Monday, May 31, 2010

Link: Pioneer Pit Beef On Black Coffee & A Donut

As heaven has commanded, Pioneer Pit Beef continues to win all pit beef taste tests -- including Erin's post today on Black Coffee and a Donut.

Erin tested the Canopy in Ellicott City and Pioneer in Woodlawn.  Good to see people come eat in the suburbs, although although she has clearly absorbed enough of that big-city living to take a smack at "the chain restaurants of Rte 40."  (All the Baltimore hipsters should come running to Rte 40 for the un-chain taste of Shin Chon Garden or Honey Pig.)

Pioneer remains the best pit beef -- delicious thin-sliced sandwiches served from a literal shack in the shadow of I-70.  Still one of my favorite things.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Pottery Stop Opens Its Coffee Shop

The Pottery Stop in Ellicott City has officially opened its coffee shop, according to its Twitter feed.

The paint-your-own pottery store on Rte 40 just west of Rte 29 has taken over the space that used to be Java Grande.  Their plan over the winter was to offer their pottery in a bigger space, plus serve coffee, snacks and desserts.

Welcome to the Pottery Stop and Coffee Shop.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Turkish Cotton Candy At Pars Market

Cotton candy became famous around here when my wife -- single child, accustomed to a measured pace and a shared experience -- lost out on a gourmet dessert to me and my ravenous family.  One minute the waiter put down the silver bowl of cherry cotton candy.  The next, it was gone.

Since then, I have bought her cotton candy whenever it appears.  The most-recent was pismantye -- which Pars Market in Columbia calls "Turkish cotton candy" even though it isn't officially.

Pismantye is flour and butter mixed into pulled sugar.  Pars sells boxes with about a dozen pieces for less than $2.  It's fluffy threads of candy that melt in your mouth.  Threads, more than cotton balls.  And it tastes nutty and slightly sweet rather than the sugary, fruity flavor of the candy that you'd get at a carnival.  It's definitely worth checking out -- especially if you pick up the rose water and pistachio nougat that Pars stocks on the same shelf.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

What Is The Twist & Turn Tavern in Highland?

There are apparently signs for a new Twist & Turn Tavern in Highland on Rte 108 near Rte 216.  Does anyone know the story?

This is near Boarman's Meat Market and Hidden Treasure Cafe.  John pointed out to me that Twist & Turn has a Facebook page updated a few times in the past six weeks.  It says "opening late May."  Is that true?

(Update: See the comment below that says they're opening on June 10 and should post their menu on May 28.)

Eating Fish In A Gas Station (Or Why You Should Get A Ceviche Lunch At R&R Taqueria)

The R&R Deli (nee R&R Taqueria) was one of my favorite discoveries when I was just eating tacos and fresh fruit milkshakes.

But the takeout in the Shell Station at Rte 175 and U.S. 1 has broadened its menu -- including a ceviche special that made a delicious lunch.  For less than $4, you get a takeout shell filled with marinated fish and sliced avocado on a crispy tostada.  This isn't exotic restaurant ceviche, but it's fresh and full of flavor with tomatoes, cilantro and onion.  It's a nice mix of fish so that each bite is slightly different, and the marinating liquid soaked beautifully into the tostada.

If you're eating lunch in Columbia, then you need to give yourself a break and try R&R.  For the price of your regular sandwich, I got the ceviche and a barbacoa taco.  Those tacos are still shockingly fresh with the deep flavors of barbecue and the fresh taste of herbs and spicy salsa.  This is a takeout that wants to make exceptional food.  The classic "hole-in-the-wall" that makes it fun to troll for new options.

The doctor in the house has approved the R&R tacos.  In the interest of full disclosure, I admit that I'm the only one to sample the ceviche so far.

R&R Deli
7894 Washington Boulevard
Elkridge, MD 21075

NEAR: The deli is in the Shell station at U.S. 1 and Rte 175 on the Elkridge/Jessup line. It's really convenient from Rte 175 -- just go east from Columbia across I-95 and then look left at U.S. 1.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Pick-Your-Own Strawberries At Gorman Farm

Gorman Farm in Laurel has brought pick-your-own strawberries almost to your doorstep, so you need to step out soon -- especially if you have a toddler in tow.

The champion pick-your-own remains Larriland Farm in Woodbine where you can pick strawberries now and go deep through the summer with berries, apples and pumpkins.  But you can be in Gorman Farm's strawberry fields in minutes from anywhere in Columbia or south of Rte 100.

It was even faster for me.  I got an email from Hungry Bob Saturday morning and ate Gorman strawberries for lunch.  I admit that I didn't pick them.  Gorman's pricing meant that I could buy two pints for $10 -- the same price it cost to pick two of my own.  With other errands and no toddler, I bought my fruit and left.  But the field was full of people walking around with little kids.  Gorgeous sunlight. Wide rows with small bushes. People were clearly having fun, and I was chuckling at memories of Kevin's post last summer about the child swap meet that he found in the pick-your-own fields.

The berries are delicious.  Some candy sweet.  Most tasting more of strawberry than sugar.  They're red to the core and juicy in a way that surprised me after buying so many supermarket bunches.  The folks at Gorman thought they would have berries for maybe two more weeks.  They also run a CSA and a vegetable stand.

My one disappointment remains that Gorman works best if you don't work in an office.  Strawberry picking is 10-4 Wednesday to Saturday.  I forgot to ask if they're doing any other pick-your-own this summer.  If you want more time in the fields, click here for all the posts about Larriland.

Gorman Produce Farm
10151 Gorman Road
Laurel, MD 20723

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.  (Update:  I fixed the address above.  Thanks, Cathy!)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bon Appetit Cafe & Bakery in Ellicott City

Looks like a new bakery on Rte 40 in Ellicott City -- or maybe one moving?

