome and wholesome light fare.

One of the many crowd-pleasers is the chicken salad sandwich: a mixture of roast chicken, red onion, pepper, garlic, mayonnaise and hot mustard on toasted multigrain bread ($6.95). "I chop and chop" throughout the day, says co-owner Mimi Desta, who warmly greets visitors by placing her two hands over one of theirs.

The shop, nestled in the nascent Maple Lawn development, is decorated with prints depicting Ethiopia's ancient agrarian lifestyle. With 10 wooden tables, each graced with a single fresh flower, the environment is custom-built for contemplative conversation.

At lunch, the vegan and the veggie sandwiches have emerged as the shop's most popular selections ($6.95). The vegan, featuring house-made hummus infused with garlic, olive oil and lemon, is available as a panino, in a wrap or on toasted multigrain bread. The flavors are so satisfying, even devout meat-eaters might find themselves crossing the line more often for a fix.

The veggie sandwich comes with Desta's own pesto sauce, Swiss cheese and lentils, her go-to legume. "I boil the lentils for half an hour, and then I marinate them for two days," she says. Desta crowns them with red onions, green bell peppers and garlic. She says the sight of lentils peeking out from under toasted bread "surprises" first-timers: "They expect mushrooms. But if I don't like it myself, I'm not going to sell it."

The vegan and the veggie creations, both plump and pleasing, are accompanied by sides such as Desta's pasta salad. The al dente penne is combined with generous helpings of cream cheese, onion, garlic and pesto, plus different daily additions such as broccoli, cucumbers and carrots.

Linger over a coffee while your order is being shaped in the back. You'll find that the food to take away tastes as if it came directly from Desta's kitchen at home. This is food both simple and good. For Desta, it remains very personal.

-- Tony Glaros (Good to Go, May 5, 2010)