Monday, July 17, 2017

Soft Stuff Lost The Creepy Motel, But Made A Friendly Corner On Rte 40 For Ice Cream

Soft Stuff ice cream with rainbow sprinkles
I didn't believe that Soft Stuff could recreate the magic on Rte 40, but now I've taken a kid to lick ice cream on a summer night -- and I can see they pulled it off.

Soft Stuff is now a cash-only ice cream takeout in a shopping center on Rte 40 across from the Enchanted Forest shopping center.  Years ago, it was a classic haunt -- a wooden ice cream stand attached to a rundown motel in sight of Rte 40 in Ellicott City.  In 2012, the old site was demolished to make way for the new construction.

Back then, I didn't think the new place would capture the magic.  Soft Stuff had a specific vibe.  Teenagers behind the counter.  Customers basically loitering in a parking lot on hot summer nights.  I loved it then, and I felt the same this summer as Lil' Chow negotiated his way into a waffle cone plus sprinkles, then licked, licked, licked ice cream overlooking the parking lots.

River House Pizza Co. going down the row
The folks who redeveloped the old motel hit some real home runs for food.  They have a Korean restaurant in there, a Korean coffee shop, another Asian restaurant, a kabob place, Glory Days and more.  On my last visit, I surprised to see signs for River House Pizza Co.  That's Nathan Sowers' mobile pizza operation that has run off Main Street for years, and they're expanding to run a restaurant and headquarter his catering business, according to Joshua Gordon in the Baltimore Business Journal.

Definitely hit up Soft Stuff.  It's worth a visit on its own.  You order at the counter, then enjoy one of the few inside seats or the row of outdoor benches.    It's pretty basic soft serve.  But that's perfect for a warm summer night, doubly perfect if you get to watch a kid try to eat the entire cone before everything melts. 

And keep Soft Stuff in mind when I write more about all the great restaurants in the neighborhood.  The Enchanted Forest is headlined by White Oak Tavern.  The Soft Stuff development has its own restaurants.  And across the parking lots is a renovated shopping center with established Honey Pig and a new run of Thai, hot pot and tea.  In many ways, Rte 40 is winning the restaurant competition around here, and I'll post more soon.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Gorman Farm Seems To Have Hit Its Stride; The Share That I Got To Sample Was A Real Gift

Cucumbers sliced and seasoned into kimchi
Gorman Produce Farm seems to have really hit its stride.  Check it out if you want local vegetable adventures.

When I started blogging, I thought that I was going to become entranced by community-supported agriculture.  That's a CSA where you pay a farm's fee at the start of the season, then get a weekly share from the harvest.  In the plan, you get great vegetables, and you get surprises to inspire you.

But I never clicked.  Mostly, it's just that my cooking never got inspired by a box of surprises.  I felt bad when I left something unused, and my mind always ran to menus that required a grocery run to augment the CSA box.  But, in part, I don't think I had the best CSAs.  I did two, both when the farms were new.  Farming is hard.  I got some rough produce and some piles of pedestrian stuff.

Gorman Produce Farm in Laurel changed their model a year or two ago.  They closed their daily farm stand.  Now they just sell through a CSA, and I was lucky enough to sample last month when our friends went away on vacation.  The full share that I picked up in Gorman's barn was an absolute delight.

Spinach, parsley, squash, onions, eggplant, cucumbers, garlic flowers and on and on and on.  I filled two large bags with the full share, and the vegetables blew me away.  They were crisp, fresh and full of flavor.  Mostly, I did simple stuff.  Sauteed the spinach.  Made salad with the lettuce.  But I turned the cucumbers into a Korean kimchi oi-sobagi using Maangchi's cookbook that I need to review in the future.

Monday I steamed Gorman's eggplant that had been in my fridge for at least 10 days.  The eggplant was pristine.  That's amazing for any vegetables.  That tells me that the Gorman folks are able to concentrate on the CSA now -- planning their harvests and caring for the vegetables so that customers get premium supplies.

The Gorman Produce Farm website seems to say you can still sign up for a 2017 share.  I don't know the details.  But definitely check it out, maybe for 2017, maybe for next year.  I don't know that CSAs work for my life right now, but it's not many developed suburbs that have an organic farm sitting right in their midst.

Gorman Produce Farm is right off Rte 29 on Gorman Road.  It's really easy to reach from anywhere in Columbia and for anyone who commutes south towards DC.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Mod Pizza Brings The Five-Minute Pie To Columbia; Pick A Topping, Every Topping

Mod Pizza -- an attempt to get Lil' Chow to split a pie.  It didn't work.
The individual pizza game has opened in Howard County, and I am a surprised fan.

Several new pizza joints have opened as chains open around the country.  They're filling a spot that's a little more upscale and individualized than the standard pizza chain, yet more casual and quicker than wood-fired pioneers like Facci Ristorante.

Mod Pizza was the first one that I tried.  It follows the standard pattern -- counter service where you pick an individual-sized pie and then pick from dozens of toppings.  More varied and fresher than the canned mushrooms or chopped pepper that you might get at a standard place.  Then they bake your pizza with a blistering oven -- maybe a gas-fired oven, maybe a rolling conveyor belt.

I'm a fan.

Mod Pizza comes in two sizes.  Each work as a personal pizza.  I've alternated between the two sizes, depending on my hunger and whether I figured Lil' Chow would leave a slice or two when he was done.

Crusts come out crisp and slightly charred.  Mod folks place them in a gas oven and watch them cook.  The crusts have the individual char of a specialty pizza, but they've been uniformly terrific.  No burnt pizzas.  No under-cooked.  I've only eaten Mod Pizza on site.  I see lots of people carry out, although my experience is that crisp special pizzas -- like Facci Ristorante -- are better right out of the oven.
A slide outside Mod Pizza

In the end, it's the toppings that make Mod Pizza stand out.  So many pizzas in my past have eft me uninspired because the only toppings were oily pepperoni, chopped onions, maybe canned olives and artichokes.  The pies are heavy and dense.

