Friday, July 31, 2009

Cafe Oromia in Burtonsville

Howard County's closest spot for Ethiopian has converted from a coffee shop to a small restaurant with an expanded -- although still basic -- menu of injera and stews.

Cafe Oromia is the new name of the family-run restaurant on Rte 198 in Burtonsville. It opened as Coffee Oromia and sold a few Ethiopian items under a coffee shop menu. Now, the rechristened spot serves a broader menu of beef, chicken, lamb and vegetable stews.

To my uneducated palate, the stews come pretty mild. I was offered a bowl of a hot pepper sauce that I dabbed myself to spice up beef tibbs, lentils and chopped greens. This isn't the Adams Morgan stews that have left me gulping water at times, but everything tasted good to me. The sambusa appetizer -- cousin to the samosa or empanada -- makes a great start and would be a perfect treat if you happened down Rte 198 doing errands. Next time, I'll try a chicken dish or one of the vegetable plates because I'm always struck that Ethiopian beef is lean. Lean, almost tough.

But, as I have said before, the injera alone is worth stopping if you have a taste for the flat, spongy bread that is the hallmark of Ethiopian eating. Each plate comes with a main dish and two sides, all stewed into the consistency of chunky pasta sauce. You rip pieces of of the platter-sized injera and use them to scoops up the meat and the sides of lentil stew, chopped greens, etc. The bottom injera that soaks up the sauces is often the most-delicious part.

The stretch of Rte 198 west of Rte 29 offers a few interesting options beyond Cafe Oromia, including Cuban at Cuba de Ayer, Afghan at a branch of Maiwand Kabob, and homemade ice cream at Seibel's.

Cafe Oromia
15510 Old Columbia Pike
Burtonsville, MD 20866

NEAR: This is on Rte 198 just west of Rte 29. From Howard County, you take the first exit on Rte 29 south of the river. That exit puts you on an old piece of Rte 29 that passes an Indian temple and a garden center. Turn right on Rte 198 at the traffic light. Coffee Oromia is a block up on the right next to a Maiwand Kabob outlet. There is a sign.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tomatoes and Bon Fresco's Baguette

The summer's tomato crop has started to come in, and you should pair your bounty with the summer's great new Howard County restaurant.

Bon Fresco Sandwich Bakery opened this season, and you can go there for imaginative sandwiches and an increasing number of salads and other side dishes. The Bon Fresco folks are getting rave reviews in the comments. Many people report about Bon Fresco's managers are trying new products, offering tastes of new breads, and otherwise establishing themselves as a casual treasure on Oakland Park Road.

But you can just stop for a simple baguette. Two dollars, and you're out the door. I brought mine home and sliced the long way. On one side, I piled slices of farm stand tomato. On other, I spread goat cheese and some pepper. I pressed together my sandwich, and it was perfectly delicious. After three sandwiches, I only stopped because my stomach ached.

If you are looking for other options, check out my post about bakeries in Howard County or about the Pepperjack Deli in Laurel, which also serves good sandwiches.

Bon Fresco Sandwich Bakery
6945 Oakland Mills Road
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR: Bon Fresco is in the shopping center on Oakland Mills Road at Snowden River Parkway. The center with Race Pace bike shop and a Ledo Pizza overlooks Snowden, but you need to turn onto Oakland Mills at the intersection and turn right into the shopping center. Bon Fresco is in the out-building just to the right of the entrance.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Five Guys Has Opened At Columbia Mall

The Five Guys has opened in the food court at the Columbia Mall -- along with Chipotle and Arbys -- after tempting us with burgers in Laurel, Hanover and Woodlawn.

I haven't indulged yet, but I got a report from Wendy. She has been to Chipotle and Arbys but hasn't figured out what a vegetarian should get at Five Guys. Obviously, the burgers are out, although I think the Five Guys fries are what lift it over Fatburger or other competitors. Wendy noted that all three joints have limited menus -- less options, for example, than a standalone Arby's.

Yogiberry is still under construction across from Zales. Last I heard, they hoped to open in August 2009.

Restaurant Week at Iron Bridge Wine Co. in Columbia

Delicious and fun mix beautifully at Iron Bridge Wine Co. in Columbia, and the ongoing Howard County Restaurant Weeks is a great excuse to explore -- although not the only deal to choose.

Mrs. HowChow and I ate at Iron Bridge on a celebratory whim Monday night. For restaurant week, Iron Bridge is offering three courses for $30 -- an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert. Iron Bridge has specials every weeknight like a "burger and wine" special on Mondays. But we actually ate the regular appetizers -- four tapas-sized dishes that we split before having dessert. We paid a little less and still walked out satisfied and full.

Iron Bridge is a special kitchen. Dishes are small, simple and smart, which was my reason to try more little dishes than a full-plate entrees. Consider the "fries" served with a barbecued beef slider. They look like thick cut fries, but they're really slices of polenta, fried with such a light touch that the outside was crisp and the inside was almost creamy. It's surprising. It's funny. But most importantly, it's delicious and dipped beautifully into the barbecue sauce.

I started to write that the best items were the simplest -- house-smoked salmon with a spectacular cream on thin slices of toast. But the dishes are deceptively complex. Someone turned out that salmon with a mouth-filling flavor of fish and salt, but none of the oiliness that mars bad lox. Someone made a perfect cream and thin toasts with a slight crunch, but still the chewiness of bread. It's an intelligence that run through everything at Iron Bridge from the manager who moved us away from a happy, loud group to the waiter who let Mrs. HowChow order a half-pour when the menu only listed wines by the full glass.

This was one of my favorite dinners in a long time. The beef sliders and the shrimp were both cooked perfectly. The bread pudding was delicate -- although more like a cake than the moist puddings that Mrs. HowChow prefers. The wine was superb and fit Mrs. HowChow's description of "dry, but full flavored" exactly. This was the fun of eating at a favorite restaurant, made especially good because we didn't fall into our "favorite sushi roll" rut. Iron Bridge changes its menu all the time, so we make new picks confident that nothing with disappoint. I really wanted the cheese plate, but we relented because four tapas and dessert truly filled us both up.

My only complaint is the lighting. Sure, it's romantic and adult, which goes great with the way that Iron Bridge has little nooks where you can be together even in a crowded room. But some of us are snapping away with a camera phone, and there just isn't enough light to focus.

For more about Howard County's restaurant week in July-August 2009, check out a prior post that links to the full list of participating restaurants. The funny thing at Iron Bridge is that there wasn't a sign of restaurant week anywhere. Not even a mention of the "three for $30" special on the menu. I guess you get the deal if you know about it before you arrive.

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.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dutch Market Aiming To Open In Laurel In August

The Dutch Country Market that closed in Burtonsville hopes to re-open in August in the new Laurel location.

(Update: They're open.)

The market sent out emails Monday saying that they still hope to be selling Lancaster County delicacies by the end of August. Their old shopping center at Rte 198 and Rte 29 is fenced for construction. Their new home at Rte 198 just east of U.S. 1 supposedly will offer all the great items -- like the bacon-egg-and-cheese pretzel roll -- that made the Dutch Country Market a real adventure for people who want food.

Dutch Country Farmers Market (opening in August 2009)
9701 Fort Meade Road (Rte 198)
Laurel, MD 20707

Milkshakes at the Duchess in Ellicott City

If you've got a 9 to 5 in the city, then you're missing your chance at a great mikshake at the Duchess.

