Friday, August 29, 2008

Fractured Prune in Columbia and Ellicott City

How many toppings do you need to try before you say, "You know what would improve this donut? Sausage!"

The Fractured Prune is a donut shop like no other. The local branches of an Ocean City-based chain, the Prunes in Columbia and Ellicott City make their name by serving piping hot donuts and topping them sweet glazes and toppings. Pick a glaze -- honey, chocolate, peanut butter, etc. Then use the glaze to capture something crunchy like sprinkles, mini chocolate chips, Oreo cookies. (See update that the Columbia and Ellicott City stores appear to have closed.)

This is a kid's dream, and the Prune tops the sweet options with the Hole-in-One -- a hot donut of your choice, topped with a scoop of ice cream.

But the true inspiration comes for breakfast. The Fractured Prune has bagels and normal bread to fill with eggs and meat, but why slice a mere bagel when you have hot donuts on hand? Slice that donut long-ways, then fill with sausage. It's an inspired idea -- once or twice. The plain donut is lightly sweet, although as oily as a treat from a carnival midway. The sausage is good, although not Boarman's home-made variety. Together, they're like something from the state fair stands that sell deep-fried Snickers bar. Great fun. Bad for the arteries. But it's not like you're cooking these at home every weekend.

(Update: Check the comments. On September 15, 2008, the Columbia store was closed and had a sign that says "Due to unforseen circumstances we have had to close this location at this time. Hopefully, we will see you back soon." It lists a phone number for questions. The store looks fully stocked -- as if people just locked up one night and didn't come back in the morning.)
(Update: On April 3, 2009, there were reports that the Ellicott City store had closed as well.)

Click here for all the posts about sweets or here for all the posts about breakfasts. If you want a more adult breakfast, consider Eggspectation in Ellicott City for a full menu or Bonaparte Bread in Savage on the weekends.

Fractured Prune donut shop
6470 Freetown Road #205
Columbia, MD 21044

NEAR: This is in the Hickory Ridge village center just off Cedar Lane. This is north of Rte 32 and south of Broken Land Parkway just west of Rte 29.

Fractured Prune the Donut Shop on Urbanspoon

Fractured Prune donut shop
9095 Frederick Road
Ellicott City, MD 21042

NEAR: This is at the intersection of Frederick Road and St. Johns Lane in Ellicott City. St. Johns intersects with Rte 40 just west of Rte 29.

Fractured Prune on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 28, 2008

La Boulangarie Bakery in Ellicott City

The sweet treats at La Boulangarie Bakery make for a great snack or for takehome that ranges from a simple dessert to an ornate cake.

The bakery with the French name and the Korean flavor sits across from the Lotte supermarket in Ellicott City. In the refrigerated case are formal cakes that run from $20 to $35 and come in flavors from chocolate to whipped cream to Korean sweet potato. In the front are shelves of individually-wrapped pasties and sweet breads. You can buy a selection and create a striking dessert plate for $10. I love the breads and buns filled with sweet red beans, but there are also varieties with hazelnut cream or sweet green beans along with chocolate-filled pastries, banana-shaped cakes and madeleines.

The madeleines are a good introduction to La Boulangarie. They're shell-shaped and just browned at the edges. They are moist cakes, tasting of butter and perfect for dipping in coffee or tea. But I recommend that you create modern memories by pairing madeleines with bubble tea. La Boulangarie's mango version tastes like a mango iced tea, less thick than some versions of this ubiquitous Asian treat. The pink straw is extra-wide so that you can suck up the black tapioca pearls at the bottom.

La Boulangarie is in a shopping center with a variety of Korean businesses, including the Lotte supermarket and the Shin Chon Garden restaurant. If you love pastries, you should also check out Bonaparte Bread in Savage. The pastries there are the detailed French style like opera cake and tarts. Bonaparte is also a perfect place to stop for a treat or to carry out dessert for a special occasion.

La Boulangarie Bakery
8815 Baltimore National Pike
Ellicott City, MD 21043

NEAR: Rte 40 and Rte 29 Intersection. The bakery is across the parking lot from the Lotte supermarket in the Lotte shopping center on Rte 40.

La Boulangarie Bakery on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Frank's Seafood in Jessup

Nothing is more local than hard shell crabs, and nowhere sells you better crabs than Frank's Seafood in Jessup.

Frank's is an storied part of the wholesale seafood market across from the prison, and it sells to the public Tuesday to Sunday. The crabs come live or steamed. The steamed are coated in spices, and they made a spectacular summer dinner laid out on a bed of newspaper and battered with wooden mallets.

Mrs. HowChow and I got a deal on Sunday night (or as much as you can get at modern crab prices). A mix of large and #1 crabs were $29 for a dozen, and the "cold" ones were buy-one-dozen-get-one-free. The "hot" crabs are the ones fresh from the steamer. They sit in what look like giant trash cans on wheels, which I assume carry them in and out of some giant hot room. The "cold" crabs were steamed the day before and are displayed on ice. They were delicious and filled us up, although I did throw away two of the leftover eight on Monday night because they weren't sweet anymore. The other six were still great two days after steaming.

Frank's crabs were as delicious as any I remember, but then I'm a sucker for a warm night, a few beers and any meal that you eat with a knife and a hammer. My new discovery about crabs is that they're different when you eat with a doctor. Mrs. HowChow (that's Dr. HowChow to you) opened her first body and announced, "I forgot that it looks so recognizable." She then identified the various internal organs that I prefer to dispose with a single sweep. After that, I opened her crabs for her. Everyone benefitted.