Mod Pizza -- like its compatriot You Pizza in Clarksville that I'll write about soon -- goes big on the toppings.  You can pick suggestions from the menu.  Or you can stand at the counter and add any topping that you want.  Cheeses that start at mozzarella and go through ricotta, goat and parmesan.  A half dozen meats.  A dozen vegetables that range from crisp red peppers to briny artichokes.  Finishing sauces.  You can pick anything, and, most importantly, it's all fresh and full of flavor.

Then the blast in the oven brings it all together  My current creation starts with ricotta with a little tomato sauce, garlic and bacon.  Then mostly vegetables, often artichokes, maybe spicy peppers, sweet peppers, olives, parmesan cheese . . . .

You can add too much.  I've made pies where the toppings were too much to lift.  That's why I backed off the ricotta and parmesan cheeses.  Chopped bacon adds salt and smoke without the mass of the heavier meats.

This pie had too many toppings
In addition, I'm in the tank for Mod Pizza because this is where Lil' Chow found his favorite pizza this spring.  At birthday parties, Lil' Chow eats whatever pizza you put in front of him.  Anywhere else, he was picky.  No sauce.  Just cheese and bread, and even that didn't inspire him.

Until Mod Pizza.  When I announced our first visit, Lil' Chow screamed objections.  Then he go to the shop and saw that he got to pick his own food.  A small pie, just mozzarella and salami.  On maybe the second trip, an awesome Mod Pizza employee layered salami like the scales of an armadillo.  Lil' Chow was hooked.  On a stretch when Mrs. HowChow was busy at work, I think Lil' and I ate there five times in 10 days.  He ordered salami, no-sauce every time.  I experimented and enjoyed every one.

One fun part of the Mod Pizza location is that there is basically a small playground outside.   This is at the base of an apartment building across from the COlumbia Mall.  You can pack inside the building.  The entrance is on the side street.  Next to the restaurants -- also a CaliBurger and a Corner Bakery -- is a play area.  Several petal-shaped sculptures that are toddler-sized slides and hiding places.  Plus water sprays that mist from the ground -- providing a perfect cooling fun without soaking anyone's clothes.  Look for buttons on the stone bench near the nozzles.  They trigger patterns of mist.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Taco Battle On U.S. 1: Get In The Line Of Fire And Pick Your Favorite Between R&R And El Papi

El Papi's taco special -- four tacos, a pair or each
There is a taco battle under way on U.S. 1, and this is one of the rare times that you should get right in a line of fire.

R&R Taqueria has been a HowChow landmark since 2009 when Alberto Flores first turned me onto excellent Mexican tacos in the Shell station at U.S. 1 and Rte 175.  By 2011, R&R was a darling of the local food writers -- and then ended up on Diners, Drive Ins and Dives.

Then R&R ended up across the parking lot.  The owner Rod Albarran-Torres moved out of the Shell station and into a restaurant space in the next shopping center.  A bigger menu with tacos, tortas, burritos, and even a dedicated burger menu that they call Chef Rod's Outrageous Burgers.  Chef Rod made a YouTube video about the move.

R&R tacos with the star, carnitas
That seems to be when R&R's former chef opened his own taqueria in the original space.  That's Jose Flores who started with his own taco offerings and whose El Papi Taqueira got raves from Tim Carmen in the Washington Post last month.

What we have here is a true taco battle.  Flores hung enormous signs that tout "Authentic Mexican Street Tacos" at the gas station and a photo of him with Guy Fieri.  He also did post a little El Papi sign that might let people know that this isn't the taqueria in the gas station that you had heard about when it was R&R.

Friday, July 7, 2017

New Restaurants Coming Or Opened While I Was Out -- Lib's Grill, Shake Shake, A Speakeasy, More

Hot Pot Hero has opened in Ellicott City
It's going to take time to catch up to all the restaurants that opened while I was out or that are coming soon.  Great folks have told me about these in comments or emails.  I'll work out visits over time.  Here is a fast rundown of some:
  • Texas Roadhouse is opening off Snowden River Parkway, noted several commentators including Anonymous.  I'm still trying to figure out the exact location because I haven't seen the construction.
  • Lib's Grill will open in Fulton this fall in the Maple Lawn spot that has been a steak house and was most-recently Maple Lawn Grill.  Julekha Dash wrote a quick story on the Bisnow website that a different anonymous commentator flagged for me.
  • OC Brewing Company will open next to Perfect Pour in Elkridge, according to a comment by Anonymous.  I assume that's the space that previously was a Peruvian restaurant.
  • Shake Shack and others are coming to the Columbia Mall, according to a Columbia Flier article written by Andrew Michaels and highlighted to me by RJ.  Shake Shack will take over a piece of the space where Champps closed.  As a side note, I'm psyched to hear Barnes and Nobles is coming to Columbia Mall.  Book stores are good.
  • A speakeasy is coming to one of the new office buildings near the Columbia Mall, reported Joshua Gordon in the Baltimore Business Journal in May.  It's actually a restaurant called Cured with a small restaurant and bar behind an unmarked door called 18th and 21st.  That sounds fun, although I can't actually tell you anything because the description is a word salad of "rustic," "classic" and "modern" that I assume is just copied from a press release:
Cured will combine a rustic vibe and classic mid-Atlantic recipes with a modern twist while 18th & 21st, named after the Constitutional amendments that created and repealed prohibition, will be accessible through an unmarked door in the back of Cured.
  • The same folks are opening a Mutiny Pirate Bar on Troy Hill Drive in Elkridge, again as reported by Joshua Gordon in the Baltimore Business Journal.  This replaces an earlier plan to open in downtown Ellicott City. 
  • A Caribbean restaurant Jazz's Island Soul has replaced Zapata's in Harper's Choice Village Center.  Suzanne Loudermilk talked it up in a Howard Magazine review last month.
  • Hot Pot Hero and Kung Fu Tea both opened in Ellicott City.  They're in the same shopping center as Honey Pig, which I love for a casual night of Korean barbecue.  Hot pot is definitely on my list.  The last time that I ate it was the first day that we met Lil' Chow -- and the last time that a coughing fit sent me running to the bathroom because I misunderstood how spicy the broth had gotten.  I need to figure out a kid-friendly option on the Hot Pot Hero menu like noodles, rice or tofu.  I'd love to think Lil' Chow would try cooking his own food, but I'm not confident yet. 
  • And finally, a Korean BBQ place called Iron Age (update:  apparently is about to open) in Catonsville on Rte 40 just east of the new Lotte supermarket.  I haven't been, but David P. described it in a Facebook comment as "Fogo De Chao but for Korean BBQ. 25 dollars gets you endless meat."  That's inspiration for a guy's night.
I know there are many other new places.  Asian Court moved to Turf Valley.  I really want to hit the new place for dim sum.  Please feel free to report about your experiences with anything listed above or about other places that people should know.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Hit Up Larriland Farm And The New Town Grill -- BBQ And Smoked Meats Come To Ellicott City

