Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Adult M&Ms: Sweet Cascades Dips WIld Stuff, But Subtle Bite-Sized Candies Go Rosemary, Cayenne

In a place known for wild stuff, the simplest sweet has caught my eye.

Sweet Cascades on Main Street in Ellicott City makes its own chocolates, and they'll dip almost anything in chocolate.  Cheese puffs.  Wine bottles.  Peanut-butter-and-marshmallow-stuffed pretzels.

Chocolate-covered fun
But look on the counter for the simplest chocolates -- small solid candies that they flavor and sell by the quarter pound.  These "savouries" are bite-sized dark chocolates with flavors like orange blossom, lemon zest, and rosemary.  Cayenne pepper had a low warmth.  Rosemary was a revelation -- perfectly measured so that subtle  flavor comes through, but doesn't overwhelm the chocolate.

Imagine adult M&Ms.  No candy shell, but Sweet Cascades' candies are about the same size.  They'd fill a pretty candy bowl if you had guests.  They'd please a candy lover at your home.  They'd even be cool in a Howard County food basket if you found a bag to dress them up.

Don't get me wrong -- Sweet Cascade's crazy stuff is fun too.  They dip salty snacks and breakfast cereal.  They do larger pieces of flavored candy like mini chocolate bars with lavender and salt & pepper.  They will even dip your wine bottle in chocolate -- letting you give a gift where someone can drink the wine, then break chocolate off the bottle for dessert.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Weeknight Dinner: An Hour's Work Leads To Days Of Flavor (The Secret Is Sausage And A Freezer)

Pizza made with time
All great meals take time to create, and I have learned that I just need to find a way to bank some time so that I can spend it later.

Pizza makes for an easy weeknight dinner, and it can be special when I have planned ahead.

Don't get me wrong.  I buy dough from Harris Teeter, and it's perfectly fine.  We have eaten many a night by breaking open packages of sauce, mozzarella and turkey pepperoni.

But I can do better -- like a pie with spicy sausage, pesto, and caramelized onions -- and the secret is the freezer.  The freezer for chicken sausage from Whole Foods and pesto that I made when basil was bushy and fragrant last summer.  Add another frozen bag of onions that I caramelized weeks ago while I was cooking other food, and some grated Parmesan made everything come together.  The pizza tasted like days of effort, but we pulled it from the oven less than hour after I came home.

I really believe in taking advantage of the work stored up in sausages, sauces, pickles and similar ingredients.  They're the way to get great flavor on a night when I don't have time.  A few jars or frozen bags are the way to avoid takeout.  Sausage is the perfect example.  You can buy it so many places around Howard County, and that butcher's work can become quick sandwiches, pasta sauces, or pizzas for you.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Kim Bob Na Ra Offers Casual, Cheap Korean Dishes -- And Dessert A Few Doors Down

Kim Bob Na Ra is a casual Korean joint on Rte 40 offering comfort food for people who want something closer to a cafe than a white-tablecloth restaurant.

This is a terrific place for lunch or a weeknight dinner.  It's also another option for people trying to explore some Korean food.  When you walk in, the walls are covered with hangul letters.  But the menu has some English, and you can prepare yourself to eat well.

As Kevin Rhee wrote in 2011, Kim Bob Na Ra's menu is a type of Korean cuisine called bunsik, a relatively nebulous category that covers quick food for a low price:
The staples of this category are kimbap (rice, vegetables, and other things wrapped in seaweed), topoki (chewy rice blocks in spicy gochujang sauce), and odeng (seafood "sausages"). Your safest bet here is kimbap. PLEASE, don't call it korean sushi. It drives me nuts. Yes, I am asking you to not say it for my benefit, and mine alone.
As Kevin said, the kimbap is a roll wrapped with seaweed.  So it's a cousin to sushi, but the seaweed is about all they share  They're all cooked ingredients, and they're thicker and more mixed -- beef, egg, spinach, fake crab and carrot in a single roll.  Kimchi, spinach, egg, carrot and maybe sesame leaf in another.

These are hearty bites that make the most of mixed ingredients.  You get a bunch of flavors in each bite,  and they're a mix of meat and veg, fresh and pickled, crunchy and soft.  Kimbap feels more akin to a Vietnamese summer roll or a tiny burrito than a raw fish roll.  The kimchi is mellowing than the stuff that I buy in the fridge at Lotte.  I think that's because it has been simmered to bring down the spice.

Beyond the kim bap, we started with steamed dumplings.  They were good.  We made a little dipping sauce by mixing soy sauce and vinegar from the jars on the table.  Nothing is that spicy, and we stuffed two stomachs for $20 with those three dishes and the small plates of banchan that they put out at the start.  That makes this an ideal place to try something new.

