Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Crabs At Frank's Seafood - My Best Ever

Frank's Seafood delivered this weekend with some of the best crabs that I have ever eaten.

We hosted family and ate a half bushel of #1s with some corn and watermelon.  It's a once-a-year event for us, so we want delicious crabs.  Frank's delivered -- metaphorically.  We called ahead for the $84 mix of mediums and larges, and I picked up a box filled to the brim and then covered with a newspaper from the Eastern Shore.

The crabs were an absolute feast.  Heavy.  Sweet.  We ate for hours, and every hardshell came out tasting perfect.  It was a great bookend to the Frank's purchase that started off my summer with crabcakes.  Go grab a few dozen to end your summer right.

Frank's Seafood is the retail operation inside the Jessup wholesale seafood market.  They sell Tuesday to Sunday.  You need to check in at the entry gate, but retail buyers don't pay an entrance fee.

If you are going to Frank's, keep your eyes out for the scallops.  I bought them again -- $9 for a half pound -- and they cooked up perfectly last night with just butter.  And grab all the crab supplies if you need.  We got mallets and hard plastic knives for $1 a head.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Link: Mango Grove on Baltimore Snacker

The Baltimore Snacker returned to Mango Grove last week for the lunch buffet -- knocking back idli, aloo gobhi, rice and even a dosa.

I have never had the buffet at Mango Grove, but I think the Columbia restaurant serves some of the best food around.  It's a vegetarian place with southern Indian food like the idli and dosa that make it unique even among Howard County's good Indian selection.

Mom's Organic Market Expands In Jessup

Mom's Organic Market in Jessup has expanded into the still-filling shopping center, creating broader aisles throughout the store and more space for organic groceries.

It's a nice look.  The store feels more open, and the produce section seems bigger.  They created a special section in produce for the high-end cheeses.  This isn't a Whole Foods, but it's one of the better places for unusual cheeses in Howard County.

Mom's -- which used to be called My Organic Market -- is one of the three local sources for organic groceries.  I'm not a huge buyer of the national brands, but I like Mom's for cheeses, breads, vegetables, and a walk through the aisles.  My recent finds have included Michele's Granola, Fage Greek Yogurt, and Salazon Salted Chocolates.  Click here for all of the Mom's Organic Market posts.

Mom's Organic Market Columbia East
7361 Assateague Dr. #190
Jessup, MD 20794

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

Friday, August 27, 2010

Groupon Offering Victoria Gastropub Discounts

You can get $15 off dinner at Victoria Gastropub by checking out the Groupon offer that Hoco Rising posted about earlier today.  I hear that you pay $15 for a $30 gift certificate.

Has Strapazza Closed in Ellicott City?

Two people have told me that Strapazza off Rte 108 in Ellicott City has closed and that there is a For Lease sign up on the site.

Strapazza was a casual Italian place, and it hosted a jazz trio on weekends last summer.  Strapazza was part of a little chain with locations like Towson and Pikesville.  I don't know any details about what happened.

Italian isn't a common craving for our restaurant meals, but I think the other local options for Italian a little more complex than pizza include Facci on Johns Hopkins Boulevard, Pasta Plus in Laurel, Pazani Trattoria in Elkridge, and all the different Pasta Blitz location.  Just yesterday, Kam lauded the Clarksville Pasta Blitz, but said he thinks the Ellicott City location  was bland.  I have had other folks say that they love the Ellicott City location on Rte 108.

Kloby's, T-Bonz And Frisco Grille Are Expanding -- More Craft Beer Bars And Maybe Even Live Music

The worlds of craft beer and live music in Howard County are expanding -- or at least three of the options are improving themselves.

Kloby's Smokehouse owners are telling people that they are finalizing plans to expand into the space next door with more seating and a stage for live music, according to Kathy.  The barbecue place on Johns Hopkins Road gets my business for delicious pulled pork, but its first expansion added seating and a bar that stocks bottles and taps that get it mention in places like the Beer in Baltimore blog.  They're clearly aiming at a craft beer crew.

T-Bonz Grille & Pub aims for the same crew -- and the menu now shows the layout of the planned basement beer bar and lounge with about 30 seats at the bar, seven tables and 32 taps, according to the Baltimore Beer Guy.  The BBG -- including his blog and his Twitter posts -- is my source for craft beer, and he said this year that T-Bonz in Ellicott City had turned itself into one of the best beer bars in Howard County.

The BBG also broke the news about the moving and expansion at Frisco Grille, the Columbia institution that will move in November or December.  He tweeted that the new place will be called Frisco Tap House.  Apparently, they "broke ground" on the new place the other day.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Coal Fire Reviewed By The City Paper, Or "Should I Care If A Restaurant Is Turning Into A Chain?"

I love people who try to create quality food, and I love seeing quality food become a success.  So I'm not sure why I can't make up my mind about Coal Fire Pizza.

The first Coal Fire opened in Ellicott City in early 2009, and I loved it at first.  The last few visits have been good, but unspectacular.  One was bad enough not to finish my slices.  

I had been thinking about why I hadn't felt inspired to return to Coal Fire, and the issue arose again last week with Tim Carman's review of Coal Fire Pizza's new Gaithersburg location.  Lydia R mentioned the City Paper review on Don Rockwell, and she was disappointed that Coal Fire purposefully limits the char and pops air bubbles to make the pizzas more consistent.  I get that.  Who feels special about a place that consciously makes everything more uniform?  Why shouldn't I be more excited by thoughts of dinner at Grace Garden?

But every restaurant can't be a Grace Garden -- so spare that it's run by a handful of people and offers inspired food, but not really ambiance or high-end service.  Coal Fire's concept was clearly born to franchise.  They're built on the lovely conceit that they do something special, but they're running a business with kids and part-timers and all the other hassles that make restaurants so hard to oversee.  It takes real skill to create unusual dishes -- to create char, but not burn or to create pizzas with individual flair, but never a failure that ruins a customer's night.  Can a chain even try to make something unique?  The Pizzablogger and I had talked about how Coal Fire's quality seemed to vary by the person running the oven, and uniform steps presumably help Coal Fire turn out more-uniform pies.  But six months ago, the PB declared his heart broken and the pizza lackluster.

