Thursday, September 27, 2012

Link: Cupcake Taste-Off On Kitchen Scribble

Cupcakes go head-to-head on the Kitchen Scribble blog where kat and friends tasted the established Oh What A Cake! against the new Linda's Bakery.  Bottom line: They liked them both Columbia bakeries, but they had definite opinions about cake, frosting and decorations.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cheesesteak #1: Waterloo Pizza Delivers

If you're going to start a Tour de Cheesesteak, you might as well gas up the car at the same time.

In February, I asked the question "Where do you get a good cheesesteak?" and got dozens a terrific answers from Howard County to Baltimore and beyond.  I started in central Columbia at Waterloo Pizza & Subs in the Exxon station on Little Patuxent Parkway.

Did the Waterloo cheesesteak have what I wanted?

Lean sliced beef?  Check.  Mushrooms, onions and hot peppers?  Check.  Soft roll?  Check -- plus bonus points for a toasted roll.

That's a good sandwich.  A large helping of well-done meat, juicy enough to have flavor without turning greasy.  Provolone melted through the meat, and vegetables on top were generous without distracting anyone from the point that I had ordered a cheese steak sandwich.

I ate happily in my car, although you could sit in the Exxon's waiting area and watch television.  Even a small cheesesteak is a heavy sandwich.  I felt stuffed even without any chips or sides.  Waterloo isn't making a brilliant sandwich like Bon Fresco's london broil, but they do the cheesesteak right.

Is it authentic?  Probably not because I don't remember anyone toasting rolls on Chestnut Street.  (As you read this, guys in Eagles jerseys are drafting comments below about how Waterloo doesn't use the right bakery.)  But I love toasted bread, so the crisp bread actually made my cheesesteak by standing up to the meat juices and providing a little crunch.

This may take a while.  I'm past my prime when I ate multiple cheesesteaks and hoagies each week.  But the tour will roll through other cheesesteak suggestions.  People raved broadly with a few votes a bunch of local places, including Simmies in Columbia, Diamondback Tavern in Ellicott City,  and Philly's Best in Elkridge.  I was actually trying to eat at Philly's Best, but the person who answered the phone couldn't be bothered to give me directions.

Of course, the best gas station food around remains R&R Taqueria in Elkridge.  That's gas station food worth driving from anywhere in Howard County.

Waterloo Pizza at the Columbia Exxon
10611 Little Patuxent Pkwy
Columbia, MD 21044
(410) 730-3006

NEAR:  This Waterloo Pizza is in the Exxon station at Little Patuxent Parkway just west of the Columbia mall.  This is very near the community college, Howard County Hospital, and many Columbia offices.  This is different from the Waterloo Pizza just off Rte 108 in Elkridge.

Waterloo Pizza & Sub on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Where Can You Get Food As Good As The Game?

NFL jerseys outside Looney's
Football season is back into swing, and people pack bars and restaurants to watch all weekend and into Monday night.

But where can you get food as good as the game?

Options vary.  The first thought must be bars that feature craft beers and good food.  But then, there is a tension between great food and great viewing.  I'm partial to the burgers and other dishes at Victoria Gastro Pub in Columbia, but there are way more screens -- and still some good eating -- at places like Looney's in Fulton, T-Bonz in Ellicott City or the River Hill Sports Grille in Clarksville.

Anyone recommend specific dishes at those places?  Or recommend them for the scene?  Driving past Looney's on Sunday, the crowd was still sparse outside, but there were people wearing at least five different NFL jerseys.

Kloby's wings
Personally, I'd paint the middle ground at the Diamondback Tavern in Ellicott City and Kloby's Smokehouse on Johns Hopkins Road.  They're big on sports, and they push bar food by making good stuff in-house.  Nikki talks up the Diamondback's corned beef, and I'll vouch for the Kloby's wings and pulled pork.

If I read the tweets correctly, the Baltimore Beer Guy watched some of Sunday at Frisco Tap House in Columbia.  That's another spot with serious beers and a kitchen that wants to do something unusual.  The BBG loves Frisco's burritos -- along with the corn-dusted chicken sandwich and the barbecue chicken tacos.

But other folks are getting into the action.  Ranazul is a tapas restaurant across Maple Lawn Boulevard from Looney's, and they advertised half-priced burgers yesterday after 2:30 pm.  The bar has a large screen.  They invited folks to walk and eat upscale.

There is an even-larger screen at Bon Chon in Ellicott City.  The new Korean fried chicken spot projects onto an entire wall, and they were at least talking about creating a scene for Ravens games. Again, I say start with the wings.  But the other chicken is delicious too, and you can supplement with Korean food and enough beer to keep the cheering loud.

