Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wegmans -- Rob Pops The Questions About What You Can Expect At The New Columbia Store

Wendy Webster, manager of the Columbia Wegmans
We're overdoing the Wegmans news.  I feel like I need to remind a few people that we're having fun around here.  We know that we're overdoing, and it's fun to enjoy a place that will deliver so much food.

HowChow reader Rob got himself an interview with Wendy Webster, the manager of the new Columbia Wegmans.  He went armed with questions from HowChow and the I Want The Columbia Wegmans Facebook page.  The big rumor -- that the store might open before the publicly-announced date of June 17, 2012.

Rob just asked.  He got an interview.  And he got answers:
My opportunity to interview Wendy Webster seems to have had something to do with timing. The folks at Wegmans have been following the chatter on the Web with questions about the store and thought it time to answer them. I just happened to have contacted Consumer Affairs to ask for an opportunity to talk with Wendy at the same time. 
Perhaps it did not hurt that I am a fan of the company and decidedly not a journalist. I only occasionally contribute to this blog. However it came about, I was happy to have the opportunity. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Whole Foods: HHC Holds Dress Rehearsal

Wordbones has photos of an unusual event outside the Columbia building where the Howard Hughes Company appears to be trying to lease to Whole Foods.

Apparently, the company invited guests to mingle in front of the building in return for flowers, granola, dog biscuits and more.  No one talked on the record, but Wordbones said it was a dress rehearsal in the hopes that Whole Foods' CEO was driving past this morning.

Message to Whole Foods:  Columbia would be a great place for you to open.  That's one of the easiest places to drive from around the country, and a lakefront location could be awesome if you and HHC get creative with a cafe, seating, etc.

For more, check out the post on Tales of Two Cities.  He says the deal is close.

Chocolate Croissant At Touche Touchet

Touche Touchet's chocolate croissant

I always wanted the breakfast of French champions -- the chocolate croissant.

These folks know their sweet breakfast, and Touche Touchet in Columbia knows how to bake them up. The croissants are flaky and buttery without being greasy at all.  The chocolate is a thin layer, and it's delicious.  It certainly tastes like some kind of special chocolate and not just a Hershey's bar baked in the middle.

This is a short post because it's a simple breakfast.  But in a few minutes of pleasure, you'll snap down years of baking talent needed to make something so good.

Monday, February 27, 2012

R&R Taqueria On Food Network Tonight

Remember:  The R&R Taqueria segments on "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" airs tonight at 10 pm.  Check your listings for the Food Network.

Guy Fieri and the Food Network came through town last fall to film at R&R Taqueria in the Shell Station on U.S. 1 in Elkridge.  Tonight, the shows broadcasts, and you can see a little bit of Elkridge make the national scene.

(Update:  The segment kicks off the show.  It's terrific.  Watch for rebroadcasts of "Time Tested Treasures."  Owner Rodrigo Albarran-Torres is the star showing off how to make pork and lamb dishes with Fieri and Joe Theismann.  But the cameo customers include the guys behind Strobist and Southern Skies Coffee and include Alberto Flores, who kicked off the R&R love by talking up Rodrigo's tacos in a HowChow comment.)

(Update II:  Photo of Strobist!)

Is The New Kuramo Restaurant Opening In March?

I wrote three weeks ago about the Kuramo restaurant -- its sign promising a Columbia location and its Web site promising Caribbean-Nigerian food.

Last night, someone left a comment saying that he is the owner behind the project and saying that they'll open on March 9.  I was at Family Market this weekend and noticed that the giant sign had been taken out of the window.  There were people working inside.

The comment is signed by Orlando Morozov.  You shouldn't take a blog as truth, but it seems like a weird prank if it wasn't written by a guy trying to open a restaurant there.  Anyone know more?

Noodles Corner For Authentic Chinese

Seafood hotpot at Noodles Corner
If you want to taste talent, order the mushrooms and bok choy at Noodles Corner.

This Columbia restaurant offers all the dishes that you'd expect in an Chinese restaurant, but it also has a two-page menu of authentic dishes -- fully translated to English and mostly made with ingredients that would be common to anyone who eats chicken, seafood and vegetables.

Consider the bok choy.  Baby vegetables cooked perfectly -- leaves softened, bodies tender but crisp at every bite.  That's a kitchen skill that I can't do myself.  The mineral, fresh taste contrasts with the earthy, almost sweet, black mushrooms in the center of the plate.  It's subtle.  It's delicious.

Mushrooms & bok choy
We were turned on to Noodles Corner by comments on HowChow. Wai, Jade's Mama and others that recommended dishes that they said were authenticated Taiwanese, and we tasted them just before a 2010 post about local Chinese restaurants.

This is definitely a place that should be in the rotation for people who want interesting Chinese food.  On a recent visit, we paired seafood with the mushrooms and bok choy.  First, we had a fish in XO sauce, which was a magical mix of salt, pepper, ginger and other flavors in a light sauce.

Then we had a hot pot.  You get a small metal pot filled with seafood and tofu in a thicker, rich sauce.  The tofu holds the heat throughout the meal, so nibble carefully or let it cool a moment on your plate.

You can build your own feast with these dishes, the shredded pork appetizer, the chili wrap, and the pan-fried noodles, which are also a unique preparation in my experience.  Ask for the tea, which they serve in heavy metal pots.  And don't be shy about the authentic menu.  On our most-recent visit, the waitress was clearly tickled that we were branching out.  She chatted with us and explained a bunch of dishes before we picked.  Noodles Corner has the friendly, relaxed feel that fits into a shopping center that offers as much casual dining fun as any other single location in Columbia.