Call ahead to reserve your crabs. Frank's takes orders, and it offers up to jumbos, although they were too rich for my blood. And check out the other seafood while you're there. Frank's is a full-scale market with nice-looking crab cakes along with raw fish on ice.  They also have oysters.  They were cleaning up as I came through on Sunday, but they seemd to have a dozen species in a mix of fillets and whole fish. This rivals Today's Catch in Columbia. You can buy the basic spices to steam crabs or to fry fish. You can also buy 75-cent wooden mallets for your crab feast. They're in a little room off the main retail area.

To get into the seafood market, you need to show a driver's license and go through a gate. It's no big deal. Odd, but don't let it keep you away.

For seafood, the other great options are Today's Catch in Columbia and the H Mart in Catonsville.   Click here for a post about seafood markets in Howard County.

By driving to Jessup, you enter the wonderland around Rte 175 and U.S. 1. The finds near that intersection include great empanadas at El Patio, a Chinese buffet at Fortune Star, and several taco trucks, including Pupuseria Lorenita's. Check out the Google Maps here or an entire post about the wonders along U.S. 1.

Frank's Seafood
7901 Oceano Ave # B
Jessup, MD 20794
(410) 799-5960

NEAR: This is in the wholesale seafood market in Jessup. You take Rte 175 east from I-95. You turn right on Oceano Avenue after passing the prison. You turn left into the market. You need to show a driver's license, but Frank's is open to the public.

Frank's Seafood on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Iron Bridge Wine Company in Columbia

Iron Bridge Wine Company serves such good food that you can enjoy yourself even if you order randomly. I did last weekend.

On Saturday night, I ordered the "brown bag flight" -- three half-glasses of wine that Iron Bridges selects for you. Delicious. A spectacular white, and two reds that I really enjoyed. Generous pours, and a friendly waiter who joked with us and who let Mrs. HowChow taste two wines after she described what she normally likes.

The real news at Iron Bridge is that they started taking reservations this month. You have to call between 10 am and 3 pm, but you can guarantee yourself even a prime time like we did this weekend.

Reservations are great news because Iron Bridge remains one of the best places to eat in Howard County. An innovative cuisine. The kind of American menu that relies on top-notch ingredients and the intelligence to do simple, flavorful things to them. It's expensive. We spent $50 a person because we were having such a great time -- wine, an "amusement," three appetizers, a cheese course and dessert. But everything was delicious, and we could have cut back to economize.

Don't cut the ham-wrapped dates if they're on the menu. That was our amusement, and it was a perfect welcome back. Salty serrano ham broiled to a slight crisp and wrapped around a date stuffed with a mild cheese. This is "best restaurant" food, the kind where the bread is strikingly delicious. We picked a seared tuna with cold noodles that paired nicely with a shrimp dish with BBQ sauce that might have had tiny cubes of ham in it. And we loved the "burgers, fries and shake." Expensive, name-brand burgers are trendy, but this was a bite-sized (actually several bites) burger served with regular fries and a spectacular strawberry shake. A tiny coffee cup filled with happiness. The taste of berries, ice cream and maybe vanilla.

Iron Bridge is fun. The waiter was nice. Everyone seems happy. My brown-bag flight was so down-to-earth that they offered $5 if I could guess a wine variety or the theme that they had used. (No hope with my lack of wine knowledge.) We kept eating because we were just having fun. After little plates for dinner, the cheese plate -- ironically -- is enormous. We had generous chunks of three cheeses, so generous that I happily just ate slices of cheddar and finished my wine after the apple and crackers were gone. Then, we had a chocolate souffle with pistachio ice cream. The souffle was the star -- a crisped souffle shell around a molten interior.

This is really one of the best restaurants in Howard County. A splurge for most people. And now a predictable one if you make reservations!

Click here for a description of Restaurant Week 2009 at Iron Bridge. Click here for a list of great restaurants in Howard County. If you love wine, you should definitely check out the i.m. Wine store in Fulton.

Iron Bridge Wine Company
10435 Rte 108
Columbia, MD 21044

NEAR: This is on Rte 108 west of Rte 29 and Centennial Park. From Clarksville, you could just come north on Rte 108. From anywhere else, it's very convenient off Rte 29.

Iron Bridge Wine Company on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 25, 2008

Lotte Plaza supermarket in Ellicott City

The best take-home dinner around waits for you at the Lotte Plaza supermarket in Ellicott City where you can create your own Korean feast.

Lotte lags behind its cousin the H Mart in Catonsville when I'm shopping for groceries, but nothing beats its prepared foods -- the best selection, the most-flexible sizes and delicious offerings.  The key difference is that Lotte sells most items by weight, so you can buy what you need and can experiment by sampling.

Start with side dishes.  Panchan are the best part of a Korean dinner -- small dishes that accompany the main course.  In the back near the fish counter, Lotte has an entire bar of panchan.  Bowls of prepared vegetables, fish cakes, tofu and other items with flavors that range from spicy to mild to fishy.  You pick up a plastic container and spoon what you want.  Then the Lotte employee puts on a top, weighs the package and prints a price sticker.  Items run from $3-7 a pound.  Next to the plastic containers are tooth picks that you can use to sample the panchan.  This is priceless because you only buy things that you enjoy.  (If you haven't had these before, I suggest sampling the juliened white radish, the green seaweed salad and one of the red-tinted spicy dishes made with cabbage or fish cakes.  But really, you should try anything because a toothpick of even the hottest Korean food should be fine.)