Where do you watch?  What the scene?  What food do you recommend?  Anywhere that people wouldn't expect like Ranazul?

Monday, September 17, 2012

"Curd & Oats" - Mrs. HowChow's Nursery Rhyme

Oatcakes from Roots, tangerine ginger curd from The Breadery
Little Miss HowChow sat on her tuffet
Eating her curd and oats
Along came a spider and sat down beside her
And frightened Miss HowChow away . . . 

. . . except Mrs. HowChow took the oatcakes and the tangerine ginger curd with her.  They're just too delicious to abandon to insects.

We ate one final Sunday night dinner at the neighborhood pool, and Mrs. HowChow assembled dessert from some of the treats that she has discovered this summer.

The house-brand lemon sorbet from Wegmans.  Effie's oatcakes from Roots in Clarksville.  And a tangerine spread that she picked up at The Breadery in Oella.  These are all finds that Mrs. HowChow made as we shopped around this summer.

The Wegmans sorbets are all delicious.  But it's oatcakes that are actually better than they sound.  They're a lightly-sweet cracker or a mildly-oaty cookie.  Either way, they're delicious, and they pair perfectly with the tangerine curd -- a creamy spread almost the consistency of frosting, but strong with the taste of citrus.

They'd be great if you were assembling a picnic one weekend.  Maybe if you head off to Larriland Farm in Woodbine to pick apples and pumpkins.  Just watch out for spiders . . .

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Fresh Dates - Like On The Stem -- At Nazar

Fresh dates at Nazar Market
Grab for the season by trying fresh dates on Nazar Market in Columbia.

Fresh dates like dates just harvested and sold still on the stem.  They're firm and golden, nothing like the soft brown dates that I normally buy.  But they're ripe, and you eat the skin and all.

It's a fresh flavor, the full flavor of the date but less sugary.  The skin reminds me of an Asian pear.  You crunch through flesh like an apple -- slightly astringent at the skin, but then the flavor that is surprisingly rich with honey.

Based on exhaustive minutes of on-line research, these appear to be Mariani dates picked at the "khalal" stage.  The LA Times describes them as the "flavor of coconut, sugarcane and cinnamon."  I wish that I has thought of that because it's a nice description, much better than "full flavor of the date."

Nazar is a market with a halal butcher in the shops at Snowden River Parkway and Oakland Park Boulevard.  You enter from Oakland Park, and Nazar faces across the parking lot at Bon Fresco Sandwich Bakery.  Nazar sells lots of Turkish goods -- including candies, juices, sodas, grains, spices and the perfect ground lamb.  Ground lamb was one of the stars of 2010's Grilling Week.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

DuClaw Releases A 2012 Special

DuClaw Brewing Company in Bel Air announced its 2012 special H.E.R.O. '12 beer, and they're raising money for the family of a employee killed at the Redhook Brewery in New Hampshire.

DuClaw has run a contest where they ask home brewers to submit their beer varieties.  They pick one to produce and sell.  This year's winner is Chocolate Chipotle Stout.

The beer will go on sale on October 24.  You'll be able to buy 22-ounce bottles at places like Perfect Pour in Elkridge, i.m. Wine in Fulton or Jason's Wine & Spirits in Ellicott City.  DuClaw is often on tap at locals like TBonz Grille and Judge's Bench in Ellicott City, Frisco Taphouse and Victoria Gastro Pub in Columbia, and Kloby's Smokehouse on Johns Hopkins Road.

The proceeds will go for a fund to benefit the wife and unborn child of Ben Harris, a Redhook employee who died when a plastic keg he was cleaning exploded.

Hatch Chiles Have Taken Over The Parking Lot

Mena's peppers
The Hatch chile event at Wegmans run through Sunday, and it permeates much of the store.

A roasting machine and tent set up in the parking lot.  Roasted and fresh chiles in produce.  A cream cheese spread in the cheese section.  Even a "floral" arrangement of chiles by the florist.

Roasting in the parking lot
The smell flows right off the roasting tent into the parking lot as you walk to the store. I admit that I passed on the 23-pound box, but mostly because I overbought in the tomato and peach fields last month.  One quixotic canning event is cute.  Two is a problem husband.