I'm bummed.  I do like Coal Fire and respect the efforts to be more than a standard pizza place.  I see them making its own mozzarella.  They're sticking with their unusual sauces, which split commenters on the prior posts but certainly displays an individual flair.  But it isn't the same place that I thought was worth a long drive and some extra money.  I just hope that the artisanal efforts aren't fading as they rent more space in Frederick and beyond.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Most Of Summer: Roadside Ribs On U.S. 1

I left Mom's Organic Market with the best of intentions on Saturday afternoon.

I skipped the R&R Taqueria because we were supposed to go out to dinner, and I was on my way home when my own thoughts of fleeting summer pulled me to the side of U.S. 1.

No one will serve roadside ribs when the winter comes, so I seized the day -- and the plastic clamshell of beef ribs, beans and an onion-tomato salsa from a guy in Savage parked outside the Chesapeake Supply & Equipment Co.  As I have said before, the mythical Lonely Planet guide for Howard County would send 20-year-old foreigners to eat ribs from the steel-drum smokers parked on weekends throughout Jessup and Elkridge.

Great flavor.  An authenticity.  Not exactly a steal, but certainly cheap eats at $10 for more food than anyone should eat at once.  This is a wonderful taste of a summer afternoon.  Saturday, my plate was beef ribs.  These weren't the long bones that I got in May from the weekend barbecue at Mel's Liquors in Jessup.  They were cut across from ribs, so I got a half-dozen ovals of bone and a long piece of flavorful, smokey meat.  No sauce.  It was an half-inch-thick piece of meat that you would have needed a knife to cut.  Luckily, I was alone, so ate it like a popsicle.

(An aside to my favorite HowChow reader:  You knew this when you married me.  You knew that I cooked all kinds of complex food, but I ate standing at the counter.  It's not like I came home and handed you a meat popsicle.  And I used a fork for the beans.  Smooch.)

The sign described these ribs as "costillas de res," and I have found some instructions for similar-looking grilled ribs that describe them as "flanken" style.  There are recipes that call them Korean-style, so maybe you buy them at H Mart or the other Korean grocery stores.  They still had the moistness and sheen of fat, nothing greasy.  The flavor was that full beef flavor that you get from well-grained cuts with a tang of smoke.  The guy also had pork ribs and chicken.  His beans were good -- tender, but not a huge amount of flavor.  The onion and tomato salsa was a fine contrast to the meat, but I wouldn't take a vegetarians and expect them to rave.

Go this weekend.  Grab your summer while it is still around.

The problem with this post is that I don't have an exact address.  Chesapeake Supply has a facility on U.S. 1, but it has a mailing address south of Rte 32.  The facility and the ribs were clearly north of Rte 32.  If I read Google Maps correctly, it was across from A Platimum Plus Limosines, 8359 Washington Blvd, Jessup.

A Guy Selling Ribs On Weekends
in the parking lot of Chesapeake Supply & Equipment Co.
on the west side of U.S. 1 north of Rte 32
Savage, MD

NEAR: Don't believe Chesapeake Supply's mailing address.  The company is actually north of Rte 32.  It has a yard of used construction equipment, and the grill guy has a truck and two multi-colored umbrellas.  You'll see it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Trolling: Three Ways To Squeeze Summer - Pub Dog's Patio, Bon Fresco's Sandwiches And Peaches

Sarah is back with a second Trolling post.  She blogs at Sarah Says, and she is already feeling wistful for the possibilities that summer brings as August starts winding down and back-to-school sales are in full swing.  So her theme is favorite summer food experiences, and the three that you should do today:
Drinking beer at Pub Dog's outdoor patio.  Most of their beers are very easy to drink on a nice summer afternoon when the bar is still pretty quiet.  No table service outside means you have to go back to the bar to get more, but that makes it easy to know when you've had enough.  I'm partial to the Peach and White beer, and my husband likes the Amber Dog. 
Cold sandwiches at Bon Fresco in Columbia.  HowChow has sung the praises of Bon Fresco and we have listened.  It's not a time for super-heavy food, so a half sandwich (my preference is the Venice, while my husband favors the turkey) with a little cup of lentil salad at Bon Fresco is a perfect summer dinner when you don't want to cook.  Take it out to nearby Lake Elkhorn for a lovely little picnic with none of the work.
Peaches.  You can get them at Larriland Farm in Woodbine, Gorman Produce Farm in Laurel, or one of the great Howard County farmers markets, but if there is one food that epitomizes summer to me, it's peaches.  You can cook them if you want (grilled in foil packets with a little brown sugar served over vanilla ice cream is amazing), but for a no-hassle healthy snack or dessert, just eat one.  Or three.

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, August 23, 2010

Link: "Top 10 Places To Eat In Howard County" By Trevor On The HoCo Rising Blog

The HoCo Rising blog has a guest blogger this week, and Trevor came down with a great "Top 10 Places To Eat In Howard County."

Crossroads Pub for crabs and the China Chef for Chinese both new for me.  Many of the other places are among my favorites, especially his top three: Bon Fresco, Sushi King and Maiwand Kabob.  Trevor gives details for each place, including the dishes that he likes the most.  He has been threatening to start a local blog, and I hope that he does.

Click here for my 2009 Best Restaurants or my supplemental 2009 Best Food Experiences.

Should A City Mouse Eat Country Eggs? My Egg Tale

On Friday, I ate eggs that had sat outdoors . . . unrefrigerated . . . for hours.  How disgusting!  Oh, wait.  How natural!  How disgusting?  How natural?

I got a dozen eggs from farmers in Pennsylvania.  They crossed a little more than 100 miles and an experience gap of an entire lifetime.  I'm two generations from the farm, and my eggs were delivered through the hands of a PhD nutritionist and a physician before they reached my kitchen.

We split a CSA membership, and let's just say that we split on our view of unrefrigerated eggs.

Some people spend their professional lives discussing salmonella and sterilization.  They correctly pointed out that supermarkets refrigerate eggs and stamp them with "sell by" dates.  They sent me links about outbreaks.  Other people -- and by other people, I mean, "I" -- had a couple emails with the farmers (who have almost nine months of farming experience at this point) and the argument that, "The farmers say it's totally cool."