There are signs for Bon Appetit Cafe & Bakery on Rte 40 in the new plaza between the Arby's and Exxon, according to Adam from Grubgrade.  I think he is talking about the area near Bethany Lane.  He says there is a sign that says "coming soon," although nothing clear about when it would open.

(Update: Bon Appetit opened in November 2010.)

Anyone know more?  The WPost has a listing for Bon Appetit at 10155 Baltimore Avenue.  But nothing on Yelp as far as I can see.  (Update: See the comments below for some additional information.)

Trolling: Mexican Pasta, Hush Puppies & The Delicate Balancing Act Of Frozen Yogurt

Kristi offers up today's Trolling post heavy on a single shopping center.  A sliver of Johns Hopkins Road is called Laurel even though it sits between Columbia, Fulton and Scaggsville -- separated from real Laurel by Rte 29.  That shopping center packs in diners between La Palapa Too, Kloby's BBQ, Facci Ristorante, and Ginza of Tokyo.  Parking in the main lot can be scarce, although some commenters recommend parking in the empty day care center parking lot about 50 yards away.
Pasta Azteca at La Palapa Too: Fettuccine noodles served with shrimp and scallops in a delicious Mexican inspired red sauce.  The shrimp and scallops are always a decent size, and they’re generous with the portions.  It’s one of my all-time favorite dishes because it’s so unique.  It’s rare to find a pasta dish at a Mexican restaurant, let alone a good one.  
Hush Puppies at Kloby's: Their best side dish, with each pup literally the size of a golf ball.  These puppies are fried to perfection and goes perfectly with Kloby's ribs.  They’re definitely worth the drive down Route 29. 
5 oz Special at Yogiberry in the Columbia Mall: The berry and green tea flavors here are perfectly tart and delicious, with berry being my favorite!  I’ve learned to stop by the stand before I shop in order to reduce the balancing act of holding bags and trying to get the perfect ratio of yogurt and fruit in each scoop, all while walking.   Their 5 oz. special gets you 3 toppings for the price of 2. Sometimes they don’t have the sign out, but you just have to ask.
Trolling on Tuesday is my attempt at a series where readers would share three things with other HowChow readers -- favorite restaurant dishes, food to buy, food experiences, etc.  Click here for all the Trolling posts.  Click here for the explanation and the rules.  Anyone can submit.  

Monday, May 24, 2010

First Thoughts On Red Pearl In Columbia

The Red Pearl opened this weekend -- bringing Chinese back to the Columbia lakeside spot that used to be Jesse Wong's Hong Kong, according to a comment from MJ2010.

As I posted before, I am looking for a copy of the Red Pearl's Chinese menu to translate into English.  (Update: They're giving the Sichuan menu to everyone.)  But people are already eating there, and MJ2010 wrote a long comment that I'm excerpting below:

I went to the Red Pearl last night - on its opening day. . . .The atmosphere was upscale casual, with the bar section separated from the dining room. The dining room is well designed with effective separation of several sections of tables by partitions topped with loose stone and opaque vertical glass. The floor plan allows fewer tables than it could, and this is a definite plus. So many other restaurants crowd the tables so close to each other that it detracts from the experience and ruins any sense of relative privacy. . . .
The menu is “Americanized” Chinese, with a few of the more intriguing dishes on the Chef’s Suggestions page, along with three preparations of duck, including my favorite “Tea Smoked Duck”. . .  I started with an appetizer of vegetable spring rolls, which were served hot on a small bed of greens and accompanied by both Chinese hot mustard and a sweet sauce for dipping. The spring rolls were not greasy, slightly crunchy wrapping over a tasty vegetable combination. . . . 
I also wanted to see what would come of a standard dish, so I ordered the shrimp in lobster sauce. It came with white rice, just sticky enough for chopsticks. The square serving plate arrived bearing ten LARGE, expertly deveined, shelled shrimp resting in a light lobster sauce that featured water chestnuts, peas, and mushrooms. The shrimp were too large for one bite, and I had to cut them in half. They were snow white accented with pink, and tender, yet dense enough to give great satisfaction when eating them. . . . .
If you try the Red Pearl, please add comments on the most-recent post -- like this one about the Sichuan menu.

Link: LeeLyn's on HoCo Rising

HoCo Rising posted about how he and his wife enjoyed the small plates at LeeLyn's in Ellicott City -- particularly the potato chips and the satay.  It's hasn't captivated me, but they'll go back to check out more stuff.  It's definitely a popular place.

Maryland Crab at Frank's Seafood

I go to Frank's Seafood in Jessup for delicious seafood and straight answers.

The hardshells at Frank's are still coming from warmer Carolina, but I bought a pound of Maryland backfin last week and made wonderful crabcakes and weird sushi.  I also got a half pound of scallops -- the kind where no one has injected salt water to inflate the price and ruin the flavor.

Frank's isn't cheap.  I paid $20 for the crab and $9 for the scallops.  But I got real answers when I asked where they were getting everything and what they thought of the difference.  The Frank's clerk described each crab option -- Venezuelan crab had good texture but little flavor, Carolina was good, and the Maryland was the sweetest of all.  Such a contrast to earlier last week when I stood at a supermarket counter and watched a really nice teenaged clerk unable to say anything except what was written on the label.  The guy in front of me couldn't get an answer to anything.  I walked away with no fish.

With answers and past success, I blew all my cash at Frank's and will do it again.  The Maryland backfin tasted like summer.  I added egg, mayo, and breadcrumbs just to hold the cakes together, and I'll add even less next time.  I used the leftovers to make sushi rolls with thin-sliced tomatillo and crab.  Thumbs up, although I was just screwing around.  The sweetness of crab and scallop should be a luxury, and I'd rather eat Frank's on special occasions than load up on the tasteless shrimp pushed on me by almost everyone else.

(Update:  Since this post, I have gone back to Frank's for shrimp, oysters and whole fish.  The oysters are a terrific treat, especially once I learned that I could grill them for a few minutes so that they would pop open.  The shrimp were firm and sweet, and they're wild, which has become my requirement after learning too much about how they farm shrimp in southeast Asia.)