Turkey Hill ice cream. Milk. Blend. That's the kind of milkshake that brings all the boys to the yard, but it's only available from about 11 am to 5 pm weekdays at the Duchess, a longtime takeout a block off Rte 103 just east of Rte 29.

You get a simple cup filled with creamy chocolate or vanilla -- smooth enough to drink with a straw, but thick like ice cream coating your mouth. Seriously, split a milkshake. I drank an entire cup, and I felt like I needed to run a mile just to work off the fat. Based on a string of Chowhound comments and a Howard County Times article, I learned that The Duchess is an institution that changed owners a few years ago, but now seemed to be run again by an original owner who just serves sandwiches, ice cream and milkshakes.

Like Touche Touchet or Oh, What A Cake for cupcakes, the Duchess is a perfect place to take a kid if you're looking for an adventure on a summer day. Simple sweets and big smiles. You're not going to do better.

If you read Chowhound posts about Howard County food, check out the people on the Chowhound comments above. Treetop Tom, BMorecupcake, and Jason1 always post thoughtful, knowledgeable ideas. I also watch for Elgringoviejo and Ivysmom.

The Duchess
4126 Old Columbia Pike

Ellicott City, MD 21043


NEAR: The Duchess is a small building just north of Rte 103 on Old Columbia Pike. This is the intersection with the fire department just east of Rte 29. It's actually quite easy to reach from Rte 29, and, of course, you can reach it from downtown Ellicott City by just driving up the Old Columbia Pike.

The Duchess on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 27, 2009

Link: Judge's Bench in the Sun

The Judge's Bench in Ellicott City and its owner Mike Brown got a friendly profile about the bar's craft beer selection in the Sun.

Check out the Baltimore Beer Guy for real news on the Howard County brew scene. The BBG cites the Judge's Bench and the Frisco Grille in Columbia as the best beer bars in Howard County -- with Frisco as his favorite.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Mrs. HowChow Goes For Drive-Through Chicken

While the cat is away, Mrs. HowChow goes for take out....or drive-through....

During Mr. HowChow's recent business travel, I decided to hijack the blog temporarily to provide some suggestions for local tasty take-out and drive-through for those of us who do not process anything bought or sold, sell anything processed or bought, or whatever.

My disclaimer: Although I truly love Mr. HowChow's healthy, tasty cooking and the inventive food at restaurants included in his blog, sometimes you just need a break from all of those farmer's market, bulgur-wheat, 24-grain, quinoa-laden, kohlrabi-centric meals.

At times, after a very long day at work and no time or energy to prepare your own dinner (and nothing in the fridge because no one has gone shopping), you just want to drive your automobile up to a faceless, nameless voice in a box and ask for some dinner. Now, don't think you have to compromise. I love tasty food as well as ambience, and the Chik-fil-A in Fulton delivers both in a 3-5 minute culinary experience.

Although there are now healthy options on the board (a.k.a. your fried chicken in an Atkins-friendly "wrap"), I highly recommend the classic Meal #1. I'm not sure now if they actually use the word "fried" in the description of the breaded chicken on a roll, but you get all the flavor of KFC with 2 or 3 pickles for an extra juicy punch (other condiments must be added, but I only recommend ketchup). The highlights of the Meal #1 are actually the accompaniments. The salty, hot waffle fries are so yummy that I have invoked a rule for myself as I drive away that I can only eat 3 before I get home. OK, so I only live 3 minutes away. The piece de resistance is the beverage. I highly recommend choosing the lemonade for the soft drink. It's so choice. Tart, refreshing and packed with real (?) lemon flavor, this isn't your
kid's lemonade. Friends of mine have echoed this sentiment and in fact, say they go through the drive-through just for a drink.

So, I mentioned ambience. After you place your order, drive slowly, with the convertible top down, if you are so inclined or able, so that you can enjoy the rushing waterfalls to your right. Cool, breezy, and if you close your eyes, may remind you of Hawaii.....mmmm....ok, maybe not, but you have to give snaps to Chik-fil-A for trying. They truly have a water-feature in the drive-through, but have pretty quick and pleasant service, so don't drive through too quickly, or you will miss this little treat.

I neglected to mention ordering dessert in this post, but on other occasions (yes, again, while Mr. HowChow was away), I have ordered the same meal, but with an extra drink. A vanilla shake so thick and creamy, it's really not a drink. In fact, it may be so creamy, that it could serve as your FDA requirement for caloric intake in a 24-hour period. Whatever, though. No one will see you eat this as it is drive-through. Except for the extremely nice kids who staff the pay counter at the drive-through, who are maybe starting to look at me with a little more recognition this time around.....did they call me by name? I can't recall, but I can say that if you are going it alone one evening, drive through this little piece of chicken-fry-lemonade heaven.

p.s. Chik-fil-A has sponsored Dad-daughter and Mother-son nights which I have noticed while driving by the restaurant that also look like fun. Balloons for the kids, maybe some specials inside? We don't have kids, but also looks like a great place for a quick bulgur-free bite with the little ones.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Asian Grocery Stores in Howard County

Asian grocery stores are one of the great food innovations of the past 20 years.

From Howard County, a short drive will let you buy spectacular vegetables, fruit, fish and Asian or Latin groceries. Low prices. Incredible selections. Specialty offerings at a price that lets you try out that Asian pepper, unusual spice or the fruit that you have never seen before.

My top choices are the H Mart off Rte 40 in Catonsville or the Super Grand south of Rte 198 on Rte 197 in Laurel. You can also shop at Lotte in Ellicott City. I have posted about various aspects of these stores that I'll summarize below, but nothing beats an hour exploring the aisles. You want to go because you'll do this week's grocery shopping and get to add a little adventure to your life at the same time. Nothing lose; a world of flavor to gain.

(Update:  A huge Lotte opened in Catonsville in December 2012.  Search for posts about that grocery as well.)

Let's start with the guaranteed finds. In my post about "my favorite place for food," I wrote that Asian ingredients don't even make my Top 5 reasons to visit H Mart. They're ideal. I love the wonton wrappers, the coconut milk, the Asian pears, and the aisles of rice, tofu and sauces. These should be your first stops if you're trying to cook anything from Korean to Chinese to Thai, but you'll find far more than soy sauce and seaweed at H Mart, Lotte or Super Grand:
  • Fruit -- The fruit lasts longer than items from anyone else. In-season fruit comes at spectacular selections like a dozen varieties pears, and there are unusual selections like Koran melons or lychees. Try a box of Asian pears when they're in season. A luxury suddenly becomes something that you can share and enjoy day after day.
  • Frozen Food -- The frozen aisle is full of convenience items. Dumplings. Shu Mai. Red bean ice cream. Bags of edamame. Even a brief scouting trip will send you home with some great frozen items and inspire you to return.
  • Mexican Food -- No joke, everything you need for a Rick Bayless cookbook. Hispanic vegetables like plantains, jicama and chayote prove the worldliness of the market owners. They serve up Latin cheeses, chorizos, and spices. They have entire aisles of Goya beans, sauces and rice, and Super Grand has even more than Lotte or H Mart.
  • Vegetables -- The vegetables make Asian markets worthy of a pilgrimage for any cook. As I wrote in the post about vegetable shopping, you get low prices, great selections, and produce that just lasts longer in the fridge. It is rarely organic. But the Asian markets are my favorite place because you get variety along with some unique items like all the Asian greens and cabbages.
  • Fish -- These are the places to experiment with fish. As simple as fillets. As exotic as live tillapia or squid. Great prices on clams that let me cook an entire vat of chowder last winter. All the markets sell whole fish, and the fishmongers will gut, skin or cut up the fish into a bunch of styles that they list on signs over their heads.
One day, I would love to write an organized tour of these Asian markets. But I taught myself by just pulling stuff off the shelves. As I often note, the ingredients are always in English, so you can guess at most anything. Employees try to be helpful, but my advice (especially outside the produce section) is that you question a fellow shopper if you want to know more. The woman buying seaweed will know more than the guy stocking the shelves. Generally, people have been happy to share -- although I have approached people who turned out to be just as clueless as me. ("I have no idea. My family is Korean, and I'm looking for Vietnamese fish sauce for a recipe from the food section.")