My recommendation is that you check for dishes on Yelp or on Kyle's 2011 post about his trips to Kim Bob Na Ra.  Kyle found soup that he liked, along with a stir-fried pork dish.

My other recommendation is that you save room for dessert.  A few doors down from Kim Bob Na Ra is the new Shilla bakery, where you can find all kinds of sweets and coffee for dessert.  Try "dessert in a cup" with the sweet potato latte.  Try anything with red bean, especially the red bean donuts.

If you want more about Korean food in Howard County, you can always click for my short-list of "Rte 40 Tour" posts or for all my posts about Korean cuisine.  But you should also see Dan A's Yelp list of Ellicott City Korean restaurants.

Kim Bob Na Ra
9339 Baltimore National Pike
Ellicott City, MD 21042
(410) 465-9166

NEAR: Kim Bob Na Ra is on Rte 40 west of Rte 29.  It's on the south side in a shopping center with Shilla Bakery and Jason's Wine & Spirits.

Kim Bob Na Ra on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Free Steve Vilnit! An Adventure In Tweets

If you want to follow a little adventure, check out the Twitter feed of Steve Vilnit. 

Steve's day job is marketing fish for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.  He visited South Korea to represent the United States at a seafood convention.  He had great adventures.  He saw and ate some cool stuff.

And now he is stuck in the Seoul airport.  He has been stuck for a day, and he has been tweeting about the experience.  Scan down the feed for those photos of cool fish and eating adventures in Busan.  Then come back to the top to see a man already delayed 24 hours and still wondering if United will bring him home with fewer than three stops.

The Coolest Garage Doors In Howard County

That window appears to slide into the ceiling like a garage door
The Polo Club is still under construction in Fulton, but I think they have the coolest garage doors in Howard County.

(Update: In early 2014, TaylorLegal posted on Twitter that the restaurant would be called Ananda.)

On Saturday, we looked in the windows of the dining room that overlooks a little water management pond, and Mrs. HowChow noticed that the huge windows aren't windows.

View out the windows
If we're right, they're doors.  Entire windows appear to sit on slides like garage doors, and they look like they'll slide up into the ceiling in good weather.

Now the Polo Club appears to be opening in some cold winter month like late December or January.  But those windows should open in the spring for some beautiful breezes.

This is a nice trend.  I saw similar huge windows at the new Facci in Turf Valley, and a bunch of places have added patios -- including Twist & Turn in Highland and Portalli's in Ellicott City.  I feel like Victoria Gastro Pub's covered patio was relatively unique when it opened several years ago, but these other folks have added nice options as well.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

My New Favorite Awesomest Thing In The World

Sweet. Potato. Latte.  Awesome.
Get ready for the holidays with my new favorite awesomest thing in the world.

Imagine a classic Thanksgiving sweet potato side dish:  Whipped sweet potatoes covered with melted marshmallows.  Then imagine that as a warm winter drink.

Inspired?  Then go to the new Shilla Bakery on Rte 40 in Ellicott City.  They have all kinds of pastries, cakes, coffees, and other drinks.  But my new crush is the sweet potato latte.

This isn't a latte with a hint of sweet potato.  This is dessert in a paper cup.  Creamy, sweet, actually tasting like someone whipped marshmallow and sweet potato into a warm version of a milk shake.  I loved it.  I didn't need more than a few bites of the other desserts that we had ordered, but the sweet potato latte made my night.

The Shilla Bakery is a really cool place to hang out.  Families.  Teenagers.  Four women sitting at a table with coffees, forks, and a roll of sponge cake.  Everyone can have fun for an afternoon or after dinner.  We recommend the macarons, which have a crunchier exterior than the perfect ones from New York City but that come in a range of interesting flavors.

Sweet potato cake
HowChow regular Min ordered a sweet potato cake from Shilla for a birthday.  She thought it was delicious -- dense in texture, but not overwhelmingly sweet.  She originally thought it was covered in coconut, but that turned out to be finely-grated cake crumbs.

Bon Appetit a little farther west on Rte 40 is a straight-up competition with Shilla.  I need to check out their latte options.  The new Bean & Burgundy Bread has probably triple the space, and they're trying to offer coffee, baked goods, and a bigger savory menu as well.  They're all casual variations that offer a nice way to get out of the house as the weather gets cold.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Advice For Pizzas, Thai, Fried Chicken And More; Plus Sonic May Really Be Coming To Rte 40

Fried chicken from Harvest Fried Chicken in Woodbine
Wendy and Min have set the menu for our next visit to Yetnal House.  After I wrote Monday about the casual Korean restaurant in Ellicott City, they recommended the spicy chicken "dak galbi" to share with two or three people.  Sounds terrific.

