Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Help Me: Chinese Restaurants, Pizza and Bakeries

I'm looking for your help. Over the next few months, I'm going to post about "What I've Learned" while writing HowChow.  This series of post will be in three rings -- "cuisines," "shopping," and the catch-all "ideas." The first -- Chinese Restaurants -- will be next week, and I'd like to include your comments both there and in future posts. These are the first three questions:
  • What is your favorite Chinese restaurant? Why? What's the best dish? The best hidden specials? What makes people love Hunan Legend?
  • What is the best pizza in Howard County? Is there any good deep dish?
  • What is the best bakery around? Best bread? Best cakes? Is anyone making exceptional cupcakes or cookies? Any ethnic specialties? What sweets do you crave?
(Update:  I'd still love suggestions about Chinese, pizza or bakeries, and I have created separate posts on those subjects where you can post your ideas.  I'm turning off the comments here so that suggestions aren't split here and on those posts.)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

King's Contrivance Makes A "Top 10 Dishes of 2008" List

I really need to try King's Contrivance.  Elizabeth Large posted her Top 10 dishes of the year, and she raves about the Columbia restaurant's seafood bouillabaisse "Thai style."  The photo is beautiful.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Go To Grace Garden This Week!

If you have any interest in trying Grace Garden, beat the rush by getting out there this week.

A comment on Chowhound says that the restaurant's owners think that they will be featured in the Washington Post on New Year's Day.  I (generally) believe Chowhound, and I trust that the WPost will join the mania praising the authentic Chinese food served out in Odenton.  That has to drive up business! 

Click here for my original post, which links in turn to several other people.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The City Paper Reviews Victoria Gastropub

The Baltimore City Paper reviewed Victoria Gastropub last week and started off by describing how packed the place was on a weekend night.  (Favorite tidbit: Hip city folks drive to Columbia for "the occasional Merriweather concert or Restoration Hardware jones."  Great line.)  

Mary Zajac's review compliments Victoria's beer selection, the oysters, the burgers and the stout float.  But it smacks the place around for slow service and for not being spectacular.  "[Y]ou could do just as well driving back to Baltimore," the review ends.  Sigh.  If only we could . . .   But it's nice to just know that hip city folks think Columbia has anything that compares to Baltimore.  

All teasing aside, most of the review rings true, and it echoes one of my recent thoughts: The burgers are a real draw, but the "duck fat" never tasted like more than handwaving to me.  I'm mostly amused that Victoria is the restaurant that draws the big city critics.  The WPost's main critic drove up in August, and both reviews prattled on about Columbia's chain restaurants as if the choice out here is a chain or Victoria.

Next time that you're forced to visit Columbia (and that Restoration Hardware jones will only increase if you know they're selling whoopie cushions this season), check out Maiwand Kabob.  A few minutes from the mall or Merriweather, and a quick place to grab Afghan dinner or carry it out to sit on the lawn.

(Update: I posted again about Columbia's Victoria Gastro Pub in 2010.)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Season For Heavy Eating

At the request of a recent comment, this is thoughts about local BBQ.  I'm actually writing some posts that will capture some of what I have learned in a year of looking around at local restaurants.  This is that kind of post.

For barbeque chicken, pulled pork, or ribs, my local place is Kloby's Smokehouse in Laurel.  This is Johns Hopkins Road where Laurel, Fulton and Columbia come together.  Very convenient off Rte 29.  You order at the counter.  You take away or sit at the casual tables.  Folks in the comments also mention Bare Bones and Pig Pickers, both on Rte 40 in Ellicott City.

For pit beef and other barbeque, some people really like Canopy on Rte 40 in Ellicott City.  I enjoyed Uncle Grubes off U.S. 1 in Elkridge.  Nice beef with a charred edge, served with surprisingly good coleslaw.  You order at a counter and can eat outside.  Definitely check to see if they're open in the winter.  I called, but got a busy signal.  (In the Kloby's post, I linked to some Chowhound posts about pit beef.)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Fatburger: Hiring, Maybe Opening?