You can get really authentic at Noodles Corner.  I draw a line at organ meat, but they're delicious to many people and central to many Chinese dishes.  Noodles Corner does offer dishes with intestine, blood and other organ meats.

Noodles Corner
8865 Stanford Boulevard
Columbia, MD  21045

NEAR: This is the shopping center that faces Dobbin Road south of Rte 175. You enter by turning from Dobbin onto Stanford Boulevard.  This has Pub Dog, Hanamura, Riverside Coffee and the relocated Mango Grove.

Noodles Corner on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Bon Chon Day Of Reckoning: March 6

The folks behind the coming Bon Chon in Ellicott City will appear for their liquor license hearing on March 6.

Let's hope that will make us one step closer for the opening of the Korean fried chicken franchise on Plum Tree Drive off Rte 40.  Anyone know when this fryers may go hot?  Last I heard, it was late February or  so.  Until it opens, you'll need to just read my review from a New York Bon Chon or check out the hot fried chicken at Tian Chinese Cuisine or the ToreOre franchise inside H Mart.

What I Missed In The "Welcome Home" Posts

Judge's Bench wings by Kate
The 10 Welcome Home posts were my letter to a newcomer about Howard County.  There are dozens of great places to eat or shop around here.

But what did I miss?  What is your advice?

The key hole in my knowledge is western Howard County.  On a post last month, people left a great series of comments suggesting places from Frederick to Eldersburg to Mt. Airy.  Just those comments include sushi, hot tandoori breads, nice Italian and pancakes.  I'd love someone with expertise to email me about a guest post trying to collect their wisdom and suggestions.

This is part of HowChow's 2012 guide to Howard County -- "Welcome Home."  Ten posts to prove there are dozens of places worth your time, that you can find great food all across the county.  It's written for someone new to Howard County (maybe a link you send a friend thinking about moving here), but hopefully it's useful to anyone.

There were smaller holes as well.  Robin asked on the HowChow Facebook page where people recommend for brunch.  Anonymous asked for a souffle.  Kate emeailed me that people need to try the wings at Judge's Bench in Ellicott City:
Some of the best wings I've ever eaten (and I'm a pretty tough judge of them ... They're what made me start eating meat again after 12 years as a vegetarian!) . . . My husband and I ordered a large and then got a small order because they're so good.  Fries, also a great accompaniment!
Sounds great.  I haven't been, and I knew that I couldn't cover even everything that I have tried.  After 10 posts, I still wanted to find a way to introduce Portalli's and Tersiguel's in a walking tour of downtown Ellicott City.  I also tried not repeat some old posts that would still be useful -- like options for "Ice Cream On A Summer Night."  How could I have written so much and never mentioned the world headquarters of Ann's House of Nuts?

If you want more, definitely look around on HowChow.  Use the search box in the right column to see I wrote about what interests you.  Use the "labels" that let you click and read all the posts about some cuisine, some restaurant, some market . . .

Also, check out other sources -- like Richard Gorelick's top choices, the Chowhound board, the Don Rockwell board, or even Yelp.  I'm linked with a few dozen people on Yelp, and those friends are a place to start finding people who write about Howard County.

What else do you want to know?  What else do you recommend?

Friday, February 24, 2012

I Can't Believe You Ate The Whole Thing: We Can Serve You Adventure, Even In The 'Burbs

Grilled fish head at Sushi Sono
Ten posts isn't enough to tell you all the great things to eat in Howard County.  I have been blogging since 2008, and I'm still finding new fun.

I tried mostly to give broad-based advice.  But I don't want to cede an inch in today's world where the trendy chefs cook nose to tail.  I'm closer to a vegetarian than a guy who eats "everything but the oink," but you niche eaters can get your mouth around whatever niche you want.  Like most of this series, this is an assurance that you aren't stuck with dishes created by corporate chefs.

This is part of HowChow's 2012 guide to Howard County -- "Welcome Home."  Ten posts to prove there are dozens of places worth your time, that you can find great food all across the county.  It's written for someone new to Howard County (maybe a link you send a friend thinking about moving here), but hopefully it's useful to anyone.

Start at the old-line butchers -- Laurel Meat Market in Laurel on Main Street, Boarman's in Highland on Rte 216, and J.W. Treuth in Oella.  These are professionals great for roasts and steaks, but they will cut what you want and special order if they don't have it every day.

Pork Trifecta - tongue, liver & heart at Family Market
Move on to the new group of halal butchers, who can serve you chicken, lamb and goat in all kinds of ways.  You can get a leg.  You can ground lamb.  Check them at Nazar's in Columbia, Columbia Halal Meat in Elkridge, Caspian Market in Ellicott City or the new Turkish Family Market in Ellicott City too.

Then go big time with the Wagon Wheel Ranch, which will sell you a cow.  They'll start you off with a box of meat, but the real professionals get an extra freezer and half a cow.  Take advantage of your new home near the country and try some country