Frank's is right down the road from Mom's Organic Market, which makes it a great pairing to get vegetables and bread and then stop for fish.  If you head south from Rt 175, then consider rolling down Snowden River too.  For the crab cake dinner, I grabbed a takeout loaf of ciabatta at Bon Fresco Sandwich Bakery.

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

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

NEAR: This is in the wholesale seafood market in Jessup. You take Rte 175 east from I-95. You turn right on Oceano Avenue after passing the prison. You turn left into the market. You need to show a driver's license, but Frank's is open to the public.  The market charges truck drivers to deliver or pick up, but it's free to the public after 10 am.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

How To Harvest Lettuce In Korean

Yesterday, I received my latest lesson in how to run a vegetable plot.

These aren't the most-detailed lessons because my neighbor offers her curriculum in Korean.  But I got the point that I'm letting my lettuce go too long, and I should be harvesting leaves at a steady pace to keep the plants producing.

Unfortunately, I also got a lesson in how to harvest chard and beet greens -- only unfortunate because I know those plants and had consciously intended to save them for one large meal some time this week.

My neighbor gives these lessons whenever she happens to walk past me in the garden.  I couldn't politely tell her my plans for the greens because the only word we share is "Thank you."  I actually went for scissors so that she could harvest some lettuce for herself.  She thought I was asking for a demonstration, and she went through one of my raised beds like a barber shaving new Naval Academy plebes.  I cooked the greens for lunch, and I ended up perfectly pleased that we had harvested them early.

My neighbor talks the entire time in Korean.  She is clearly explaining her theories and experience, and our neighborhood has such small yards that I assume that she has the gardening bug but not a garden of her own.  (Last fall, she gleaned soybeans from the harvested farm field just down the hill.)  That was why she and I spent 20 minutes hulling all the dried beans last November when she found me tearing down the freeze-killed vines.  I know I can save seeds from the dried pods.  I like to try new varieties each year.  But I couldn't explain, and I knew that she was trying to help a guy whose garden said he was a rank amateur.  So we hulled beans.  We smiled at each other.  I thanked her and stored them all winter in the chest pocket of my wool gardening shirt.  Each time they rattled, I smiled again.

Stanford Grill - The Columbia Blog Review

The Stanford Grill opens tomorrow, and you apparently need to try the key lime pie -- flavored with the essence of blogger soul.

Kevin of Kevin & Ann Eat Everything wrote up last week's "press review" at the Stanford Grill and loved the key lime pie.  He sold his soul for a huge table of food and photographed most of it.  Talks up the corn bread, chicken thigh, spinach and more.  Most importantly, Kevin reports the best parking lot cafe in Howard County because you can see Rte 175 from the outdoor patio.

Wordbones also wrote up the event on Tales of Two Cities.  The Stanford Grill folks filled Wordbones' booth with local bloggers -- although not one blogger who had to be at work last Friday -- so you should check for future posts on Food and Wine Blog and Dining Dish.  Wordbones loved the pineapple upside down cake.  Apparently, the crowd was mostly bloggers, which makes sense because newspapers tend to have rules that limit taking free things.

As I have written before, HowChow is a hobby started to help me find cool food when I moved to Howard County.  But wading into the blogging pool has made me think about how this type of writing will differ from the journalism that newspapers taught me 20 years ago.  (New Rule One: You can work with a cat in your lap.)  For politics, government and watchdog reporting, the change seems to be mostly a disaster because bloggers don't cover the boring stuff and certainly can't sustain confrontations with powerful folks.  In local food and community writing, there is something new and valuable.

I covered South Florida in a newsroom of 20-year-olds who mostly wanted to get promoted out of South Florida overseen by editors who mostly never left the newsroom.  In comparison, Wordbones sat at Stanford Grill in a booth of adults who write about where they live and who each connect into the community in a way that was unknown -- and maybe even forbidden by ethics rules -- at The Miami Herald.   There are blogs that post regularly and try to operate above just the author's opinions or press releases.  It's a mix of reporting and "passing along news," which is where I see HowChow.  If you really want to know about Howard County, I think those blogs -- and the circle of readers and commentators who coalesce around good ones -- will give you something different and richer than what I used to bang out on deadline.  It is also a space open to your voice -- a free Blogger account and you're ready.

If you want more about local blogs, start with the ones listed at the bottom of my right column.  Most of those have their own "blog list" as well.  Or check out Jessie X's post about Frank Hecker and then Hecker's own post about anonymous comments.  Thank heavens food blogs avoid some of the crazies who comment on political blogs.  But I still love the idea of people using a fake name instead of just "Anonymous."  (I'd prefer you to use a pseudonym, but I can't spell that consistently.)  Chowhound is the perfect example of a place where no one knows your real name, but regular readers can put extra weight on your comment if they have seen you before and appreciated something that you wrote.

Stanford Grill
8900 Stanford Boulevard
Columbia, MD  

NEAR: The new restaurant overlooks Rte 175 just west of Snowden River Parkway.  To reach Stanford, you need to get onto Stanford either from Dobbin near the current location for Frisco Grill or from McGaw Road behind Apple Ford. 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Links To Come: Baltimore Snacker Back On The Road

If you like food blogs, keep your eye on the Baltimore Snacker who is going back on the road.

In 2007 and 2008, the Snacker drove to each exit on the I-695 and checkout the food options.  The summary is here.  The posts were fun, and they were an inspiration for my "tour" of Howard County.  This week, the Snacker announced that he is going to check for new places, places he missed, etc.  You can poke around all his "Snacking Around The Beltway" posts or keep an eye for the new ones.  He is looking for suggestions around Catonsville.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Link: Cha Ya Cafe On Cupcake RN

Katie at the Cupcake RN blog hit Columbia's dreaded Sunday night sushi blackout when both Sushi King and Sushi Sono are closed.