Let's just say:  More eggs for me.

I passed up the street food in Thailand.  I firmly believe in separate cutting boards for meat and vegetables.  But the farmers were so casual and confident, and I joined a CSA to break out of my shrink-wrapped experience with supermarket food.  Plus, I surveyed the Internet:  Chicken-lover Web site - check.  Survivalist Web site - check.  Somebody who claims to be "Answers.com" - check.  Everyone said eggs last days -- if not longer -- at room temperature.

Those fresh eggs were just as delicious as people say on "SurvivalistBoards.com." I fried the first three in a little butter and sprinkled them with salt.  Clearly, the buildup encouraged me to taste more flavor and freshness than my supermarket eggs.  I really enjoyed them.  I also appreciate the lesson and the chance for a city mouse to try something new.

Anyone know a local source for fresh eggs?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

If You Read One Blog Today, Make It Hoco360

If you read one blog today, make it Hoco360.

You should scroll through past posts to see wonderful photos of Howard County, then make it a place where you check back again.  Hoco360 is a visual journal aimed, as the author writes, "to show you things you might otherwise miss in a county that on the surface might not seem so interesting."

I don't think blogs will replace the journalism that we have lost as the Sun and WPost retrench, but there is a growing web of blogs -- many collected at Jesse X's Hoco Blogs -- where you can get news and other commentary about Howard County.  Hoco360 adds a photo department.

Hoco360 isn't signed as far as I can tell.  I'm certainly not the kind of hooligan who would kick off his Twitter feed by outing a fellow blogger.  ;-)  So I will just say that I'm stunned at the quality that Hoco360's author can get from an iPhone 3G.  This isn't even the iPhone 4 with the new, better camera.  It is just beautiful work.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Saving The Bees In Howard County

Does anyone understand why anyone would want to eliminate bee-keeping in Howard County?

Check out the Don't Squeeze The Bees folks who are organizing to protect beekeepers worried about new county zoning rules.  Basically, the county has officially started treating bee hives as "animal shelters" so you need the setbacks designed for cows.  That's not going to work in the suburbs.

Where are the "small government" bloggers on this -- huh, Wordbones?  I don't see this as anything but ridiculous.  Beekeeping is a little too much effort for me, but it seems fun and brilliantly positive for a neighborhood that needs pollinators for flowers and fruit trees.  Bee hives are even allowed in New York City.

Don't Squeeze The Bees is trying to get support for a zoning change that would let people keep bees.  They want you to write your county council member.  You can also buy bumper stickers and volunteer.

They came first for the beekeepers, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a beekeeper.  Then they came for me and my compost pile, and there was no one left to speak up . . . . 

Friday, August 20, 2010

Great Bread Without A Howard County Angle

This isn't local.  This isn't timely.  But you need to make exceptions to the blog theme if you want great bread.

Last week, I tried Jim Lahey's no-knead bread recipe.  The recipe got famous from a 2006 New York Times article.  I found it in Lahey's cookbook My Bread at the Howard County library.

This is one of those ideas brilliant in its simplicity.  Lahey basically recommends a method where you prepare a loaf over two days.  Almost no effort, but you need to plan a little -- and have one large pot.

On Day 1, you mix flour, water, salt and a 1/4 tsp of yeast.  Then you let it sit for 18 hours in a covered bowl.  On Day 2, you roll the dough into a round loaf and let it sit for another two hours.  While it rises the second time, you heat your oven to 450 or 500 degrees.  You heat it with a pot -- like a Le Cruset -- inside so that the pot gets super hot.  Then you place the dough inside.  Bake 30 minutes covered and then 15-30 minutes more uncovered.

The loaf was the best bread that I have ever made.  A dark mahogany color.  A crisp crust with an interior dominated by holes.  And tasty!  The bread tasted better than any loaf that I ever baked.  It looked and tasted like restaurant bread.  Better than most restaurant bread, Mrs. HowChow says.  Bakery bread.  New York bakery bread.

Start with Lahey's basic bread recipe, which he posts on the Sullivan Street Bakery Web site.  But the book offers more.  He has a bunch of recipes.  He also describes the reasoning -- why he bakes in the pot, why you need to replace the plastic handle of a Le Cruset with a plug of aluminum foil, and why you have to let the bread cool completely.

Hot bread used to be my ultimate goal.  Lahey explained that the bread tastes better when you let it cool.  It also tastes better when you bake the Lahey way.  Give it a try.  Try the book.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Smoked Salmon At The Town Grill In Lisbon

HowChow: The official blog of gas stations where you should eat fish. 

Visit the Town Grill in Lisbon for barbecue, but get a piece of smoked salmon to go.  The restaurant in the Citgo station smokes salmon fillets and sells the meat for $1 per ounce.  You pick the amount that you want.

I thought the smoked salmon was delicious.  Smoky with a firm crust coating tender meat.  Like prosciutto, good smoked salmon has a big flavor that gives you a full meal for a small amount of meat.  I cut the Town Grill's salmon into a pasta dish with onions, garlic, lemon and a little half-and-half. Four dollars of salmon made a special dinner.  You can put it in wontons.  Make salmon and cucumber rolls.  Put mustard and salmon on toasted baguettes.  And that's just a single Chowhound post.  This isn't the type of salty smoked salmon to put on bagels, but it's a great treat.

And if smoked salmon isn't your cup of fish, try the ceviche special in the R&R Tacqueria inside the Shell station on Rte 175 at U.S. 1.

Smoked Salmon Pasta
(serves two)

4-6 ounces of spaghetti or a similar pasta
2 TBL olive oil
1/3 c. chopped onions -- one small onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 c. water
2 TBL lemon juice -- about one lemon
zest of one lemon (divided use)
1/4 c. cream or half-and-half
4 ounces of smoked salmon, broken into small pieces
ground pepper

1) Heat a pot of boiling water for the pasta.  Add the pasta and cook to al dente.