Sliced smoked lamb with chips and coleslaw at the new Town Grill in Ellicott City
Some things keep getting better -- and one of those is a trip to pick-your-own fruit and then to feast on barbecue and smoked meats.

Larriland Farm in Woodbine is one of my favorite places in Howard County.  I've been going for more than a decade, and it truly gets better each time.  They've got delicious fruit -- and vegetables and flowers.  Plus credit card machines in the fields.  What else do you want?

Lil' Chow and I drove out I-70 Saturday, and we hit the blueberry fields at the end of the opening rush.  Honestly, we only hit about 10 bushes.  The plants were covered in ripe blueberries.  We worked mostly standing still, and we got three pounds of berries by just reaching out.

I was pleased to see that Lil' Chow could mostly identify the ripe fruit.  Our cardboard box had a few purple berries, but this seemed like an idea field for kids because even a four-year-old could reach the bushes, see the ripe blue ones, and avoid crushing them like we did with strawberries a few year ago.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

New Music And Food Venue Coming To Columbia Lake Front After Clyde's Closes Tomato Palace

The Columbia lakefront will get a new music and food venue where the Clyde's restaurant group will offer live music and casual food, reports Warren Rojas in the DC Eater.

The Clyde's folks apparently closed the Tomato Palace.  They're renovating to create a 240-seat performance space, not yet named but modeled after a DC spot called The Hamilton.  They'll share a kitchen with the Clyde's next door, but offer a different menu.

The Web Says Bon Chon Chicken Will Open Next To The Columbia Mall; Who Knows The Plans?

Bon Chon fried chicken -- with the udon soup
Bon Chon Chicken has two websites describing a new location in Columbia, and I want to know where that chicken is going to land.

Bon Chon is a Korean chain that does superb fried chicken -- along with other really good Korean dishes.  The Ellicott City location is a HowChow favorite.  Lil' Chow loves chicken tenders, and he slurps down the udon noodle soup.  I have loved the bi bim bap -- the bottom rice crisped by a super-hot bowl -- on nights when I want something lighter.

But I go for the chicken.  Crunchy crust around juicy meat.  At first, I was obsessed with the wings.  But Lil' Chow has brought me around to chicken strips.  (Plus, there were a few meals where I ordered both wings and strips and then ate way too much because it was just me and a toddler.)

I split my orders between the two flavors -- a soy-garlic and a spicy.  Spicy has real heat.  Delicious, but I limit myself to maybe three spicy and seven soy-garlic.  Once before Lil' Chow spoke, I inadvertently let him touch a spicy wing.  Finger ended up in mouth.  Tears poured down his face.  I cringed and figured that everyone was staring, but really people were probably just engaged with their chicken and beer.

So is that all coming to Columbia?  It makes sense because they've opened a mess of other locations.

Mark Siegel tweeted me about a "coming soon" Columbia location.  Bon Chon's website does have a page that says "Columbia, MD -- Coming Soon."   Plus, someone created a Facebook page in February for a Bon Chon Columbia with a real Bon Chon phone number and an address of 10000 Town Center Avenue.  That's one of the new apartment buildings across from the Columbia Mall.  I think it already has Mod Pizza and other restaurants on the first floor.  Maybe in the building next door?

Who knows the details?

I absolutely recommend the Bon Chon in Ellicott City.  It's just off Rte 40 west of 29.  I'm not worry about addresses anymore because people can find them on-line so easily.  Bon Chon is basically behind Jason's Liquors.  You turn south onto Plumtree Drive, then make an immediate left into a parking lot that serves Bon Chon, Chef Paulino, and a Zumba studio.  That's where I taught Lil' Chow that two guys can't stand at the glass window of a Zumba studio and stare inside.  "Move along!"

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

New While I Was Out: Beer! Hysteria Joins Jailbeak, Black Flag, Manor HIll And Others

Raising a toddler impeded my ability to write, but it has done wonders for the amount of alcohol that I'm drinking.

The tequila post will come in time, but my recent adoption has been an old school option -- cans of beer.

Picnics, neighborhood cookouts, many, many evenings watching kids ride bikes, play light sabers and shoot arrows in our alley.  Beer cans make much more sense, especially after I felt really self-conscious bringing a bottle of beer onto a playground.

A question in one of my final posts had been "Where can I find local beer in cans?"  And the answer now is "Way more places."