But nurses are resilient, so she took friends for a fish hit at Cha Ya Cafe instead.  She has posted photos and a short review.  And, most importantly, she has officially moved to Howard County so the local blogs increase again!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Weekend Barbecue At Mel's Liquors In Jessup

If the Lonely Planet Guide wrote about Howard County, it would send 20-year-old foreigners to eat ribs in the parking lot of Mel's Liquors in Jessup.

With the warm weather, our local street food as returned in the form of steel-drum grills set up along the side of the road.  Still during breakfast hours last Saturday, I stumbled on a crew grilling chicken, beef and pork ribs on the side of Rte 175.  The smoke was too good to pass up.

That's how I found myself devouring pork ribs in the front seat of my car at 10 in the morning.  I actually had to hit an ATM for cash, but it was worth the extra effort.  The perfect crust of char and smoked meat ran along the entire 10-inch slab of ribs.  Inside, there was more fat than you'd get at a chain restaurant.  But the meat was moist and tender, and the smokey char was something that I have never been able to get at home.  Nothing was burned.  The ribs had just smoked and crusted along the edge in the way that I absolutely love.

(Update: It's a deep grilled flavor, no sauce or sweet flavors on top of the meat -- in response to Trevor-Peter's comment below.)

It's a $10 plate.  You get meat, plus rice, beans and a mild salsa of tomatoes and sweet onions.  They're all better than you'd get at a chain Mexican restaurant.  The red beans were the best.  They're cook with skill.  Tender, but still firm and tasting of beans in a way that canned or mushy ones never pull off.  As I scooped them up, I promised myself that I'd try soaking dried beans again.

This is great street food.  This area of Jessup and Elkridge clearly serves a growing group of Latin immigrants, and they're kicking off great food like the tacos at R&R Deli or the Pupuseria Lorenita taco truck.  My pork ribs could have -- maybe should have been -- lunch for two.  You could have a great afternoon trying this joint, then working through a few other places or driving the U.S. 1 "Foodie Frontier."

Last weekend, the stand was being run by three people, and they also had plastic bags of mango slices that looked excellent.  As it was, I was eating way more food than anyone needed at 10 am.  Their truck had no name, but they said that they would be cooking on weekends from morning until about 5:30 pm.  A little Spanish helped me ask questions, but you can order in English.

Itinerant BBQ has popped up several times along U.S. 1.  Email me if you spot any or if you can recommend a joint with a regular schedule.

Barbecue at Mel's Liquors
7915 Jessup Road (Rte 175)
Jessup, MD 20794
410-799-2988 (number for liquor store)
301-906-9550 (number on barbecue sign)

NEAR:  Mel's Liquors is at the intersection of Rte 175 and Dorsey Run Road.  It's about a mile east of the prison -- between the BW Parkway and U.S. 1.

Weekend Barbecue at Mel's Liquors on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Bays Coffee House in West Friendship

New York bagels just down from the Howard County Fairgrounds?  That's what Adam from GrubGrade found on a jetlagged morning when he walked into Bays Coffee House in West Friendship.  The GrubGrade boys have a national site reviewing everything from neighborhood restaurants to snacks and fast food.  But summertime has brought Adam back to the nest -- and out for a cup of coffee and some breakfast.

Do you know the single greatest travesty of the Howard County dining experience (ok, besides the fact that the Baltimore Sun has long ignored us)?

It’s that West Friendship more or less lacks any decent food stop whatsoever. Sure, there’s the Subway and Friendship Pride pizza place in the old West Friendship plaza, but at 6 AM a guy is sometimes in need of, you know, a decent breakfast. Or if it’s 3:30 in the afternoon, I’m feeling more like chilling on my laptop with free Wi Fi and a fresh-made smoothie – not nibbling on a greasy pizza that’s more flab and fat than crust and flavor.

Has anyone else noticed this glaring problem for all those who live between Waverly Woods and Glenwood?

I know I sure have, which is why I’m stoked to have discovered the newly opened Bays Coffee House in the otherwise out-of-the-way plaza at the corner of 144 and 32, just a stones throw away from the Howard County Fairgrounds.

Affordable, fresh-roasted coffee? Check. Monster, real-deal New York style bagel sandwiches that weigh in at nearly a buck less than what you’d get at an Einstein Brothers? Check. Muffins and croissants the size of my head? You know it. And heck, that’s not even counting Bay’s selection of specialty hot and cold coffee drinks, along with breakfast sandwiches featuring eggs, bacon, and cheese.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Examiner Loves Victoria Gastropub, Moves It Outside A Mall

The Baltimore Examiner Web site really liked Victoria Gastropub, but I'm not 100% percent sure that they actually ate there.

The food sounds right -- beer, pouline, lobster grilled cheese.  But the Examiner tops off the classic city restaurant review opener ("It's right off the highway") by also noting that Victoria is "conveniently on the edge of a mall."  A mall?  It's next to a hotel, a McDonalds, a tiny strip with a Dunkin Donuts.

The Examiner noted that the decor "reminds one a Medieval castle."  Any chance that they actually went to Medieval Times at the Arundel Mills Mall?  Click here to be the judge.  (Update: You can't be the judge anymore because the Examiner revised the post to remove the line about a mall.)

Howard County Pub Crawl This Saturday

Join the Howard County Pub Crawl to try out the best in local craft beer this weekend.

T-Bonz is sponsoring transportation so that people can try what the Baltimore Beer Guy calls "Howard County's four elite beer bars."  For $50 a head, you get transportation, four five-ounce beers at each stop, and then food at T-Bonz.  The bars are T-Bonz, Frisco Grille, Victoria Gastro Pub and The Judges Bench.

Click here for The Baltimore Beer Guy's summary with links to sign up.