Next, the main course.  In the front near the vegetables, Lotte has both marinated meats and other prepared foods.  For the simplest meal, pick up a quart container of soup.  Generally, 
you can find a spicy beef soup or a seafood/tofu soup.  They're both red with peppers, so expect spicy.  Ask for help or just read the ingredients on the label to confirm what you're picking.  Reheated soup and 3-4 panchan is a spectacular, no-pot dinner.  For one step up in complexity, try the marinated beef or chicken that Lotte sells by the pound.  These are raw bulgogi and other meats.  Take what you want.  Generally there is a Lotte employee there to weigh your selection.  Also buy a head of lettuce.  (If you want authentic, ask a Lotte employee to show you the aisle for the pepper paste that goes with bulgogi.)   At home, you make rice, saute the meat in a heavy pan, then everyone makes roll-ups -- lettuce wrapped around some rice, some meat and some bulgogi paste or a hot sauce of your choice.)

But before you leave, grab dessert.  Next to the meat is a stand selling packages of small Korean sweets.  They're made with rice and sugar, and my favorites include red bean paste inside.  They look like little dumplings with a consistency like marzipan, but a clean, lightly-sweet flavor.  The stand is separate store, so you pay an employee there, not at the Lotte cash register.  Again, ask or read the ingredients on the label to know exactly what's inside.  The desserts last 2-3 days on the counter, but they get hard if you put them in the fridge.

(If the sweets don't excite you, then get your dessert at La Boulangerie Bakery, which is across the parking lot from Lotte.  Great cakes, dozens of small pastries and sweet breads.)

Click here for all the posts about Korean food.  Or check out a comprehensive list of organic and ethnic markets.  Lily's Mexican Market in Columbia offers fresh tortillas, chorizos and other makings for other great take-out dinners.  For Korean restaurants, I recommend both Shin Chon Garden in the Lotte shopping center and Mirocjo on Rte 40.

Lotte Market
8801 Baltimore National Pike
Ellicott City, MD 21043

NEAR: On Rte 40, just west of Rte 29. From Columbia, you go north on Rte 29 and take the Rte 40 East exit.  Stay in the left lane on the exit ramp. That takes you into the shopping center.

Lotte Plaza Oriental on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Delicious: The Salad Bar at Roots Market

When I was young, salad bars ruled the Earth. They ranged from classy to fast food, and they were everywhere. Now, the Roots market salad bar may be the last of its kind.

This is a good place for lunch. It's great to grab something to take home for dinner. Healthy. Delicious. And you pick what you like. Roots is the center of a Clarksville empire based on good food, so you know that you're getting good items whatever you choose. That is worth $7.99 a pound.

I don't talk enough about Roots or the other organic grocery stores David's Natural Market and My Organic Market. The national organic brands rarely inspire me, and none of the three markets has the prepared food, the butchers or the stellar cheeses that make Whole Foods so unique. But I love them for grains, and they're still high-quality places. On Saturday, I ran into Roots for mozzarella cheese to pair with pick-your-own tomatoes, and I grabbed a baguette to round out the fun. Bonaparte Bread in Savage still sells the best bread in Howard County (and sells at the Sunday farmers market in Columbia), but most days don't allow for special bread trips so the baguette at Roots is a good alternative. Dipped in a fish stock, spread with butter, or soaked and fried into French toast.

Roots Market
5805 Clarksville Square Drive
Clarksville, MD 21029

NEAR: It's on Rte 108 just north of Rte 32. The Clarksville Square shopping center is on the west side filled with "crunchy" businesses owned by the same people -- a restaurant, a pet supply shop, a decorating place. Look for the Jiffy Lube on Rte 108.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Sausage at Boarman's Meat Market in Highland

The homemade sausages at Boarman's Meat Market are worth the drive down to the intersection of Rte 108 and Rte 216 in Highland.

Boarman's is an institution at the crossroads just south of Clarksville and west of Fulton. The store is a small grocery and liquor store, but the long-distance draw is the meat department in the back. Specifically, check out Boarman's two kinds of house-made sausage -- a long Italian link and a "country-style" patty for breakfast.

The Italian is perfect just grilled in sandwiches. I used it last Saturday to flavor a fish and vegetable soup and went a more complex route sauteing the entire link to firm up the meat, then slicing it and putting it back in the pan to brown each exposed side. To me, foods like sausage should be something special. I'd rather pass up a month's average sausage so that I can indulge myself when I find something like Boarman's -- or the thick-cut bacon that Boarman's sells by the slice.

You'll laugh, but the sausage doesn't have the grease that you'd expect. Great flavor, but even when I sauteed slices, there was the lightest coating of fan in the pan when I went to cook onions. In contrast, the Mexican and Salvadoran chorizo at Lily's Mexican Market in Columbia looks wonderful, but it is too greasy for me to grill regularly.

Boarman's also sells steaks and other meat. I'd love a recommendation if you buy there. If you like bacon by the slice, you can also check out the Laurel Meat Market near U.S. 1 in downtown Laurel.

Click here for a comprehensive list of ethnic and organic markets in Howard County.

Boarman's Meat Market
13402 Clarksville Pike (Rte 108)
Highland, MD

NEAR: This is the intersection of Rte 108 and Rte 216. It's south of Clarksville and west of Fulton.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

South Mountain Creamery at the Saturday Farmers Market in Cooksville

Milk is the draw of the Saturday farmers market on Rte 97 in western Howard County. The milk -- and the cream, butter and cheeses -- from the South Mountain Creamery.