Hysteria Brewing opened Saturday on Berger Road in Columbia and joined a brewery scene that has all opened in recent years.   Black Flag in ColumbiaJailbreak in LaurelManor Hill in Ellicott City.  Along with the brewing at Frisco Tap Room and Columbia Ale House.

Hysteria opened with a great-looking party.  By which I mean that there were no open parking spaces when I tried to sneak a visit before taking Lil' Chow to a movie on Saturday.  I just looked.  Beer, food trucks.  I had hoped we could each relax -- me with a beer, him with a Dragons: Race To The Edge show on my iPad.  But I didn't have the window to find parking across the road and walk him through the heat.

Luckily, we went to dinner at Frisco, which the waitress told us was the former home of one of the Hysteria brewers.  They served up a Trash Panda IPA.  It tasted like a good, hoppy IPA.   But I ended up picking a crisp alternative because my taste buds have turned against bitter after a multi-year fling with Flying Dog's Raging Bitch.  I'll be excited to try the stouts, sours and other barrel-aged beers that Jess Mayhugh wrote up in a Baltimore Mag profile of Hysteria.  I have my eye on the Farm Truck saison.

I'd love advice.  What do people recommend from the local breweries?  I have heard little bits of styles -- "culinary" ingredients at Jailbreak, this barrel-aging at Hysteria -- but I'd love to hear what people think when they think of the local lines.  And what liquor stores carry the local beer?  I saw that the new Maple Lawn liquor store bulked up in comparison to its i.m. Wine predecessor.  Prior comments talked up Perfect Pour, Allview, Richburn and others.

You know what I'd really love?  A sampler six-pack.  I'll buy new beers, but I'm always torn about buying six of something that I've never tried where there are always old standards in the cooler.  Oftne, I get introduced to new local beers at a friend's house.  I'd love a sampler -- for example, six (or three in pairs) of Jailbreak's varieties aimed at a local who wants find his favorite.

My curiosity is really up about Lost Ark Distilling.  They're making corn whiskey and other spirits right down from Hysteria on Berger Road.  Bed time makes it difficult, but I want to get there to taste their stuff.  On that note, does anyone know if Bulk Head Brewing Company will be around?  There is Twitter from April, but I don't see anything current.

Monday, July 3, 2017

This Ice Cream Sandwich Deserves A Food Blog; What Is Coming To Clarksville Commons?

Ice cream sandwich from Scoop and Paddle
I mean, does anyone really need a food blog?

Probably not since the Internet left blogging behind five years ago.  But then folks built a spot in Clarksville where they're trying to offer personalized pizzas, gourmet ice cream, and maybe more, more, more.

And you think: People need to know they can eat well here in Howard County.

Then you think:  How much ice cream can the kid smear across his face while we're sitting on this bench?

But you're a veteran now.  You have handful of napkins, so things will work out okay.

Scoop & Paddle's current cart
Sigh.  Hope that you have had a good 18 months since January 2016.  Mrs. HowChow and I sleep again.  We're learning all about Lego and underwear and what happens when a four-year-old lays down a balance bike on asphalt.

And we're eating.  For summer, we are eating ice cream at the new Clarksville spot where folks are trying to create a food attraction.  Already open at the Clarksville Commons -- You Pizza, which I'll write about soon, and Scoop & Paddle -- the best ice cream that I know made in Howard County.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Second Bon Chon Chicken Coming to Arundel Mill

A new Bon Chon is coming to Arundel Mills with the Korean fried chicken fun that you already get at their Ellicott City location.

Josiah stopped the "coming soon" sign in a stand-alone building across from the Arundel Mills mall.  Neither of us knows the timeline, so I'd love to hear if anyone knows when the fryers go hot at this location.

Until then, check out all my posts about Bon Chon.  This is one of my favorite places.  The best fried chicken.  Some great Korean dishes, including the noodle dish chapchae.  But mostly, it's fun casual place where I've grabbed takeout, sat with Lil' Chow or chowed down with an entire group.  I can't recommend it enough.

Thanks Josiah.  Thanks to anyone else who could tell us a timeline for the new Bon Chon.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Is Chiptole Coming To Maple Lawn? Plus, New Mexican, New BGR, Closed Peruvian, Closed Thai

Anthony's New York Pizza & Pasta
The talk about Maple Lawn is that Chipotle is going into the new construction going in near the Harris Teeter.  It's been that way for months now.  People who know real estate explaining why the space and location look right.  Other folks saying that the new facade looks like a Chipotle.

I nod when they say that.

But I honestly don't know how to spot a Chipotle.  I can identify a classic Pizza Hut as I drive past, but I'm taking folks' optimism at the Chipotle and hope that we'll get an announcement soon.

I don't see anything official about the other Maple Lawn construction, but talk is about several other restaurants in the works.  Maybe a seafood place or a pub near Harris Teeter?  Maybe a new breakfast and lunch restaurant in the new office building that they're finishing up on the other side of the development?

Although we're a bit limited these days by toddler bedtimes, we're always looking for new places.  Lil' Chow and I hit up Anthony's New York Pizza & Pasta in Clarksville one night when Mrs. HowChow was out of town.  Unfortunately, this was before Lil' Chow announced "I don't like sauce."  So I ended up eating both our slices and feeding him garlic knots in desperation.