Trolling: Peruvian Chicken, Ledo's Pizza, And That Lobster Grilled Cheese (Again) At Victoria's

HoCoRising writes the blog of the same name -- one of the regulars in the Hoco Blogs community.    The HCR blog runs to local politics, but he covers a lot of local news and links to many other local blogs, which I consider a great service.  HoCoRising's food suggestions run to the comfort food -- roasted chicken, pizza, and a grilled cheese with fries:
Pollo Fuego in JessupThis was a place I found through this site, and I am in love.  The chicken is always moist and well seasoned.  The spicy sauce is made of magic.  On top of everything else, their plantains are just as good, if not better, than Fogo de Chao.  You can feed a family of four for around $20, and probably still have left-overs.  My only complaint is that the service wasn't all that friendly, but that almost seems to add to the character of the place.
Ledo's Pizza in Fulton, Clarksville, Columbia, etc.  I grew up in Highland and therefore have some affinity for the pizza "made with the pie crust."  My wife isn't the biggest fan, so I normally can only have Ledo's if she isn't home or has already had dinner.  This is the only pizza I "crave" and I have a lot of T-ball memories associated with the place.
Lobster Grilled Cheese with Duck Fat Fries, Victoria's Gastropub in Columbia.  I'm sure Victoria's gets enough play [as in two weeks ago here], and everyone knows how good it is, but the Lobster Grilled Cheese is my "can't skip" item on the menu.  By that, I mean that when I go there, I am afraid to order something else for fear it will not be as good as the grilled cheese and therefore present an "opportunity cost" in this hard-to-be-seated restaurant.  I eat in the bar area whenever I can, especially on Sunday mornings.  It almost seems like that is where you are "supposed to" eat . . . especially when they are giving out free Peanut Butter and Jelly shots. 
Trolling on Tuesday is my attempt at a series where readers would share three things with other HowChow readers -- favorite restaurant dishes, food to buy, food experiences, etc.  Click here for all the Trolling posts.  Click here for the explanation and the rules.  Anyone can submit.  

Monday, May 17, 2010

Stanford Grill Opening May 24 in Columbia

The Stanford Grill will open next week in the old Lone Star Steakhouse that you can see from Rte 175, but reach from Dobbin or McGaw roads.

The Stanford Grill is the local outpost for the Blue Ridge Restaurant Group, a Howard County company with six restaurants like Copper Canyon Grill in Silver Spring.  The new restaurant will open on May 24.  It's an American menu with lunches from $9 to $25 and dinners from $11 to $26, according to their press release.

Wordbones has been following the development on Tales of Two Cities, and he has photos of the site and more quotes from the press release.  Watch him for updates because he'll be able to attend the press preview later this week.

If you're looking for other places to eat around Columbia, check out my 2010 top restaurants.

Stanford Grill
8900 Stanford Boulevard
Columbia, MD  

NEAR: The new restaurant overlooks Rte 175 just west of Snowden River Parkway.  To reach Stanford, you need to get onto Stanford either from Dobbin near the current location for Frisco Grill or from McGaw Road behind Apple Ford.

Saffron Ice Cream at Caspian Market

The saffron ice cream at the Caspian Market opens a bunch of good options for the coming warm weather -- from an adult ice cream cone to a classy dinner party dessert.

Caspian sells Shirlee's "Persian Ice Cream," which passes the "ingredient test" for ice cream.  Milk, sugar, cream, rose water, saffron.  That's all they put in, so what they get out is a creamy, thick ice cream with the mild, spicy taste of saffron -- almost nutty.

This is a treat like the fruit ice creams at Seibel's in Burtonsville or the Jamaican-inspired Island Style versions at Golden Krust in Catonsville.  They're simple foods made better by people rather than big companies.  The saffron ice cream -- highlighted for me in an anonymous comment -- is reason enough to check out Caspian Market.  It's a flavor that would make a nice end to almost any meal and has been an afternoon treat right from the freezer.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Jason1 To The Defense Of Columbia

Long ago, I burned out on daily reads of Chowhound, but it remains one of the great places to chatter about local restaurants.  There are several regular posters who know food around Howard County, and there are others who know the borderlands like Catonsville, Wheaton, Silver Spring. . .

Last week, Jason1 leapt to the defense of Columbia.  To be honest, the attack wasn't that terrible.  One thoughtful regular poster (mdfoodlover) criticized Coho Grille.  But the headline was "Places to skip in Columbia."  Another thoughtful regular (ivysmom) riffed off the headline making fun of mediocre, overpriced food around here.  Jason1 rose to the challenge and posted his defense:
This is a pretty negative idea for a thread. While there are certainly a few restaurants that I could throw under the bus, I think natural selection will soon overcome them. On the positive side, I think there is some fantastic food in Columbia. Bon Fresco makes my favorite sandwich in the entire state. I think Royal Taj has fantastic Indian food, with a much better buffet than House of India, Mango Grove, or Akbar. In fact, just think about that, Columbia has 5 Indian restaurants, ranging from decent to fantastic. Columbia has the original, and best, Maiwand Kebab. And while there is some disagreement, I really like Jesse Wong's Asean Bistro for what it is. Where in the area is there better sushi than Sushi Sono, or even Sushi King? And I also like Victoria Gastropub for some things (particularly beer). And Columbia has some great authentic Mexican takeouts like Lily's, and R&R Taqueria is pretty close (not Columbia as much as they try to sell that area as East Columbia). What Columbia doesn't have are good high end options - which are extremely rare in most suburbs. But good food does exist in Columbia.
The thread includes several Chowhound regulars who write about Howard County food.  They're all worth following if you poke around the site.  The string also has another of the hilarious points about local geography -- how people invented the name "Columbia East" to encompass some vague sections of Elkridge and Jessup.  That's the area Mrs. HowChow would call "near the prison."  But even she loves those R&R tacos. (They're even the subject of a separate Chowhound post.)

Vote For Best of Baltimore

You can turn your Howard County favorites into the "best of Baltimore" if you vote for the Best of Baltimore Readers' Poll.