For me, the Sunday market in Oakland Mills brings vegetables close enough to Columbia. That market often has multiple farms, sometimes a flower and plant vendor, and as many as two bakeries -- including my favorite Bonaparte Bread. But the Saturday market in Cooksville was an easy stop on the way to pick peaches and blackberries at Larriland Farm, so we walked the parking lot to check it out. One farm stand. A bakery. Two women selling speciality dog treats. (

It was the milk that drew Mrs. HowChow. I do most of our grocery shopping, and, ironically, I don't drink milk. My mother grew up in a dairy farming family and vowed not to force milk on her children. So I'm the dairy-farm progeny with no taste for the white stuff, even while Mrs. HowChow occasionally craves a cold glass, especially with cookies. Always with cookies.

South Mountain Creamery sells all types -- whole, 2% and a skim that they say tastes more like 1% than normal skim because they leave behind stuff that makes it taste like milk. In the whole, they have homogenized or "cream on top" milk that you can skim yourself to enjoy cream in your coffee. They were selling milk by the 16 oz glass if you want just refreshment. They also sell cheeses and butters -- plain and flavored. I bought a pound of butter, which was delicious spread that night on bread and on the corn that I bought from the farm stand (along with peppers and white eggplant). On Monday, I made garlic bread. Next time, I'll try the salted butter.

The woman from South Mountain said that their farm is open seven days a week with a store and an ice cream stand. In the afternoons (I think 4 pm), you can feed animals. It's a drive to Middletown near Frederick, but sounds like a fun little adventure.

Note: You pay a $1.50 deposit on the glass milk containers. Seems quite fair, but it does raise the initial price.

The Saturday Farmers' Market at Glenwood Library
9 am to 12:30 pm May to October (May 3-Oct. 25, 2008)
2350 State Road 97 (Roxbury Mills Road)
Cooksville, MD 21723
NEAR: Just south of I-70 on Rte 97. This is west of Rte 32

South Mountain Creamery
8305 Bolivar Road
Middletown, MD 21769
NEAR: This is west of Frederick, so out of the county.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Link: Columbia Compass on Rocky Run Tap & Grill

The closing of the Rocky Run Tap & Grill is lamented by the Columbia Compass blog.  The post is eloquent and short, so read it there.

Larriland Farm - Blackberries, Peaches and Tomatoes

The peaches and the blackberries at Larriland Farm were as delicious and as abundant as I have ever seen them.  We went Saturday and picked so much that we ran out of cash.  (It's okay.  They take credit cards in the fields.)

I'm sunburned.  Mrs. HowChow spent the weekend baking pies and making batch after batch of sorbet and ice cream.  We love Larriland (and went for blueberries last month), and even we were surprised at how wonderful the picking was this weekend.  You just need to walk past the picked-over areas hugging the road.  A few hundred feet inside, there were yellow peach trees with two dozen ripe peaches on a single tree.  Each peach glowed yellow under the red cheek.

Larriland is one of the great food adventures around.  Nothing beats the taste of a peach still warm from the sun.  We passed 
one back and forth as we drove away, and it's the flavor of summer.  Plus, it is great fun to stop at a friend's house with a bag of glowing gifts to share.

One bit of advice:  Don't judge blackberries by color.  They turn color before they get sweet.  Mrs. HowChow and I only picked engorged berries -- black and each sphere swollen with juice.  I pulled with the lightest possible pressure and left behind anything that didn't come off.  Some of the ripest fell apart in our hands.  But I overheard a couple talk about the blackberries and comment on how tart they tasted.  Oh, no!  They were picking beautiful black berries.  But those weren't ripe yet.  The best picking was deep in the bushes.  We pushed aside vines -- thornless, so it's a pleasure -- and found bunches inside.  It takes patience to pass the smaller berries, but Larriland's bushes were so full that it wasn't a hardship.  We picked more than 7 pounds by working two 
rows and we couldn't have walked more than 30 feet.  

In mid-August, the flowers remain a great deal -- $7.50 for a chance to walk the field and fill a huge plastic cup.  Stems droop a bit on the drive home, but they perked up once we got them in vases.  Larriland's tomatoes are about to become wonderful.  There were thin pickings last weekend, but the plants are covered with green fruit in many different varieties.  I got three nice ripe ones, plus an equal number of green ones to fry up one night this week.  In a few days, you'll be able to fill bags on a single row.

Definitely check on the apples that are coming, plus the Halloween/pumpkin fun in October.  Larriland is expanding its barn store, and they sell all the vegetables and fruit there -- along with jams, candies, juices and other products.

Pick-your-own runs from late May or early June when the strawberries ripen until the first weekend in November. There are multiple varieties of many fruits -- plums, peaches, strawberries, etc. -- so the seasons stretch over weeks or even months. Check out the Web site, which lists the products and predicts when they'll be 
available. Then check that Web page or call Larriland's (410-442-2605) to find out what they have today. It's a recorded line, updated daily.

If you go on a Saturday, definitely stop at the farmers market on Rte 97, especially for fresh milk from the South Mountain Creamery.  The South Mountain milk improves even a homemade pie.  Bring a cooler if you stop on the way to Larriland so that the milk stays cool.

If you like farm-fresh produce but can't get out to Woodbine, then check out the Columbia farmers markets where the farmers will come to you. Or if you're going to Larriland on the weekend, stop either at the Saturday farmers market or at Jenny's Market -- a family-run produce stand just off Rte 32.

Larriland Farm
2415 Woodbine Road
Woodbine, MD 21797

NEAR: This is off I-70 west of Rte 32. Take I-70 West to Exit 73. Turn left at the end of the exit ramp. Then follow that road through a circle and then along a road of farms and new developments. Larriland is on the left, although the blackberry and peach fields are across the road.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Rita's Italian Ice in Columbia

Black cherry is the only choice when you want to cool down with Italian ice layered with vanilla custard.