2) While the pasta cooks, heat a large skillet on medium heat and add the olive oil.  Add the onions and garlic, saute for two minutes.  Then add the water, a pinch of salt, lemon juice and the zest from half of the lemon.  Increase the heat and let the sauce boil down by half.

3) Take the sauce off the heat.  Add the cream.

4) Before you drain the pasta, save about a cup of the cooking liquid.  Then drain the liquid.  Add the hot pasta to the skillet.  Add the smoked salmon and the zest from the second half of the lemon.  Season with the pepper.  Add a little of the pasta liquid if the sauce seems dry.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What Is "The Blue Goose" In Ellicott City?

In downtown Ellicott City, there is now a sign saying that "The Blue Goose" is coming soon to the spot formerly home to Sarah and Desmond's Bakery and Cafe, according to a comment by Wendi.

Wendi had spotted people working there over the weekend.  Does anyone know what The Blue Goose will be?  Restaurant?  Design store?  Combination paint-your-own-pottery and poultry slaughtering?  (Hey, it's working for pottery and coffee.)

(Update: On the HowChow Facebook page, W. Edward Lilley wrote that The Blue Goose will be an upscale consignment shop.  That will need to be reviewed by the upscale consignment blog.)

Figuring Out The Frozen Yogurt On Rte 40: Tutti Frutti, Yogi Castle, Iceberry and Pink Beach

They have let a thousand yogurt stores bloom in Ellicott City, but I haven't had the time to go check them out myself.

Tutti Frutti started the wave on Rte 40 early this year with the by-the-ounce tart frozen yogurt.  I spooned Tutti Frutti up and posted about it.  But we have come a long way since then.  Yogi Castle opened in the shopping center with Sergio's Jewelers.  Then Iceberry opened in the Mars shopping center.  And, last I heard, there were still signs in the Bethany Center for Pink Beach Yogurt & Cafe -- with promises of frozen yogurt, crepes and "Korean snow balls." 

(Update: See the comments for reviews, including Kimi's comprehensive head-to-head.  Pink Beach appears to be open.)

So what do you think?  Any reviews?  Any comparisons?  Any news on this Pink Beach -- which I'm glad to hear will be next to
Rainpia, not a replacement.  Little Audrey wrote that Yogi's Castle was a bit more expensive, but had a dozen flavors.  Dave has gone big at Yogi Castle -- enough visits that he already misses a "Eurotart" flavor:
Let me start by saying that my wife and I were absolutely thrilled when we discovered this place! We visited many times over the subsequent weeks and brought everyone we knew there. Both of us are transplanted west coasters and great fans of tart frozen yogurt.
The variety of yogurt here is astonishing, however we always got the same thing. The Yogi Castle Eurotart is simply the best frozen yogurt we've ever had. It's light, tart and, best of all, not only is it the best tasting and most refreshing choice, it has only 70 calories per 3 oz serving, which is 20 cal less than the next lightest yogurt, and half the calories of some of the heavier selections like peanut butter and red velvet. Compared to the Classic Tart it is lighter, more flavorful and more tart. Not to mention fewer calories. For fans of tart yogurt it is as good as it gets.
You can imagine my dismay when last I visited Yogi Castle only to find that they stopped carrying eurotart and replaced it with yet another fruit flavor. Worst of all, I was told by the manager that they would not be getting it back because they already had enough tart flavors. I understand that taste is subjective, however I find it hard to believe that a business that prides itself on healthy desserts and a myriad of choices would discontinue it's healthiest, lightest and most refreshing flavor and replace it with yet another fruit flavored yogurt.
Yogi Castle is a fantastic place that I'm sure any frozen yogurt fan will absolutely love. I encourage everyone to go. Just know that until eurotart comes back you will not be getting their best! It is because of this that I beg of you one simple thing. WHEN YOU GET TO THE REGISTER ASK WHO EVER IS BEHIND THE COUNTER WHEN EUROTART IS GOING TO BE BACK!!! If enough people ask maybe they will listen and Yogi Castle will be just a little better and healthier for it. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Trolling: Coffee, Orange Juice And The Ramshead Salad With The Name Too Silly To Say Out Loud

Jessica is back after a second cruise trolling for good food in Howard County.  Her first three suggestions ran from cheese enchiladas to key lime cupcakes.  Now, she returns with a spot for coffee, a restaurant for salad, and the orange juice that will make her eat at a chain:
Coffee, any kind, from Sidamo Coffee & Tea in Fulton.  Especially the Americano.  It is strong and bold but without the bitterness of Starbucks.  This is for people who like coffee, not sweet, syrupy, coffee-flavored drinks.  Depending on my mood, I'll add a splash of milk and some cinnamon, or just leave it black.  Or on a particularly warm day, a plain iced latte really hits the spot.  I really love that they serve it in real mugs when you're not having it to go; it's just a nice little touch that you don't get without asking at Starbucks.  On a nice day, take your real mug outside.  This is truly one of HoCo's finest parking lot cafes.  Even on a hot day, you can't smell the, um, by-product from Maple Lawn Farm.  When the weather is unbearable, sit in one of the comfy chairs inside.  Either way, it will be time well-wasted. (But if you stay long, do them a favor and order a second cup of coffee; business seems slow but steady, and I'd hate for us to lose the best cafe this part of the county may ever get).
Ramshead in Savage is our family's special occasion standby.  The Don Cornycado salad (though I refuse to EVER say that name out loud, instead I insist on showing the server what I'd like to order because seriously, what a silly name!!) is always fresh-tasting, with quite the Old Bay kick to go with the avocado, roasted corn, shrimp, and scallops.  I like to pair it with half of my fiance's fries (which are hands-down the best fries in the county) stolen, one at a time, when he isn't looking.  The best way to wash it down is with a bottle of Pinkus organic hefeweizen, preferably poured into a glass so you can at least pretend you're civilized.  This is the perfect meal from about March straight through to the end of October.  
Finally, I wanted to stay away from chains because they just aren't part of what makes it worth it to live in HoCo, but Eggspectation in Columbia is another standby for one reason: the orange juice.  Fresh-squeezed and just sweet enough to be refreshing without being overpowering or syrupy-tasting, it goes perfectly with the Oy Veg (but skip the tomatoes that come with it- they're marginal at best, and downright awful compared to the latkes).  Have the latkes with a bit of sour cream, get the eggs over easy and dip some toast in the gooey yolk.  (No? I'm the only one who does that? You don't know what you're missing!)  It will be the best breakfast you have all day.  The orange juice alone makes it worth choosing this non-ubiquitous chain over Double T (at least during daylight hours), but the fact that the meal isn't soaked with grease is another plus (at least for those of us with sensitive stomachs).  
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, August 16, 2010

New Tenant For The Sarah & Desmond's Space?