While we're at it, other local food news that built over my hiatus in the comments and emails:
  • Taqueria Los Primos has opened a "brick-and-mortar" store on U.S. 1 in Laurel, reports Steve on a comment.  This is one of the highlight taco trucks, so I'm eager to get over there.  And eager for Lil' Chow to come around to Mexican food more than tortillas.
  • That's an influx of new Mexican.  Cinco De Mayo is filling the space that Royal Taj vacated when it moved to expanded space in Columbia.  Junior Barnes sent me the website link that says Cinco De Mayo will open in "early 2016."
  • And BGR the Burger Joint may be come to Rte 108 next to the new Urban BBQ, says Kevlar51.    On the same comment threat, SHerrington asked if anyone knows what's going into the retail built at 10000 Old Columbia Road -- visible on the south side of Rte 32 but apparently empty as far as I've seen.  Does anyone know?
  • Bangkok Delight in Columbia appears to have closed while I was on hiatus.  Jim S. left a comment, and Nicole mentioned it on Facebook in November.  I'm nostalgic because it was one of the first places that Mrs. HowChow and I went out for dinner.  That was back when we lived off Rte 108.  I remember really enjoying Bangkok Delight, then feeling like the food changed.  Alicyn recommends Little Spice in Hanover as a Thai alternative.
  • Also, has one or more of the Bagel Bins closed?  Folks were talking in November.  Dzoey mentioned a Cafe Bagel on Rte 103.  That's new to me.  And what about Pisco?  That was the Peruvian restaurant near Perfect Pour in Elkridge.  Katie reported last week that it was closed.
  • 5485 Restaurant appears to have opened in Columbia.  This is in the Doubletree Hotel near Rte 29 and Rte 175.  The staff says they renovated and changed from Morgan's to 5485.   When I called, they said the menu isn't on-line yet.  Has anyone tried 5485 yet? 
  • Starting in January, you'll be able to visit the Manor Hill Brewery on Saturdays to buy cans and growlers of their beer, says MoCo Beer.
  • Black Flag Brewing in Columbia has launched a Facebook site so that you can follow the brewery that will open on Snowden River Parkway next year.  And you can watch for the web site that they're building now.
  • What is Mother's Howard County Grille planned for Elkridge?  After figuring out the calendar system to check on the liquor license applications at Wegmans, I'm having fun watching the liquor board web sit.
  • Dzoey hit up the new Pie Five on Rte 40 in Ellicott City.  Several new chains are opening along Rte 40.  Pie Five is in new construction just west of Bean & Burgundy, which Dzoey says still has a good lunch buffet.  This is the report:
Pie Five does not take reservations and they do not deliver, but they have a special way of cooking the pizza so that it bakes in 2 minutes and it is ready for you 5 minutes after you order. You can specify your own pizza, choosing from five different crust types and four sauces and a variety of toppings, or you can use one of their pre-arranged combinations.

I tried three (pre-arranged) pizzas: the BBQ pizza, the Buffalo Chicken pizza, and a meat pizza (I forget the name) with one of their thin crusts and two of their thick crusts. I thought the thin crust was good, better than Domino's, not as good as Ledo's, and the thick crust was good as well, better than Pizza hut, not as good as what I've had in Chicago. The BBQ sauce was on the sweet side, with a hint of smoke and went well with the chicken. The meat pizza was good, with a good balance of salt and spice. The buffalo chicken wasn't what I expected, there was not much buffalo sauce, just some jalapeno peppers. It's a pretty crowded market so I wish them well. It's worth trying out.
  • And finally, you need to check out VCnearDC's long comment about the best cheesesteak in Howard County.  The family did a four-stop taste test.  They decided that Philly's Best in Columbia had the best meat and therefore the best sandwich.  Now that's on my list to try as well.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Uma Uma Soft Open Brings Ramen To Rte 40 -- And Maybe The Best Little Bite I've Eaten All Year

Tomato tonkatsu ramen
Uma Uma has brought the ramen shop to Ellicott City, and you should check out noodle soups and more at the friendly, casual restaurant.

Ramen -- like barbecue -- can lead to food blog warfare among experts about styles and execution.  So I'll leave that to other people and report just my observations.

First, the soup tastes delicious.  Lil' Chow and I lunched twice in four days.  We split three varieties because my toddler spilled much of a miso ramen until he realized that the stylish bowl tipped more-easily than the plastic ones at home.  Each variety was delicious.  All different.  My opening favorite is tonkatsu -- a pork broth served with the ramen, bok choy, slices of pork, and a just-boiled egg.

Uma Uma's pork bun
Second, the pork bun may be the best little bite that I've eaten all year.  It's one of Uma Uma's appetizers.  Steamed bun filled with a thick slice of tender, braised pork and house-pickled onion.  Rich and sharp, warm and chewy.  Each bun is a perfect two or three bites.  Get your own two-bun appetizer.  Don't share.  They're that good.

Uma Uma just soft opened on December 23.  They're getting organized, and they're starting at a run because the tables are already packed at the busy hours.  Yelp folks are already uncharitable about wait times and hiccups.  Don't be that way.  Go check out Uma Uma for something new and delicious that you can reach in 15 minutes.

For the uninitiated, ramen is noodle soup.  Again, the experts will crucify me for simplification.  Ramen lives in many, many forms.  Folks suggest ramen as a way to explore Tokyo.  They write about the best in the world.  But go check that last link.  The "best in the world" meant Japan, California and Manhattan.  On our local menus, ramen appears at places like Matcha Time and White Oak Tavern.  This is the first specialty shop, trying to make a go with ramen, grilled chicken, buns and a few other dishes.

Miso ramen
To me, ramen's real draw is slurping the broth.  Each spoonful -- and even the chopsticks bringing up dripping noodles -- offers the rich, cloudy broth.  The broths differ.  Miso, spicy miso, pork, etc.  But they're the backdrop for each bowl, and you can alternate mouthfuls of pork or vegetables.  I love bok choy.  A little crunch and mild peppery flavor paired beautifully with the almost-creamy tonkatsu stock.

Give Uma Uma a while to come into its own.  They've been open a week.  Chefs will adjust their recipes.  Waiters will pick up the ordering system and the kitchen flow.  I respect the comments on my White Oak Tavern post that suggest that the ramen there can differ day-to-day.  So go slurp up Uma Uma's good start and see how it goes from here.