Baltimore Magazine is running its annual poll, and the questions this year are on-line.  You type in your favorites, so they seem to be open to Columbia or Ellicott City spots.  Sushi Sono?  Tersiguel's?  R&R Deli?  This is your chance to represent the suburbs and get some press for your favorite joints.  Go vote now.

Hat tip to Jessica Lemmo at the Baltimore Examiner who wrote about this a while ago.

Friday, May 14, 2010

No Breakfast At Bon Fresco

For a while, Bon Fresco had talked about opening for breakfast, but a comment from Momteachs says that they're saying now that breakfast did not work out.  It is still one of my Top 10 places -- so check it out for sandwiches, soups or takeout bread.  Click here for all the Bon Fresco posts.

The No. 12 Roll At Sushi Sono

Sushi Sono has been getting some enormous press these days, but it still has secrets that you should check out.

Start with the No. 12 roll.  It's not on the list of rolls that you get with your menu.  It's a special that Sushi Sono created for its twelth anniversary a little while ago.  Tempura shrimp rolled with rice and topped with tuna and a spicy sauce.  You have to be in the know to get in with No. 12.

Sushi Sono is really one of the best restaurants around, and it's even prettier at this time of year when you can see out to the lake at dinnertime.  We have gone twice recently.  Each time, the wait outside was actually pretty nice.  We sit on the bench, watch the water, and try to figure out whether Sushi Sono takes reservations or not.  There is a list.  You can call ahead.  But we can't actually figure out what is going on.

The No. 12 is a reason to wait.  Crunchy shrimp, still warm when it hits the table.  Spicy tuna.  Some fish eggs on top. It's a bright flavor with a mix of textures.  It's substantial while still being a little lighter than similar rolls like Sushi King's Samauri Roll.  Sushi Sono is a great place to splurge.  Pair up the No. 12 with a "bridal veil" and a "hurricane eye" roll.  Last time, our friend asked for a roll made with white tuna and parsley, and that was terrific.  Consider the hand rolls or the specials like a whole snapper or the horse mackeral that people talk up so much.

And keep asking -- Are there any other secret rolls?  I feel like there is more to discover.

For more about sushi in Howard County, check out this post that has a bunch of good comments.  Or check out all my posts about Japanese food.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sea Salt Lindt Chocolate At Target

Add another danger to the risks at Target.   On top of 20-roll paper towel deals and that impulse lawn furniture, you need to avoid the candy aisle as well.

Target may not be the natural habitat of food bloggers, but I have to be honest about where you can get an entire row of Lindt chocolate varieties.  I'm infatuated these days with sea salt.  Basically for reasons dangerously close to those ridiculed on this blog, but I will also argue that big crystal salt makes interesting flavors, and Lindt sells a terrific sea salt bar -- dark chocolate with irregular salt crystals scattered inside.

In fact, Target sells a full shelf of Lindt.  A trio of really dark chocolates, plus flavored ones like mint, chili, orange, and that sea salt.  We have looked for the sea salt elsewhere, but Target is the only place that I have found it so far.

Thanks to Harold of Scaggsville, whose blog DC To Scaggsville lead me to the hilarious site linked above. Harold does a little food writing -- like a post about Rita's.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

We Need Red Pearl's Chinese Menu

Dzoey reported in a comment last month that he had talked to the manager at Jade Billows, the Potomac restaurant owned by the people who are opening Red Pearl on the lake in Columbia.

The Jade Billows food was "good, though mildly spiced," according to Dzoey.  It's apparently a Cantonese restaurant, and Red Pearl will have the same menu -- including a separate menu in Chinese of dishes that are presumably aimed at the authentic market:
He also showed me the Chinese menu and indicated that it would be available as well and the waiters could translate since there were no translations on the menu.
Sounds lovely, but that's not how we roll in Howard County.  In Howard County, one person translates your Chinese menu for you.  Then the nut job posts the translation on a blog, and people carry it to the table looking for something authentic and delicious and posting on HowChow or Chowhound.  Eventually, you translate it officially and start handing it out at the front door.  It's a fun little story if you want to read old posts, and it is way better than asking a waiter to read a menu aloud.

So who can email me Jade Billows' Chinese menu?  If not that, who can get a copy once they open Red Pearl next to Sushi Sono?  (And if Wai or anyone else would volunteer to translate, please send me an email so that I can send the menu to you.)

(Update: Red Pearl has opened, according to a comment.  If you want to report about Red Pearl's food, please comment on the most-recent Red Pearl post like the one about the Sichuan menu being available.)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Trolling: Tomato Palace's Meatballs, El Azteca's Tortilla Soup, And TJ's Dark Chocolate Pretzels

Lauren writes the blog AthlEAT where she writes particularly about healthy cooking and occasionally about taste-testing for her wedding.   The blog is fun, and she has reviewed some Howard County places like Tomato Palace.  That's the perfect example of what this "trolling and pimping" series adds to HowChow.  We have never been to Tomato Palace, and I have never had El Azteca's soup.  So Lauren has recommendations for me as well as you:

Meatballs and Polenta at Tomato Palace in Columbia.  The star of this dish is the soft parmesan polenta.  Buttery and cheesy, it goes wonderfully with the homemade meatballs.  The tomato sauce and sprinkle of parmesan have to be included in every bit to get the full experience.  The fresh baked garlic knots, house salad, and chicken rigatoni are all incredible.  Who doesn't love the Tomato Palace that grew up in Howard County?
Tortilla Soup at El Azteca in Clarksville.  Chicken and vegetables in a flavorful broth topped with fresh avocado and crispy tortilla strips.  Can't forget the sprinkle of melted cheese.  I sometimes think about driving out to Clarksville just to get this soup.
Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Pretzel Slims.  An embarrassing portion of my paycheck goes to Trader Joe's in Columbia every month. I sometimes wish I had never discovered these dark chocolate pretzel slims.  They have the salty/sweet combination that is extremely addicting.  You can find them in the most overwhelming aisle of the store with the frozen items and sweet treats.  
Trolling on Tuesday is my attempt at a series where readers would share three things with other HowChow readers -- favorite restaurant dishes, food to buy, food experiences, etc.  Click here for all the Trolling posts.  Click here for the explanation and the rules.  Anyone can submit.  

