The decision had been made. Southwest it was. In the end, my next stop was a tossup between going here and heading back up northwest into the mountain ranges of the Juniata Valley. Rather than head back up Route 22 (which I will quite soon), I decided on a warm April 27th to head down into the little-known South Mountain area and the town of Fort Ritchie, Maryland. The community is a recent revival of an old military base. Fort Ritchie reminded me of somewhere closer to home: Arcona. Like Arcona, this little town is seemingly a planned, roped-off community with its own shops, community center, and infrastructure. One of those shops is a beautiful coffee spot called The Greenhouse Cafe.
Coming to this cafe was certainly a journey in the traditional sense. Meaning, I had to cross over hills and dales and take side-roads into the backcountry. There was a massive traffic jam in Hagerstown as traffic was literally stopped for the repair of a highway section. No, that wasn’t a typo. We had to sit there while a water truck was brought in to cool the recently applied blacktop, and there was no way to pull off the road. I was just about to do a probably-illegal u-turn, double back, and try my luck heading east through Hagerstown to blaze my own trail when things finally opened up. The last part of the ride was a fun jaunt up South Mountain into the valley in which this town was nestled.
The surrounding town is actually called Highland-Cascade, but Greenhouse Cafe was squarely in the middle of Fort Ritchie. Most of the towns around here are old mountain villages; a gas station, a few convenience stores, and no definable downtown area. Arco…I mean Fort Ritchie…is a standout in this environment, as is its coffeehouse. The Greenhouse Cafe is certainly more of an archetypal coffeehouse than the previous destinations were. From lovely book nooks to an old-fashioned globe in the reading room, this locale brims with the trappings of traditional coffeehouse culture. The standout feature was the long hallway filled with seats, tables, and plants. The words that spring to mind are “classy” and “elegant.” It felt like a stately garden party.
Interestingly enough, Greenhouse opened this past October, the same month as at least one of the previous coffeehouses I’ve reviewed over the past few months. The post-plague-era business boom is continuing apace. Sure, many businesses were lost, but that metaphorical ’empty greenfield’ became fertile ground for new endeavors. Entirely new markets for establishments like this have opened up as city folk (like me) have embraced the positives of country living. Fancy people need fancy coffee, and this venue is, shall we say, rather elevated. I’m betting part of their regular clientele includes the student body of nearby Penn State Mont Alto in Waynesboro, PA.
I ordered the medium roast: a Costa Rican. This roast was done in collaboration with nearby Brio coffee roasters in Waynesboro and Greencastle, though Greenhouse also collaborates with River Bottom roasters as you can see in the photo below. What a tight-knit coffee conspiracy! Ironically, I was close to heading over the mountain to Brio before I discovered this place. Anyhow, this particular offering epitomized the qualities of a Central American roast. It was so rich and earthy that it reminded me of Turkish coffee. One can almost feel sediment in the mouthfeel. I mean that as a compliment. A Costa Rican should be dense and sumptuous. This one was.
After I finished my coffee, I went even further into the mountains to partake of another fixture of South Mountain life: the Appalachian Trail entry point along Route 16. I did a bit of hiking and then decided to take a far more circuitous but less congested route home. As I drove away, I pondered yet another facet of rural coffee culture: namely, that a coffeehouse that appeals to the classical sensibilities of coffeehouse culture also has a viable niche. I wondered how many hiking philosophers (like me) found comfort and familiarity at The Greenhouse Cafe. That’s all for this time. It’s likely that the next leg will be a series of forays back into the mountains further west where an exciting new coffee culture continues to spring up.