Now, Uma Uma has some nice desserts.  The owner charmed Lil Chow with a green-tea mochi filled with ice cream.  But know that you can walk around the corner of Uma Uma's parking lot to a terrific bakery and coffee shop -- Tous Le Jours, a French bakery by way of Seoul with pastries, cakes, macarons, coffee and more.  It's a great place to hang out after dinner.  Please ignore the toddler who turns to a table of talkative young adults and shouts "Quiet! Be quiet!"  I have idea who that kid could be.

Use winter to explore an entire season of noodles and soups.  Like ramen, you can get them together in the hand-cut noodle soups at Hang Ari in Catonsville.  Or go noodles and fried chicken at Tian Chinese Cuisine in Ellicott City or Da Rae Won in Beltsville.   Or go exotic noodles with the fish noodle entree at Grace Garden in Odenton.  My one bummer is a vegetarian friend with Japanese wife.  There are no vegetarian ramen at Uma Uma.  What do people recommend as the best vegetarian soup around here?

Uma Uma
9380 Baltimore National Pike
Ellicott City, MD 21042

NEAR:  Uma Uma is on the north side of Rte 40 to the west of Rte 29.  It's between Boston Chicken and Lighthouse Tofu -- another great option for warm soup if you want soondooboo tofu stew.  There are a few parking spaces in front of Uma Uma, but your better bet is the lot along the side of the shopping center.  You turn off Rte 40 just before Boston Chicken, then park in the spaces in front of you or to your right.  It's good -- you're midway between dinner at Lighthouse or Uma Uma and dessert at Tous Le Jours.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Mai Dragon Brings A New Dim Sum Option Right Across The Line In Hanover

Dim sum at Mai Dragon in Hanover
New dim sum has come to the area and gotten a rave from friend of the blog Min.

Mai Dragon runs a pan-Asian menu in Hanover, and their website suggests that they do dim sum every day from lunchtime until 5 pm.  They roll trolleys through the restaurant on weekends and make it to-order during the week.

As far as I know, Asian Court in Ellicott City is the only dim sum option in Howard County.  We have often enjoyed it -- although leisurely brunches of exotic foods aren't exactly Lil' Chow's favorite activities.

So for now, I'll have to count on Min's review and try to plan a trip:
We caught up with the owners Meiling and her husband on Saturday and chatted for a while as I haven't seen them since she left Red Pearl. We also see some friendly faces in the waitstaff that we recognized from the original Asian Court.
Food is great! The aroma of dried shitake mushrooms in the siu-mais and shreds of dried scallops in the sticky rice chicken in lotus leaves (nuo-mi ji) are exciting indicators of decent dim sum. (Well, the surrounding Cantonese-speaking patrons is another.)  The multi-layered black sesame cake is a must-try. 
DH is very happy we finally have an establishment so good and so close to home that can be on par with the Philly dim sum scene.
Meiling said the dim sum chef studied under a very renowned chef in Hong Kong.  Also on chefs (Cantonese cousins) previously at other famous eateries in NoVA and Rockville. There will be a renovation coming  up soon. The restaurant will be able to host banquets up to about 26 tables afterwards.
Last but not least, just in case you're a fan of durian, the king of fruits, I asked for durian pastry (liu-lian su, melt-in-your-mouth durian wrapped in puff pastry sheets) and was told it'll be available next weekend.
Min wrote during my hiatus, so I assume the durian pastry is available now.  Mai Dragon is the name of the restaurant.  Some places on-line, it looks like there is a Mai Dim Sum with a different address.  It's all the same place -- just a dim sum menu on top of the regular Mai Dragon menu.

I am always open to Chinese recommendations in the area.  People like all different kinds of places.  We're partial to Grace Garden, which is even a little farther into Anne Arundel in Odenton.  A nondescript decor, but amazing food.  Does anyone have new finds -- restaurants or dishes -- to recommend around the area?

Mai Dragon
2649A Annapolis Road
Hanover, MD 21076
Phone: (410) 551-9498

NEAR:  This is on Rte 175 just east of the BW Parkway.  So it's just over the line in Anne Arundel County, but close enough for us to try to annex.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Surprise: I Went For Chicken Tenders And Went Back For Frisco Tap House's Ancho Glaze Wings

Ancho glaze wings at Frisco Tap House
Frisco Tap House has been many things in my decade in Howard County -- a Southwestern restaurant, a beer bar, a brewery.

Somehow, I was pleasantly surprised to discover my current favorite wings in Howard County when I stopped there for lunch.

Lil' Chow won't nap at home.  We've developed a pattern for weekends or other days without daycare.  We have morning fun, then eat lunch, then nap in the car.  For months, we looped and looped.  Now, I can stop driving once he falls asleep.

So I went to Frisco for the chicken and fries.  Lil' Chow requested a special treat, and I wanted somewhere new that would put a little extra effort into chicken tenders.  It was a complete bonus that my lunch had that extra effort as well.

This is part of a "Surprise" series that I'm writing as I try to start blogging again.  Come back for more in the next few days.

Lil' Chow's chicken and fries
Eight big meaty wings.  Or at least meaty half-wings.  Years ago, there were several local joints serving exceptional wings, but I'd given them up recently because they'd switched to tiny products that were mostly bone and skin.  Frisco sells wings as an appetizer, but they've been lunch twice for me.

Once, a Thai special.  Once, the regular ancho pepper glaze.  It's a real glaze, almost crunchy and nothing like the globs of barbecue sauce that I've seen over other plates.  The wings come slightly charred, crisp to the teeth and then moist inside.  I started to write myself a note that the wings were sweet, not spicy.  Then my lips started a warm tingle and I realized the ancho was doing its work.  There is skill in those wings, and they're one of those treats that I can't pull off in my own kitchen.