While we are up on Rte 40, can anyone confirm that the Sonic is under construction?  I had written about the long-planned burger joint in April, and Anonymous left a comment Wednesday say that he/she had seen the architectural drawings.  The prediction was Sonic would open in 2014.

Some old posts still pick up new advice.  Kevlar51 finally tried Harvest Fried Chicken in Woodbine, and he (and his wife) loved the food even though he isn't normally a fan of fried chicken:
That opinion changed after eating this chicken. Delicious and crispy batter, together with impossibly moist chicken is the winning combination that Harvest has evidently perfected. My wife was devouring the skin she'd have otherwise cast aside and I was loving the white meat just as much as the dark (I usually avoid the breasts).
Similarly, I emailed with Eric about the closing of the Columbia Mama Luccia's.  He is a Philly guy, which I consider one of the gold standards for great pizza and sandwiches.  So I asked what he sees as alternatives to the pizza nights that his family used to eat at Mama Luccia's.
If we want to eat at home, we will order from Philly's Best in Elkridge.  Might I recommend their white pizza (no white sauce -- tasty but too greasy) with grilled chicken and brined sweet peppers (like you would get on a hoagie)?  Actually their cheesesteaks are pretty good too. 
If we want to go out, it'll be Trattoria Amore in Dorsey Search Village Center. We went there the first night we moved down here and it was a blessing to find a good Italian place quickly.  Now if we really want to treat, it's Facci or a trip into Baltimore and go to Chazz. I haven't tried Coal Fire on 108 yet mainly because I hear the crust is too thin, but I should give it a try. 
Might I also recommend 2 Amy's Wood Fire Pizza in Cathedral Heights in DC. MANY people have recommended that to me but there is one problem with their location -- its right next to Cactus Cantina, an awesome Tex-Mex place.
That puts Philly's Best on my "to do" list.  I'm a fan of many voices.  If you want some food-related fun, check out the comic music video that MoCo neighbor Russell helped create for Jackie Silvestri and "Spicify My Love."  If you want to play with local Twitter feeds, check out the "Tint Up" page that Jessie X created to collect posts tagged with #HoCoFood.  Or stay on HowChow for more of those comments.  There are great tips to pick up on lots of recent posts.

You Have A Duty To Taste Test Candy Cane Cookies; Christmas Cookies Knocked-Off Early

The Joe-Joes and the Os -- all peppermint
There are some questions that can only be decided by the expertise of a great food blog -- and then there are taste tests you have a duty to run for yourself.

It's peppermint cookie season.

Two years ago, we were enthralled by Trader Joe's Candy Cane Joe-Joes.  Then last year, we were shut out when we waited to late to buy ourselves a box of the Oreo knock-offs with peppermint chunks in the cream filling.

So this year, we acted early.  I found peppermint knock-offs at both Trader Joe's and Wegmans, and I brought them home for an epic battle that you can recreate with a quick run to the store.  They both have chocolate cookies.  They are both filled with cream.  They both add peppermint for that seasonal twist.

Joe-Joes at Trader Joes
The question:  Which cookies should you eat?

The answer:  Mrs. HowChow says both.  They're both dangerously delicious.  Crunch.  Cream.  Peppermint.  They're similar enough that she got a bit overconfident and guessed wrong about which was the Trader Joe's original.  Wegmans double-stuffs its Os, so you get more cream in each cookie.  But Trader Joe's put bigger slivers of peppermint in its Joe-Joes, so you get a more-exotic crunch.  Mrs. HowChow happily ate both.

(And I sampled another plate as I wrote this.  It's all in the name of science.)

This is definitely a fun taste-test for you to run at home.  I'd love your comments -- including candy cane Oreos because I assume that the true originals have gone peppermint for the holiday as well.  The only down side is hearing two open  bags of cookies call your name from the pantry.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Where Is Caffe Bene Coming To Ellicott City?

An LA- and NYC-based coffee chain call Caffe Bene has told Michael Gioioso of Bmore that they're opening their first location in Ellicott City.

Does anyone know about any specific plans?  The Caffe Bene Web site looks like the Rte 40 coffee shops like Bon Appetit and Shilla that do European coffees and pastries by way of Korea.  Some savory pastries, but lots of sweets.  They're really nice places to shop or to hang out -- very family friendly and an easy way to meet friends or get out of the house.