Anyone know if there is a new tenant planned for the downtown Ellicott City space that used to be Sarah & Desmond's?

There has been activity recently, and people were milling around yesterday morning, according to Wendi.  She says the "For Lease" sign is still up, but she was wondering if a new tenant were planning to open there.  I looked for building permits, but I don't see anything since 2007.

Sarah & Desmond's Bakery & Cafe closed at the end of 2009.  The spot is on Old Columbia Pike just off Main Street in downtown Ellicott City.

(Update: There is apparently a sign that says The Blue Goose in coming.  I posted the question: What is The Blue Goose?)

Fresh Ginger Ale At The H Mart

I am king of rationalizing sodas -- coming up with excuses to buy soft drinks.

Next on the list:  Real ginger in the soda in the "Fresh Ginger Ale" at H Mart.  Apparently, there is a celebrity chef angle to the brand, but I bought it because the ingredients were nothing more than water, sugar, ginger and citric acid.  It's actually cloudy.  Ginger settles on the bottle, and you can shake it around.

Fresh Ginger Ale really tastes like ginger.  It's lightly sweet, but the real flavor is the hot, fizzy ginger like you get from Reed's Ginger Candy at David's Natural Market.  It was more than $1 a bottle, so you need to like that ginger taste.  You can buy good beers for a similar price.  But it's refreshing and interesting and certainly better for me than my daily caffeine hit of Coke Zero.

When I saw the Fresh Ginger Ale, it was piled near the checkout at the H Mart in Catonsville.  They sell some flavored versions as well, but I went with the original.  I have also found other fun sodas like Tommy's Naked cream soda at David's Natural Market and the Japanese ramune that you can buy at H Mart and other Asian stores.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Link: C&B Delly's Pastrami on GrubGrade

The pastrami sandwich at the C&B Deli in Ellicott City got the spotlight today in GrubGrade's Sandwich Sunday.

The C&B pastrami on thick-cut rye was a definite winnter for Adam, who writes on GrubGrade and often comments here.  He said the meat was lean and tender, but not dry, especially with some fresh vegetables, swet peppers, oil and pickles.

C&B is a new place to me.  It's on Rte 40 just eat of Rte 29.  If Google is right, it is across fromt he Normandy Shopping Center.  I'm always open to deli suggestions.  Where do you find good sandwiches?  My recent find was the corned beef at the New York Deli in Columbia.

C&B Italian Delly
8457 Baltimore National Pike #1 (Rte 40)
Ellicott City, MD 21043-4287

NEAR: It's on Rte 40 just east of Rte 29.  Google places it on the south side of Rte 40 across from the Normandy Shopping Center.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Takeout From House of India

House of India goes the extra mile even when they'll packing your food to carry home the last mile home.

I need to think about updating last year's post about the best takeout in Howard County.  An Loi's takeout pho is our "feel better" variation on the classic takeout soup.  But I haven't been back to many of those places recently.

Our current hit has been House of India in Columbia.  The curries are delicious, and they travel perfectly well.  We had chana masala and a kashmiri chicken that goes more sweet with pineapple and raisins than hot peppers.  House of India packages them up with extra case.  The curries were piping when I got home, and they came with enough rice that we'll eat dinner tonight from the same packages.

Our favorite bhel puri didn't seem as crisp as in the restaurant.  I might recommend samosas if you want an appetizer.  But the mango lassi travels fine, and the host gave me pappadum -- the crisp spicy cracker-like appetizer that start a meal at House of India.  We got the two starter sauces as well, one spicy and one sweet.  They're fresh flavors, the type of clear, zesty food that makes me gorge and that makes House of India one of my 2009 best restaurants of Howard County.

If I rewrite the list of best takeout, what should I consider?  We did Bon Fresco a few weeks ago.  We were thinking about Cuban sandwiches from Cuba de Ayer.  Where do you takeout?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Roots Market Aiming To Re-Open August 19

Roots Market is aiming to open Thursday, August 19, according to the latest word on the company's Facebook page.  The Clarksville store had a minor fire over the weekend.

Link: Gorman Produce Farm In The Sun

The Likers and Gorman Produce Farm were the subject of a friendly profile in the Sun this week.  The farm in Laurel just south of Columbia has a nice vegetable and fruit stand, and they run a CSA as well.

Click here for my prior posts about the Gorman Produce Farm.

Larriland Farm 2010: Pick Your Own Peaches And Blackberries, Then Get Ready For Pumpkin Season

Larriland Farm in perfect.  I said that two years ago, and the pick-your-own farm in Woodbine has only gotten better as they expand and improve.

August to October are the feast months at Larriland.  We went for blackberries and peaches on Saturday, and our boxes were overflowing as we rolled home.  Overflowed as in 40 pounds of peaches.  Smaller boxes for the blackberries, but you can't get heaps of ripe blackberries like this anywhere.

Heaps that Mrs. HowChow has turned into blackberry sorbet and used for a blackberry-peach pie.  That was the second pie.  Even discounting the slices that we shared with friends, we have split more than a pie between us since Sunday.

The farm is about 30 minutes from the more-crowded part of Howard County.  You can stop for a barbecue lunch before or after at Town Grill in Lisbon.  Although you pick in the fields, check out Larriland's expanded store at the main parking lot.  Get the dried fruit candy.  Try one of the McCutcheon's brand sodas like birch beer.  Or pick up some of the vegetables and fruit that you didn't pick yourself.

Last weekend, they were talking about several more weeks of peach picking, and the blackberries were still pretty thick.  We also paid $7.50 for a large plastic cup, and Mrs. HowChow created a bouquet from the cutting garden.  She actually created three bouquets from all the flowers that fit in her cup.  You can also pick plums, potatoes, leeks, and tomatoes.  Soon there will be apples, then pumpkins in October.