Frisco is a friendly place for lunch.  Half full on both of my recent visits.  Just enough conversation and noise to give the place some energy.  It's a nice escape from being trapped with a toddler, and even the young staff is personable.  One waiter played along when I deflected Lil's Chow's 10th question of "Where is our food now?"  The waiter explained the chicken and fries were cooking in the kitchen.  That finally satisfied the kid.  Well, that and the chicken tenders.

Where else do people recommend for wings these days?  Bon Chon Chicken in Ellicott City is my absolute favorite, but Korean fried chicken seems separate from the competition for wings.  The Town Grille in Lisbon guaranteed a Ravens Super Bowl with their special wings and a bunch of people commented on that 2013 post.  I've liked garam masala wings at Tandoor Grill on Johns Hopkins Road and the Old Bay Wings at Second Chance Saloon in Columbia.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

No Liquor At Wegmans? The Liquor License Request Seems To Have Been Withdrawn

No Wegmans liquor for now, but here comes barbecue
For now, there isn't an active plan to open a liquor store at the Wegmans in Columbia, according to a Baltimore Sun article that came out while I was on hiatus.

In August, I had flagged the liquor license application filed by The Loft Wine & Spirits.  In November, Amanda Yeager reported that the application was withdrawn because of a zoning issue.  Apparently, the county says a liquor store isn't appropriate there.

Reading between the lines, it looks like folks are tussling behind the scenes.  I'm sure Wegmans would like to rent that second-story space, and liquor store owners are pushing the liquor and zoning laws.  Does anyone know updates since mid-November?

But while I was nosing around the liquor board website, I came across some other tidbits about new restaurants, including the Urban Bar-B-Que that looks really close on Rte 108 near Snowden River Parkway and the Mission BBQ on Rte 40 that I'll blog about soon.  Here's fun stuff:
We had a few rare hours to ourselves for dinner, and I wanted Mexican. There's nothing good up our way, so we had planned on going to El Azteca in Clarksville.  Just out of curiosity, I fired up the Yelp app to see if there were any more options, and Los Compadres popped up with really good reviews.

Since it was so much closer, we decided to take a chance and I'm super glad that we did. Rommel, the owner, introduced himself and took us through the menu. It's mainly the standard fare, but they also had less common items like sopes and tortas.  My wife got three enchiladas with one each of pastor, carne asada and barbacoa.  I got chile rellenos.

I pretty much hold R&R as the gold standard.  If I graded R&R as a "10," I'd have to say that the food we had was a solid 8.5.  It was all very well seasoned and the flavor profiles were spot on.

The prices were very reasonable, with our bill coming in at $20.

I think the place is a real gem and deserves some good attention from the food press.
 Unfortunately, I think sometimes that the food press is evaporating around us.  I appreciate the Sun and WPost articles because they're becoming fewer and farther between.  I also welcome any reports on these new places in the comments below.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Surprise: My Favorite Ramen Slurps At A Farm-To-Table Restaurant (For Now)

Ramen at White Oak Tavern
I stumbled on my favorite local ramen at a "guys night out" at White Oak Tavern.

White Oak is a casual bar and grill trying to push seasonal dishes and farm-to-table ideas on Rte 40 in Ellicott City.  It's working a middle ground with aspirations for high-end meals, but a casual feel a little less expensive that a meal in DC or Baltimore.

Coming soon to Rte 40
It hit a home run with everything on my night out.  A brussels sprout appetizer that looks so good that we each ordered had one as an appetizer.  Then a main event of rich, dark broth cooked with chewy noodles, bok choy, and a just-cooked egg.

This is part of a "Surprise" series that I'm writing as I try to start blogging again.  Come back for more in the next few days.

A real restaurant reviewer would focus on the delicious broth.  A ramen expert could explain why that savory liquid paired so well with the tender noodles.  But I'm going to tell you about the pork belly.

It was the best pieces of pork belly that I've ever had in my life.

Slightly crisp,  Rich pork flavor.  No fattiness.  It was firm like a piece of meat, and it reminded me why pork belly has been a craze.  With a really good beer and the brussels sprout appetizer, it was as good a meal as I remember eating this year.  Now, it was a pricey bowl.  I don't remember exactly, but it was an out-to-eat dinner price like $15-25.  Absolutely worth the price, but entirely fair to compare it with the equally-fun ramen at Matcha Time in Ellicott City.

Ramen at Matcha Time
But it will be a blast to start comparing White Oak to Matcha Time to Uma Uma.  Uma Uma is the ramen and yakitori restaurant that has been planning and constructing since Spring 2014.  They're close now.  (Update:  I just heard that they plan to open on December 23, 2015!)  They had chairs there when Lil' Chow and I walked past 10 days ago.

Uma Uma sounds like a place that Lil' Chow will love -- soup, noodles, rice and chicken.  They're between Lighthouse Tofu and Boston Chicken on the north side of Rte 40.  When you check them out, walk around the corner for dessert at Tous Les Jours.  That French bakery by way of Seoul has great pastries, coffees, drinks and a great atmosphere to hang out.

But back to the White Oak dinner, my friend and I had a really good night.  It's a basic decor, more like Frisco Tap House than Aida Bistro.  But they're pushing for really interesting food, and the place impresses me.  I'd love to hear if other people can comment below with recommended dishes or reports about dinners at White Oak.

Folks have been emailing me about the Uma Uma sign.  I appreciate them all.  I'd love to hear from folks if they see it is open or (even better) if they get to try the food.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Where Can I Get Local Beer In Cans? (Asks The Guy Who Can't Peruse Liquor Stores Anymore)

Cheers with a toddler
I will admit that was my two-year-old calling out "I want to go to the liquor store" on Main Street at lunchtime last Sunday.

I had promised Lil' Chow pizza.  I said we needed to stop at the liquor store before we circled back to River House Pizza Company, so he kept shouting "I want to go to the liquor store" as we waited for the Wine Bin to open.

