Annapolis Market House has been trying to reinvent itself — and failing — since the old Market House closed at the end of 2004.
Version 2018 has just opened, drawing me back to a scene I visited in 2013 to review Amsterdam Falafel House, the first business to open in Market House that year. A lot is old about the new Market House, but what’s new makes it a place I want to patronize.
My impression, when I first walked in for weekday lunch, was déjà vu. On the outside, it’s the same building, with outdoor tables on the water side. Inside, superficially, it looks much the same, too, with a series of food stalls, some seating, a market area selling groceries and a gelato shop.
The changes became apparent when I got down to the serious business of choosing my lunch. The options were new and varied; instead of deciding what to settle for, I found myself agonizing over what to try first. After at least three circles around the stalls, I stopped at the Cheese Board. This was my first experience in Annapolis of a build-your-own board from a large selection of cheeses and meats in the showcase. I had to try it, and I wasn’t disappointed.
I also found the new ambiance was better, though on that first trip I couldn’t say why.
Better — and How
My second visit, for breakfast, was enlightening as well as tasty.
“We were looking to bring quick, healthy, unique and tasty food, using fresh and locally sourced ingredients, to downtown,” co-owner Michele Bouchard told me. “We wanted to give everyone more options. We also wanted a place where people would feel comfortable and hang out.”
Bouchard, a cooking school graduate with many years of experience in the local restaurant business, helped develop and implement this concept.
She also told me that — for the first time in my life — I was a trendsetter. Cheese boards are the up-and-coming thing.
What else was new?
“We have more salads and more healthy choices. We source locally all our perishables. Fruits, vegetables, meat, fish and baked goods are delivered every morning,” she said.
She demonstrated her point with a bottle of salad dressing: not one of the usual national brands, but Tessiemae’s, a local organic product. Even the dog treats are local, produced in Severna Park, a stone’s throw from my house.
Morning was busy, and Bouchard had to excuse herself a couple of times to take care of business. I used the time to introduce myself to patrons and get their impressions.
“I like it,” said John Holt, a downtown bed and breakfast operator who has been coming to the Market House almost daily for upward of 30 years. “It has a much more open feel. The seating arrangement is better. The food is good, and you can now get beer and wine.”
Retired architect Pearse O’Doherty, another Annapolitan, explained what made the difference. “The food stalls are now all against the back wall, leaving an open view on the water side,” More light created a much more open feeling, even though version 2018 has almost twice the seating as in 2013.
“The new Market House has a much nicer ambiance and a variety of menu offerings,” said patron Annice O’Doherty.
I thought so, too.
Another improvement of Version 2018 is payment. At the old Market House, every transaction was separate. If you wanted a main course, a bakery item for dessert and a drink you had to make three separate purchases. Not so at the new single-owner Market House. You collect what you want, then pay at the end.
Packaging, however, worried me. All the food is packaged as take-out so it can be eaten at Market House tables or elsewhere. That much disposable packaging is a huge environmental concern since most disposable packaging is not biodegradable (think Styrofoam).
“We are trying very hard to be eco-friendly, using recyclable packaging whenever we can,” Bouchard told me. To make her point, she showed something I’ve not seen in many years: a paper straw.