The Fatburger in Columbia is still closed, although they say that they're hiring.  I drove past this morning, and there is a sign on the door that says "Yes, we're hiring" and another that says "Coming Soon."

Both Nuttyturnip and the Baltimore Beer Guy saw the same thing and left comments.  Thanks for any updates.  I have no idea what takes so long.  Chick-fil-A built an entire restaurant on Johns Hopkins Road and opened it in the three months that I have been posting that Fatburger seemed close to opening.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Sporadic Posting

HowChow will post sporatically for the next weeks. But I'll be back in 2009.

If you're looking for Howard County food, check out some recent posts about authentic Chinese at Grace Garden, takeout tacos at Lily's Mexican Market, pizza at Pazani Trattoria, and unusual ice creams from Moorenkos or Island Style. Or just scan the list of past posts in the right column.

Also, check out the Baltimore Beer Guy and Live in Howard County blogs, especially BillZ's recent recap of 2008 and his "Best Steak" post.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Wegmans in Columbia: Still Coming

The Tale of Two Cities blog posts about another legal loss by the people trying to stop the Columbia Wegments. The Howard County Board of Appeals dismissed the latest appeal against zoning for the site near Apple Ford on Snowden River Parkway.

Wordbones says Wegmans may be on track for a 2009 or early 2010 opening. Sounds great to me, although I have heard that Wegmans builds slowly because the company is very particular. The Wegmans website already lists store openings through November 2009 and says "TBD" for the Columbia site.

(Update: Check out the anonymous comment about the planned Frederick Wegmans.  On the company's Website, that Frederick store is listed above Columbia.  I don't know whether the list is in the order that they expect to open, but it can't speed up construction to have so many projects at once.  Thanks for the comments.)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Delicious: Spicy Vegetable Samosas at Aladdin Food Mart

Sometimes the gateway to an exotic treat can be something as common as a freezer door.

I posted once before about 10 no-cook purchases at the H Mart, but you can buy snacks, breads, cheeses and more at small markets on your way home.  Some of the best are in the freezer case like the Indian breads at Apna Bazar or the Salvadoran pupusas at Lily's Mexican Market.

At the Aladdin Food Mart in downtown Laurel, check the freezer for the Shahia-brand samosas if you want to sample spectacular finger food.  These aren't Indian samosas with the thick crust.  They're smaller triangles with a thinner, flakier crust.  The fillings are full of flavor.  They taste fresh with whole peas amid other mashed vegetables and with none of the oil that plagues cheap frozen food.  They're an easy snack or dinner.  They're refined enough to serve at a party, although they're not cheap enough to serve a crowd.

Believe the box.  The spicy samosas are spicy.  They're my favorites, but they're also the snack that sends Mrs. HowChow to the kitchen for a glass of water. 

The Shahia box recommends that you deep fry the samosas.  I defrost them slightly in the microwave, then panfry them in a skillet until they brown.  You get about two dozen in a box, so I generally eat some and keep the others frozen in a Ziploc bag.

Aladdin is a nice shop on Main Street in Laurel.  The owner recently renovated, and he still offers a hefty selection of breads, cheeses, canned goods, and spices.  It isn't as large as Sizar's, but at least it hasn't moved all the way to Elkridge!

If you're exploring in Laurel, Aladdin is across the street from the Laurel Meat Market and a few blocks from the Apna Bazar on U.S. 1.  If you want Indian samosas, they're often for sale at the counter at Desi Market in Columbia.

Aladdin Food Mart
308 Main Street
Laurel, MD 20707

NEAR: Downtown Laurel off U.S. 1. You can take U.S. 1 south or take Rte 216 East from I-95, then turn left at the light on Main Street.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Jesse Wong's Hong Kong Closed

Jesse Wong's Hong Kong closed in downtown Columbia at the beginning of December, according to Elizabeth Large's essential Dining @ Large blog.

