Monday, September 30, 2013

Grabbing Some Final Outdoor Meals -- Pure Wine Cafe's New Space And The Main Street Patios

View from Pure Wine's patio

The Pure Wine Cafe is one of many places that we enjoyed, but rarely found ourself revisiting.

Now is the time to eat there again -- especially if you can try their new patio in the fleeting nights of the year when we can eat outside.

Pure Wine started as a tiny place on Main Street in Ellicott City.  Small plates.  Good wines.  But such a tiny space that they didn't take reservations, and it often took second place to restaurants where we knew that we could get parking and a seat.

Now, they've blown through a wall and spread upstairs into a second dining room and a stone patio overlooking Main Street.  It's beautiful space and -- like the new patio at Portalli's -- a real reason to explore downtown Ellicott City.

The patio.
Pure Wine has always had a fun kitchen.  A small, seasonal menu.  On Sunday nights, some dishes even sell out because they only buy what they expect to use.  It's also a fun joint.  We arrived on one of those Sunday nights when all the outdoor seats were filled.  The hostess set us up on two chairs a few steps above the patio.  We drank wine and a cider from Millstone Cellars in Monkton, then slid into a table once one opened.

We missed some sliders that looked terrific, but we ate well.  A salad with spinach, peaches and goat cheese.  Some fish tacos.  And a terrific charcuterie plate headlined by salami and an amazing blue cheese.  The cheese was creamy with a blue flavor, but milder so that it went well with everything else on the plate.

Sitting outside gives a new feel to Pure Wine.  You overlook the Old Columbia Pike intersection.  It's almost a city feel.  The entire new space is modern.  A sleek bathroom.  A wine cellar built into the bedrock with glass walls so that you can see inside as you walk upstairs.  A new second-floor dining room where 10 people were watching a pair of guitar players perform while we ate.  With original bar on the first floor, you now have three really different options -- and they take reservations.

When we were there, the Pure Wine folks were talking about heaters to extend the season.  It's all new. They're figuring it out.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Lotte Has A Food Court, But No Steamed Buns

New casual restaurant at Lotte in Catonsville
The new Lotte in Catonsville has become one of my favorite places for food, and they have already made changes to their lineup.

Out: The Honey Pig stands for steamed buns and fried chicken.  The chicken wasn't spectacular, but the steamed buns were really special.  I'm bummed.

In: A casual restaurant with Korean food.  It's like a one-counter food court.  It has an array of Korean dishes.  Can you recommend anything in particular?  On my last trip, I had to get home (and had a cart of perishables) so I didn't stop.

If you're looking at the new restaurant, turn around and look in the refrigerator cases.  Lottee had an array of panchan in deli containers.  You could pick from maybe two dozen side dishes like spicy radishes, lotus root, tiny fish, and more.  They looked terrific.  You could make a great dinner by buying seasoned bulgogi meat -- beef or chicken -- and then picking up some side dishes that catch your fancy.

Does anyone know if Honey Pig will re-try the steamed bun idea anywhere else?  Do they sell them at the Ellicott City restaurant?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Bacon Cheese Burger With Chips At Union Jacks -- Adam Tastes One For The Team (And Reports)

Union Jacks burger -- before
I made the first winter burger last night with a cast iron pan and meat from Laurel Meat Market.