Okay, that's probably too much.   You should start slow, but you should be confident that you're not trapped in a world of chain restaurants.  Howard County will fill you up on dishes that won't ever make the menu at T.G.I Friday's.  In fact, you can find just about anything here:
Chicken hearts at Nazar
  • Fish head at Sushi Sono in Columbia.  The cheeks and other meat around the head make this a delicacy.
  • Intestines at An Loi Pho in Columbia.  I order my Vietnamese soup with brisket, but the pros stretch to tripe.
  • Scrapple at Boarman's in Highland.  At least the other folks have the courtesy of identifying the parts.  Scrapple is country for "things that didn't go in sausage."
  • Blood -- along with intestines and others -- in some authentic Chinese dishes at Noodles Corner in Columbia.
  • Beef heart at Chick 'N Pollo in Columbia (if it reopens).  Antichuchos are a grilled adventure in any language.
  • Tongue at R&R Taqueria in Elkridge.  The lengua tacos are just one option among the great Mexican food on U.S. 1.
  • Beef tendon balls (and so much more) at Hunan Taste in Catonsville.  They serve a hot pot special.  You can get vegetables, meats, seafood, including tendon, cuttlefish.  You can also get other authentic Chinese.
  • Pork skin at Dave's BBQ in Savage.  He barbecues and sells from the side of the road.  On days that he serves the pulled pork, ask for some crisped skin.
  • Chicken hearts at Nazar Market in Columbia.  I don't even know how you'd cook these.
  • Pork trifecta -- tongue, liver and heart at the Family Market in Columbia.  Again, I don't what I'm do with these.
  • Chicken feet at Asian Court in Ellicott City.  Another delicacy that I haven't tried.  They're a dim sum item.
  • A whole pig from Kloby's Smokehouse on Johns Hopkins Road.  They'll smoke it if they've got it.
And to wrap it up, you can try the famous "Triple T" at Grace Garden in Odenton.  We go for all kinds of exquisite Chinese food that uses all the regular cuts that you'd expect.  But aficionados sing about the "Triple T" -- tripe, tendon and tongue -- that the kitchen turns into something delicious.  Good luck to you!

What I Don't Know:  What's the other adventurous foods that you can find in Howard County?  What other advice for new people?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Korean 101: You Should Try This Delicious Food

Thin-sliced pork belly on a barbecue table
I try not to proselytize on HowChow, but I'm making my push today for Korean food.

Howard County does Korean food better than anywhere except Annandale.  You get flavors.  You get meat and vegetables.  So don't pass it by.

I know that the alphabet and the food look different.  I know friends who love food, yet haven't been to Shin Chon Garden.  But Korean seems perfect for someone who reads a food blog.  On the one hand, it's so close to "traditional" American food -- meat, vegetables, pickles, and a touch of some things unusual.  On the other, they're mixed in new ways that will surprise and delight you.

This is part of HowChow's 2012 guide to Howard County -- "Welcome Home."  Ten posts to prove there are dozens of places worth your time, that you can find great food all across the county.  It's written for someone new to Howard County (maybe a link you send a friend thinking about moving here), but hopefully it's useful to anyone.

If you thrilled at your first taste of Thai curry or an Afghan kabob, then take a shot at Korean.  The food is delicious.  You can control whether it's spicy or mild.  You can absolutely tell what you're eating and get all kinds of help.

A feast at Shin Chon
This is a step-by-step.  A first meal suggestion from a complete amateur.  If you already know Korean, check out last year's post that briefed all kinds of joints on Rte 40.  If you're new, you should start here with barbecue.  Real experts should chime in with comments below to fix my mistakes and to expand on my advice.   [Update: Or check out my later Korean 101 post about tofu soup at Lighthouse Tofu.]

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Seasons Of Howard County: Hot And Cold

Summer: Peaches at Larriland
Larriland Farms is the single greatest place for food in Howard County.

In no small part, that's true because I'm writing this in mid-winter with dreams of peaches, blackberries, apples and long afternoons spent walking Larriland's fields in the sun.  Seasons matter, and Larriland is a magical place for half of the year -- from May strawberries through October pumpkins.

Howard County can be a fun place no matter the time of year.  If you're looking for adventure, you can tailor the day by the season.

This is part of HowChow's 2012 guide to Howard County -- "Welcome Home."  Ten posts to prove there are dozens of places worth your time, that you can find great food all across the county.  It's written for someone new to Howard County (maybe a link you send a friend thinking about moving here), but hopefully it's useful to anyone.

Winter: Tofu stew at Lighthouse
Winter -- Time for quiet, time for cozy.  You need some heat, and you can afford to chow down on some heavy food.  It's not an easy season like mid-summer, but you can still enjoy the appropriate fun.
Spring: First beers on Victoria's patio
Spring --  Good weather makes good food easier to find.  The Howard County farmers markets will open with produce, breads, flowers and more.  I hear the weekday ones are actually the largest.  But you can enjoy the sun right away.
  • As soon as it is warm, you need to eat outside.  My first suggestion is a seat on the patio at Victoria for the best burger and a beer sampler.  But we're famous for our "parking lot cafes" so you could sit outside at Facci, Pub Dog, Great Sage, Ranazul, and Maiwand Kabob.
  • Borrow a toddler and pick strawberries at Gorman Produce Farm in Laurel.  The farm runs a CSA and a produce stand that you should definitely check out, and they do pick-your-own strawberries so close to the barn that even the littlest kid can handle the ride and the walk.
  • Check the Web site to see if downtown Ellicott City revives the "Second Sunday" market.  The French Market and other businesses helped run a monthly market in 2010 and 2011 with food, produce and other goods for sale.  It's a great way to get a taste of downtown Ellicott City.
Summer -- Obviously, summer is the time to grill.  I wrote a series in 2010 recommending the Planet Barbecue cookbook as a way to grill your way through the local ethnic groceries.  Those are still wonderful adventures, but you don't have to do all the work.  You can buy summer special as well.
  • Picnic at Centennial Park.  The Columbia park offers kayaks and canoes at reasonable prices, or you can walk the 2.6-mile loop around.  Fuel yourself up with a picnic lunch.   There aren't many restaurants right nearby, and neither Yama Sushi nor Iron Bridge lends itself to an outdoor lunch. But you can find something good.  I brought lychees on a first date.  She swooned.
  • Ribs or barbecue near U.S. 1.  In warm weather and especially on weekends, there are folks grilling meat along U.S. 1 and Rte 175 in Jessup and Savage.  Most are $10 plates with meat, rice, beans and salad like the guys at Mel's Liquors in Jessup.  On weekdays, you could lunch at Dave's BBQ near the Savage MARC station.  Or check out all the posts about local food trucks.
  • Watermelon agua fresca at R&R Taqueria in Jessup.  It's fruit and ice blended into the refreshing drink that Slurpees wish they could be.  There are actually many great takeout drinks.  I did a week of "Cold Drink" posts in 2011 to suggest alternatives to a cool-down soda.  (Or consider a milkshake from The Duchess in Ellicott City.)
Fall: Crabs at Frank's
Fall -- Harvest time can be great fun at seasonal restaurants like Bistro Blanc and Woodberry Kitchen, and you can make your own feasts as well.  All the other produce spots -- the farmers markets, Gorman Produce Farm, etc. -- are still in high gear.  Plus, you'll get the fall specials.
  • Crabs at Frank's Seafood in Jessup.  The secret of Maryland crabs is that they improve as a chill hits the air.  Crabs fatten up to hibernate under the mud.  So fall crabs are heavy and sweet.  Frank's steams for you.  They often run great specials as well.
  • Larriland Farm in Woodbine.  I've said that it's the best place in Howard County for food.  It's actually great spring to fall with strawberries, peaches, blackberries, tomatoes and more.  Consider canning.  But it''s perfect in October when you pick apples and pumpkins and run around in their Halloween activities like a hay bale maze.  Whenever you go, remember to pair your picking with the barbecue at Town Grill in Lisbon or the fried chicken at Harvest Fried Chicken in Woodbine.
  • Local turkey from Maple Lawn Farm in Fulton.  The farm on Rte 216 brings baby chicks in every year, and it serves up turkeys every fall.  Full birds for your Thanksgiving table.  Saddles, sausage and other specialties if you shop at the farm.
What I Don't Know:  What are your seasonal favorites in Howard County?  Any places that you love in the winter?  Where do you go for soup?  Any other great pairings of "outdoor activity" with "restaurant where you can get a picnic lunch?" 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Link: Frisco Tap House To Start Brewing?