The Hong Kong was one of the best local places for dim sum, but it apparently joined Trapeze as a victim of the recent slowdown.  The excellent Jesse Wong's Asean Bistro remains open and serves delicious Americanized Chinese food in a classy restaurant.

If you're looking for excellent Chinese food -- although not the dim sum -- I recommend Grace Garden in Odenton.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Looney's to replace Trapeze in Fulton

The owners of the pub Looney's have leased the former Trapeze and applied for a liquor license at the Fulton site, according to the Tales of Two Cities blog and a report by Larry Carson of the Baltimore Sun. (Look at the last paragraph of the Sun article.)

I found the Sun article because I noticed that someone was Google searching over the weekend with terms like "Looney's Pub Maple Lawn," "Looney's Pub Fulton," Looney's Pub Laurel." That made me remember a November comment on a former post that mentioned Looney's.

What does the Baltimore Beer Guy think this will mean for Howard County?

Nora Cafe & Bakery in Ellicott City

Winter is the season for cookies, and Nora Cafe & Bakery in Ellicott City offers up boxes of sweets for your home or a hostess gift.

I carried a plastic box of Nora's cookies to Chicago, and they were a great dessert at my friend's house. I love staring into a lighted display and picking out whatever catches my eye. The round sandwich cookies with powdered sugar on top and a red jam in between. The butter cookies covered with twirls of chocolate. The almond-flavored ones with the crinkly texture.

The kids in Chicago ate up the almond ones before I could get a taste, but I really enjoyed everything else. A half pound disappeared in a flash.

Nora Cafe also offers a full menu of breakfast, soups, subs, paninis, and pizzas. It is an extensive selection, and everything is made at the restaurant. They also deliver breakfast and lunch. I drove there for a nice Sunday morning bagel sandwich. Real eggs and bacon, not just a kit microwaved somewhere in the back. Based on comments on other posts, people seem to like Nora's bagels.

If you are looking for a Howard County bakery, you should also check out Bonaparte Bread in Savage or French pastries and baguettes or La Boulangerie in Ellicott City for formal cakes and for breads and buns filled with sweet red beans, chocolate, hazelnut cream and other delicacies.

Nora Cafe & Bakery
8450 Baltimore Natl Pike # 8
Ellicott City, MD 21043
(410) 461-6902‎

NEAR: Nora's is in a shopping center with a Safeway. It is on Rte 40 just east of the intersection with Rte 29.

Nora's Cafe & Bakery on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 12, 2008

Second Chance and Diamondback Open

The Second Chance Saloon in Columbia and the Diamondback Tavern in Ellicott City have both opened. These are the former homes of the Last Chance Saloon and the Tiber River Tavern, respectively.

Check out Tales of Two Cities, Live in Howard County and the Baltimore Beer Guy I, Baltimore Beer Guy II for updates on the openings.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Delicious: Daifuku (Sweet Rice Cakes) at Super Grand

If you try out the new Super Grand market in Laurel, check out the small rice cakes filled with red-bean- or fruit-flavored paste at the end of the refrigerated section.

The individually-wrapped sweets -- called "daifuku" -- caught my eye, and I sampled both a red bean and a pineapple version. They're basically a slightly-chewy outside called mochi (imagine the texture, but not the sweetness of marzipan or caramel) stuffed with a sweet paste. They were both delicious. Sweet, but light tasting. They're not actually "light" desserts because the red bean pastry clocked in at 300 calories. Great with tea on a cold night.

Brief Web searches suggest that the Japanese fill daifuku with all kinds of items in Japan, including fresh strawberries and cream. The Super Grand has refrigerated versions with guava, pineapple and other flavorings. I'm partial to red bean desserts. But the daifuku run $1.20 to $1.50 so you can mix and match flavors to suit yourself.