But Adam has been out sampling the burgers around town.  He hit up Union Jacks near the Columbia mall, and he wrote a guest post about a place where you can get the Monday night special:
Unless you’ve been living outside the solar system, you may have realized that ground beef prices have been soaring over the past few years. I suppose there’s a blessing in disguise for our arteries and maybe the planet when it comes to this unfortunate economic reality, but frankly, I’m a young and hungry person who needs me some cow every now and then. Preferably ground, dripping with fatty, smoky bacon and gooey-melted cheese. But I don’t want to take out a mortgage on my burgers. Enter half-price burger nights, including every Monday night at Union Jack’s in Columbia. 
I nearly fell out of my chair at the bar when the final bill of $5.57 came in last Monday night. To get a half-pound burger with Gruyere and pecan smoked bacon seemed like highway robbery at that price, and to get a hot order or skin-on, thick cut “chips” (French fries for us non-Limeys) puts the plate amongst the best deals in Howard County eating. 
Be warned though; this is definitely a pub-style burger, and it may not be for everyone. I didn’t see a spec of pink despite ordering my burger medium, and while it was still juicy and oozing fatty juices, I thought the meat itself was a bit bland. The burger had a distinct and bold char-grill taste that reminds me of the burgers at Clydes, but lacked the sweet and especially beefy overtones of pan-fried or griddled burgers. Personally, I tend to favor the flavor of the maillard reaction to the flavor of char-grilling, especially because the former produces a delectably crispy crust. Other notable construction issues were the Challah bun, which did a weird gum thing with the melted cheese and Dijon mustard, as well as the cornichon pickles. The pickles added nice crunch, but because the burger is so large and heavy-tasting, a fresher and sweeter take of bread and butter pickles would have been more appropriate. 
While I think the burger could have been seasoned a bit more aggressively and had some fresher flavors to cut through the beef, it’s still a great deal. The special applies only to the standard burger (with choice of cheese and 'spread) but you can add on extra ingredients at a small additional charge of just a quarter because of the half-price deal. Whichever cheese or you choose, do make sure to get the meaty pecan-smoked bacon. Cooked perfectly, with still-chewy edges of fat, it lends complex flavors and crunch to the burger. Finally, no burger is complete without the fries. While I was a little disappointed at first that the server didn’t know all the sides Union Jack’s offers when asked (and according to their website, they have some good looking ones) I didn’t regret getting steered towards the default English ‘chips.’ They’re thick with the skin still on, bursting with potato flavor and oddly addictive with that malt vinegar stuff they give you. Seriously, I hardly even touched the ketchup! 
Is the Union Jacks the home of the best burger in Howard County? I’m not sure. Personally, I rank the burgers at Bobby’s Burger Palace higher, but technically the Maryland Live! location is in Ann Arundel county. On the same account, my heart is always endeared (literally) to the In-N-Out style burgers I late while going to college out West. But flaws aside, it’s hard not to enjoy a 1/2-pound burger with cheese and bacon, especially when you can pick one up every Monday night for as good as a deal as you can get at Union Jacks.
What other burgers do you recommend?  Other burger specials?  I have done burger posts as long ago as 2009, and I still love Victoria Gastro Pub when I order burgers out.  And you could always get the personal grind -- beef and bacon -- at my Laurel Meat Market.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Let's Talk Liquor: Bourbon And Rye Enter Our Liquor Cabinet, But We Need More Advice

Woodberry Kitchen's "Deadwood" cocktail with Rittenhouse rye
Has anyone ever told you that scotch tastes like dirt?

I drank scotch for almost 20 years.  I learned to drink on cheap beer and Cuba libres, and I got adult by adding bottled beer and the scotch loved by my grandfather and father.  Scotch is easy.  You can drink with the boss.  You can impress your friends.

But drinking scotch is hard . . . because it tastes like dirt.  Smoky.  Peaty.  I tasted the flavors that aficionados love, but I admitted at some point this year that they taste awful to me.  So my friend asked if I liked bourbon.  Bourbon?  I thought that was harsher than scotch.  It turns out that it's sweet.  Sweet!

This started as a summer of bourbon.  DonkeyKong introduced me to Buffalo Trace bourbon at Kloby's Smokehouse, which does bourbon, beer and barbecue.  Then Woodberry Kitchen taught me about rye.  Specifically, it was a wonderful "Deadwood" cocktail with "honeyed rye," a smoky tea, peaches, a sage leaf and other magic.

Rye w/dinner of
potatoes, tomatoes and eggs
Now, I'm trying to recreate the experience at home.  I have shopped around.  Buffalo Trace from Roundabout Liquor in Laurel.  Rittenhouse rye at Perfect Pour in Elkridge -- a giant store that can really offer variety.  Then a special mixer -- ginger shrub -- at i.m. Wine in Fulton.  Shrub is a non-alcoholic vinegar, and i.m. Wine sells an entire line from Shrub & Co. 

So far, it's good fun.  I'd recommend either Rittenhouse or Buffalo Trace.  Just a glass and an ice cube make a great drink.  But I'd love some advice -- about cocktails and about other options.  What liquor stores have something special?  What restaurants serve cocktails on the Woodberry theme?  What cocktail recipes could you recommend?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Linsy's Store: Another Casual Taqueria That You Need To Hit Up For Delicious Mexican Food

Tacos at Linsy's Store
This blog is a hobby, and I get paid with fun ideas.