Last year, I knocked off a list of 10 items that were easy to just grab off the shelf. No cooking to eat refrigerated kimchi or the frozen dumplings. A little assembly to create seaweed wrappers with rice and tuna fish. Since then, I keep finding new items by just reaching out and reading the package:
  • Make quick pickles with Yoricho cooking vinegar. Slice vegetables, pour on that vingegar and water. You have pickles in 20 minutes.
  • Create a unique dessert by buying sweet rice cakes. They're a fine hand-held snack. But I jazzed them up by slicing two into eight pieces, then serving that plate next to a fruit salad.
  • Buy a great takeout dinner by grabbing soup or ready-to-grill meat. Then, sample any of the "panchan" -- prepared vegetables, fish cakes, tofu and other Korean side dish -- that the store sells by the pound. Lotte has a great selection of panchan that you can buy in bulk (or in tiny tasters). Lotte isn't my favorite market, but the prepared foods are terrific.
(Update: See other ideas in the comments below like lumpia or frozen banana leaves.)
If you're interested in exploring, check out my review of Kimiko Barber's cookbooks. The Japanese Kitchen and The Chopstick Diet are great guides to the Japanese aisles and offer delicious, accessible ways to cook the noodles, seaweeds, vegetables and fish offered at the Asian grocery stores.

This is part of the "What I Learned" series of posts. They're organized in rings. See below to continue on the ring about shopping in Howard County. Or click to switch to the posts about different cuisines or posts about areas and ideas.

PREVIOUS: Ethnic Shopping in Howard County

H Mart
800 N. Rolling Road
Catonsville, MD 21228

NEAR: Rte 40 just west of I-695. If you are driving 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.

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.

Lotte Market
8801 Baltimore National Pike
Ellicott City, MD 21043

NEAR: On Rte 40, just east 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.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Link: The PizzaBlogger's Slicecapades

The Baltimore-based PizzaBlogger took a breath-taking road trip tasting pizza earlier this month -- 466 miles in a single day to try 17 slices of pizza from Ellicott City through New York City.

This was a scientific project, which is intimidating since I don't even claim to make multiple visits like real restaurant reviewers would do for a newspaper. The PB sampled a slice from Pazani in Elkridge, which is one of my favorites but which disappointed the PB. Check out the PB's photos and tour.

Laraia's Mozzarella at My Organic Market

Now that we're in the season for tomatoes and basil, check out the Laraia's Mozzarella for sale at My Organic Market in Jessup.

This a tasty ball of mozzarella that has a mild, milky taste that goes perfect with a garden tomato and a leaf of basil. I'm actually a fan of the national-brand mozzarella balls at Giant and Harris Teeter, the Laraia's cheese has a flavor a little more like milk and a feeling that is a little less elastic.

I have written before about shopping for cheese or for organic products in Howard County. My Organic Market offers a small, but thoughtful selection of both in the Columbia East shopping center at Rte 175 and U.S. 1.

My Organic Market (now Mom's Organic Market)
7361 Assateague Dr. #190
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 My Organic Market right in front of you when you pull into the parking area.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Howard County Restaurant Weeks 2009

Howard County Restaurant Weeks returns Monday for two weeks of discounts, and this is your chance to try somewhere new.

From July 27 to August 9, 2009, you can enjoy "restaurant week" specials at about 25 different tables. My recommendations include Victoria Gastro Pub (for parking lot cuisine), Iron Bridge Wine Company, and Aida Bistro in Columbia, Jordan's Steakhouse in Ellicott City, and Ranazul in Fulton. I'm also thinking this might be my chance to visit Bistro Blanc in Glenelg.

(Update: I re-wrote the bottom of this post. When I first posted, there wasn't much information about the specials on the Web. You'll see comments responding to my observations.)

The Howard County organizers tweaked the 2009 restaurant week by asking restaurants to emphasize local products. Check out the list of participating restaurants and click through to the restaurant Web sites. Several have the restaurant week logo posted on their site. Many of the deals appear to be three courses for about $30. At Iron Bridge, you can choose off the entire menu. Other places like Ranazul in Fulton and Aida Bistro have special menus that are limited, but still good-looking and full of options for local produce. For example, Aida Bistro's menu includes a "summer soup" that looks like Aida is picking the best fruits or vegetables that they find each day.

For more about restaurants in Howard County, check out my "What I've Learned" series of posts.

Dog House Pub & Grill Opens in Columbia

The Dog House Pub & Grill has apparently opened in the Long Reach Village Center. I have been to Long Reach for fried chicken at Chick N' Friends, but I hadn't heard about Dog House.

Erin emailed me last week about opening night:
The new Dog House Pub and Grill just opened up in the Long Reach village center. I believe it took over the space that was formerly the Columbia Ale House. I stopped in yesterday on opening night and I think the place has a lot of potential. It encroaches a bit on the Pub Dog Pizza brand, but their intentions are good: a portion of their proceeds go to the Howard County Animal Rescue. And they have all the greasy munchies that Pub Dog lacks.
The food was well priced for large portions. Typical pub food, but with a few added entrees that bring it up a notch. The ribs looked amazing and I wish I had tried them over the sandwich I chose. My dinner companion said the the buffalo wing were quite tasty (20 for $10!). They also had a nice beer selection, which was priced a very reasonable $3 a pint (beers like Flying Dog and Dogfish Head, which would cost you at least $4 or more at places like Frisco). The bar area is quite large and may eventually be a nice spot for live music.
Since it was opening night, they were still working out some minor kinks in the kitchen, and the waiters were still learning the menu and beer list. I think once they get the hang of things, it'll run much smoother. They could also use some more dog related decor. Besides some photos of dogs on the walls near the entrance and scattered dart boards, all the other walls were bare.
I'll probably stop in again to see how things progress. I don't normally hang out at village center bars/pubs, but I liked the friendly atmosphere of this one. I couldn't find a web site, but I think the owner/chef is named Bill.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Pollo Fuego in Jessup

Peruvian grilled chicken has come to Howard County, and the new Pollo Fuego in Jessup looks like a nice place for lunch or for takeout.