I respect other people's tastes enough that I can't even claim to pick the Top 10 restaurants. But I eat a lot of Rita's, and they're offering an ever-expanding list of flavors -- several teetering off into the childish craziness of cotton candy and green-tinted key lime. I have sampled my way off the straight-and-narrow, so I am the prodigal son who urges you never to stray.

Black cherry. Strong cherry flavor. Small cherry chunks throughout the cup. I'm not saying that gellati is ever an all-natural dessert. I'm just saying that black cherry goes perfectly with the vanilla custard. (That is the other part of the Rita's orthodoxy. Me: "Maybe I should try the chocolate custard." Mrs. HowChow: "Chocolate?") Guaranteed delicious is what you need on a warm evening when you cool off at the Rita's at Harpers Farm or Kings Contrivance.

Harpers Farm has Maiwand Kabob, so it's the perfect place for dinner and dessert. But Kings Contrivance has a peaceful seating area inside the shopping center. You get tables, trees, and a landscaped fountain. People going to Michael's Pub or eating pizza from Trattario E Pizzeria de Enrico keep the center lively, and we tend to go there when we just want a treat.

If you like the Italian ice at Rita's, check out the shaved ice at the Snowballs stand in Clarksville or KyKy's Hawaiian Ice in Elkridge.

Rita's -- Harpers Choice
5485 Harpers Farm Road
Columbia, MD 21044

NEAR: This is in central Columbia. Harpers Farm Village Center is on Harpers Farm Road east of Rte 108 and west of Cedar Lane. There is a gas station and a McDonalds right on the road, and the shopping center is behind. Maiwand Kabob is on left with a cleaner. Rita's is on the right in the main shopping area.

Rita's -- King's Contrivance
8640 Guilford Road Ste B10
Columbia, MD 21046

NEAR: This is south of Rte 32 and east of Rte 29. King's Contrivance has the new Harris Teeter, a Bagel Bin, and a CVS. Take the Eden Brook Drive / Shaker Drive exit from Rte 32. Follow the signs south to Eden Brook Drive, which goes right past King's Contrivance.

Rita's - King's Contrivance on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Columbia Farmers' Market in August

The farmers markets in Columbia are in full season as the tomatoes, melons and corn hit their stride and the first apples appear. It's even better than my late June report.

Last Sunday at the Oakland Mills market, three produce stands were overflowing at 10 am. Homestead Farm had the tomatoes and melons that make August wonderful. Tomatoes are up to $3.99 a pound, but they're heavy and ripe. For lunch, I sliced a Bonaparte's baguette ($3 at the bread stand where people speak with accents) with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil from our porch. Homestead also offered its trademark array of exotics -- eggplants that came in black, white, purple, and even a long thin green eggplant that I had never
seen before. I bought waterleaf greens to chop into salad and took the recommendation for malabar spinach that I will stirfry tonight. The chopped stems go into the pan with firm vegetables, then the leaves at the end.

Lewis Orchard was selling two kinds of peaches, a tiny plum perfect for a packed lunch, and the first apples. The third stand had corn, onions and several melons. My arms were so full, and its line was so long with smiling customers that I decided that I'll just start with one of their watermelon next week.

Check out Bonaparte Bread -- the Savage bakery whose breads and pastries are one of the Oakland Mills market's highlights.

If you want ethnic or organic markets, check out
this comprehensive listing. If you want unusual and high-quality produce, check out the H Mart -- my favorite place for food. If you want to pick-your-own, then go to Larriland Farm.

(Updated: The East Columbia market appears to be on THURSDAY, not Tuesday. I fixed it below. Thanks Wendy! Sorry for the error.)

The Sunday Farmers' Market at Oakland Mills
9 am to 1 pm, May to November (May 4-Nov. 23, 2008)
Oakland Mills Village Center
5851 Robert Oliver Place
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR: Just east of Rte 29 and south of Rte 175. The village center is off Stevens Forest Road.

The Saturday Farmers' Market at Glenwood Library
9 am to 12:30 pm May to October (May 3-Oct. 25, 2008)
2350 State Road 97 (Roxbury Mills Road)
Cooksville, MD 21723

NEAR: Just south of I-70, west of Rte 32.

The Thursday Farmers' Market at East Columbia Library
2 pm to 6 pm, May to November (May 1-Nov. 20, 2008)
6600 Cradlerock Way
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR: Just off Broken Land Parkway, north of Rte 32 and east of Rte 29.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bonaparte Bread in Savage (and the Columbia farmer's market)

Bonaparte Bread sells the best bread in Howard County. What else do you want to know? Crusty baguettes that have the look and crumb of a champion. Speciality breads with olives or chopped fruit. French pastries that make every carbohydrate worthwhile.

These are luxuries at a small price. Three dollars for a baguette is expensive compared to a loaf at Safeway. But there is no comparison between supermarket bread, and the Bonaparte baguette with its crisp crust and an inside that tastes like bread. They're slightly chewy with a taste of the oven on the dark crust. This is worth a drive to pick up loaves for yourself or for a party. This weekend's loaf made exquisite sandwiches topped with tomato, basil and cheese. The next morning, it toasted for breakfast with peanut butter and jam.

Bonaparte Bread sells seven-days-a-week from its store in Savage, where you can also get coffee, pastries, soup and sandwiches. The coffee is delicious, and it's a great place for either a weekend breakfast or for a weekday break with pastries. With its brick walls and black iron tables, the small shop has the kind of low-key class that the best stores and galleries in the Savage Mill want to foster. Bonaparte also sells at the Columbia farmer's market at Oakland Mills that runs Sundays through the summer.