Linsy's Store in Catonsville is a casual Mexican restaurant where the tacos match anything around here.  Evan Brown of Portalli's gave me a gift when he told me that the guys who work in his kitchen swear by Linsy's when they want Mexican food.  Now, I can share the gift with you.

These are ideal tacos.  Soft, pliable tortillas with corn flavor.  Savory meats -- a little char to the barbacoa and a nice grill on the chicken.  Then talented fresh toppings -- cilantro for flavor, a cooked green onion and sliced radish for crunch, and a fiery green salsa to squirt on yourself.

Linsy's sits on Rte 40 in Catonsville.  Until Evan, I had driven past dozens of times coming home from H Mart.  The market is hidden behind a Popeye's franchise.  The restaurant is hidden in the back of the store.

You need to search the place out if you like R&R Taqueria in Jessup or Tere's Latin Market in Ellicott City.  I love both those places, and Linsey's are just as delicious.  Different kitchens.  Different meats and garnishes.  But this was a perfect lunch of two tacos and horchata that they ladled from a pitcher into my cup.

You can't beat fresh tacos.  The flavors pop off the plate.  The salsa alone would have made the meal.  They have basic chicken, beef and pork tacos, although they didn't have pork when I visited.  The Spanish menu also lists tongue and options that translate into "ear" and "assorted."  I can't recommend this enough.  Even if you don't love this as much as I do, you can eat for $10.

Linsy's offered a full Mexican menu with counter service.  They had a range of dishes from small tacos or tostadas to full meals like grilled pork, seafood soup, enchiladas, or al pastor shrimp.  They do breakfast.  I ate lunch on a Sunday, and the six tables were full of kids and families.

While you're at Linsy's for tacos, check out the other business nearby.  Patel Brothers is an Indian grocery with vegetables, rices, spices, and other Indian items.  Next door is Paradise Biryani Pointe, which I added to my "to do list.  Biryani is an Indian rice dish, and the menu has a bunch of dishes that are new to me.

Linsy's Store, Restaurant & Deli
6400 Baltimore National Pike (Rte 40)
Catonsville, MD
(410) 744-6412

NEAR:  This is Catonsville, but it's a reasonable drive from Ellicott City -- and great fun if you pair eating tacos with shopping at H Mart or Lotte.  Linsy's is on the north side of Rte 40 just west of Rolling Road, but you can't see it from the road because it is blocked by a Popeye's.  Turn right from west-bound Rte 40 after the Popeye's, and your car will be aimed at Linsy's as you drive into the parking area.

Linsy's Store on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 20, 2013

New Facci In Turf Valley? Weekend Canning?

The new Facci last weekend
Did the new Facci open in Turf Valley yesterday?  Cindy left a comment on Facebook.  Has anyone been there?

The new Turf Valley shopping center looks like a real winner for people up there.  They attracted a team of local restaurateurs to open locations there -- Facci, Xitomate, Grill 620 and Red Parrot.

They also made windows that open.  As I drove past the Facci last weekend, entire walls were open.  It looked inviting in the fall weather, and it made the center look like a pedestrian street.  Just those windows could change the feel of a place like Maple Lawn or a Columbia village center.

While you're thinking about the west county, think about picking fruit and vegetables at Larriland.  Tomatoes are scattered, but they're such fun.  Plus, apples are in prime season, and you could make apple butters.  But then AnnieRie canned pineapple habanero jelly for her first attempt, so you could do almost anything.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Ernesto's Has Opened; Rte 40 Gets Mexican From Dallas To Go With New Korean Bakery Shilla

Ernesto's Fine Mexican in Ellicott City
Ernesto's Fine Mexican has opened in the Enchanted Forest shopping center on Rte 40 -- bringing a Dallas chain to Ellicott City.

I didn't actually taste the food when I stopped for a menu.  I had just eaten two tacos in Catonsville.  But the place looked nice.  The menu looks like basic Tex-Mex with tacos, enchiladas, burritos, and some larger entries.  They have special lunch dishes.