Juicy, flavorful chicken. It's a basic, but there is real skill in turning out a bird with a peppery taste, moist meat, and skin that is just too delicious to leave on the plate. Pollo Fuego turns out nice chicken, and that makes a great plate with fried yucca and red beans -- still holding their shape, but cooked soft and creamy.

I was willing to drive to Mega Chicken in Laurel for yucca fries because I love the lighter, aerier variation on the French fry. Now, I can get my fix at U.S. 1 and Rte 175 in Jessup. It's a pretty
basic place -- counter service with small tables and bar stools. The menu is mostly variations on chicken, although there is a steak option. This is an easy detour off I-95, so it goes right onto my list of great takeout joints in Howard County. They have specials for one or two chickens with a mess of sides and cans of soda.

Early comments on a prior post suggest that other people are fans -- although Anonymous commits heresy by suggesting boiled potatoes over my yucca fries!! But note that Jane S. posted on Yelp about three disappointing visits -- and she sounds like she knows her Peruvian chicken. Please give your feedback below.

My one advice: Pay 20 cents more for a second condiment cup of the fiery green sauce. Spicy and fresh, it really goes well with the chicken and contrasts with the dry yucca.

If you are interested in Peruvian chicken, there is an enormous series of posts on Chowhound where people tasted and debated all kinds of restaurants -- mostly in PG and Montgomery County.

If you go to Pollo Fuego, definitely check out the My Organic Market in the same shopping center. Also look into Chinese buffet at Fortune Star Buffet across from MoM or the takeout empanadas at El Patio Market on U.S. 1. In fact, the entire run along U.S. 1 has such interesting food that I posted about the "Foodie Frontier."

Pollo Fuego
7351 Assateague Drive
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 My Organic Market right in front of you when you pull into the parking area. Pollo Fuego is in the back, around the corner from My Organic Market.

Pollo Fuego on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 20, 2009

Bon Fresco, Pumpkin Appetizers and Comments about Ledo's Pizza

Readers continue to offer up great comments and reviews about Howard County food. I'm happy to write, but I'm even happier to share other people's opinions and reactions. Thanks for all the comments. This is another sampler about what people are saying:
  • People are still commenting about the new Bon Fresco sandwich shop on Oakland Park Boulevard. Stephanie T, Trixie B, Lyss, Fultie, and others commented about their talks with the manager Gerald and his efforts to make new breads, offer up side dishes, etc.
  • Dianne said the new India Delight on Dobbin Road could give House of India a run for its money.
  • Shelley said that she had the best fried chicken of her life at Chick N' Friends in Columbia.
  • Heeper said I was right to be dubious about whether the "produce truck" on Broken Land actually sells special produce.
  • Reiyi continued the conversation that Warthog started about "authentic" Chinese food and the Hunan Legend owners who will talk about unusual foods and dish them out if you get to know them. Posting Hunan Legend's secret menu has been my favorite moment on HowChow, and ironically, I haven't used it yet. Also, check out Hon's report about wheat noodles on Chowhound.
  • Lisa and Kevin both tried the new Katana Sushi in Elkridge, and neither came away super impressed. But John put in a good word about the food and the experience at Maruha Japanese Steakhouse.
  • While those folks were trying new spots, Kikiverde commented about an old favorite: the pumpkin appetizer at Maiwand Kabob. She talks up the vegetable platter, which gets you a sample of several great appetizers plus the tandoori bread.
  • Anonymous posted about Thai restaurants -- saying Bangkok Garden in Columbia beats out Bangkok Delight in Ellicott City.
  • Anonymous kept up the patter about "ice cream places for a summer night." These votes were for Arties in Clarksville and a soft serve place called Sarem's on Old Rte 29 near Burtonsville.
  • Similarly, Anonymous, Kim and the PizzaBlogger kept up the talk about Coal Fire Pizza on Rte 108. I'm a fan, but the comments go both ways about the pizza, its cost, and the oven-baked wings.
  • Milhouse emailed me with another recommendation for a burger date. He talked up a place that was new to me, Trolley Stop on Oella Ave in Ellicott City:
I stopped in at the Trolley Stop for lunch today, I had forgotten how good their food is. Fantastic sirloin cheeseburger (cheddar cheese-lettuce-tomato-thick pickles-grilled onions). The 1/2 lbs. burger was perfectly cooked medium rare and the cheese was that gooey-half congealed perfectness and they are generous with the fries. I watched a Chicken Salad Sandwich the size of a man's hat delivered to an elderly couple that looked as if they could have been there when the place opened. An older place in town that seems to be overlooked and talking to the waitress business is slow except for locals and could maybe use a little press.
  • And finally, Chuck emailed me about the Ledo's Pizza in the River Hill Village Center. He says the place has new management, and it wasn't a second too soon:
A visit their this weekend to the River Hill Village Ceneter location was greeted by a "Under New Management" banner. Maybe someone finally woke up and realized they have a dining room. The change was very apparent and a welcome evolution from the previous act which featured poor service, sloppy order taking, erratic wait times and inconsistent food.

Previous wait staff seemed to be culled from the middle school ranks and management seemed no where in sight on previous trips. On this most recent visit, waiters were obviously trained and very friendly and attentive and the dining room was noticeably cleaner and prepared for guests. This was a far cry from the slow and loose service which plagued the previous administration. A steak and cheese sub also was much improved with a fresher, crustier roll and tastier mix of rib eye, cheese, onions, and fresh lettuce and tomato. At other tables, the staff was clearly trained to elicit conversation with patrons and resembled a more upscale restaurant instead of the soccer crowd-friendly pizza place found also on the other side of Columbia as well as in Fulton off Rt. 216.

Kudos to the new owners who have cleaned up a Maryland icon of square trayed pizza and made it more hospitable to those over twelve not wearing soccer cleats and grass stained jerseys. I am sure they are still welcome, but will be served not by peers and on a clean table within reasonable wait times.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Links: Eating Local

The Howard County Economic Authority is pushing local agricultural products with free bags at the Howard County farmers markets and with press releases to the Examiner. (Menu tip to the Yet Another Food Blog that posted the link.)

In light of the program's basis in economic development, the Free Market blog offers a spirited critique of the economic arguments for local food. I'll defer on that and emphasis the flavor basis. If you do nothing else this summer, go pick peaches and blackberries at Larriland Farm off I-70. Nothing beats the taste of a peach that you just took off a tree.

Pete's Snowball Stand in Columbia

There are parts of Howard County that the suburbs have not erased, and Pete's Snowball Stand in Columbia is one of the holdouts.

Pete's sits at the northern end of Oakland Mills Road, and the house there -- with its fruit orchards, vegetable field, and barbed wire fence -- shouts that it was here before Rouse and his insurance company investors.

Pete's is a family-run business that sells snowballs as a summer treat.  There are places to park, but it is also a walk-up or bike-up business because the Columbia developments flow right up to the fence.  This is shaved ice like Snowballs in Clarkville or the Snowball Stand on Rte 99 -- ice with flavoring in styrofoam cups.  

Pete's is open about 11:30 am to 7:30 pm on summer days.  Pete's also sells produce, including peaches, apples and tomatoes that you can see ripening in their fields.  They also sell their own honey.  I heard about Pete's from comments on Columbia Talk and the Howard County Blog.  I promptly forgot about it until I stumbled on another post by Jessie X.   Hayduke posted a Google map to show Pete's location.