Monday, May 10, 2010

Pink Ting at Super Grand (and Golden Krust)

If I had a summer drink, it would be some creation made with grapefruit soda.

Not with Fresca, but with Ting -- Jamaican brand that sells little bottles of soda that really tastes like grapefruit and sugar.  I bought the regular flavor of Ting at the Golden Krust Bakery in Catonsville.  I finally tried the pink grapefruit flavor when I was trolling at Super Grand in Laurel.  I'd swear that it tastes like I remember pink grapefruits -- a little sweeter, a little less acidic.

Pink Ting mixed with vodka?  That seemed nice for a warm evening.  Wikipedia says that Ting with citrus vodka is called a "Ving."  It also says that people mix with lime rum for a "Ting 'n Sting."  Those should be inspiration enough for you to troll at Golden Krust where you could get beef patties (although the patties don't get the best reviews) or at the Super Grand where you can get almost anything.

Super Grand stands out among the Asian markets for its broad selection.  H Mart in Catonsville still excels for fish and produce, but Super Grand has way more non-Asian items.  That means regular American brands plus products from Mexico, India, Jamaica and West Africa.  Ting sits in an aisle where you can get Ghanaian staples that I'm still figuring out.  I also notice that Super Grand's workforce lacks the hard distinctions that you see at other stores -- only Latino guys working produce, only Asian women on the cash registers, only Asian men in management.  People mix more at Super Grand, and they have been keyed to customer service.  Whereas Lotte's produce workers range from nervous (the Mexican kids) to brusque (the Korean managers), I have had a Latino Super Grand employee walk me across the store to explain in English where I could find Japanese noodles.  That global shopping, and it's a welcoming, friendly vibe.

Friday, May 7, 2010

What’s the Buzz About Gluten-Free Options?

Guest post today from Jennifer, who asked about gluten-free eating in Howard County.  My only real experience has been watching Portalli's take my friend's allergy very seriously.  So I asked Jennifer for a guest post instead.  More than 3 million Americans have celiac disease where gluten can cause real intestinal damages, and another 10 million are gluten-intolerant that causes painful bloating and gas, among other ailments. Gluten free diets are in the news -- from the Washington Post's 2010 "in and out" list to a restaurant industry survey that put gluten consciousness in its top 10 trends.  And now, it's in HowChow:

Wheat – it’s almost the perfect grain. . .  it tastes good, has elasticity, allows breads and baked goods to be stretchy or light and fluffy.  And it is inexpensive. But it has one major flaw:  people with celiac disease and/or gluten intolerance can’t eat wheat, barley or rye.  Instead, those who are the gluten-free (GF) adapt with  alternatives such as rice flour, brown rice, corn, sorghum, millet, and quinoa.  Easy at home, but who wants to eat at home all of the time? We GF folks need more local restaurants to offer GF options on their menus, so we can spend our hard-earned dollars in their establishments!

"Gluten-free" sounds like some weird dietary restriction, and, in some ways it is.  It definitely can be challenging -- as I found out six months ago when I was diagnosed with celiac disease. Out went traditional breads, pretzels, beer (barley hops! darn!), cakes, cookies, and most commercially-prepared and processed foods are now off limits to me. There is no drug to fix or cure my celiac disease – the only option is to eliminate gluten from my diet.

But I’ve found that it’s really not that hard and can be quite delicious! GF foods have had a perception of being somewhat gross – dense and chewy (like an old fruitcake) or dry and crumby (like Styrofoam). However, that need not be true. I bake all the time and no one can tell the difference. (Well, most of the time).

I am a “foodie.” I enjoy baking, and we are lucky to have access to GF flours at great markets such as Roots, David’s Natural, and MOMs.  But it can be exhausting to prepare every meal and scrumptious treat from scratch, and I love new foods and trying new restaurants. I also have a 3-year-old son with celiac disease. So, here is my frustration/question: What are our choices for eating out in Howard County? 

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Link: Honey Pig in The Sun

The Sun reviewed the new Honey Pig Gooldaegee Korean BBQ in Ellicott City, and Rob Kaspar wrote the line that I wish I had thought of: "It reminded me of fondue without the oil."

Kaspar liked the pork bellies and also tried an octopus mix and a LA Beef Rib lunch special.  The octopus was chewy, but he really liked the ribs and the cold buckwheat noodle soup as well.  Kaspar's review is bound to send more people Honey Pig's way.

Thanks to Sarah for the tip.  Click here for all my Honey Pig posts.

Link: Sidamo In The Washington Post

Sidamo in Fulton got a rave from the Washington Post's Food section yesterday -- talking up the sandwiches that Sidamo serves up at lunchtime, as I heard from the top out-of-town watcher of Howard County food news (my mother who called at 8 am).

The WPost story talks up the chicken salad sandwich and two vegetarian options -- the vegan based on hummus, garlic and lemon and the veggie with pesto, Swiss cheese and lentils.  On top of the food, I'm a fan of the blended chai lattes and a regular buyer of the Yhrgacheffe and Sidamo whole beans.

Sidamo is in Maple Lawn just off Rte 216.  Check out last year's guest post by RDAdoc.  Thanks also to Amber F for her email.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Caspian Market in Ellicott City

With all the new Middle Eastern markets, it was time to go back and look at one of Howard County's originals -- the Caspian Market in Ellicott City.

The term "Middle Eastern" works, but it doesn't truly cover any of these markets because they carry goods that run from Greece through India.  Caspian -- on Rte 40 in the same building as Tutti Frutti -- carries all of the basics like spices, bulgar, bread, and cheeses.  There are Iranian fruit rolls, Turkish soujouk, and Sadef kabob spices -- all worth checking out and all opening you up to making healthy, delicious dishes from Greek to Iranian.