Take my advice about blackberries:  You can't pick them based on sight.  You have to pull gently on the blackest berries and only take the ones that pop off.  Some super-black berries are still tart.  If you have to pull the berry off the bush, then it's tart.  Just move on.  Get the ones that you can almost brush into your tray.

Larriland Farm
2415 Woodbine Road
Woodbine, MD 21797

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

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Trolling: Tanya Gives Back - What The HoCo Newbie Has Tried So Far

Tanya hasn't trolled that far in Howard County because she just moved from Cleveland to Columbia.  Last week, I drafted a list for her of the things that newcomers should try.  Today, Tanya, who blogs about alternative fashion, writes about the places that she has explored with her boyfriend, who lured her here after 18 long-distance months.  Tanya teases that we put Old Bay on everything.  She got a gyro with Old Bay in the Inner Harbor last week, but she has gotten better things around here.
My boyfriend has lived here his whole life, but by and large he has less adventurous tastes and is more familiar with fast food chains than the local establishments. So we'll both enjoy exploring Howard County a bit more.  There have been a few places I was drawn to immediately.
The Double T diner in Ellicott City (or maybe Catonsville)  I'm a night owl.  I usually can't help it, and I think there is something very interesting when you eat out with friends in the middle of the night.  I have solidified friendships over waffles and pancakes in a Dennys or Waffle House. You know it's bad for you, but you're starving and the popcorn at the midnight movie just didn't cut it. I first spotted the Double T as my boyfriend drove down Rt. 40, and I fell in love with the nostalgic diner car exterior.  My first visit was around 2 am, and I got pretty much exactly what I was expecting from an all-night diner. Bakery cases greet you at the door, with cordial hosts eager to seat you. Their menu is a book, full of just about anything you could imagine: breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert. The midnight crowd is half the entertainment. I tend to stick to breakfast food, and I can remember a delicious (and huge) broccoli and cheese omelette with all the fixings. We have had large groups of friends come in at a variety of hours, and the Double T has always taken our groups in stride. The food is hardly high-class cuisine - but it suits its purpose. Double T has a certain charm that I, in particular, find endearing.
The Canopy in Ellicott City.  We spent a very long weekend moving my things from Cleveland to a tiny storage unit here. My stomach begged for a real meal, but I definitely didn't feel like sitting down at any old chain restaurant. I had just moved! I wanted something I couldn't get just anywhere! All meal decisions become more complicated when you're in a relationship, but eventually I said I could really go for some barbecue. So the boyfriend mentions a place one of our friends goes to: The Canopy. What a diamond in the rough! It's smaller than a subway shop, but the inside is hazy with a delicious-smelling smoke wafting off of giant slabs of meat. It is cut and dry and simple. Pick what you want off the menu.  They ask you what kind of sauce. You go on your merry way home to eat. I got a half bbq chicken with a few bones of ribs, and some macaroni and cheese. Some real comfort food, at a really good price for the quantity. My boyfriend got ribs and mashed potatoes. Awesome food.  Divine barbecue sauce with tender meat.  And with that meal, I made myself at home for the first night in Maryland.
The Snowball Stand in Woodstock.  Maryland has an obsession with ice drenched in a kool-aid like substance, otherwise known as "snowballs."  Ohio has softserve stands, but snowballs? I raised an eyebrow and figured it was something I might not "get," but I'm not one to argue with any anything involving sugar and cold fluids. Then my boyfriend drove me to the middle of nowhere, to this cute little shack with what had to be two dozen of flavors that made it impossible to chose. A tip jar that read "our college fund" sat on the windowsill where some nice young girls waited patiently for me to figure out my many options. I think I got strawberry. I watched other people put things like marshmallow sauce on their ice, or in the case of my boyfriend, peanut butter sauce. I might be swayed by marshmallow sauce someday, although that is a regional thing as well.  We sat and enjoyed our ice on a tree stump - and it seemed a world away from the suburban bustle of Columbia. I can't wait to take my Cleveland family members to that spot because I'm sure they'll be just as charmed.
On top of those, Tanya has taken a shine to crabcakes, which she will get almost anywhere.  She is looking to try the hardshell variety now.  And the Canopy taught Tanya about pit beef.  She hasn't tried it yet, but that's an excuse for her to go back.

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, August 9, 2010

Town Grill in Lisbon: BBQ At The Citgo

The Town Grill in Lisbon is the place to go when you want counter service for barbecue and self-serve for gasoline.

One of Howard County's best spots for grilled and smoked meats is inside the Citgo station on Rte 144 just off I-70.  It's a classic joint, but don't let the basic spot fool you about the food.  The Town Grill serves food with real flavor and skill.  This isn't retro spot to go just because it's a quaint or unique.

Instead, this is a place where the BBQ starts strong and the side dishes deliver country flavor with modern freshness and ensure that you have a terrific meal.

On Saturday, we enjoyed the inspiring pairing of Town Grill with pick-your-own fruit at Larriland Farm.  We parked a car packed with peaches and ate a late lunch of ribs and pulled pork.  The pork was juicy with a good flavor.  I ordered horseradish, which Mrs. HowChow liked, although next time she'll order extra barbecue sauce on the side.

The ribs come on the firm side, which meant they were perfect for me because we have a Jack Spratt thing going between firm, smoked meat and the fall-off-the-bone variety that Mrs. HowChow loves.  The half rack was huge.  The exterior was crisp, and the meat inside was moist and tasty.  Lots of meat on each bone.

With the ribs came sides that absolutely made the meal.  Coleslaw that was fresh and light.  Cornbread that came out hot, light and tasting of a home kitchen.  (Or maybe better than home.  A young guy sitting behind us called out, "This cornbread is better than my grandmother's.")  And the best was a huge dish of baked beans -- thick and flavored with meat and something that gave it a spicy kick.  None of the sugar rush that makes me skip most beans.  The side dishes paired beautifully with the meat, and they're way better than I'd expect at even a good BBQ place.  We sat outside, and the grill guys plied us with extras -- a little starter of grilled corn, potatoes and squash, then a taste of fresh pickles.