I assume that H Mart and Lotte in Ellicott City also carry daifuku, although I never noticed them before. For more information about daifuku, check out Wikipedia or Chowhound -- maybe starting with this post or this post.

Super Grand
13600 Laurel Bowie Road (Rte 197)
Laurel, MD 20708

NEAR: This is on Rte 197 about a half-mile south of Rte 198. It's right off the BW Parkway, so it's an easy drive from I-95 or U.S. 1 via Rte 198.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Super Grand in Laurel

With the new Super Grand in Laurel, Howard County is now bracketed by Korean markets -- a source for fish, vegetables, and Asian or Hispanic groceries.

Super Grand is part of the Virginia-based Grand Mart chain that offers a similar lineup as Lotte in Ellicott City or the H Mart in Catonsville.  As I wrote about "My Favorite Place For Food," these Korean markets offer quality and selection that make them fun for anyone who loves food, and the Super Grand opened in October to offer those benefits for people in Columbia and south.

Right inside the door, Super Grand offers fresh, low-priced fruits and vegetables that run from traditional American items like cukes and peppers through Asian and Latin American specialities.  Pomelos.  Asian pears.  Thai peppers.  Lemongrass.  Tomatillos.  Baby bok choys.  A half-dozen Asian greens.  Fresh jack fruit.  The exotic selection makes this a great place to carry your ethnic cookbook.  Pick a recipe once something catches your eye.  The reasonable prices let you experiment, and the quality makes Korean markets worthwhile even if you only buy items that Safeway normally stocks.  I bought chard last weekend that was twice as large and way fresher than I had seen anywhere outside My Organic Market.

As you circle the other aisles, you will see a great fish section with live and whole offerings on top of the normal fillets and steaks.  You'll see Asian groceries like rice, noodles, sauces, and desserts.  You'll also see Hispanic groceries from fresh tortillas and Salvadoran cheeses to Goya canned goods to an entire aisle of El Chilar brand spices and dried peppers.  (They even have Zambo's plantain chips and a display of Mexican candies.)   On the weekend, Super Grand offers tastings of Asian spice mixtures and stirfry sauces.  They weren't my favorites, but they could make nice fast dinners. 

The Super Grand difference is that it offers more Mexican goods and several aisles of American products -- Herr's potato chips, Nabisco cookies, Pop Secret popcorn, laundry detergent, napkins.  At Lotte and H Mart, those are often a single aisle, and they don't carry all the national brands.  (Update: Super Grand even carries Jamaican, African and Indian products.)  The Laurel store is about the same size, so it must offer fewer Asian products.  Certainly, the vegetable section is smaller than the H Mart, but my first visit found everything that I wanted.

Thanks to Sheri for telling me about the Super Grand in a comment to an earlier post.

If you want to read more about Asian grocery stores, start with my posts about "My Favorite Place For Food" and "Ten Easy Pick-ups."  Those will tell you what kinds of items you should expect to find at the Grand Mart.  On a first trip, I definitely suggest that you look for produce, for some fish, for frozen dumplings, and for the seaweed wrappers mentioned in the "Ten Easy Pick-ups."

In the back, Super Grand does have a selection of prepared food, and last weekend, they were offering samples of beef, chicken and pork cooked with some bottled sauces.  To my eye (because I didn't try anything), Lotte still has the best set-up to try some Korean panchan and marinated meats for a quick cook-at-home dinner.  H Mart has improved its selection, but the Super Grand still seems aimed at Korean shoppers who know exactly what they're buying.

Super Grand
13600 Laurel Bowie Road (Rte 197)
Laurel, MD 20708

NEAR: This is on Rte 197 about a half-mile south of Rte 198.  It's right off the BW Parkway, so it's an easy drive from I-95 or U.S. 1 via Rte 198.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Grace Garden Chinese in Odenton

The drive and the cuisine at Grace Garden are more than worth the effort if you are looking for an adventure in Chinese food.