Hat tip to Gina who spotted the Bmore article and posted on the HowChow Facebook page.

Yet Nal House Makes A New Korean Option On Rte 40, A Terrific Warm-Up For Winter Chill

Yuk gae jung at Yet Nal House
I'm infatuated with Yet Nal House, and I haven't even scratched the surface yet.

This Ellicott City restaurant is a casual Korean place tucked in the first-floor corner of a shopping center at Rte 40 and Pine Orchard.  It doesn't have an English sign, and the front door -- down from Bippy's Pub -- opens onto a takeout area.  But you walk through into a cozy dining room with a bar and a big selection of Korean dishes.

Friend of the blog like Min had turned us on to Yel Nal with suggestions of rice cakes and the brisket casserole.  With the weather chilling, I convinced Mrs. HowChow that the season had arrived to try new soups to stay warm.

We got huge bowls of spicy beef soup (yuk gae jung) and seafood-tofu stew (soon doo boo), and we gorged ourselves surrounded by a crowd that ranged from families with small children to a table of young adults enjoying soju, beer, and a platter of seafood and noodles to some older couples who lingered over a table of dishes that looked amazing.

Our dishes seem like fine introductions if you like some heat.  The soon doo boo has a low, warm spiciness.  It isn't aggressive.  The base soup has a rich seafood flavor.  Not fishy, but more brine with clams and shrimp.  The smooth tofu pieces work like noodles in chicken soup, and Mrs. HowChow added spoonfuls of white rice that soaked up the flavors and left her with a take-home bowl as full as her original stew.

My yuk gae jung was spicier.  You get shredded meat in the red-pepper and beef broth, along with scallions and what I thought were dried fernbrake.  It's earthy and delicious.  Perfect for a chilly night.  We really didn't need the boiled dumplings that we had ordered because Yel Nal puts out the small plates of panchan on every table -- some kimchi, some noodles called chapchae, fish cakes, a seaweed with spicy sauce. . . .  We had more than two lunches in plastic containers when we walked out.

I can't suggest Yel Nal enough if you have already tried Shin Chon Garden and a few nights of the "Korean 101" menu that I wrote about.  People waiting for a table seemed initially surprised to see non-Korean-speakers come through the door.  But they -- and then everyone in the restaurant -- were friendly.  The menu has English descriptions, or you could look for suggestions on Yelp and just repeat the Korean names.

A few years ago, I ran two posts that were a "Tour of Rte 40," and, since then, we have nosed around other Korean spots in Ellicott City looking to see what we find.  Yet Nal and  Lighthouse Tofu are the two that most called me back with a welcome feel and delicious food.  Lighthouse specializes in soon doo boo, and both places offer a bit of theater with the dish.  You get white rice in a really hot bowl, and you're supposed to scoop out most of the rice, but leave a thin crust.  That cooks for 10-15 minutes, then you pour in a few inches of water.  By the time you're done eating, you have a palate-cleansing, stomach-settling tea.

Next time, I'm going to try the rice cake soup at Yel Nal.  I need to see a baseline because I'm hoping to cook this for the Korean New Year in the winter.  I also need to figure out the brisket casserole and the LA short ribs.  I'm up for any suggestions.  I have heard that Yet Nal has a good reputation with Korean diners, so I'd love to know what people enjoy.

For a smile, check out the Web site for Bippy's Pub, the bar a few doors down from Yel Nal House.

Years ago, Yel Nal House was a very different business.  I stopped there in 2008, when it was basically a takeout shop with kimbop, kimchi, soups and other dishes.  Since then, the space has been completely renovated, and the restaurant is warm and casual.  But there are still takeout coolers, and I bet you'd do well with the soups, kimchi, or other items.

Friday, November 15, 2013

One More Local Idea: Get On The CookieRide

Sara and her CookieRide creation
I missed a terrific idea when I wrote this week's posts about local ideas for your holiday shopping.

I have to think an unknown comment-writer for reminding that you could use CookieRide for either your holiday baskets or some holiday entertainment.

CookieRide is a relatively new company run by Casey Dyson who bakes and delivers cookies on her signature scooter.  Tuesday's comment noted that Dyson made sugar cookies last year -- regular, gluten-free, even made with a custom cookie cutter.  CookieRide does anything from dessert delivery to wedding cakes to really amusing stuff like cookie mustaches.

Gingerbread houses
So those cookies would make another addition to a gift basket of Howard County creations.

But even more, Casey will come run a party where you and your guests can decorate or bake your own cookies.  She does kids parties. She does office parties.  She will even build gingerbread or sugar cookies houses.