At Savage Mill, Bonaparte lists its hours as 10 am to 6 pm weekdays and 9 am to 6 pm weekends. Watch out for early arrivals. I came at 9 am one Sunday to find the door locked. When I knocked on the glass, the workers said that they planned on opening at 10, but they still sold me a baguette.

If you visit Savage Mill, check out the walking trail that runs along the river.  In good weather, you can take lunch for a picnic.  The I'm Not Dead Yet blog posted about the trail, picnic tables, and photographing small waterfalls.

Bonaparte Bread
8600 Foundry Street
Savage, MD 20763

NEAR: This is just north of Gorman Road and just west of Rte 1 in Savage. It's the Savage Mill complex that is two minutes from Rte 32. Just exit Rte 32 south onto Rte 1. Turn right at the light for Gorman Road, then right on Foundry Road where there are signs for Savage Mill. Bonaparte's Bread is in the central courtyard in sight of the entrance for the Ram's Head Tavern.

The Sunday Farmers' Market at Oakland Mills
9 am to 1 pm, May to November (May 4-Nov. 23, 2008)
Oakland Mills Village Center
5851 Robert Oliver Place
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR: Just east of Rte 29 and south of Rte 175. The village center is off Stevens Forest Road.

Bonaparte Breads on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 11, 2008

Link: HoCo Author On "Yet Another Food Blog"

For another view on Howard County food, check out Yet Another Food Blog. Nina writes about eating locally, what she is cooking, and the "community support agriculture" baskets that she gets weekly from Breezy Willow Farm in HoCo.

Mad City Coffee in Columbia

The first time that I visited a coffee shop, someone had to explain espresso to me. It was bitter and so exotic in 1989 that I sold the New York Times a story about crazy college kids opening a coffee shop called Espresso Bongo. (So exotic that the Times and I misspelled "espresso" repeatedly.)

Mad City Coffee is not crazy college kids. It's a placid coffee shop that stands out because it roasts its own beans. I asked for a recommendation when I wanted a pound to carry home, and the cashier turned to the guy down the counter to ask: "You roast the coffee. What would you suggest as strong flavor?"

The coffee is good. I find people have opinions, not truths about coffee. Personally, I love Starbucks. My father won't touch it. The Mad City coffees that I have sampled aren't as strong as Starbucks -- which can be seen as either "dark" or "burnt" depending on your opinion. Mad City offers a few dozen varieties -- both different sources for the beans and different sweet flavors like "french toast" or chocolate. I sampled the espresso because people had recommended as the best around. It worked for me, but I prefer my coffee like a little boy -- sweet and milky.

On top of the coffee, Mad City offers lunch sandwiches like turkey, tuna and chicken salad. It also has bagels, pastries, and bagel sandwiches. More than anything, it offers that local feel. The local feel that -- on my last visit -- caused the cashiers to get disorganized in the morning rush and disappear from the register to cook and scoop beans. But it's the same feel that made the customers smile and joke as they checked out the bags on the counter to see whose breakfasts were inside. People waited. Order returned in a few moments, and everyone left happy. I sat outside in a sliver of morning shade, which went beautifully on a summer morning with a very good egg-and-bacon sandwich and the newspaper.

If you like coffee, check out the Orinoco Coffee Shop in Columbia or Bonaparte Bread in Savage. If you visit Mad City, you are just a few blocks south of the Harpers Farm Village Center where you can try Maiwand Kabob's terrific afghan food. Mad City also offers regular music on the weekends, mostly singer-songwriter stuff like these folks.

Mad City Coffee
10801 Hickory Ridge Road
Columbia, MD 21044

NEAR: This is actually right off Cedar Lane just south of the intersection with Hickory Ridge Road. Mad City is on the bottom floor of a commercial building. This is a block south of the Howard County General Hospital.

Mad City Coffee on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 8, 2008

Akbar in Columbia

The Akbar restaurant is old-school Indian. Old-school if you're looking at an ancient culture and learned it from restaurants 15 years ago.

Akbar in Columbia serves northern Indian food, the curries and breads on most menus and certainly the main dishes -- chicken tikka, palak paneer, etc. -- that introduced us to Indian food. (Mrs. HowChow first ate Indian at Akbar's Baltimore branch. She ordered spicy because that seemed like a good idea, then sweated so much through the meal that her boyfriend's parents were concerned about her.) These are the menus that make restaurants like Mango Grove's southern cuisine seem unusual. But Akbar's is still a menu worth visiting.

Start your meal by planning to have dessert. This is heavy food. If you don't plan right, you'll be full and won't try the rice pudding. Kheer is a small bowl of rice pudding -- sweet with the flavor of milk, soft rice just firm enough for texture, but smooth and refreshing.

Back to the main attraction: curries and meat from the oven. We had not been to Akbar in a while, so we went basic on our recent visit -- chicken korma and baignan bartha. We ordered both medium, but they're not "jalepeno"-spicy dishes. The spices are more subtle, and they're both delicious with the complex taste that makes Indian food so wonderful. The chicken has a yogurt-based sauce, and it is rich without being overwhelming. The eggplant was sweeter than I remembered. Maybe with tomato? They come with a yellow long-grained rice.

But it's naan that makes this meal. A warm piece of lightly-browned bread. A touch of butter melted on top, but it stays crisp even as it cools. Ready to tear and scoop up meat and rice. In the end, Mrs. HowChow will take naan and a chicken korma over masala dosas or even the fusion food at Mirchi Wok. I still love variety, but there is nothing better than the naan. I should have ordered a second to take home with the leftovers.