The Frisco Tap House in Columbia will start brewing its own beers -- with the name Push Brewing and images from bike racing -- according to a post on the Baltimore Beer Buy blog.  The blog is a key place to get local news on craft beers, and it says Frisco faces some administrative hurdles but plans to receive its brewing equipment in March.

No Signs, No Problem: Eating Across A County That Doesn't Want You To Know Where You Are

Lovebirds pies at Roots in Clarksville -- on Rte 108
Howard County only acts like it doesn't want you to know where to find great food.

Signs are illegal here.  Okay, not all signs.  Just most signs in Columbia, which makes it hard because the grand plan buried all the village centers in neighborhoods so that you can't stumble on them.  If you get lost, you're not alone.  Seriously, I think people often don't know about great food because they don't know to drive past.  But navigation is easier than it seems.  If you learn six key roads, then you can find the food.

Let's get you out there.  In 2009, I wrote an entire series with driving directions that covered most of the county.  In contrast, this post is a choose-your-own adventure tour -- 11 places to snack or pick up something for dinner.  Learn the six roads, and you can get anywhere.

This is part of HowChow's 2012 guide to Howard County -- "Welcome Home."  Ten posts to prove there are dozens of places worth your time, that you can find great food all across the county.  It's written for someone new to Howard County (maybe a link you send a friend thinking about moving here), but hopefully it's useful to anyone.

Pick a few joints from the list below.  Plug these places into Google maps for exact directions.  Look at a map to plan your route.  Then drive a bit.  Snack or pick up food along the way.  You'll get a feel for some of the county (although not the west or downtown Ellicott City).  You learn a few things.

Like key roads.  The six roads to start:  U.S. 1 and Rte 29 running north and south, Rte 40, Rte 175 and Rte 32 running east-west.  Then Rte 108 curving everywhere.  Knows those, and you'll start to know the county.  And you'll eat well along the way.
Bonaparte - Rte 32 and U.S. 1
  • R&R Taqueria in Jessup (U.S. 1 and Rte 175).  Spectacular tacos in the Shell station.  Seriously.  Buy tacos or the lunch special with soup.  Maybe an agua fresca or a horchata.
  • Bonaparte Bread in Savage (just south of Rte 32 and west of U.S. 1).  A French bakery with a limited sandwich menu in the Savage Mill shopping area.  Buy bread and maybe a dessert for tonight.
  • Roots Market in Clarksville (Rte 108 just north of Rte 32).  An organic market with great tasting on the weekend.  The guacamole is terrific.  West of here, Rte 32 runs through the western county up to U.S. 70.
  • Kolache Kreations in Ellicott City (Rte 40 west of Rte 29).  Drive west from Rte 29, and you'll pass a bunch of good places including the Soft Stuff ice cream stand and the Bon Appetit Bakery.  Go all the way to Kolache Kreations where a couple transplanted from Texas serves savory and sweet Czech pastries.
  • Gateway Pizza in Elkridge (Rte 108 just north of Rte 175).  Pick up momos.  They're Tibetan dumplings.  Gateway's menu is half pizza and half Indian food.  Very close to the Trader Joe's.
  • Chick 'N Friends in Columbia (a little north of Rte 175, on Tamar Road).  Takeout fried chicken. It's worth the fat-gram splurge.  Crunch down.  Check out the Family Market while you're there.
  • New York Deli in Columbia (south of Rte 175 on Snowden River Parkway).  Start with the corned beef.  This is a nice deli that delivers to offices at lunch.  Grab a treat at Linda's Bakery in the same shopping center.  Then head south and connect to Rte 32.
  • Touche Touchet Bakery in Columbia (Rte 29 just north of Rte 32).  A sweets bakery with cupcakes, cookies and masterfully decorated cakes.  You wind off Shaker Drive, which connects Rte 29 and Rte 32.
  • Sidamo Coffee & Tea in Fulton (just west of Rte 29 on Rte 216, south of Rte 32).  The coffee shop sells delicious coffee, much of it from Ethiopia, by the cup or the pound.  They also sell interesting sandwiches at breakfast and lunch.
  • Tutti Frutti in Ellicott City (Rte 40 just west of Rte 29).  Tart frozen yogurt, the perfect treat.  It's sold by the ounce.  Check out Caspian Market a few doors down.
  • Cuba de Ayer in Burtonsville (just west of Rte 29 on Rte 198).  Pretty casual spot just south of the county line.  Split a Cuban sandwich.  Maybe stop for Seibel's housemade ice cream on the way home.
The bonus trip is U.S. 70.  Go west once the weather gets warm for pick-your-own fruit, barbecue and fried chicken.  That's the magic of Woodbine.  If you're looking for western Howard County, people put some great comments on this prior post asking for food in Woodbine, Eldersburg, Dayton, etc.