But Mena paid $39 for 23 pounds of fresh peppers, which they'll roast for you as well.  Mena reports:
My peppers are are chillin' in the freezer now. House smells amazing.  I put about four peppers in each bundle. When frozen, I will put them in a ziplock. The rest are in the basement freezer.  Bought a pork shoulder and will probably make chile verde.  Couldn't remember what ingredients I needed except tomatillos -- so will have to make another trip.
Wegmans in Columbia is selling two varieties of Hatch peppers -- a spicy and a mild.  The roasted spicy pepper has a real bite, but it's all delicious.  You can buy everything from a few peppers up to the 23-pound boxes.  They're only available for about a month in the fall, so people freeze them like Mena in small batches to pull out for salsas, chili, and all kinds of Southwest dishes.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Ray Rice & Main Street Making Specials For You (Or How I May Become A Ravens Fan This Fall)

I have said before that I came to Howard County for a woman, but the place grows on you -- and I just may becoming a Ravens fan.

The most-recent reason:  Ray Rice has lent his efforts to an effort to raise money to help Main Street Ellicott City.  The Ravens running back encouraged people to shop or eat downtown after the recent train derailment.  Now, he and some local business are back with more.

From today through October, shops and restaurants will run specials around the theme of "27 for Old EC."  You get a deal, and they'll donate 27% of the proceeds to the local business association that will help people recover from the derailment.

At the moment, you can get food specials at places like the Diamondback Tavern, Pure Wine Cafe, Tersiguel's, the Ellicott Mills Brewing Co. and more.

The Ellicott City Business Association is posting details and specials on a Facebook page that you can "like" and pass to your friends.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Sun Picks Nine Columbia Restaurants

The Sun highlights nine Columbia restaurants on a list created by critic Richard Gorelick -- talking up options from Italian to continental to Afghan.

The list is good advice.  The photo gallery is a weird format.  Is there some corporate theory behind these photo galleries?  I see them on other sites.  I feel like it must be some way to get you to click 10 times rather than read a single page.

A Revolution In Bread In Howard County

Sourdough from The Breadery
In the last year or so, Howard County's simplest food has gotten way more complex -- and way more interesting if you like a crunchy crust.

We're talking about bread.  Years ago, I posted about bakeries in Howard County, and bread merited a single paragraph -- Bonaparte Bakery in Savage with side notes about the whole grain loaves at The Breadery then on Rte 40 and other people's love of Great Harvest in Columbia.

But a quiet revolution has truly changed your options -- new places, new flavors, novel spots where you can stop for fresh, exciting bread:
  • Wegmans in Columbia.  This is the flashy new spot of 2012.  The bakery sits right inside the front door, and we fill bags with baguettes, rolls and other goodies.  The rolls are our new staple.  I buy eight or 10 at a time, and I freeze them two to a bag.  They're perfect to thaw for sandwiches or just to accompany dinner.
  • The Breadery that relocated to Oella last summer.  An easy drive from Main Street in Ellicott City, and you can enjoy their long-standing line of whole grain loaves, along with crusty offerings like baguettes, sourdough, flat breads topped with cheese and vegetables, and the best hot dog buns that you'll ever find.
  • Loaves from the new Roots bakery
  • Roots Market in Clarksville.  The Roots folks started a bakeshop this spring that does sweets to savory, and they now fill their displays with their own loaves -- sourdough, Russian black bread, a harvest bread coated with crunchy seeds.  We sliced ciabatta for almost every meal last weekend.
Bonaparte continues to make Savage Mill a wonderful place to stop for simple like baguettes or fantastic like the rosemary lemon bread.  The revolution is that almost every corner of the county now has bakers pushing similar excellence.

Soft sandwich breads or crusty loaves.  Simple rolls or dinner party centerpieces.  Whatever you like,  you can expect to eat something make with care and an eye on flavor, texture and fun.

The change has been so great that you have stil more hidden options for quality bread.  The Bagel Bins in Clarksville and Columbia often offer challah on Fridays.  The Shrine of St. Anthony in Clarksville sells rye and other varieties baked by Trappist monks in New York State.  And the Bon Fresco Sandwich Bakery in Columbia offers up focaccia and baguettes along with their spectacular sandwiches.

This is the gradual innovation that makes a place special.  Four great bakeries.  The specialist options -- topped off with loaves you can buy at Mom's Organic Market in Jessup or at one of the farmers markets.  Soon, the county has begun a place where you can expect to eat well and people stop saying "It's all chain restaurants and Safeway."  You can be a little proud and eat near home.

Don't forget the pretzel rolls.  That's an early Wegmans find.  Click here for all the posts about bread.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Beef Soup At Han Sung Restaurant

Yuk gae jung with age tofu and chapchae in the back
The cold is coming, and you should start looking for warm dinners to get you through.

Yuk gae jang is a Korean beef soup perfect for your winter, and Han Sung Restaurant in Ellicott City will ladle it out for you.