Akbar's is really old-school. The colors and decor come straight from the 1980s. It's the kind of place that has white tablecloths, but the chairs have gotten scuffed over time. Not that there is anything worn about the menu, which ranges out to shrimp, lamb, and a full array of vegetable options. There are specials, and I'd love to go back with a large table to taste them all. I'll still save room for that rice pudding.

One final thought: If you want an appetizer, try something new. We started with samosas. I'd suggest you try something else. They weren't spectacular, and there must be something more interesting to try.

If you like Indian, definitely check out my post about Indian restaurants across the county, including Mango Grove and Mirchi Wok in Columbia. You can also buy Indian groceries at Desi Bazaar in Columbia or Apna Bazar in Laurel, which has an array of frozen breads.

If you are at Akbar, you are in the shopping center at Pho Dat Trahn, a nice Vietnamese restaurant.

Akbar on Urbanspoon

Akbar Restaurant
9400 Snowden River Parkway
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR: This is on Snowden River Parkway south of the Home Depot. That is between Rte 175 and Rte 32. It's on the west side, so you need to be southbound to enter the shopping center.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Delicious: Jallab Syrup at Sizar's Food Mart

August is really the cruellest month, breeding swamp heat and mosquitos, and one of the few ways to fight back is a classic cool drink like iced tea or lemonade.

Or with an exotic one like jallab syrup, a sweet liquid that mixes with ice and water to create a refreshment best known in the Middle East. Jallab syrup is made from grape mollases or raisins, rose water and dates. The rose water flavor comes through, but it's a unique taste -- a cooler when you need one most.

I bought the syrup at Sizar's Middle Eastern grocery story in Columbia. I searched the Internet for a use and settled on pouring three tablespoons into a tall glass, filling the glass with crushed ice, then filling the glass with cold water. Stir and sip. (I actually pulverized the ice in a blender. It started like slush, but melted quickly.)

For the recipe that I used, check out the Kitchen Caravan blog. Sizar's sells the Cortas brand syrup shown in the picture. There was an array of Cortas syrups, including blueberry, and rose water. Click here for all my posts about Sizar's. Definitely check out the pistachio nougat if you visit. Click here for a full list of ethnic and organic markets in Howard County.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

West African Markets: Accra Foods and Julie's International Market

I don't know West African food, but there are three markets that offer up Ghanaian staples -- along with an eclectic array of other foreign foods -- clustered along eastern Howard County.

Julie's International Market is the newest entrant in the shopping center next to Food Lion right off Rte 108. This is officially Elkridge, but it's right where Columbia, Ellicott City and Elkridge meet near the new Costco and Best Buy.

(Update:  Julie's appears to have closed in May 2009.  I think that Accra and Afia -- discussed below -- are still open.)

All three markets -- including Accra Foods in Laurel and Afia International Market in Jessup -- seem based on the Nina brand of packaged foods. The Ghanaian company sells everything from frozen fish to spices to oils to ukazi leaves. I don't know Ghanaian food so I can't judge or use the markets in the way that I enjoy Sizar's for Middle Eastern food or Desi Bazaar or Apna Bazar for Indian. At Accra, I tried to ask for suggestions. There aren't packaged foods like you see in Indian markets, and the owner either didn't believe I really wanted to cook or didn't have much
experience explaining recipes. He was nice, but I couldn't figure out what to buy.

On the shelves, you'll see staples like canola oil, rice and spices. There are also spiced palm oil, coconut oil, and ground shrimp, and Accra had fufu and corn meal balls called banku. Each market offers a small amount of meat. At Julie's, there was a cooler with smoked turkey wings and fish, along with a freezer that held Nina brand smoked cat fish along with meat stored in Ziploc bags and clearly packaged by hand. Julie's also stocks Jamaican products along with the Mo'pleez brand of Indian snacks (luke aloo lachha, bhel puri, etc.) and the Dominican Country Club brand of raspberry soda.

I'm looking for a cookbook so that I can take advantage of these markets. I'd appreciate any recommendations or advice.

Click here for a comprehensive list of organic and ethnic markets in Howard County. You can't go wrong exploring Sizar's or Lily's Mexican Market.

Julie's International Market (apparently closed)
6520J Old Waterloo Road
Elkridge, MD 21075

NEAR: Julie's was in a small shopping center near the Food Lion on Rte 108 just up from Rte 175. When you pull into the Food Lion, steer left to the shopping center that also has a Chinese restaurant, a pizza place and a thrift shop.

Accra International Foods
10051 North Second Street
Laurel, MD 20723

NEAR: This is on the east side of the north-bound U.S. 1 in Laurel. It is about a half mile north of Main Street in Laurel. It is at the end a shopping center next to a paintball store.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Fortune Star Buffet in Jessup

At the new Fortune Star Buffet, the dishes are so good that the fun is how many you can eat, not how much.

Fortune Star breaks new ground for "all-you-can-eat" by filling four serving areas with dishes that you'll actually want to try. Dumplings that came steamed and pan-fried. Steamed fish with their heads. Stir-fried dishes with real flavor, but little oil. A few vegetables. There were some easily-avoided glop (french fries? fried wontons? salad bar?), but this was fun Chinese for me. I sampled through four plates, trying little bits of whatever looked good and discovering that my second choices were often the best options.

For example, the black pepper chicken was delicious. Stir-fried cubes of meat with vegetables, it had a peppery, lighter taste more like Vietnam than what I expect in Chinese restaurants. But I only tried the black pepper chicken after the hot pepper chicken, which was good but battered like a General Tso's. I enjoyed all four of the dumplings and buns: Shanghai, napa & pork, shrimp & pork and pork. I was surprised that my favorite was the steamed pork bun,
which was light and slightly sweet with dark, pork filling the size of a peach pit.