What I Don't Know: How do you explain Howard County to new people?  How do you find things?  How should they get around?  I think these main roads plus Snowden River Parkway -- with its detour onto McGaw and Dobbins roads -- are the right way to start.  What special spots are hidden off the major roads?

Monday, February 20, 2012

New Ice Cream Shop In Old Ellicott City

A new ice cream shop appears to be opening in downtown Ellicott City, reports Marcia.  Unfortunately, she was driving and saw the sign too late to catch the full time:

It's down at the bottom of the hill heading toward the Trolley Stop.  I didn't catch the name - begins with an "L"   (LuLu's???)
Anyone know the details of new ice cream on Main Street in Ellicott City?

Shop 'Til You Drop: Markets, Butchers, Bakeries And More Where You Can Find Special Foods

House-made tortillas at Lily's.  They'll make a meal.
The world is going to change when Wegmans opens in June -- at least as far as everyone says.

But Howard County, even apres le deluge, lets you shop for food worthy of a king.  Markets, butchers, bakeries and more are tucked into all kinds of shopping centers and out-of-the-way places.  No matter where you're looking to live, you'll have something close by and many things worth driving to explore.

This is part of HowChow's 2012 guide to Howard County -- "Welcome Home."  Ten posts to prove there are dozens of places worth your time, that you can find great food all across the county.  It's written for someone new to Howard County (maybe a link you send a friend thinking about moving here), but hopefully it's useful to anyone.

Your neighborhood is bound to have a basic supermarket -- Giant and Safeway have slowly been giving ground to Harris Teeter, Food Lion, Weis and other brands.  They're fine.  I shop there, but I tend not to write about them because people know what to expect at a supermarket.

But special shopping runs from Ellicott City to Laurel, from Clarksville to Catonsville just over the county line.  Hundreds of HowChow posts describe these places and highlight what you can buy there.  Your perfect place will depend on your tastes, but this is how I think of them -- with a few concrete ideas so that you're guaranteed delicious if you nose around:

Organic Markets -- Organic vegetables, bulk grains, gluten-free options, gourmet cheeses, supplements and vitamins.  As I noted in a prior post about organic markets, your three options are spread across the county from east to west -- Mom's Organic Market in Jessup (formerly My Organic Market), David's Natural Market in Columbia, and Roots in Clarksville.
  • Cheese at Roots.  Apres Wegmans, the Clarksville store has the most interesting cheese in the county.  Mom's Organic comes right behind.
  • Michele's Granola at any market.  This Baltimore company makes delicious, expensive granola, and it's worth every penny.
  • The sandwich counter at David's.  Definitely worth stopping for lunch, then checking out David's.  Across the parking lot in the other half of the shopping center is Today's Catch for seafood.
Asian Groceries -- Korean-run grocery stores are expanding out from Northern Virginia, and they are providing spectacular opportunities for great produce, seafood, some meats and then varying arrays of Korean, Chinese, Thai, Mexican, Indian and other groceries.  Seriously, the produce alone makes them worth checking out -- enormous selections, great prices, and quality that lasts longer in the fridge.

The Asian groceries differ.  H Mart in Catonsville is my gold standard with everything listed above -- plus a small restaurant and a place to order Korean fried chicken.  Lotte in Ellicott City is smaller, but it the produce, meats and Asian items.  Super Grand in Laurel goes broad.  They have some American brands, plus a world of ethnic food heavy on Hispanic and Indian options.  And the new Family Market in Columbia makes a similar attempt -- American items to serve as a local supermarket, plus produce, seafood, Korean and Hispanic items to draw people from across the county.
Bakeries -- For simplicity, let's say there are three ways to divide Howard County's bakeries.  First, sweet bakeries offering a wide array of cookies, pastries and (for two) cakes: Bonaparte Bread in Savage, Touche Touchet in Columbia, and the new Linda's Bakery in Columbia.  They're all delicious.  They all offer completely different items.  Second, cupcake and cake specialists: Kupcake & Co. in Elkridge, Oh! What a Cake in Columbia, and Cooks N' Cakes in Ellicott City.  Third, places for bread: Bonaparte again and the Bon Fresco Sandwich Bakery in Columbia.
Of  course, that description leaves out the Korean bakeries along Rte 40 in Ellicott City.  They have terrific sweets, including my favorite red-bean-filled items, along with some unusual breads as well.  Check out Bon Appetit Bakery (including a frozen dessert called bingsoo) and La Boulangerie.  It also leaves out the donuts at Laurel Tavern Donuts and the bagels at the various Bagel Bin shops.