Click here for my post about Howard County places to go for ice cream on a summer night.

Pete's Snowball Stand
at Old Montgomery Road and Sealed Message Road
Columbia, MD

NEAR:  Check out Hayduke's map linked above.  From Rte 175, you go south on Tamar Drive and then right on Old Montgomery Road where you look for Pete's on the right.  From Snowden River, you go north on Oakland Mills road until it deadends into Old Montgomery Road.  You're looking at Pete's, and you turn right on Old Montgomery then left into the driveway.

Pete's Snowball Stand on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Harris Teeter Still Coming To Maple Lawn, Developer's Agent Says

Harris Teeter still intends to open a store in Maple Lawn in October 2009, the developer' s agent told the Tale of Two Cities blog.

I had seen comments that Harris Teeter had pulled out of the Fulton development. The developer was telling Maple Lawn residents that the store will open on October 6, 2009, but HT's parent Ruddick Corp. had announced that it was reducing or delaying new store openings because of the economic climate.

Apparently, the October 2009 date is still on. (Update: Harris Teeter's customer service says the opening will be October 7, 2009.) It's weird because the store is ready to open. But there are some accounting and financial reporting reasons why public company executives might enjoy opening a store six days into their fiscal year.

Off-Topic: Read Before You Donate on Rte 175

Tale of Two Cities blog has an example of the local reporting that the Sun and the WPost can no longer do in Howard County -- if they ever could get this granular.

There are people soliciting donations at Dobbin Road and Rte 175. Wordbones figured out with some basic research that they're affiliated with a Tampa church that the Tampa Tribune investigated. Read Tale of Two Cities before you donate because this is a quote from the Tribune:

Yet while their followers live in poverty and beg for donations from those who would “help feed needy women and children,” the Jeffersons live in a 10,000-square-foot home in Brandon. Bishop Jefferson drives a Bentley Arnage, worth as much as $150,000. The couple wear tailor-made clothing and travel in a private jet.
Moreover, records show the bishop has bought a substantial amount of land for the church, spending $2 million on properties in Hillsborough County since 1992. Yet the church has a history of leaving debts unpaid."

Link: Oh, What A Cake on Rida's Blog

Oh, What a Cake! gets a chocolatey rave from Rida on her company blog Draumr Publishing. Rida talks up the cupcakes, especially the frosting.

Coffee Rescue at the Laurel Train Station

There are times when my caffeine addiction creates a coffee emergency, and now I know who to call.

Two guys have opened a mobile coffee stand outside the Laurel train station by converting a former New York City ambulance.  The Coffee Rescue truck parks across from the station entrance, and the guys sell coffee and muffins.

They started last week, and it's a project close to my heart because I take the MARC from Laurel most mornings.  (Unfortunately for them, I'm still infatuated by the coffee that Mrs. HowChow and I carried home from Hawaii last month.)  Usually, I carry a thermos and take my caffeine hit when I reach my desk.  But I bought a cup from Coffee Rescue last week, and it was good.  They'll probably do even better in the winter when people want something to warm them up on the platform (and after construction ends on the station and stops encouraging people to walk over the tracks -- and away from Coffee Rescue.)

Coffee Rescue

NEAR:  The Coffee Rescue truck was parking in July 2009 outside the Laurel train station.  Take Rte 216 east from I-95, then turn left on Main Street into Laurel.  Main Street heads right into the train station, and the truck is parking on the left just before you go under the railroad tracks.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Gorman Farm Followup

On Monday, I posted about the Gorman Produce Farm in Laurel.

When I visited last weekend, they told me that they were open most days. Today, my friend was turned away from the farm. A guy there told her that they wouldn't be open for a few weeks.

I'm letting you know so that you know they appear to working out the kinks. Sorry if I wasted anyone's time. I just drove up last Saturday, and they sold me vegetables and told me that people could come any day. Please be patient. It's a family farm.

(An anonymous comment below says that someone at Gorman recommended that you visit on Thursday or Saturday from 2 to 4 pm. UhOhBadDog says that the farm now has a "closed" sign outside.  Thanks for the comments.)

Ethnic Groceries in Howard County

You can buy the entire world in Howard County if you can just figure out how to drive around the damn town.

Ethnic groceries sell authentic food from countries from Korean through North Africa, from Mexico through South American, from Jamaica back to West Africa. Some produce. Lots of packaged goods. All the spices that inspired people to sail great oceans in small boats in order to carry flavor home to their shores. At Food Cravings, you can even buy Indian interpretations of Chinese sauces.

But then, we're getting ahead of ourselves.

The key to ethnic shopping in Howard County is a basic map. Nothing is obvious. Very little is advertised. I started HowChow, in part, because it had taken me months to piece together where to buy food when I moved from Virginia. The only players with a large presence are Asian supermarkets -- and I'm going to write a separate overview of H Mart in Catonsville, Lotte in Ellicott City and Grand Mart in Laurel. They're spectacular for Asian products, produce, fish and Mexican food, including cheeses, tortillas and packaged goods.

For other cuisines, the markets are small. They're not on main roads. But they're all reliable with employees who speak English and who have routinely been happy to answer questions. These stores are as modern as anywhere else you shop. You can go for the ingredients that you need to cook these cuisines from "scratch" like corn meal, lentils, and spices, or you can check out convenience foods like frozen samosas, jars of curry sauce, and cans of stuffed grape leaves . You can search my posts by cuisine or by market in the links in the right column, but below is a list of the markets that I recommend:
  • For Indian, you have four choices for spices, Indian sauces, frozen naan, boxed Indian lunches, and other ingredients. Check out the candied fennel seeds or buy the basics for pani puri. Mostly, the stores sell Indian or U.S. "import" brands -- from tea to spices to Ching's Red Chili sauce straight from Bombay. The one real advantage is Eastern Market, which has more produce than the others. The four: Food Cravings in Columbia, Desi Market in Columbia, Eastern Bazar in Laurel, and Apna Bazar in Laurel. (Update: In comments below, Hal and anonymous recommend a fifth and sixth: Ganesh Brothers on Rte 40 in the Normany Plaza just east of Rte 29 and Patel Brothers on Rte 40 in Catonsville.) (I have also heard that Food Cravings might be expanding to Elkridge.)
  • For Middle Eastern, you drive to Caezar International Market in Elkridge or Aladdin Market on Main Street in Laurel. Both stores sell breads, spices, cheeses like feta or Kashkaval, and packaged basics like lentils, tahini, chick peas and bulgar. Caezar is the larger, expanding at its Elkridge location (with a Persian restaurant next door) after 13 years in Columbia as Sizar's. It moved in 2009 to expand and offer a halal butcher. If you go to Caezar, please try the pistachio nougat.
  • For Latin American, you should start at Lily's Mexican Market in Columbia and also consider the Panam Supermarket in Laurel if you want produce or a full butcher. Lily's sits off Dobbin Road. It has a small butcher, a takeout-taco counter, freshly-made corn tortillas, cheeses, dried peppers, and all the packaged goods that you need to cook Mexican food. Not much produce, but the easy exotic fun of cactus for nopales tacos. Panam is off U.S. 1 at Rte 198. This is a supermarket, not a grocery, and it sells all those basics -- along with a huge butcher and a full produce section.
  • For West African and Jamaican food, you should check out Afia International in Jessup or Accra Foods in Laurel. Both stores appear to sell Ghanaian and Jamaican brands. I don't know these cuisines, and my explorations have not been successful. I would love any comments if you have suggestions. (Another market -- Julie's International in Elkridge -- closed in 2009.)
Of all these places, Lily's and Caezar's are my favorites. They're pretty comprehensive for someone who needs basic foods. The people have always been helpful, and the butcher and produce make them quite useful. I recommend a visit to any of these markets to anyone interested in trying new food. Federal law requires every bottle and box to list the ingredients, so you can know what you're eating even if the original label isn't in English. Plus, people have been gracious and helpful every time that I had a question to ask.

