Over the river, through the woods

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Comfort food is a short drive away on Maryland’s old turnpikes.

Once upon a time, all roads led to Baltimore. Goods arriving into the port from sailing ships headed north up Harford Road into Pennsylvania, and from the west, farmers brought chickens and produce by wagon into the city along Frederick Road. These well-trodden thoroughfares are still dotted with way stations for rest and places to gather among friends and neighbors and warm the belly with comfort food.

At one of these crossroads sits the Sunshine Grille (12607 Fork Road, Fork). Once a hardware store and grocery store, it was built in the early 1900s, about the same time as the turnpike, or Harford Road, that runs from North Avenue in the center of the city, over the Gunpowder River and through rolling hills and woods into Pennsylvania.

Owner Bill Marvellis says the scenery is part of the charm. “I think people like the country drive,” he says. “It’s a like a destination restaurant.”

The breakfast, lunch and dinner hub is owned by Marvellis and his wife, Effie, who have more than 25 years combined experienced in the restaurant business. They met at Lexington Market in downtown Baltimore, where he ran Andy’s Best Cheesesteaks and Mount Olympus and she ran the Sandwich King. Now they serve up American food with a touch of Greek from the same side of the counter.

Sunshine Grille in Fork

“We do everything we did in Lexington Market — breakfast, Greek, American comfort food — and added dinner food,” he said. “I call it comfort fusion.We use a lot of different spice profiles from different ethnic cuisines.”

The lamb is ground in house, the eggs come from up the street, local vegetable are incorporated into the specials. There’s a giant bottle of homemade Greek dressing at each table, and trust me, it’s good on everything. They feed the neighborhood all day long, from mile-high pancakes at breakfast (served until 4 p.m.) and a broad lunch and dinner menu that includes everything from grilled octopus and Chesapeake seafood faves to salads and burgers, all to be washed down with a respectable selection of microbrews.

On the west side of town, where Old Frederick Road spills out of the city, a three-story stone building has been serving up comfort since the 1800s. The Trolley Stop (6 Oella Ave., Ellicott City) has had lives as a tavern, boarding house and even a biker bar.

The Trolley Stop in Ellicott City

It still has worn hardwood floors made of old timber, brick fireplaces and grainy pictures of trolleys on the walls. Trolley line No. 9 from Baltimore City stopped right outside the second-floor dining room until 1955. The Patapsco River rolls across the street.

This is a family affair now. Opened by Bob and Barbara Fields a couple of decades ago, you’ll now find any one of 10 brothers and sisters and 17 great-nieces and great-nephews doing everything from cooking and baking to tending bar and bussing tables.

The menu spans from basic breakfasts to open-face sandwiches to steak and cake with jumbo lump crab. Oh, and the meatloaf special.

“Everything is homemade,” said daughter Frannie Fields, who has run the restaurant for the past 12 years. “That is what makes the total difference; we make it all from scratch.”

If you still have room, keep cruising through old Ellicott City to Town Grill at Foster’s Country Store (11707 Frederick Road), a comfort barbecue joint born in the back of a gas station in Lisbon and now thriving in a new cozy pit stop in western Howard County at the intersection of farm land and new housing developments.

Howard Laskey started Town Grill 10 years ago but has been in this location, the first gas station to open in Howard County back in the 1920s, for about a year.

“I like these kinds of places. Middle of nowhere, crossroads of everything,” he says, sitting among worn wooden tables, mismatched chairs and homemade cookies at the register.

The barbecue is cooked low and slow out back on applewood — platters of pulled pork, chicken and beef brisket served with spicy Texas baked beans and homemade coleslaw. Even the meatloaf gets a turn in the fire.

“We take basic things and give it a little bit of a Town Grill touch. We start the meatloaf in the oven and halfway through the process move it to an outdoor smoker,” he says.

Besides offering great food, his hope is that Town Grill becomes known as a “gathering place.”

One More Stop

Uncle Matty’s Eatery in New Windsor

If you find yourself in Carroll County on one of the original roads that connected Westminster and Frederick, Uncle Matty’s Eatery (142 Church St.) in New Windsor serves up the ultimate in comfort food including open-faced home-baked turkey sandwiches; and there’s a whole section on the menu just for hot dogs. (You know you love them.) Don’t miss the Greek fries topped with feta and a secret blend of herbs and the best burgers around.

“Everyone thinks since there’s nothing around here, it would be all locals,” says executive chef and owner Matt Wess. “But the majority come in from Frederick, Mount Airy, Westminster. One woman comes from Annapolis just for the burger.”

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