Kathy ate at Ernesto's on the third night they were open.  She said the meal wasn't perfect, but it showed signs of promise.
Most of it was well cooked but under seasoned. The queso blanco on my enchilada and the rice in the side were excellent. I had a long talk with Myra, a manager here from Texas to open the new place. She wants to sample other Mexican food in the area but so far has only been to Don Pablo's. I wanted to weep! I sent her to R&R. Hopefully that will convince her we want, need, love real Mexican!
I'm with Kathy.  I love Mexican food, but I pass by many Mexican restaurants around here because I'm afraid that I'll get piles of cheese with uninspired ingredients.  In contrast, I stop at taquerias aimed at immigrant customers because the food is often fresh and full of flavor.

Baked goods at Shilla
In the same way, we're lucky to be getting a variety of shops aimed at Korean customers on Rte 40.  The Shilla Bakery has opened -- although they're still waiting to offer sandwiches.  You can buy all kinds of cakes, cookies and sweets, along with some savory baked goods like Shilla's take on pizza.

Again, I have only visited with a full stomach.  Mrs. HowChow and I split a green bean donut, which was terrific.  Sweet, dense filling inside a fried pastry.  If you catch a warm night, we highly recommend bing soo, a Korean dessert that we had at the similar Bon Appetit Bakery farther west on Rte 40.

What do people suggest at Shilla and Ernesto's?  What have you had?  What would have again?  What would you order next time? 

Both Shilla and Bon Appetit are cool places to hang out.  They're basically coffee shops with awesome sweets.  They're often packed with families and kids.  

Ernesto's Fine Mexican Food
10040 Baltimore National Pike (Rte 40)
Ellicott City, MD

NEAR:  Ernesto's is in the Enchanted Forest shopping center.  It is on the north side of Rte 40 west of Rte 29.  Ernesto's is next to Jilly's.

Shilla Bakery
9339 Baltimore National Pike (Rte 40)
Ellicott City, MD

NEAR: Shilla is on the south side of Rte 40 west of Rte 29.  It is in the same shopping center as Jason's Wine & Spirits.  Don't listen to Google.  Shilla sells some items in the Lotte grocery at Rte 29 and Rte 40, and Google lists that as Shilla's Ellicott City location.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What I Did This Summer #3: Tamales, Fried Chicken, And More Great Restaurant Questions

Corn tamale at Huajicori in Catonsville
We did a little bit of old and new this summer -- hitting up comforting standbys and stepping outside our regulars.

Bon Chon fried chicken is one of the happiest places to return -- although their missing "local options" make it harder to return that often.

Bon Chon chicken
Bon Chon is a pleasure.  Their chicken comes incredibly crisp, and there is skill in everything from that chicken to the coleslaw.  It can just be really, really hot.  Well, it's either garlic-soy or spicy hot.  Just two flavors of chicken.  One is a bit mild, and the other starts at fiery delicious, then becomes just too much to handle.

My advice is order half-and-half or even one-quarter spicy (if they'll do that).  My other advice is to ask for the pickled radish side dish because crunching radish cubes can cool down your mouth.  The Rte 40 restaurant offered "Old Bay" and "honey-hot" flavors for a few weeks this summer, but those are gone now.  I get the idea that the franchise got heat from the central Bon Chon company.

But what about new places this summer?  How about Catonsville?

We had a light lunch at Huajicori, a casual Mexican place that replaced the El Nayar on Frederick Road.  We went with our vegetarian niece, and we discovered a terrific tamale.  Straight corn flavor steamed in a leaf.  Mrs. HowChow learned tamales at LA farmers' markets, and she thought the Huajicori dish measured up.  Between our snack and good salsa, it seems like a place worth checking out again.

We also ate at Catonsville Gourmet.  We both had good fish there, and it seems like a nice place if you want something classy without driving into a city.  But it's priced like the city, which always makes me ask the "Woodberry Kitchen question" like I did in 2010.  For $50-75 per couple, the best local restaurants need to compete with kitchens in two cities.  Since we eat like that only a few weekends a year, we often find ourselves willing to drive into town.

What places are good enough to draw you out for high-end meals?  We have Aida Bistro, Bistro Blanc, Tersiguel's, Portalli's and many other options.  The Highland Inn is supposed to open soon -- at least according to its Web site.  What do you recommend?  What makes your special dinner near home?  What do you know about the Highland Inn?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Happy Chuseok -- Sweet Ways To Learn New Cultures By Buying Korean Sweets Or Moon Cakes

Chinese moon cakes at Lotte
The Korean Chuseok festival runs this week, starting Wednesday and running through Friday (at least on the majority of the sources that I can find).