Unfortunately, the Wine Bin is too high end to sell single beers so I ate my pizza with water.

I can't nose around liquor stores like I did in the old days.  Lil' Chow was on my shoulders in the Wine Bin, but I still thought he was going to sweep glass bottles off shelves onto the floor.  I understand.  It's boring shopping for him.

So where can I find some of the Howard County beers in cans to stock at home?

Manor Hill Brewing has started to sell cans, I saw in a tweet from MoCoBeer.  I know that I've seen Jailbreak Brewery options in different places.

But I get at most a handful of chances a month to stop at a liquor store, usually when it just happens to be next to somewhere else that I need to stop.  I've been buying Mrs. HowChow her favorite Hite because it's stocked at the liquor store next to the new H Mart in Ellicott City.  So I'd love to know if I should check out any specific store for the local brewery options.

(Update:  Looks like Manor Hill actually debuted canned beer on Friday.  For now, Allview Liquors in Ellicott City is the only place where you can grab your own.)

Surprise: For The Best Ice Cream, Hit Up A Garden Center For A Scoop (And Paddle)

You can feast on Scoop & Paddle ice cream in Clarksville
If food blogs exist for anything, it is to bang hard on a very local drum.  So let me say again that the best ice cream in Howard County is served at garden center in Clarksville.

If that surprises you, then you should check out Scoop & Paddle, which has set up weekend hours inside the River Hill Garden Center on Rte 108.  This is the best ice cream in Howard County.  It's absolutely worth you driving today for a mix of regular and seasonal flavors.

I might have grabbed the last gingerbread Saturday.  We added a seasonal peppermint stick and a classic salted caramel.

This is part of a "Surprise" series that I'm writing as I try to start blogging again.  Come back for more in the next few days.

We've been eating that caramel since Scoop & Paddle debuted last summer.  Back then, they were parking their customized VW bus in River Hill's parking lot.  They're still doing some standards like espresso chip and mint chip chocolate, but the seasonal choices have shifted from summer fruits to winter flavors like eggnog and cinnamon.

The ice cream is superb.  Creamy and rich.  But Scoop & Paddle really stands out because the flavors come through.  The winter flavors push spices.  Deep flavor, but not overpowering.  The eggnog and the gingerbread taste like those things -- except in a cold, creamy dessert.  It's pricey at $10.50 a pint, but I promise that I haven't had ice cream this exceptional anywhere nearby.  It's Capogiro quality, which is HowChow's highest standard.

The Scoop & Paddle cart sits inside River Hill in sight of the registers.  Along with pints, you can buy ice cream sandwiches.  I have two in our freezer -- chocolate cookies and peppermint ice cream.  (Shhhhh.  Don't tell Mrs. HowChow.  They're a surprise.)

Seriously, I miss summer so much.  Go to Scoop & Paddle to recapture some summer fun or to spice up your winter table.  Either way, it's a local taste worth trying.

To check on Scoop and Paddle's hours, I suggest you check on their Facebook page.  They say 12-3 pm today.  One warning: The hours change.  Mrs. HowChow has planned several trips only to realize that Scoop and Paddle closed early or shifted their location.  Chill out.  It's a little business working with teenagers.  The ice cream is worth some flexibility.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Surprise: My Favorite Pizza May Be Outdoors, And It's Leaving This Weekend (Until Spring)

River House Pizza Company "namaste" toppings with a kid-friendly section
I'm trying to restart my blogging with a bunch of surprises that I've had while HowChow was quiet.

Like -- my favorite pizza may be served outside.

It's the River House Pizza Company that runs an mobile wood-fired oven off Main Street in Ellicott City.  This is part of the Tonge Row shops anchored by the Little French Market.  Lil' Chow and I split a pie last weekend, and I'm blogging this morning because this is the last weekend until spring for you to run over and enjoy a pizza yourself.

This is part of a "Surprise" series that I'm writing as I try to start blogging again.  Come back for more over the next few days.

River House sells crisp pizzas with a perfect char and a variety of high-end toppings.  You order at a window and then pick up the pizza from the chefs working under an awning next to the movile oven.  Last Sunday, Lil' Chow and I walked partway up the Trolley Trail towards the Breadery, then circled back to walk up Main Street.

Discovery #1:  Lil' Chow doesn't want to window shop.  He was polite.  But he was on my shoulders, and I'd hear a firm "No" whenever I paused to look in the window a store.

Discovery #2:  He likes pizza better without sauce.

Lil' Chow loves to cook pizza with me.  He has never eaten a huge amount, and I realized a few weeks ago that he preferred the crusts to the even the "plain" slice with sauce and cheese.  So, when we wandered to River House off the parking lot behind Tersiguel's, I asked to fill three-quarters of our pie with their "namaste" toppings and one-quarter with just cheese.

This is really exceptional.  It's better than the pizza that I make at home.  That wood oven chars the crust and browns the mozzarella.  They dot the surface with toppings -- dashes of chunky marinara sauce, onion, baby portabellos, and roasted red pepper.  We had the added pleasures of a warm December day and a toddler who ate with enthusiasm and good cheer.  But that pizza stands up on its own.

Unfortunately, they're closing up shop after this weekend for a cold-weather break.  Probably back in March.  Go for lunch now!

Now, I'm a sucker for the wood-fired ovens.  So my other top pizzas run from Facci on Johns Hopkins Road to the other mobile pizza oven at Brick'n Fire that often parks in Oella.   Lil's Chow and I also really enjoyed Bella Luna in Columbia.  With these ovens, pizzas differ.  It takes a skilled chef, and the pizzas at each place vary depending on who is running the oven.  Check out all my posts about pizza.

Anyone have other recommendations for pizza?  Anyone know the status of new restaurants on Main Street.  There had been talk about Joe's Squared coming to Ellicott City, but I guess that hasn't actually happened.