This is part of the "What I Learned" series of posts. They're organized in rings. See below to continue on the ring about shopping in Howard County. Or click to switch to the posts about different cuisines or posts about areas and ideas.

PREVIOUS: Organic Shopping in Howard County
NEXT: Asian Grocery Stores in Howard County

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Link: Fatburger on Taste of Baltimore

Fatburger in Elkridge didn't serve a burger good enough to entice Nakiya back to Howard County, according to her post on the Taste of Baltimore blog.

The burger joint gets mixes reviews in the comments to my prior post, and I have to say that I'm holding out for the soon-to-open Five Guys at the Columbia Mall.

Yellow Cherries Outside Kendall Hardware in Clarksville

Yellow cherries are a seasonal treat outside the Kendall Hardware in Clarksville.

For much of the summer, there is a produce stand outside the store on Rte 32 just north of Rte 108.  You can also buy shaved ice at the Snowballs stand in the same parking lot.

Last weekend, they had the regular corn, cantaloupes and tomatoes.  But they also sold yellow cherries that they said were local.  They actually mentioned the Maryland town, but I forgot during our morning errands at garden centers.  (Another discovery of marriage: Doctors won't eat farm stand cherries until they have been washed at home.)

The cherries are clearly fragile because many were lightly bruised.  Some of those were still firm.  A few were so bruised that I threw them away.  They have a mild flavor.  Not as sweet or strong as the red cherries, but deliciously novel and extremely refreshing as a summer dessert.

If you are near the Kendall Hardware, then you should definitely check out the Roots organic market just up Rte 108.  For really local produce, go buy vegetables at the Gorman Produce Farm in Laurel.  Or check out all the posts about the farmers markets in Columbia.

Produce stand
at the Kendall Hardware
12260 Clarksville Pike (Rte 108)
Clarksville, MD 21029

NEAR:  This is on Rte 108 just north of Rte 32.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sidamo Coffee To Open In Maple Lawn

Sidamo Coffee & Tea will open a coffee shop in the Maple Lawn spot vacated by Daily Grind.

Maple Lawn wants that urban feel, and Sidamo originated on Capitol Hill. That first store sells breakfast and lunch, along with coffee that they describe as "organic shade grown coffee." I hear that they served coffee samples at a Maple Lawn picnic and that they plan on be open 7 am to 7 pm every day. I haven't heard when they'll open.

A Washington Post review says Sidamo was opened by an Ethopian couple who roast their beans at the DC shop. They also have people present a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony on Sunday afternoons.

Thanks to the OAWPG for the tip on the name. And thanks to everyone for not hitting my car this morning as I was backing up 20 feet on Maple Lawn Boulevard to read the sign. The OAWPG had to remind me about Sidamo's name because I forgot it while playing video pinball on the train.

If you go to Maple Lawn, then you should definitely check out the frozen yogurt at the BP gas station. (Seriously.)

Gorman Produce Farm in Laurel

If you read HowChow, then you should buy vegetables at Gorman Produce Farm as soon as you have a free afternoon.

I'm blogging about food in Howard County. Go buy from people growing food in Howard County at the newly-rejuvinated farm between Rte 29 and U.S. 1.

Lydia and Dave Liker have leased the farm on Gorman Road, and they sell produce just in from the field. This is about a mile south of the Harris Teeter in King's Contrivance. Much of the Liker's produce goes out through their "community supported agriculture" program where people paid $550 for weekly boxes of vegetables from June through October. But you can pick up fresh vegetables by stopping at the farm and buying from the Likers -- or from Dave's father, who helped me buy on Saturday.

(Update: My friend was turned away from the farm on July 15, 2009. A guy there told her that they wouldn't be open for a few weeks. Then, an anonymous comment on another post said that a guy told them that you should come Thursday or Saturday from 2 to 4 pm. Please check out my update.  As I mentioned below, they told me that they're open most days. I assume they're working out the kinks. Please be patient because it's a family farm.)

I saw a new sign for the Gorman Produce Farm on my way to the Savage library. The sign doesn't really say that you can buy vegetables there, but I drove down a gravel road to the signs that say "park here" and "produce here." Inside a building were plastic tubs and boxes full of vegetables -- squash, basil, cabbage, green beans, eggplants, chard, and on and on. I broke out my "emergency" $20 bill, and I bought carrots, kohlrabi, squash and lettuce. They're beautiful and delicious.

The vegetables are not certified organic, but the Likers say on their Web site that they grow everything according to organic principles. That works for me because I'm skeptical of government "organic" labels -- just like I'm skeptical about the government labels for "local" produce. Why not believe a farm where you can look around yourself?

You can meet the farmers most days until about 6 pm. The CSA pick-up is Thursday, and they say people can pick up until 6 pm. Dave Liker said that the gates on Gorman close when they're closed for the day. His father pointed out that it's a working farm, so there are times when people drive up and the Likers are too busy working to make a sale.

Gorman's prices seem about what you pay at the Howard County farmers markets. Tomatoes should ripen in a week or so. The fields are just going to deliver more and more through the end of the summer. The Likers apparently moved from Colorado after researching places to run a farm. Go show them that they made the right decision by coming to your neighborhood.

Click here for more about CSAs in Howard County. For the full list of Gorman Produce Farm's crops, click for their list.

Gorman Produce Farm
11051 Gorman Road
Laurel, MD 20723
Updated: 301-908-8063

NEAR: This is on Gorman Road east of Rte 29 and west of U.S. 1. This is south of Rte 32, just minutes south of Columbia and almost walking distance from King's Contrivance.

From Broken Land Parkway, take Broken Land south of Rte 32 until it deadends. Turn left and then right on Murray Hill Road. Take that until it deadends into Gorman Road. Turn right on Gorman. You'll see the farm's sign on the left just before a point where the road bends to the right.

From Rte 29, take the exit for Johns Hopkins Road, which is also marked for Gorman. Turn left at the top of the ramp and go through the next traffic circle. The road changes name to Gorman, and you just drive until you see the farm's sign on the right at a point where the road bends to the left.

From U.S. 1, go west at the light for Gorman Road. You'll pass the Savage library. Gorman Road actually turns right. The "straight ahead" changes name to Skylark Boulevard as you enter a housing development. After you turn right to "stay" on Gorman, the road curves and curves. You'll see the farm's sign on the left just before a point where the road bends to the right.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Link: "Local" Produce in the Sun

The Sun just ran an interesting article about "local" produce and how you're being mislead if you think that "local" produce comes from anywhere you consider local.  

Produce under the "local" signs was from as far away as Europe and New Zealand, and even the government's definition of "local" is 400 miles -- from Boston to Cape Hatteras.  Great reporting.  Exactly the kind of shoe-leather work that bloggers like me aren't going to do because it takes serious time.