If you want to explore authentic Chinese flavors, then you should drive to Odenton -- to Rte 175 just north of Rte 32 -- and dig into the "Eastern" menu. Ignore the paper menu with the takeout standards. Fill your table with sliced pork belly, steamed whole fish, basil chicken, fish noodles, tea-smoked duck, and pocket tofu.

(Update:  Grace Garden closed briefly because of snow damage to its roof, but it reopened in March 2010.)

The Grace Garden food is delicious. Mrs. HowChow and I loved the spicy pocket tofu and the sauteed Chinese broccoli. The broccoli was 100% talent -- humble vegetables, sauteed to that perfect point of cooked but crisp, then dressed in a light sauce. The pocket tofu was 100% new. I had expected something like the tofu pockets that I buy at the H Mart, but instead, the dish looked like dumplings in a thick, chili sauce. Spectacular. The outside skin is thin, but miraculously strong and wrapped around a tender filling of minced shrimp.

I also liked the Sichuan braised beef, which was an enormous bowl of sliced beef with bamboo shoots, onions and something from the bok choy family. Again, this was Chinese cooking like I have rarely had before. The sauce was viscous, and I instinctively tensed at the first bite because thick Chinese sauces have always meant gloppy flavors. But Grace Garden's sauce was spicy and bursting with flavor. The texture was silky, not gloppy.

(Update: If anything, the tofu pockets and braised beef were exceeded by later meals of fish noodles and braised pork.   The noodles are literally noodles made from ground fish. They have the texture of rustic pasta, and a mild flavor that says meat without being fishy at all.  Then, they serve pork without being greasy.  This is pork belly -- the same cut that people use for bacon. But Grace Garden serves pork that is crispy and tender, a flavor of pork and the spicy sauce.)

All this is 20 minutes from most of Howard County, but it comes with a HoCo pedigree. The chef Chun Keung Li opened his own place in 2005 after years at Hunan Manor in Columbia.

Again, go to Grace Garden if you want an adventure. Last summer, this was the center of a food blog explosion that started on Chowhound, and the City Paper named it Best Chinese Restaurant for 2008. People who know Chinese food have posted all about Chef Li's history and talent and about the dishes that blew them away -- Skillet Doux, Skillet Doux II, Tea and Food, This is Gonna Be Good, Minx Eats, reviews on Yelp.  You'll read mentions of how this is truly a family-run place and even some comments that the planned widening of Rte 175 may force Grace Garden to relocate. If those posts interest you, then a table of Grace Garden delicacies will make you happy.

Only a few articles mention that Grace Garden falls somewhere between "Spartan" and "scary." On a dark night, we drove past blocks of shuttered restaurants and found Grace Garden's strip shopping center pressed against Rte 175 between Cluck You Chicken and a barber shop. Inside, there were a handful of tables, a few photos on the wall, no customers, and a teenaged waitress who couldn't have been less engaged. By the end, I was entranced. Mrs. HowChow was happy with her meal, but she wasn't going to clamor for an early return when she could also go back to Bangkok Delight or Jesse Wong's Asean Bistro.

Read the menu. Read all the blog posts, the City Paper review and especially that Chowhound page. After an extremely disappointing meal at Hunan Legend, I drove to Grace Garden with a list of things that I want to order. (Next time, I'm getting the fish noodles and the basil chicken.) Don't count on the waitress to recommend.

(Update: So much for my cute ending. See Skillet Doux's comment below that you *should* get the waitress to recommend if your waitress is Mei, one of the adult owners. That would just make a Grace Garden visit even better.  And see BMoreCupcake's comment on Chowhound that everything on the "American menu" was excellent as well.)

Click here for my 2010 write-up of Chinese restaurants in Howard County.

Grace Garden
1690 Annapolis Road (Rte 175)
Odenton, MD 21113
Note: They're closed on Sunday.