This is a "hole in the wall" kind of place.  It is literally in the Citgo, so you might have friends who don't want to eat in a gas station.  But they're missing out.

Town Grill does a year-round business with barbecue along with a full grill menu from breakfast to burgers, fried chicken to onion rings.  They also cater.  On summer weekends, they pull out grills for the ribs and other treats like turkey legs that some little girls were gnawing when we arrived.  They also smoke salmon and sell it by the ounce to take home.  At $16/pound, the salmon isn't cheap, but it's spectacular.

How does Town Grill compare with Kloby's, the Johns Hopkins Road spot that sets the BBQ standard around here?  Mrs. HowChow actually preferred Town Grill's pork.  I'd need to taste test a little more to pick a winner on the meat, but Town Grill wins hands down on the side dishes.  Better and probably twice as big.  Normally, I just buy pork at Kloby's and get my own bread and sides.  At Town Grill, I'd buy the full platter every time.

Town Grille (in the Lisbon Citgo)
15943 Frederick Road (Rte 144)
Lisbon, MD 21797

NEAR: Town Grille is in "downtown" Lisbon.  We kid.  There is no downtown, but it's literally minutes off I-70 so it's super easy to reach.  Take the exit for Rte 94 south, the same one you'd take for Larriland Farm in Woodbine.  Then go east on Rte 144 at the traffic circle.  (You go three-quarters of the way around the traffic circle.)  Look for the Citgo station about a block down on the right.  You can park at the station or across Rte 144 in a small lot.

Town Grill on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Reports Of A Fire At Roots Market In Clarksville

Roots Markets in Clarksville apparently had a small fire and will be closed until Wednesday, according to the company's Facebook page.

Not a lot of details.  It was early Sunday, according to gussika.  David Bittner tweeted about an electrical fire in a light fixture with smoke and water damage.  I will update as I hear more.

So many possible jokes about smoked cheeses.  But a fire is tough for any business, and I hope that the Roots folks can get themselves back open as soon as possible.

If you hear anything about when Roots will be closed or open, please comment below and/or email me.  I would love to publicize their situation.  If you're interested in fire departments, check out Doug Walton's unofficial Howard County fire blog or the Statter911 national blog.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Suggestions To A Newcomer: Ten Places For Tanya To Check Out From Fruit To Sausage To Dosas

Tanya just moved from Cleveland -- land of pierogies and terrible sports teams, she said.  She and her boyfriend have checked out some places around Howard County, but she emailed asking what I would recommend for a newcomer's list.

What would you recommend?  Obviously, it's a personal decision.  Tanya says she has eclectic taste, but nothing too exotic.  I wrote a Tour of Howard County last year, and I have written lists of best restaurants and great food experiences.  But it seemed fun to try again -- a list specifically aimed at a newcomer, not too exotic, and affordable so that people can try them all right away:

  • Larriland Farm in Woodbine.  Tanya wants a place to pick fruit, and Larriland has wonderful pick-your-own.  August is the perfect month as everything gets ripe, and it stays hopping through Halloween.  On the way home, check out the barbecue at the Town Grill in Lisbon.
  • Sausage at the Boarman's Meat Market in Highland.  Sausage!  Links, bulk, or shaped like a pig.  It's housemade.  And check out Roots off Rte 108 in Clarksville on your way to or from Highland.
  • Maiwand Kabob in Columbia.  Delicious Afghan food -- grilled meats, hot breads, and vegetable side dishes that make the plates compete with most restaurants around.
  • Victoria Gastro Pub in Columbia.  Beer.  Tanya likes the beer at Pub Dog, and the beer sampler -- maybe out on Victoria's patio -- goes perfectly with the best burger around.
  • Sandwiches and breads at Bon Fresco Sandwich Bakery in Columbia.  Sandwiches stand out, and the breads are a $2 way to make an easy dinner.  And check out Nazar Market across the parking lot.
  • Ice cream on Rte 40 in Ellicott City.  Old school is Soft Stuff for soft serve.  New wave is tart yogurt like Tutti Fruti.  (And a little more driving gets you to the Snowball Stand in Woodstock.)
  • Takeout tacos at the R&R Deli in Jessup.  Spectacular tacos, lamb soup, and even ceviche.  All in a Shell station.  Drive across Rte 175 to the shopping center with Mom's Organic Market and Pollo Fuego.
  • Frank's Seafood in Jessup.  It's just off Rte 175, and it's the place for Tanya to get the seafood that she loves and the crabs that make this Maryland.
  • Dim sum at Asian Court in Ellicott City.  The new Red Pearl may offer competition, but Asian Court sets the standard with rolling cards on weekends and a menu of dim sum during the week.
  • And finally, Mango Grove in Columbia.  It's vegetarian Southern Indian food.  A little different, but not to exotic, I hope.  Try a dosa and one of the curries.  Drink a mango lassi.  The woman who runs the place gives great advice.
What would you suggest?  There are so many places that I have written about here.  Any ideas for affordable seafood restaurants?  What three places would you suggest to a newcomer?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Michele's Granola At All Our Organic Markets

Breakfast advice from Mrs. HowChow -- Michele's granola and some Greek yogurt.

This is the combination that has changed mornings here in Casa del HowChows.  For years, breakfast was basically the orange juice that I deliver in the morning.  Then we went to Montreal where she ate yogurt and granola in the hotel.  It reminded her of all the simple breakfasts she has enjoyed while travelling, and she decided to bring that experience home

The local option was Michele's granola, a Baltimore brand that Mrs. HowChow found in Whole Foods.  She topped her bowls with the Fage Greek yogurt.  It's a cool, sweet, crunchy breakfast, and it has inspired her to keep it up.  The granola is the key, Mrs. HowChow says.  Small packages that stay fresh.  Big chunks of granola.  She says it's like they bake trays of granola, then break it into the bag.