Butchers -- Like the bakers, the butchers can be split into three groups.  American joints like Laurel Meat MarketBoarman's in Highland, and J.W. Treuth in Oella are professionals who cut in-house, great for roasts and steaks, mostly beef with pork, chicken and some fish.  The new halal butchers have added a completely different lineup heavy on lamb and beef at joints like Nazar in Columbia, Columbia Halal Meat in Elkridge and Caspian Market in Ellicott City.  Then there are Mexican or Latin American butchers at Lily's Mexican Market in Columbia and Panam Supermarket in Laurel.
Ethnic Markets --  Smaller than the Asian groceries, but still powerful in the food that they carry.  My top two are probably Lily's Mexican Market and Nazar in Columbia because they each offer a butcher, a small amount of produce, and aisles of organized shelves with canned, dried and frozen items -- Latin American and Turkish-Middle Eastern-Pakistani, respectively.  Right behind are the Indian offerings at Eastern Bazaar in Laurel -- again because it has unusual produce on top of the usual boxed and frozen offerings.

But you'll find great items across the county.  Closer Indian at Food Cravings and Desi Market in Columbia.  Persian items (along with Greek, Indian and others) at Pars Market in Columbia and Caspian Market in Ellicott City.
Seafood Markets --  The Asian markets have an array of fish, and I'm a fan of talking to folks at the H Mart seafood counter to get ideas for whole fish, squid, etc.  But the Howard County fish markets have won me over as well -- Frank's Seafood in Jessup and Today's Catch in Columbia.  The fish are fresh, and the people can answer questions.
Bonus -- The Laurel Dutch County Market offers a group of vendors Thursday to Saturday.  They have butchers, bakeries, a candy shop.  It's a great spot for organic meats.  Plus, they sell hot pretzels and fresh-squeeze orange juice so every visit should be a sucess.

What I Don't Know:  Where else do you shop in or near Howard County?  This isn't definitive.  It isn't even as long as the 2009 series where I posted about What I Learned writing this blog.    Anyone should stop for a takeout empanada at El Patio in Jessup.  What other markets, bakeries, butchers do you frequent?  What else do you recommend at your favorite place?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Tutti Frutti Coming To Maple Lawn

The Tutti Frutti frozen yogurt chain is expanding into Maple Lawn -- taking the spot that Maggie Moo's vacated last year.

Mrs. HowChow was so excited that she parked the car just to go read the sign.  She is already making warm weather plans to sit outside the shop for dessert.

Mrs. HowChow thinks this phenomenal.  She says there was a time when she wanted gum balls in ice cream, but now she thinks the frozen yogurt stores serves a broader audience -- from the kids who add candy toppings to her adding mochi to plain sour yogurt.  Fulton is the third local Tutti Frutti -- with the original on Rte 40 and last year's addition in Columbia near Target.

Anyone know the timeline?  It didn't look like they had started to move in yet.

Where Do You Get A Good Cheesesteak?

I"m often loathe to eat a cheesesteak outside Philadelphia after far too many failures under my belt -- and a bad cheesesteak can stay under your belt for a while.

But the Gateway Gourmet and I were emailing last week about whether there is a Howard County option for a great Philly sandwich.  And it's a specific sandwich.  It's not a gourmet steak sandwich with sliced strip steak served on a baguette.  It's a cheesesteak that looks something like this:

  • Lean, thin-sliced steak, probably cooked through on a flat griddle.
  • Cheese melted into the meat.  The GG and I both want provolone.  We know Cheese Whiz is authentic in Philly, but it's not welcome on our sandwich.
  • A good sandwich roll.  Good bread needs at least a slight crust, but the right rolls are softer than a baguette yet stand up to the filling.
  • A few options -- onions, peppers, hot peppers.  The GG wants mayo.  I'll agree to disagree.

Anyone know this sandwich in Howard County?  Near Howard County?  The Royal Pizza in Columbia pops up occasionally when people recommend sandwiches or wings.  Do they do a good cheesesteak?  I was also thinking about the New York Deli -- just for good ingredients and a broad menu.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

First Thoughts On The New Mango Grove

The new dosa station at Mango Grove
The new Mango Grove has opened in Columbia, and it's wonderful to see an old friend.

Great to taste the old friend too. That's the masala dosa. It's a star on the short "soft open" menu that they're serving as they get the kitchen up and running.

Great place, not blog-friendly lighting
The new Mango Grove looks like a step up even from what was one of Howard County's best restaurants. The new space off Dobbin Road is open and filled with warm, earthy colors. The back tables overlook a pond in the midst of the commercial development.  At the front is a open kitchen where you can watch the chefs make the dosas.

You need to go for the food. Eventually, they'll serve food from both Mango Grove's vegetarian menu and Mirchi Wok's non-veg selections. For now, they have a short menu. It's more than enough to fill a table -- mixing some standard curries with some southern Indian items like dosas.  Try a mango lassi.

We had a masala dosa. You get an enormous thin crepe filled with a vegetarian mixture of potato, vegetables and spices. Break off some of the crisp crepe and use it to scoop up the filling. We also had baighan bartha, an eggplant curry that seemed smokier, chunkier, even better than the old Mango Grove.

If liked the old Mango Grove, then you should definitely go visit the new one.  You'll see many friendly faces from before.  If it's new to you, I can't recommend it enough.  Great food.  An interesting variation from northern Indian cuisine.  It's a fun restaurant, and it's great to have it back.

On a practical note, this is a great place for vegetarians.  The food is delicious, and there is strict separation if you have ethical or religious reasons to avoid meat.  They actually set up two kitchens -- one vegetarian and one for meat.