NEAR: This is on Rte 175 just north of Rte 32. It is in a strip shopping center right against the road. There is parking in back of the center.

Grace Garden on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Hello Photographers!

Thanks to the spectacular Strobist blog for linking to HowChow.  Strobist draws photographers from around the world, and more people click on the links at Strobist in a day than visit HowChow most weeks.

As noted on Strobist, the photography here is subpar even though my time at a newspaper taught me years ago that arresting photos improved every article.  In my defense, I shot most of this site with a cellphone while trying not to draw attention to the fact that I was photographing, say, the salad bar at Roots.  Sometimes I carry my wife's Nikon, but I panicked the customers at one of the U.S. 1 taco trucks when I pulled into the parking lot and started shooting from my car window.

And I still like my photo of the crabs.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Link: Cooking Classes in Howard County

On the Examiner Web site, Dara Bunjon has posted an extensive and impressive list of cooking classes in Baltimore -- including several in Howard County.

Check out "Cooking with Ben" with Ben Tahranian of Columbia or "Cooking with Donna" at the Donna's Cafe on Snowden River in Columbia.  The Elkridge Furnace appears to have classes (although I didn't find this until after the November class mentioned there), and Tersiquel's offers a "Day with the Chef" where $425 buys you a day with Michel Tersiquel from 5 am shopping to a dinner for two.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Mimi's Kabob in Clarksville

One test for a sandwich is what you do when its sauce starts to drip down your leg.

When I say "your leg," of course, I mean "my leg" because Mrs. HowChow wouldn't eat a sandwich that dripped on her leg.  But I stopped at Mimi's Kabob while driving home from errands.  I ordered the chicken kabob, and the sauce started to drip as I munched on the ride home.

The Mimi's Kabob passes the test:  I wiped off my jeans, but then took another bite as I pulled into the neighborhood.  Juicy white-meat chicken.  Crisp, warm tandoori bread.  Vegetables, and a creamy, slightly cheesy sauce that really made a terrific sandwich (and which cleaned up easily).

Mimi's is a casual Afghan restaurant along the lines of Columbia's Maiwand Kabob.  Appetizers like aushuk, bowlani and pumpkin.  A clay oven to create tandoori bread.  A menu that runs through chicken, beef, and lamb kabobs and ends with a few Afghan desserts like rice pudding or custard.  At lunch, there are even pizza and sandwiches.

This is a friendly place.  When I didn't want a soda, they let me swap out the drink for some pumpkin in the lunch special.  The pumpkin was good, although less tender than Maiwand Kabob.  Mimi's actually has more seating that the Columbia Maiwand Kabob.  

If you like kabobs, check out Maiwand Kabob in Columbia or Parsa Kabob in Elkridge.  If you are in Clarksville, definitely check out Great Sage for vegetarian food or El Azteca for Mexican.

Mimi's Kabob
12345 Wake Forest Road (Rte 108)
Clarksville, MD 21029

NEAR:  This is a block south of Rte 32 on Rte 108.  It is a shopping center on the east side of Rte 108, and the entry is from a side street, so you need to turn just south of the shopping center.  This is a great place to stop if you have been shopping at Roots Markets farther north on Rte 108.

Mimi's Kabob on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Island Style Ice Cream at Golden Krust

Warm up your winter with Jamaican-inspired ice cream -- made in Prince George's County but available at the Golden Krust in Catonsville.

Island Style Ice Cream from Mount Rainier stocks a freezer at the Golden Krust with pints of its tropically-inspired ice cream. Like the Moorenko's at My Organic Market, this is locally-made, all-natural dessert. The banana ice cream contains just milk, cream, sugar and fruit. But unlike Moorenko's ginger flavor, the Island Style banana gets the big thumbs-up from Mrs. HowChow. This is a rich banana flavor with a rich creamy feel. Like a frozen banana milk shake, said Mrs. HowChow. That is high praise.