Han Sung is a small casual restaurant just south of Rte 40.   Many of the people coming through were eating sushi or tempura.  But there is a small variety of homestyle Korean food, and I'm looking to eat beyond the barbecue and the Korean-Chinese noodles that I love.

Yuk gae jang is a bowl thick with shredded flank steak, scallions and noodles in a red-tinged broth.  The soup has a spicy zest, but it's not the fiery flavor that you can get in some Korean dishes.  It's a filling dish.  The beef cooked tender.  The noodles soak up the broth.  On the side you get a metal container of rice, which you spoon into the bowl and adds a nice heartiness.

Han Sung doesn't have the panache of Shin Chon Garden, which is our repeat joint for Korean.  But we're trying new spots, and I directed us to Han Sung -- and to yuk gae jung -- based on a Yelp review by Ji K.  They put out a nice table of vegetable panchan, and it seems like the right place for a dinner of soup and sushi.

One note: Ask for the main dish serving of yuk gae jung ($11).  It's in English on the takeout menu, but the regular menu lists the main dish soups only in Korean.  Next time, we'll try the mandu gook -- dumplings in a beef broth -- or the seafood pancakes.  Anyone else suggest dishes at Han Sung?

Han Sung Restaurant
3570 St. Johns Lane
Ellicott City, MD 21043

NEAR: Han Sung is in a small commercial development on St. Johns Lane south of Rte 29.  You drive past a cemetery on the right, and then turn right into a brick commercial building just before the next intersection with Frederick Road.  Han Sung is around the corner and faces Frederick Road.

Hansung on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 10, 2012

Last Chance For Original Soft Stuff

Take your last chance to eat soft serve on the side of Rte 40.

The Soft Stuff stand has been an Ellicott City institution, and it will close some time in October.  Go now.  They're already starting the construction that will replace a motel and diner with a modern commercial development.  But you can get your cones and enjoy one final night eating ice cream next to your car.

We went Saturday night after a Korean dinner.  People were rolling up at a steady pace.  The woman working there said they'll stay open until October.  They didn't know an exact date yet.

Soft serve is soft serve.  I'm not sending you for a gourmet sweet.  I'm sending you because the ice cream parlor that will replace Soft Stuff will be like so many other ice cream parlors around.  The current stand is a window back in time, and the memory will be as delicious as the dessert.

Soft Stuff
10021 Baltimore Pike
Ellicott City, MD

NEAR: Soft Serve is attached to the last remnant of the Forest Motel.  It is on the south side of Rte 40 west of Rte 29 across from the Enchanted

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Wegmans Won't Appeal Liquor Board Vote

The folks who wanted to open a liquor store on the second floor of the Columbia Wegmans won't appeal, report the Patch and Explore Howard.

The county liquor board voted down an application made for a liquor store that would have been 90% owned by the husband of the president of Wegmans.  Wegmans told the local reporters that they don't know how they'll use the space where the liquor store was planned.

My vote: Lebanese Taverna.  I'm a bit obsessed after eating there on Labor Day.  Even the counter-service Lebanese Tavernas in Rockville and Silver Spring would be a wonderful addition to Howard County.  Delicious meats and even better salads, falafel and vegetables.  Casual, reasonably-priced, and unmatched around here.

But an outside restaurant is probably not a smart move for 10,000 square feet sitting above Wegmans own food court.  Someone else could always try to get a liquor license for that spot.    Mrs. HowChow wants a Jamba Juice.  What else is missing from Howard County?  What could you imagine there?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Hot Stuff -- Special Ordered -- At Wegmans

Hatch chiles for special order at Wegmans
The new Wegmans has brought a taste of New York New Mexico to Columbia -- offering to sell you cases of hatch chiles and delivering them in mid-September.

N8tiveNYer emailed me about the special hatch chile sale because she bought some last year when she lived in Virginia.  Wegmans has a large sign at the entrance saying you can order at the catering desk, and N8tiveNYer recommends buying a roasted case and freezing them for the future.

Hatch chiles are a New Mexico specialty, ranging from mild to hot but all coming from the valley running along the Rio Grande.  They're used in traditional southwestern dishes, but also as modern twists in burgers, chicken dishes, and even cookies.

N8tiveNYer thinks that she was quoted $39 for a 25- or 35-pound case.  Wegmans sells them fresh or roasted, and she buys roasted to avoid the mess.  She recommends them for a green chile salsa, although you can start looking for ideas from the Houston Chronicle (chicken-fried steak / cookies), the Aprovecho blog (chicken with cheese and chilis), or the Hatch Chile Heaven blog (chili / burgers / a whole cookbook).