The Sun doesn't say that you're being completely manipulated and shouldn't believe the signs.  But I'm not a big newspaper that sells ads to the supermarkets.  Even when I'm telling you about a truck selling "local" produce, I say "Who knows?"  People lie -- or they get the government to define "local" to include Boston.

Thanks to CJB for the tip about the Sun article.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Wegmans Construction Begins, Sun Reports

The esteemed Larry Carson of the Sun reports that crews have begun installing fences around the Wegmans site in Columbia. He says demolition of the existing warehouse should be complete by August, but there is no construction schedule or opening date yet.

It won't open in 2010, which just makes it hurt more to read old press releases saying the Columbia Wegmans could open as early as 2009.

I'm not clear if Carson is making a sly joke when he calls the Columbia Wegman's a "giant 160,000-square-foot" supermarket. We know it isn't a Giant.

HowChow reported on a Wegmans building permit Monday. Of course, HowChow has the luxury of concentrating its "news" reporting on two supermarkets and a Peruvian chicken joint. The Sun seems to have left Carson covering the entire county.

(Update: Lotsboogeys beat me and the Sun in a comment to an earlier post that he wrote before noon about Wegmans construction starting. Also -- check of the Tales of Two Cities blog if you're looking for news about the law suits surrounding the Wegmans.)

Pollo Fuego Looks Ready To Open

Peruvian chicken still hasn't gotten through customs into Howard County.

Pollo Fuego has been under construction in Jessup since spring, and it still wasn't opened when I went by on Thursday evening. But the restaurants looks close with tables, chairs, and counter ready for customers. There are "Grand Opening" banners inside. There is even a box outside filling with little flyers advertising the specials.

But no pollo in sight. No soda in the cooler. No one working at the heart of dinnertime. And the building permit is still stuck to the front window.

(Update: Pollo Fuego opened in July 2009. Please post your comments here.)

Pollo Fuego is in the Columbia East shopping center ar Rte 175 and U.S. 1. It's in the back around the corner from My Organic Market.

Yogiberry and Five Guys At The Columbia Mall

Five Guys should open at the Columbia Mall in the last week of July, according to the customer service folks at the mall.  They also say that Yogiberry should open in August.

This is two food milestones for Howard County -- Five Guys' great burgers and Yogiberry's trendy frozen yogurt.  Keep me up to date if you hear more.

(Update: Milton Friendly comments below that the Chipotle has opened at the mall.  A real food blog would never comment on the fact that a chain like Chipotle has opened at the Columbia Mall.  The opening of a Chipotle at the Columbia Mall would be beneath a classy food blog that should celebrate local places and local everything and should not exist to tell people that Chipotle has opened at the Columbia Mall.  OK?  We're not mentioning it.  Nothing about Chipotle here . . . )

The Spiciest Dish in Howard County

I went to Bangkok Delight for spicy and got more than I even wanted.

Country curry at the Columbia Thai restaurant. I didn't order anything special, didn't ask for the super spicy. But my curry came out so hot that I alternated between dropping my fork in fear and then shoveling food so rapidly that my wife became concerned.

Her dish was delicious and cooling with its coconut milk base. Ironically, I had been sold on the country curry special because I thought that a non-coconut curry sounded interesting. We went to Bangkok Delight because we had just hosted my nephew for three days. Lovely boy, but it has been three days without vegetables or spicy. So we drove to Rte 108 to shake up a nacho-hot dog-pizza cuisine.

"No mas" or however Duran would have quit if he had been Thai. I ate half the plate for dinner. I took the other half for lunch, but ended up going out with a visiting friend and just throwing the brown bag away. (Before I was married to a doctor, I might have said "Sitting out in my office all day isn't that long.") Honestly, it was a disappointing trip to Bangkok Delight, which I have touted some days as the best restaurant in Howard County. Not last week. It's not a cheap place, and the "chicken wrap" special appetizer wasn't special. Great sauces, but uninspired chicken and iceberg lettuce. I still love the place, but it wasn't "best of the county" at all.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Link: Coal Fire Pizza on the Susquehana Photographic

Coal Fire Pizza gets a rave review and some sharp photos on the Susquehana Photographic blog. Philip is writing a series of posts about day trips from central Pennsylvania, and the first posts are about Ellicott City.

Philip loves pizza like the Pizza Blogger, and he snaps photos like a professional. (Update: He is a professional.) Raves like Philip's and some thoughtful criticism keep being added as comments to my post about Coal Fire on Rte 108. Please add your thoughts about Coal Fire there.

Produce Truck On Broken Land Parkway in Columbia

On the side of Broken Land Parkway, there is a truck parked full of tomatoes, watermelon, corn and other produce that is being sold as local wares.

Who knows? I stopped for corn and tomatoes on Broken Land's shoulder just south of Rte 32. I have to admit that the tomatoes weren't as good -- and we the same price -- as the tomatoes at the Sunday farmers market in Columbia.

But there was a little romance in buying roadside produce on a whim. It's not the fun of roadside tacos on a whim, but it's a quick option if you commute home on Rte 32. Easy off and back on from Broken Land.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Link: Menupix Collects Menus Across Howard County

I don't claim (or even aspire) that HowChow lists every restaurant in Howard County. HoCo Loco Girl does a nice job of listing locally-owned restaurants, and I think it's an invaluable place to look around for something that you might enjoy.

Now, there is a barebones Web site called Menupix that lists dozens of Howard County restaurants. It's niche is that it links directly to the menu pages of the restaurants' Web sites. No real information, and the list -- like our arteries -- is globbed up with chain joints. But it's a fast site with a nice list if you're looking for a menu.

Link: Maiwand Kabob on Technology & MSG

Maiwand Kabob gets a friendly post from the MSG & Technology blog. Alex visited the new location near Arundel Mill, but it seems right in line with the Columbia original. Alex talked up the chicken kabob platter and says there will be a return trip -- when any hungry blogger should try the pumpkin appetizer.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Who Owns The River HIll Sports Grille?

Does anyone know news about the River Hill Sports Grille in Clarksville?

On July 3, 2009, the Annapolis Capital reported that William Raymond Miller was sentenced to more than 10 years in federal prison for an insurance fraud scheme. The story says that Miller forfeited a sports bar in Clarksville. I think that is the River Hill Sports Grille, which I posted about in March.

I hadn't heard the grille closed, so I assume that the federal government sold the place to someone else. Or are FBI agents serving beer and burgers behind the bar?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Breaking News: Wegmans Applied For A Building Permit in Columbia

Wegmans appears ready to start construction of its Columbia supermarket -- at least according to the Howard County building permit that Wegmans applied for on June 30, 2009.

An employee of Wegmans Construction in Rochester applied to build a temporary construction trailer at 8895 McGaw Road in Columbia. That is the site across from Apple Ford where Wegmans has been talking about a new store since at least 2006. A county employee appears to have done a "building review" on July 1, 2009, but there isn't a permit issued yet.

(Update:  In January 2011, Wegmans applied for permits to actually start building the grocery store and the accompanying parking garage.)