According to a 2006 WPost article, Island Style's owner Pancita Brydson makes the ice cream from organic ingredients that she buys from a local food co-op. The shop's Web site talks up a bunch of interesting flavors, including stout, grapenut, ginger and fruits like pineapple, coconut and strawberry.

At Golden Krust, the ice cream makes a great take-out dessert to accompany the menu of stews, chicken, fish and especially the patties that you can carry home. Those patties -- pastry wrapped around meat or vegetable fillings -- are warm little treats, perfect to pair with some island ice cream.

If you are looking to try local ice creams, definitely try the Moorenko's at My Organic Market in Jessup (Columbia East). I think the ginger is delicious. If you are looking for other desserts, scroll through this search to check out other "sweet" posts.

Island Style Ice Cream
3829 34th Street
Mount Rainier, MD 20712

NEAR: Island Style is just off Rte 1/Rhode Island Avenue inside the Beltway. This is just a few blocks east of the DC line in PG County.

Island Style Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

Golden Krust Bakery
838 N. Rolling Road
Catonsville, MD 21228

NEAR: Golden Krust is in the same shopping center as the Super H grocery store. It is on Rte 40 just west of I-695. If you are driving east on Rte 40 from HoCo, you'll see a Starbucks and a FedEx at the end of the shopping center. Turn right immediately after the Starbucks. If you miss it, just turn right at the next intersection.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Pazani Trattoria in Elkridge

The great pizza tour rolled through Elkridge, and Pazani lived up to all the hype with pizza that certainly makes it worth the drive.

Pazani offers my favorite kind of pizza -- a crisp, greaseless crust with delicious, but light toppings. The toppings are exceptional, and the crust is strong enough to fold in half around the warm cheese and goodies.

On my last visit, Mrs. HowChow and I split a pie that was half pepperonata (sausage, peppers, onion) and half capricciosa (mushrooms, artichokes, olives, and peppers). These are flavorful cheeses, salty olives, sweet sausage in chunks. Vegetables that tasted like someone sliced in the kitchen and sauteed here, not like anything canned or delivered by an 18-wheeler. But my current favorite is still the spinach-chicken white pizza that I had for lunch one day on the way to BWI -- a slice heated through in the oven and tasting better than most pizza served fresh.

Pazani pulls off a very unusual design. There are no waiters. You order at the counter, fill your own soda, and then wait at your table for the food to be delivered. But it's a classy place, and the modern design and the friendly handwritten menu makes it feel a step above most local pizza restaurants. The kitchen aims a step higher too with good house salads (order the dressing on the side), a dozen entrees, and specials like a stuffed pasta that almost convinced me to skip pizza last time. I want the Pizza Fresca that just opened in Maple Lawn to be this good because it's so much more convenient for me. But Pazani is worth the drive any night that I have time.

Of course, Pazani is a true HoCo restaurant in that it would be almost impossible to run across. I lived a half mile away, and I had to start a food blog before anyone recommended Pazani to me. It is actually quite convenient off Rte 100 or Rte 103.

(Update: Pizza Blogger likes Pazani.  Check out his post here.)

Do you have a favorite pizza? I am still looking for the best places, but click here to read and post about pizza in Howard County. Definitely consider Trattoria E Pizzeria Da Enrico or Luna Bella Ristorante -- both in Columbia. The first is a super-casual joint, and the second is a real restaurant with tablecloths and pies heaped up with toppings.

Pazani Trattoria Italiana
6060 Marshalee Drive
Elkridge, MD 21075

NEAR: This is near the hotel under construction off Rte 100 west of I-95. To get there, exit from Rte 100 onto Rte 103 North. Turn right at the light for Marshalee Drive and look for the shopping center on the right. Pazani is in the section past the Giant. This is the same development as the new hotel that overlooks Rte 100.

Pazani Trattoria Italiana on Urbanspoon