Caspian stands out because it also sells produce and fresh halal meat, really packing the products into two small rooms.  Caezar International in Elkridge sets the local standard in terms of size and experience, but I didn't see much missing when I walked through Caspian.  My regular purchases are yogurt, grains, sweets, and sometimes the breads.  Most importantly, Caspian sells the pistachio nougat that remains one of my favorite finds in my HowChow trolling.

In addition, Caspian had two unique items that will draw me back -- saffron ice cream and two amazing bulk nut mixes.  The nuts are in the center of the store near the cash register.  I bought a scoop, and I wish I had bought five times as much.  Fresh nuts and dried fruit, and not the almonds and raisins that you get in most packages.  This was walnuts, cashews, almonds, pistachios and macadamia.  Cheap walnuts taste horrible.  Every nut in Caspian's mix was delicious, and they came tarted up with sweet unusual fruits, including tiny figs.  An absolute revelation.

Go check out Caspian if you are anywhere near Rte 40.  If nothing else, get some bulgar, some yogurt, some spices -- and the holy trifecta of nougat, ice cream and nut mixes.  But there are many interesting finds for people who want to explore beyond the regular supermarket.  Try the lentils, the bulgar, the vegetables and then get a few quick ideas from Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything Vegetarian.  Or just ask Caspian's owners.  They seemed really nice, definitely the type who would answer questions and know what they're talking about.

The new Middle Eastern markets include Columbia Halal Meat Market in Elkridge and both Nazar Market and Pars Market in Columbia.  In addition, Caezar International Market in Elkridge expanded last year when it moved from its former home in Columbia.

If you're a gardener, you should also check out the seeds that Caspian is selling at the end of one of the aisles on the right.  They're Avand brand seeds from Iran -- basil violet, sweet fennel, rocket, cucumbers, sunflowers.  I bet they're interestingly different if you like to experiment in the garden.  I bought seed for my few square feet months ago, but I'd love to hear if anyone tries these out.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Trolling: Victoria's Lobster Grilled Cheese, Fried Chicken And Sides, And The Crab Cake Sushi Roll

Regular commentator Sarah joins the "trolling" series with a list of guilty pleasures.  She is a recent transplant to Columbia and Howard County, but native to Maryland.  Her fiance works in Greenbelt.  She works in Baltimore.  Her guilty pleasures are written short and sweet -- although they tend towards fried and cheesy in real life:
The lobster grilled cheese at Victoria Gastropub in Columbia.  Get it with the duck-fat fries.  Your arteries will curse you, but, man, this is a lovely sandwich.  Fries are vegetables, right?
A four-piece chicken dinner with mac & cheese and candied yams at Chick N' Friends in Columbia.  You don't need all that food.  But it is SO good.  Go ahead and finish off with the sweet potato pie.  You had a rough day.
The crab cake sushi roll at Niko Japanese Restaurant in Ellicott City.  You heard that right.  Yes, it's deep fried.  No, it's no authentic.  Make sure you go during the lunch buffet.
Trolling on Tuesday is my attempt at a series where readers would share three things with other HowChow readers -- favorite restaurant dishes, food to buy, food experiences, etc.  Click here for the explanation and the rules.  Click here for all the Trolling posts.  Anyone is allowed to submit.  

Monday, May 3, 2010

Jackfruit at Grand Mart

For a treat from the tropics, go check out the Asian grocery stores for fresh jackfruit.

Super Grand in Laurel had jackfruit this weekend.  It's a tropical fruit with a flavor reminiscent of bananas and mangoes.  I have never seen fresh ones here before, although it might just be a short season that I overlooked.

Not that jackfruit looks like any common fruit.  On the outside, the watermelon-sized fruits have green, armored shells.  But a knife cuts right through and exposes sweet, bright yellow flesh.  Imagine dates swollen by steroids, then pressed together like pomegranate seeds.  Super Grand was selling jackfruit for about $1.29 a pound.  You could buy whole fruit, or you could buy pieces chunked out in three- or four-pound sections.

You carve up jackfruit with technique similar to a pineapple -- cutting out the hard center section and the tough outer skin.  That leaves you with the bright yellow flesh.  Each section has a huge seed inside, and the sections are separated by a white, stringy pitch.  It's perfectly easy to pull that away and be left with sweet pieces that are slightly sticky, but dry like a date.  It's a tropical flavor, sweet but not as sugary as many fruit.  The flesh is meaty, but the flavor is more in the family of bananas, maybe with a touch of mangoes, and a touch of musk, and maybe  . . .  Definitely worth checking out.

If Super Grand has jackfruit, then I assume that Lotte in Ellicott City and H Mart in Catonsville will have them as well.  (A comment below says H Mart has stocked jackfruit for a while.)  They might even be at the Indian markets listed in my ethnic groceries post.

If you're going to Super Grand, watch out for the small watermelon.  I bought one Saturday, and it foamed and leaked water all over our counter on Sunday.  Bacterial fruit blotch!  Not serious, but my read of the Web says entire fields were likely to be infected.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Highlight: In Defense Of No Carryout

If you're looking around HowChow, check out the great exchange between Brooke and the Pizzablogger about the "no-carryout" policy at Facci Ristorante.  A pizza place with no carryout?  It does seem strange, but the Pizzablogger talks up the special issues of making Facci's speciality pizzas -- and the nutty passion of chefs who would only want their pizza eaten fresh from the oven.

I'd love a takeout Facci pizza, but I respect the Pizzablogger's position.  He writes a fun, passionate blog himself, and I have learned from him about the real artistry that a few people -- including Facci -- are trying to put in their pies.  Check out the comments here.  If you want to add thoughts, please add them there.  And thanks to everyone who leaves substantive, friendly comments.