On top of those, I liked the salt-and-pepper squid and the green beans. There aren't many vegetables on the buffet, so I had some green beans on each plate. On Chowhound -- where I learned about Fortune Star from a post -- people posted about dishes like roast pork, ma po tofu and chicken feet that weren't on my lunch buffet. I get the idea that the dishes rotate regularly. Ironically, my favorite single item was a dessert. I passed the many cakes for a
yellow bun that turned out to have a sweet filling inside. I couldn't identify it, but I ate the whole bun.

For me, the fun of Fortune Star was exploring. I don't order squid often because few friends want to share. This was my chance to try them and a half crab and a head-on shrimp and some sausage with sweet rice. This buffet is large enough that I found something that I couldn't eat -- fish cakes on a skewer -- but that was just because I didn't like the flavor. All of the employees were nice. They all spoke English, and the sushi chef was happy to describe what he had laid out in his display.

Frankly, the price is a bargain: $7.99 for lunch and $13.50 for dinner. They advertise a $13.99 dim-sum buffet on weekends and holidays.

(Update:  Definitely read the comments.  People have written detailed -- and mixed -- reviews about their Fortune Star comments.)

Fortune Star is in the "Columbia East" shopping center on Rte 175 next to the My Organic Market supermarket, which is great for whole grains and other organic products. There are also a Starbucks and Ritas in the shopping center and a joint called Cocos Butter Cafe. The cafe was closed when I visited, but there were chocolates for sale and advertisements for jazz on Saturday nights.

For a classy night of Chinese, I recommend Jesse Wong's Asean Bistro on Rte 108 in Ellicott City.  For another adventure in Chinese -- this time authentic, I recommend Grace Garden in Odenton.  There is also a summary post about Chinese Restaurants in Howard County.

If you like Asian food, check out posts about Thai cuisine or Vietnamese cuisine. Or click for a working list of the best restaurants in Howard County.

Fortune Star Buffet
7361 Assateague Drive, Ste 1000
Jessup, MD 20794

NEAR: This is the Columbia East shopping center at Rte 175 and U.S. 1. There is a Starbucks and a Rita's facing Rte 175, and you'll see Fortune Star right in front of you when you pull into the parking area.

Fortune Star Buffett on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 4, 2008

i.m. Wine: Make Your Own Six-Pack In Fulton

99 bottles of beer on the wall.  99 bottles of beer.  Take six down, pass them around, 93 bottles still left for you to choose.

Summer is the time for beer, and you can make your own six-packs at i.m. Wine store.  The Fulton liquor store shows off its wine on beautiful displays, but on the way to the back room, there are steel storage shelves unceremonially lined with beer -- dozens of different brands, styles, flavors.  You pick your own.

For a dinner party, I made two six-packs to augment the random beers floating around our refrigerator.  I picked six different beers and bought two of each.  Three wheat beers.  Three pilsners.  It was an easy way for me to sample something new, and it was fun to have a guest say, "This is a great mix of beers!"  My discovery -- a DeGroen's weizen  from a Delaware brewery that I had never heard about before.  Delicious and slightly bitter.  Not your 18-year-old's party beer, but perfect on a summer evening.

The wall at i.m. Wine is an eclectic mix.  Lots of small American breweries like DeGroen's.  Some European beers, but few of the usual suspects that are in coolers anywhere.  Also few of the flavored beers that I have come to hate.  (I still cringe remembering the taste of a cranberry beer from Boston.)  The i.m. Wine folks have always lead me right.  Everything that I bought was good, and the beer seems aimed at companies brewing beers in traditional styles like IPA, Belgian ale, wheat beer, etc.  Great taste; less gimmicks.  That's my kind of wall.

The beers are individually priced.  Most seem to be about $1.50, and there is a $2 charge per six-pack for the "pick your own" opportunity.

I posted before about why i.m. Wine is a great place to go for suggestions.  If you are in Maple Lawn for i.m. Wine, check out the three restaurants nearby:  Trapeze, Ranazul and oz Chophouse.

i.m. Wine
8180 Maple Lawn Boulevard
Fulton, MD 20759

NEAR: In the Maple Lawn commercial area off Rte 216 just west of Rte 29.

Link: Black Coffee and A Donut on Victoria's Gastropub

The Black Coffee and A Donut blog recently posted about Victoria Gastropub -- which the authors (who grew up in Columbia) describe as an outpost in a "culinary wasteland." But we'll forgive them because we like their blog (and because they'll learn differently if they find that life takes them out of the big city like it did to us).

Friday, August 1, 2008

Ginza of Tokyo -- New Restaurant Coming Near APL

There appears to be a new Japanese restaurant coming to the shopping center next to the Applied Physics Lab on Johns Hopkins Road at Rte 29. Someone is renovating two shopping center bays into something, and the permit on the window says "Ginza of Tokyo." That means Japanese to go with Mexican at La Palalapa Too, BBQ at Kloby's Smokehouse along with Pasta Blitz, Dunkin Donuts and a Chinese takeout.

Link: Adventures in Baltimore Restaurants on Frisco Grille & Cantina

The Adventures in Baltimore Dining blog has a recent review of Frisco Grille & Cantina and talks up the craft-brewed beers and the Southwestern food.  

Frisco is in a shopping center on Stanford Boulevard in Columbia.  You can get there from Dobbin Road or Snowden River Parkway just south of Rte 175.  Click for directions.