This confirms comments by Wordbones -- who is the source for Wegmans construction news -- on the Tales of Two Cities blog. In June, Wordbones wrote that their local attorney said the company had prevailed against legal challenges. The attorney did not have a date for a Columbia opening then, and the Wegmans Web site still said "TBD" today and listed it behind two stores to open in 2010. About five months ago, Wordbones heard that Wegmans was aiming for early 2011.

I heard about the permit from an anonymous comment on an earlier post. (Thank you for all the comments!) You can check application B09001570 yourself at the Howard County Web site. Just search for all permits on McGaw Road in June 2009.

I'm a huge Wegmans fan, and I posted before about why I want Wegmans. If you want to comment about Wegmans and what it brings/does to the local shopping scene, please comment on that prior post.

Oh, What A Cake in Columbia

The best part about profiling one bakery is that other people write to alert me about more.

Oh, What A Cake! is an established wedding and fancy cake shop on Dobbin Road in Columbia that I discovered last month after an email to HowChow. I have run errands on Dobbin for almost four years, and I had no idea that I was just blocks away from a cupcake treat on every trip.

You should check out Oh, What A Cake! even if you just grab a red velvet cupcake, as I have done now twice in the past week. I actually bought trays of cupcakes both times -- once for dinner at my house and once to carry to a friend's. They sell small cakes that go for 80 cents or $1 and larger ones with fillings for about $2.50. They're all delicious, and the selection makes them a hit with a crowd. Vanilla cake with basic frosting for the kids. Almond, lemon, red velvet and other flashy flavors for the adults. Definitely try the cream cheese frosting, which has the thick but not-too-sweet flavor that I like best.

Although the cupcakes and the cookies are great to grab, the real business at Oh, What a Cake! is wedding creations along with sheet cakes and pound cakes. This is custom work. You appear to be able to get anything you want. There are books of photos for inspiration, and you can see into the bakery's back room where the real work is done.

In the end, Oh, What A Cake is all about that pastry work. The shopping center sits on a commercial strip of Dobbin that connects McGaw Road to Oakland Mills Parkway. Not exactly a commuter route, but then Howard County's other best bakeries -- like Bonaparte Bread and Touche Touchet -- aren't placed for drive-by business either. Those places serve coffee and a broader menu, with some tables to sit. Oh, What A Cake is just takeout. Cupcakes in the car, I'm pleased to report, are oh, so delicious.

Click here for my prior post about bakeries in Howard County, which I need to update to include Oh, What A Cake!

(Update: In a comment below, the Baltimore Beer Guy points out that Oh, What A Cake is just down Dobbin Road from Frisco Grille & Cantina. A cupcake, and a stellar beer! What could be finer?)

Oh, What A Cake!
6656 Dobbin Rd # K
Columbia, MD 21045-5841
(301) 931-2253‎

NEAR: This is on Dobbin Road between Oakland Mills Parkway and McGaw Road. So it's very convenient from Rte 175 (heading south on Dobbin) or from Snowden River Parkway (going west on Oakland Mills or McGaw). This is a few blocks away from Lily's Mexican Market on Dobbin or from Bon Fresco on Oakland Mills.

Oh, What A Cake! on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Link: Chick N' Friends in the WPost

Chick N' Friends got a positive write-up in Wednesday's Washington Post.  The Columbia takeout spot does fried chicken and fish, and I wouldn't leave without a sweet potato pie with one of the chicken meals.

Pele Plantations Coffee near Kona, Hawaii

If Howard County had a few more volcanoes, then you wouldn't need Pele Plantations Coffee.

Mrs. HowChow and I rode a decade's frequent flyer miles to Hawaii last month, and chance -- plus a busted connection -- put us in the very last row on the Kona flight next to a really nice guy from Los Angeles. Bad seats broke the ice. We chatted about the Big Island where he had lived for several years, and Trey invited us to tour the coffee farm where his father had moved 20 years ago from the mainland.

Pele Plantations turned out to be an experience that ranked with the lava fields and the hike to black-sand beaches. (But below the sea turtles. Nothing matches a swim with the sea turtles!)

Gus and Cynthia Brocksen run their own organic coffee farm on the slope of a hill south of Kona. They also buy beans from other locals, and their niche is selling "estate" coffee, meaning that the coffee in your bag comes from a single, specific farm. If you like the flavor of "Kona Rose," then you can order again and know that you'll get coffee from the same fields.

You're going to get great coffee no matter what you order from Pele Plantations. Gus and Cynthia toured us around for three hours. We had imagined a big commercial operation, but they basically run the business from their home -- a home with a large garage, a pumping mill, and a drying shed with a movable roof. They hand-pick pick only red beans, which they say avoids the bitterness in green beans that come along when commercial growers strip entire plants on a single day. They handle the beans every step of the way except for one step, and they clearly care about the coffee.

I'm sold. I don't know if I can justify $25 per pound for everyday coffee (and the organics hit $36), but I do believe that their "Mauka Fire" coffee is the best coffee that I have ever bought. It is so much better that I don't really have the vocabulary to explain the difference. Strong, earthy coffee taste, but no bitterness. Caramel-smooth, says Mrs. HowChow. Pele Plantation provides the coffee for the espresso bar and the luxury suites at the Four Seasons resort, so you know that taste must be special.

If you want to try a special coffee, buy mail order from Pele Plantations because they're going to treat you honestly. Every store on the Big Island offered "Kona" coffee, and they're mostly big company brands so you have no idea what you're really getting. In contrast, we stood in Pele Plantation's garage with burlap bags of the different varieties. We decided on "Mauka Fire" on Cynthia's recommendation, and we watched Gus roast three pounds just for us. They have no coffee on the shelf. It's all bagged in green form, then roasted for your order. Too expensive for most people, but a real treat if coffee is your little luxury and cheaper than most "Kona" sold on the island.

If you go to the Big Island, definitely call for a Pele Plantation tour. Years ago, I went on a stuffy tourist tour in Costa Rica. That isn't Cynthia's style. She outfitted Mrs. HowChow with picking gear and walked us right into the fields where plants grow in the fast-draining lava rocks. We learned about coffee plant. We heard about local economics and about Gus and Cynthia's first date. We saw their macadamia nut trees. We saw their sheep. (We saw more of the ram than we ever expected, if you know what I mean.) Then, we came back to the house, and Cynthia was going to run the pulping mill just for us until we promised that we had seen enough. It's a comprehensive tour (although you don't taste the coffee because they don't have any sitting around), and I really believed Cynthia when she said, "You don't have to buy any coffee." We bought three pounds.

The really interesting option at Pele Plantations is their coffee club. You pick your schedule -- deciding the type of beans, the roast and the frequency. You could buy every month, every two months, every three. No minimum enrollment. No penalty if you cancel. The Brocksens think that you'll love their coffee, so they'll stand up for it.

For local coffee roasting, you should check out Mad City Coffee in Columbia or look for coffee roasted by Orinoco Coffee, which still roasts in Columbia although the retail store on McGaw Road closed. I also stumbled on Southern Skies Coffee in Finksburg, MD. The Web site looks like a small roaster selling four varieties. Has anyone seen Southern Skies Coffee at a store/restaurant?

(Photos by Mrs. HowChow (Canon EOS).)

Pele Plantations
Gus & Cynthia Brocksen, Owners & Founders
P.O. Box 809
Hawaiian Kona Coffee on Foodista