Have you noticed that I don't have a lot of opinions here?  She loves this stuff.  I don't want to get between a woman and her infatuation.  From my snacking, I'm impressed at how fresh the Michele's tastes.  The oats are right up front, then nuts and fruit (at least in the cinnamon raisin we have in the pantry).  Right now, Mrs. HowChow wants bags of the original flavor.  The cherry chocolate doubles as a dessert, and the ginger is her variation.  For right now, she doesn't buy pumpkin spice and the cinnamon raisin, although she thinks they might be flavors for fall.

I have seen Michele's at all the local organic markets -- Roots in Clarksville, David's Natural Market in Columbia, and Mom's Organic in Jessup.  Roots was definitely cheaper than Whole Foods, which makes a difference because this stuff runs about $6 for a 12-ounce bag.  For the record, Kristi talked up Michele's when I wrote about Greek yogurt last week.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Frozen Dumplings At The H Mart

Frozen dumplings are a terrific convenience food, but they're not that convenient when you can't find the ones that you like.

The H Mart in Catonsville sells an entire aisle of frozen dumplings -- pork and vegetable, Korean and Japanese, a half-dozen different shapes.  They're one of my staples because I can pop a dozen in a pan and make a meal with a vegetable on the side.  Right from the freezer.  Browned in oil and dipped in a mix of two parts rice vinegar, one part soy sauce and some grated ginger.

The problem is that I can't remember which dumplings I want.  I finish a bag.  I throw the bag away, and then I go to H Mart where I stand at the freezer and try to remember my brand.  What was the shape of the dumpling?  What was the name?  Almost all the writing is in Korean.  Or Chinese.  Or at least it is in writing that I don't recognize.

I know my recent favorites have disappeared.  They were thin triangles and came in a couple different fillings.  But I can't find them anymore.  Keith and I were emailing about that last week.  He and his wife used to love the pork pot stickers with cartoon pigs on the front.  Now, the pigs are gone.  Inspired by Keith, we stopped by the H Mart again this weekend, and I picked up two bags.  Those triangles are still missing.  I bought a bag of Han Reum brand vegetable dumplings.  They're old staples folded into a round shape.  I also bought Pulmuone brand rectacular dumplings stuffed with leek and noodles.  They're new to me -- being sampled in the H Mart aisle as we went past.

They're both pretty good.  Let's be honest: These aren't health food.  They're all pretty salty, and I brown them in a little oil.  I buy vegetarian in some delusion that they're healthier, but I admit that it's not really different from reheating pigs in a blanket.  Any suggestions for really delicious dumplings?  Any meat suggestions?  Any ways to distinguish between the shapes, the different countries?

(Update: Check out the comments below for some suggestions at Costco.  And check out Shari's blog for a review of a Maggi dipping sauce.)

Two years ago, I wrote up "10 Easy Pickups" for people who want to shop at the H Mart but want convenience food, not the basics for cooking.  The frozen dumplings are are top ten item.  But even better than the frozen dumplings are the ones that you could cook your own from Andrea Nguyen's book Asian Dumplings.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Trolling: Cheese Enchiladas, Spicy Tuna Rolls And A Key Lime Cupcake The Fiancee Doesn't Share

Jessica trolls Howard County with her fiancee and talks up the good and bad.  Her inspiration for emailing me was a lunch at Frisco Grille & Cantina where she heard that the plan to move down Dobbin Road been slightly delayed.  Permit issues.  Now, they're thinking that the new location will open in late October or early November at the earliest.

That means that Jessica will have a few more beer and enchilada meals at the original Frisco.  She won't be going back to Cazbar.  I liked the lamb donor, but Jessica didn't like her vegetarian meal.  Thin bread, off flavors, slow service, and hummus that tasted to her just like chick peas that had been boiled and blended.  "I've made better hummus at home, and I'm not the world's best cook," she says.  Bummer for Cazbar because Jessica is learning Tukish food from her fiancee's family.  She says she'll drive to Arlington for Atilla's.  But when she wants local food, she starts out on Stanford Boulevard in Columbia:
The cheese enchilada grilled spicy at Frisco's with a good hefeweizen (or Resurrection, if there is no hefe on the menu that week).  I like to mix my genres, in this case with Mexican food and German beer.  The outside of the enchiladas are always grilled perfectly- not soggy but never overcooked and rubbery.  The inside is a warm, gooey, cheesy delight, and when grilled spicy it has just the right amount of kick.  It comes with sour cream, guacamole, salsa, and shredded lettuce, and I clean the plate every single time.  I've never had a bad meal at Frisco Grille, but once I tried the cheese enchiladas, I have never had a desire to order anything else.  And of course a refreshing hefeweizen just helps balance out the intense heat from the sriracha sauce.
Regardless of what anyone else thinks of it, Hanamura in Columbia is my favorite HoCo sushi joint mostly for one reason: the spicy tuna rolls.  I'm boring and like to go with the standard rolls, and Hanamura makes the best.  The spicy tuna roll has the perfect ratio of salty, tender fish to mildly sweet rice to icky-but-necessary seaweed, and unlike at Sushi King, it's actually SPICY.  There's definitely a theme running through this post: I like my food to be almost unbearably spicy, or as my friend puts it, unbearably awesome.  And these spicy tuna rolls qualify.  Plus the service at Hanamura is better than at Sushi King (never been to Sushi Sono), it's cheaper, and there's never a wait for a table.  Three thumbs up in my book.
And to prove that I occasionally eat somewhere other than Stanford Blvd. (and something other than spicy food), I'll talk for a moment about Touche Touchet in Columbia.  I had learned of this bakery and Oh What a Cake from HowChow.  I tried Oh What a Cake a few months ago and was completely underwhelmed.  I finally had an occasion to try Touche Touchet a few weeks ago, and the story was completely different.  The key lime cupcake (with key lime filling, no less) was light, fluffy, and moist all at the same time, with a tart flavor from the frosting and filling that gave my face just the right amount of pucker.  It was also the perfect size- big enough for multiple heavenly bites, but not so big that you're sick of eating it when you're only halfway through it.  And not so big that I would feel compelled to share one with my fiancee.  I wish I could say I would go back and try something different, but that key lime cupcake would be hard to top.
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.

(Update: Check out the link below that Ocelots provided to a Touche Touchet birthday cake.  That's terrific.)