Chuseok is a harvest festival.  People visit their ancestral homes and enjoy good foods.  In similar fashions, there are festivals associated with this same moon -- names like the Moon Festival or Children's Festival -- that range from Vietnam through China to the Philippines.

These are all opportunities for you to eat and learn a little culture.  Groceries like Lotte are selling moon cakes and the sweet filled rice cakes called songpyeon.  The songpyeon are Korean -- dumpling-sized rice cakes filled with sweet red bean paste, sesame seeds, and other flavors.  The moon cakes are more Chinese.  They're often thin crusts around a dense, sweet filing as well.  You can't go wrong with sweets!

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Bare Midriff Writes Her Love For Mad City

The Mad City coffee shop in Columbia is a mainstay among the local shops, and Elizabeth blogs on the Bare Midriff about seven reasons why she loves going there -- including the geeks.

What I Did On Summer Vacation #2: Guacamole, Kabobs, Cotton Candy And Other Comfort Foods

Guacamole from Roots Market in Clarksville
The guacamole from Roots in Clarksville feels like the flavor of our summer.

It's pricey, but it's worth every penny because it is always delicious.  The chipotle version makes a nice variation, but we keep coming back to the plain guacamole with a bag of Nana's Cocina tortilla chips thrown in the cart as well.  Fresh, zesty, seriously-filling as a snack or a meal.

You can just dip the chips.  You can zest up even a quesadilla made with pedestrian tortillas and cheese.  You can throw a party from Roots' refrigerator with their guacamole, a Cava hummus, and some chips to accompany them.  The only key is that you press plastic wrap if you're putting some back in the fridge to keep the avocado from turning brown -- and that you keep modern guacamole out of your Old El Paso tacos if you're trying to recreate the 1970s.

On top of the guac, we picked up a few other items this summer to make life fun:
Cotton candy at Sweet Treats
  • Cotton candy from the Sweet Treats stand in Columbia Mall.  My mother and aunt love cotton candy.  Sugar-drunk from a visit to the Jersey Shore, they took the position that you couldn't get great cotton candy around here.  So Mrs. HowChow took eight bags to my parents' house.  Instant fun to make plates with the four flavors, and the ladies conceded that the mall's candy was top notch.
  • Comfort food at Maiwand Kabob.  We took tennis lessons at Cedar Lane Park, and we relished the ease of chicken kabobs, a gyro and the pumpkin appetizer at the Afghan restaurant in the Harper's Choice village center.  That's eating for the day, and the flavors truly make this one of my favorite restaurants in Howard County.
  • Oysters at Wegmans.  They may not be your cup of tea, but a slurp of salt water can make an easy meal.  I picked up a dozen oysters at Wegmans after one of their seafood folks enticed me with samples of two types.  I got several of each and taste-tested with the '34 Act Gourmet.  They sold trays already opened, or you can get a knife and shuck them yourself.  I got my short, strong knife at Frank's Seafood in Jessup, which sells similarly-delicious oysters.
Oysters at Wegmans

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Winter Is Coming! Can Tomatoes To Keep You Warm -- Even The Ones On Sale At Larriland

Canned tomato sauce with Larriland tomatoes
If you have ever thought about canning, think about picking tomatoes and firing up some pots in the next several weeks.

Winter is coming.  Supermarket tomatoes will become hard, flavorless and have glowing blue eyes.

You can can up some tomatoes -- along with pickles and other vegetables.  I encouraged canning before -- and canning cookbooks.  It's a fun project, and the canned tomatoes are a treat as they pour summer into a mid-winter pasta sauce or pizza.

Today, Larriland Farm in Woodbine even has a sale on tomatoes.  I've never heard of this before.  The full-price tomatoes are spectacular and reason enough to pick at Larriland, then go home to can.  That's what I did with early season plum tomatoes over the summer.  But Larriland has announced a sale on one of its tomato fields.  (You can also get chard, blackberries, apples and more.)

If you can't go today, Larriland says tomato season runs into early October.  Pick another day.  This is a spectacular season to visit as apples and vegetables run into the pumpkins, hay rides and Halloween activities next month.  For more information about Howard County farms, my favorite source is AnnieRie's blog where she writes about harvests and products beings sold.  Check out her posts about farms, including local chickens for sale at England Acres.