Mango Grove
8865 Stanford Boulevard
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR: This is the shopping center that faces Dobbin Road south of Rte 175. You enter by turning from Dobbin onto Standard Boulevard. This has Pub DogHanamuraRiverside Coffee and Noodles Corner.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Get Your Drink On: Liquor In The Suburbs

Victoria's sampler on the patio
Man does not live on bread alone.  He needs a drink every once in a while.

The liquor story in Howard County seems to have two chapters as far as I can tell.  You have bars -- places where you can eat, but you're scanning the crowd more than the menu if you know what I mean.  Then you have focused joints -- beer bars or wine bars that pour delicious flavor and serve food that measures up.

This is part of HowChow's 2012 guide to Howard County -- "Welcome Home."  Ten posts to prove there are dozens of places worth your time, that you can find great food all across the county.  It's written for someone new to Howard County (maybe a link you send a friend thinking about moving here), but hopefully it's useful to anyone.

Let's party first.  This is where I need advice from local experts.  I did my drinking in smoky joints back when exotic beer meant Sam Adams and we thought women actually liked Zima.  (So much that we didn't know about women.)  So I would love comments that explain the scenes or the differences between the local night-life places -- and that recommend others or recommend good eating among them.

I know they're out there because I drive past packed parking lots, and I see tweeted specials that emphasize fun and price.  Young people are having fun in Howard County, and I know there is good food at some of these places as well.  Here's some places that seem to be hopping:
Flying Dog's Raging Bitch IPA
Now, let's talk about places trying to sell you high-end alcohol.  Obviously, lots of joints serve good wine and beer.  But there are places that curate the stuff.  Craft beer bars, often giving great advice and serving flights so you can sample.  (Anyone for a night out with the boys?)  Wine spots, maybe with one of those specialized systems to sell by the glass.  (Perfect for "Girls Night Out.")

Again, I'd love anyone's advice.  When I travel for business, I like to eat at a restaurant's bar because it's easy and somewhat social.  I could imagine people sitting at the bar at Ranazul or Venegas Prime Filet in Fulton.  But if you're looking for liquor, here are some places to go if you're drinking to go with the food:
Craft beer and "jarbecue" at Kloby's
  • Frisco Tap Room in Columbia for beer.  It's a casual place that built its own space a few years ago.  People talk up the Southwestern food.
  • Victoria Gastro Pub in Columbia for beer, including a flight of sample sizes.  Another place to eat at the bar.  I love the burgers, and the menu runs from imaginative sandwiches through upscale entrees.
  • Kloby's Smokehouse on Johns Hopkins Road for beer and bourbon, including flights as well.  Great barbecue, including ribs, pulled pork and smoked chicken wings.
  • Aida Bistro in Columbia for wine.  They have upscale Italian food, and they have a wine program that includes 30 wines on tap.  It's a hightech system that lets you sample the good stuff.
  • Iron Bridge Wine Company in Columbia for wine.  They created a cozy spot with bottles for sale and a rotating menu of small plates and entrees to go with them.  Great food.
  • Bistro Blanc in Glenelg for wine.  With a similar wine-store-restaurant arrangement as Iron Bridge, they brought high end food to the western county.  It's the fun of a menu that changes with the seasons.
(Update: The comments below rightly argue that T-Bonz and River Hill -- and others -- qualify as "curate" beer bars.  For more [although maybe outdated a bit], check out a 2009 post about Beer in Howard County.)

Personally, my first recommendation is the most casual because Kloby's barbecue makes for a casual meal with the delicious beers.  The wings are top notch.  You get the full wing -- both pieces smoked and then fried in my favorite "dirty and old" version.  You can also try pulled pork and the variation that is world famous -- maybe blog-famous -- "jarbecue."

If you want local beer news, check out the Baltimore Beer Guy blog for craft beer spottings.  If you want to buy your own liquor, there seem to be liquor stores everywhere.  The Perfect Pour in Elkridge is an enormous store, and i.m. Wine in Fulton is my local.

What I Don't Know: Where do you drink?  Beer folks talk up the Judge's Bench in Ellicott City, although I haven't imbibed there.  For beer news, I recommend the Baltimore Beer Guy blog.  Honestly, I don't know anything about the real drinking scene.  I had hoped the HoCo Hangover blog would fill that gap.  Any thoughts on Looneys vs. Green Turtle vs. Diamondback vs. somewhere else?  Any food suggestions at the drinking joints?  Also, I assume someone caters to gay or lesbian drinkers around here.  What's good?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

R&R Taqueria To Be On Feb. 27 "Diners & Dives"

Thanks for the photo Rob!
Last fall, Guy Fieri and the Food Network came through town to film at R&R Taqueria in Elkridge.  The Sun's Richard Gorelick posted on the Baltimore Diner blog that the R&R segment on "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" will air on February 27.  Check Gorelick's post for more about other local joints that made the show.

The Big Three: Howard County's Deepest Cuisines Are Flavors That Will Lure Your City Friends

Korean barbecue at Honey Pig
There are at least three cuisines where you could make yourself very happy arguing about the best restaurant in Howard County.

You'll be happy because an answer will demand in-depth research and repeat visits.  You could leisurely work your way through great restaurants and probably still reach no consensus about the county's Big Three:  sushi, Indian and Korean.

This is part of HowChow's 2012 guide to Howard County -- "Welcome Home."  Ten posts to prove there are dozens of places worth your time, that you can find great food all across the county.  It's written for someone new to Howard County (maybe a link you send a friend thinking about moving here), but hopefully it's useful to anyone.

These are also the cuisines that I'd recommend you dangle in front of your city friends.  A few odd food-lovers will come to try gas station tacos with you.  But most of your friends will want dinner in your new neighborhood, and you'll want to make to their drive worthwhile.   At the top end, these joints are as good as any options in Baltimore and almost anything in Washington except the restaurants priced for lobbyists.

