Table Talk

Table Talk

Comings and Goings, Food Finds and more

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Ellen Ficklen calls herself “the queen of a very small niche.” The Bethesda writer believes she’s amassed the country’s most extensive array of stuff devoted to watermelons. More than 1,000 items decorate her split-level home, a collection she admits “got out of control.”

The idea sprouted more than 30 years ago after Ficklen wrote a magazine article about American folk art collectors, and one mentioned that the sweet red fruit was a popular motif. Skeptical of the notion, she told a few friends, who came upon some watermelon trinkets and bought them for her as proof. Other friends and relatives have contributed over the years, but Ficklen, 63, estimates she’s purchased about 75 percent of the collection herself.

Walk down the steps to the “watermelon museum” in her basement and it’s mind-boggling to see how many things people can buy that showcase the ubiquitous summer fruit. Ficklen has collected items ranging from bras and condoms to helmets, bowling balls, Frisbees, umbrellas and piggy banks. There are postcards, all sorts of kitchenware, candles, sunglasses, toothpastes, shower gel, furniture and more—including candy and alcoholic drinks.

And yes, Ficklen also likes to eat watermelon—she’s even roasted a chicken inside the rind.

Bon Voyage

When it comes to the culinary world, there’s not much Amy Riolo hasn’t done. The Gaithersburg food historian/anthropologist has written three cookbooks; appeared on cooking videos and television and radio shows; lectured about cuisine and culture at museums, embassies and universities; served as a restaurant consultant, recipe developer and culinary mentor; and lived, worked and traveled in several parts of the world.

Now the 40-year-old dynamo is leading a culinary cruise from Istanbul to Greece with Luigi Diotaiuti, owner and chef of Al Tiramisu restaurant in Washington, D.C. She’s already led food tours of Egypt and Italy; the October trip will be her first sea-faring journey, aboard the Oceania Riviera, which houses the Bon Appétit Culinary Center cooking school. Highlights include a tour of the kitchens in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, a wine tour in Santorini, Greece, and a workshop at a baklava bakery.

The 10-day trip runs from Oct. 19 to 29 and starts at $4,299 per person, including air fare. For more information, see For more information about Amy Riolo, check out

Super Market

For an area with one of the country’s highest per capita incomes, Potomac is surprisingly underserved by upscale markets. Enter Potomac Grocer, a bright, spacious artisan shop that stocks house-made prepared foods, bakery items, salads, sandwiches, locally made products and fresh and ready-to-cook seafood and meats. The store, which opened in February, is the brainchild of Tom Spencer, 58, a Potomac resident and one of the original co-founders of Congressional Seafood, the high-end seafood distributor now located in Jessup. Helming the kitchen is Justin Key, formerly a caterer in Frederick, and he’s turning out terrific salads such as quinoa and artichoke; chickpea, white bean and olive; and smoked bacon and corn. Don’t miss the soft and creamy Whoopie pies, either.

10107 River Road, Potomac, 301-299-4200,

FOOD FIND: Keeping it Raw

When she was in her early 20s, Bethesda resident Anh Thu Hoang, 47, nearly decided to attend culinary school. But she realized she didn’t want to spend weekends working in a restaurant kitchen, and opted for earning a master’s degree in public health instead. That route would take her to Africa and Asia, where she worked for many years on HIV prevention.

While living in Thailand from 2006 to 2009, she fell in love with raw foods, and a year later, she went to the Living Light Culinary Institute in Fort Bragg, Calif., to learn the art of raw cooking.

The move resulted in a career change and now Hoang has created Joy Bliss Raw, a line of organic, vegan, raw cakes and chocolates that are less sweet and more textured than traditional desserts.

Making raw, organic desserts is both labor intensive and expensive, Hoang says. She produces her own chocolate using cacao liquor, cacao butter, vanilla, salt and maple syrup or coconut nectar. She also prepares coconut flour from shredded organic coconut and almond flour from organic raw almonds, plus she makes almond, coconut and cashew milks.

“I’m a big dessert person,” says Hoang, a runner and yoga enthusiast. “For me, it’s all about quality.”

Joy Bliss Raw products cost $4 to $5 apiece for truffles or chocolates, and $85 or $90 for 9-inch cheesecakes. Hoang also does party favors and special events. Order online at


Crown, the new 182-acre planned community in Gaithersburg, is getting a host of new eateries, including the first Montgomery County branch of Ted’s Bulletin, the upscale diner from the folks at the locally grown Matchbox Food Group, which is scheduled to open in the fall. This summer, Smashburger, &pizza, Chop’t, Yogiberry, Asia Nine and La Madeleine are slated to open, and in the fall, Coastal Flats, Paladar Latin Kitchen & Rum Bar, Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Old Town Pour House.

Meanwhile, Bethesda’s Haven Pizzeria Napoletana was due for a name change and an overhaul in June. Tiger Mullen, who opened the place in 2012 and was later bought out by his partners, is now back in the picture as the head honcho. At press time, the reinvigorated restaurant was slated to be called Pitzze Table, offering an expanded menu including breakfast.

Arrivederci to Assaggi Mozzarella Bar, which closed in May after seven years in business on Bethesda Row. Also, Oro Pomodoro in Rockville Town Square closed in April.

Carole Sugarman is the magazine’s food editor. Send ideas to


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