Seriously, tomato sauce is a terrific first project.  You can find all kinds of recipes on the Web or in cookbooks.  Basically, you cook down tomatoes with onions and herbs or spices.  Then, you boil sealed jars to sterilize the sauce and seal up the Mason jars.  I really suggest it.  

I also suggest the amusement of early-morning tomato picking.  In mid-afternoon, Larriland fields are full of kids and people chatting.  But we hit up the tomato fields when they opened on a Saturday morning.  Serious pickers.  All adults.  Some who looked like they were going to re-sell at a market.  And everyone seriously pulling red tomatoes off the vines.  We were giggling about how everyone seemed so serious, and we picked probably twice what we needed.  It was peer pressure.  

For basic canning supplies, check out my 2011 post or look in Kendall Hardware in Clarksville or your local grocery store.

New Restaurant In Maple Lawn Is "The Grille"

From "The Grille's" Facebook page
The new restaurant going into the Maple Lawn development in Fulton is "The Grille" -- and they appear to be aiming to open early next month.

This replaces Venegas Prime Filet right at Maple Lawn Boulevard and Rte 216.  It's calling itself American and Mediterranean.  Not sure what that will mean.

They have a Web site and a Facebook page.  They had a private event there this week with desserts -- at least according to photos posted on Facebook.  But the Web site doesn't seem to have a menu yet, and they link to OpenTable but don't yet appear on that site's drop-down lists.

On a "Maple Lawn 2.0" Facebook page, Javier Lecha said they would post the menu in the upcoming week and aim for a grand opening in early October.

Let me know if you hear when they're opening.  From the photos on Facebook, the dining room looks ready. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

2 Dudes Hit Up The Crab Cakes At G&M

The 2 Dudes blog wrote up the crab cakes at G&M in Linthicum Heights last month, and they joined other people to rave about huge, meaty cakes.

G&M is a perennial on people's list of the best local crab cakes -- which, of course, means the best crab cakes in the world.  These are so big that teenagers could barely eat them all, and the 2 Dudes talked up the sweet crab meat with tasty seasonings.

I need to check out G&M one day.  If you're looking for other crab cakes, check out the Food Lovers' Guide To Baltimore for suggestions on that and other local foods.  If you're looking for other local food voices, check out the blogs in the right column below.  Lots of people were writing while I was on hiatus, including many who appear on the HoCo Blogs food page.

What I Did On Summer Vacation #1: Cuban, Pizza, Chinese & More With Good People

Pork chops at Cuba de Ayer in Burtonsville
The posting was light this summer, and I need to stoke the writing hunger to re-start this hobby blog.

So I'll start with a few posts reporting on the summer vacation.  Light posting doesn't mean light eating.  We eat out less than most readers assume, but we did very well over the summer -- both with food and with people to enjoy the meals.  Often, the company makes the meal.  These are some of the fun that we had:
Udon noodles (front)
Bok choy and mushrooms (back)
  • Pork chops at Cuba de Ayer in Burtonsville.  We met friends for dinner, and I ordered a 20-year-old memory in Cuban pork chops.  Just as good as I remember from South Florida.  Thin, but juicy chops.  Slightly charred.  Deliciously meaty and served with sweet plantains and beans-and-rice.  Their Cuban sandwich is also a treasure.
  • A table of Chinese at Noodles Corner in Columbia.  Family visited last month, and we started relaxed with a late dinner where everyone picked what they wanted.  Ask for the "authentic" menu.  Order anything that looks good.  Try udon noodles with seafood that comes with scallops, shrimp, crab stick and an intense pepper flavor.  Or basil eggplants -- perfectly tender while still retaining their shape.  The basil aroma filled the table even before we ate, and the brown sauce came fresh and thick, a talented contrast to my clumsy, clumpy attempts at Chinese sauces.
  • An afternoon pizza at Coal Fire Pizza in Ellicott City.  Coal Fire is kid-friendly in every way.  At times, it seems run by teenagers, which means you need to expect variation in quality and service.  But you can get great pizza when the kitchen does well, and the casual setting means you can mix a good pie and a good beer with little kids or a huge group.  We ate on the patio, which is even better.  That thin-crust pizza disappeared.
    Spicy pizza from Coal Fire
    I hope that your summer was good.  I'll post more reports over the next week, including news about new restaurants.  Let me know in the comments about summer eating that you'd recommend for people to try.