Yama Sushi is new, but competing
I remember when eating raw fish -- any raw fish -- was a shocking idea, so I'm doubly surprised when I see it become a staple in American eating.  They make spicy tuna rolls in the supermarket!  Around here, they make sushi from basic to exquisite.  You can get whatever you want, and we regularly entice fish-loving friends to drive all the way to Columbia to eat with us:
  • Sushi Sono in Columbia.  Our favorite sushi anywhere.  Perfect fish.  A casual, but classy setting. Their reservation system is a bit vague, but everyone eventually gets a seat where they can sample formal sashimi, unique rolls, and Japanese treasures like broiled yellowtail head, monkfish liver and the snapper special.
  • Sushi King in Columbia.  We started at The King, and their rolls are still creative, delicious and enormous.  At either Sono or King, you can reserve a private room and meet friends around an enclosed table.
  • Yama Sushi in Ellicott City.  A bit more casual, the newcomer to our top list serves up its own creative rolls.  I had never seen this "big roll" style until I came to Columbia, and Yama does really great combinations and sauces.  If anything, lighter sauces and spicier options.
If you're looking for a neighborhood place, there are other casual places.  Click here for all the posts about Japanese food.  Keep an eye on Hanamura in Columbia.  Remember Fuji Restaurant in Ellicott City and the new Nari Sushi in Columbia.  Think about the all-you-can-eat Korean-style sushi at Kimco in Ellicott City.

House of India has been our go-to place for comfort food, but I'm happy to say that it might be only the third-best Indian restaurant in Howard County.  Now that Mango Grove has opened its new location, there are three great restaurants clustered south of Rte 175 in eastern Columbia:
House of India takeout
  • Mango Grove in Columbia.  They have opened their new location off Dobbin Road, so you can take the easiest adventure eating of your life.  Mango Grove is delicious.  It's full of unusual items like dosas, oothapapam, idli and jack fruit curries.  But's vegetarian so you can try anything without worrying.  The food is delicious.  The new location should be fun.  This is a unique enough menu to attract friends from your own neighborhood.
  • House of India in Columbia.  This is Mrs. HowChow's comfort food.  The flavors are right -- fresh and bright with spices and herbs.  Look for Northern Indian staples like tandoori chicken, curries, samosas, etc., plus specials like a rock fish that was beautiful from the tandoor oven.  Takeout works great, and the portions are enormous.
  • Royal Taj in Columbia.  Even with those two, this is the kitchen that people talk about the most these days.  The lunch buffet is creative and deep. and the dinners come on white tablecloths with wonderful curries and extras.  There are several people saying that Royal Taj is the best Indian around.
Indian food has expanded as much as anything since I came to town.  Akbar in Columbia is a location of the Baltimore institution.  Last year, Flavors of India opened with a mix of northern and southern dishes in Columbia, and Tandoori Grill converted a casual, counter-service deli on Johns Hopkins Road into a place that gets raves.  I'm a Tandoori fan, although Mrs. HowChow still wants her comfort food from House of India or Royal Taj.  You could run through all the posts about Indian food, then set out to discover.  You also need to keep your eyes out to see if Fulton gets a restaurant from the folks who own The Ambassador Dining Room in Baltimore.

The Korean restaurants in Howard County cluster along Rte 40, and picking three barely skims the surface of all the options that you can try along several miles of road.  Check the survey posts linked below, and you'll see there are places to serve everything from tofu stews to drinking snacks to Korean sushi.  

I'll start you off with three great restaurants that serve food that would please almost everyone -- barbecue, noodles, and fried chicken:
Feast at Shin Chon
  • Shin Chon Garden in Ellicott City.  This can be a perfect restaurant.  It's casual.  It's inviting.  They serve spectacular Korean barbecue that you can control because you pick your own meat, make your own lettuce wraps with rice and sauces, and eat whichever of the side dishes look good to you.  You won't get better Korean in Maryland, and it's easy for your friends to find at the intersection of Rte 40 and Rte 29.
  • Honey Pig in Ellicott City.  It's a bit cheaper, a bit younger, and a bit more chaotic than Shin Chon.  I'd recommend it for people who like Korean barbecue and have a craving along the lines of a "burger and beer" night.  Enjoy the scene, eat 24 hours a day, order the pork belly.
  • Tian Chinese Cuisine in Ellicott City.  In Seoul, this is Chinese food.  Here, the cuisine is better described as Chinese-Korean.  They make their own noodles, and the simplest serving is a black bean sauce.  It's delicious, cheap and unique.  Plus, they serve Korean fried chicken, which is hot, spicy and crunchy.  One order of noodles.  One order of chicken.  Go now.
Last year, I posted a survey of all the Korean restaurants with expert commentary from friend-of-the-blog Kevin.  Start with my amateur post, then click through to Kevin's hilarious rundown.  That was before the Bon Chon fried chicken joint was announced in late 2011.   I have said that, in many ways, there is nothing I'd like more than a little Korean, and there are many posts about the food.  (Nicki -- That's for you again.)

Shin Chon is my suggested way to try Korean for the first time.  I'm going to post an amateur's step-by-step instruction next week.  But you could ease your way into Korean with a discrete place like spicy tofu stews at Lighthouse Tofu in Ellicott City or a fusion dish like bulgogi tacos at Anna's Coffee Roastery in Columbia.

What I Don't Know:  What's your favorite cuisine in Howard County?  What trio of restaurants could compete with the ones above?  What restaurants do you think are good enough to attract your friends to drive from the city?  What are your favorites among the sushi, Indian and Korean spots?