For more, check out the CookieRide Web site.  Casey does these all year 'round, but gingerbread houses seem like a great way to create some holiday memories.

What else did I forget?  I want to encourage people to find new places around Howard County.  So comment about where you would recommend some holiday shopping -- food or not.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Local Shopping #3: More Places To Check Off Your Holiday Gift List In Howard County

Used records -- the right gift for the right person
I'm not a huge shopper, so I'm going to need help with local suggestions.

This week, I'm writing a "Gift Week" series of posts aimed at inspiring folks to shop at local spots. I know the food spots, but you could find all kinds of good gifts shopping at local stores.

Where do you go for the unique or the personal?  I suggested kitchen and cookbook options yesterday, but I had some other ideas for you to fill up the rest of your house:
Accessories at the Pet Barn
  • Second Edition Books in Columbia.  Check out the used records.  You can buy a turntable for under $100, and you can have some retro fun with LPs.  We have bought Beatles, Jackson 5, Paul Simon and more.  (It's fun for used books as well, although somehow used books seem harder to give as gifts.)
  • Boulder For Men in Clarksville.  Cool clothes for the young man in your life.  Or maybe for the middle-aged man in your life who would enjoy a little sprucing up.  Jeans, sweatshirts, shoes, sunglasses.  I bought a fun watch there made of wood. Boulder is by the folks who own Roots, and the Nest across the parking lot has clothing, candles and hand-sewn stuffed animals along with the cookbooks that I wrote about yesterday.
  • Family Game Store in Savage Mill.  Two stores in one.  In the front, you can buy puzzles and games for the whole family.  Games that you won't see at Target, and stuff that you can enjoy together over the holidays.  In the back, they have role-playing and hobby games -- heavy on the military and science fiction options.  Perfect if you have a connoisseur on your list.
  • Pearl Spa in Fulton.  You can't go wrong giving a massage or a pedicure.  But the Pearl Spa also has a full display of soaps and teas that you add to the Howard County food in a basket.  Mrs. HowChow likes the Tea Forte brand.
  • Pet Barn in Fulton.  Around the corner from the Pearl in Maple Lawn, you can buy gifts for the cat or dog in your life.  They often sell funny dog treats that look like human food.  They also do all kinds of beds, collars, bowls and more.
Where else do you like shopping around Howard County?  You can certainly buy unique stuff on-line -- like maybe the Little Flower Candy Co. caramels or the gorgeous Hawaiian flowers from Anuhea Flowers.  But you can find so much around here.  There are clothing stores in Maple Lawn, antiques and arts along Main Streeet in Ellicott City, and a few hours of nosing around the shops at Savage Mill, especially if you like antiques, painted furniture, or another used book store.  

What would you recommend?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Shopping For The Kitchen: Local Spots To Find Cookbooks, Kitchen Items, And Specialty Foods

Cookbooks at Nest in Clarksville
Cookbooks have now become specialty shopping.

I'm almost surprised when I see cookbooks in person, when I can page through them and see if I get inspired to buy.  Now, they're curated in small collections at stores across Howard County.  They're the kinds of places where you could shop for kitchen gifts.

Plates at Sweet Elizabeth
This week, I'm writing a "Gift Week" series of posts aimed at inspiring folks to shop at local spots.  Williams Sonoma in the Columbia Mall sells terrific stuff.  But interested shoppers could check out a few other shops.  We may not have Harbor East, but we have enough shopping to make a meal.

The appetizer is Nest in Clarksville on Rte 108.  Maybe the largest cookbook selection other than Barnes and Nobles, which is impressive since I think it's all vegetarian books.  Any eater would benefit from Vegetables Every Day by Jack Bishop. Then an entire shop of organic items -- a lot of clothing, jewelry and stuffed animals.  The kitchen stuff runs to wooden bowls and serving pieces or pottery platters.

The main course is an afternoon walking down Main Street in Ellicott City.  
  • Su Casa near the top of the hill and the big parking lot.  This is the modern outpost on Main Street.  They have a design company in the back that will sell you furniture, but we enjoy the "icing on the cake" stuff like retro bottle openers and fun placemats.  It's thoughtful, cool chat
  • Randy and Steve's.  Imagine a Main Street version of Williams Sonoma's jars and mixes.  This new store on Main Street started selling all kinds of gourmet ingredients -- salts, oils, jellies, sauces, etc.  Right now, they have a wall of Stonewall Kitchen items, and they carry clothes and other items.
  • Sweet Elizabeth Jane.  This is a happy store with winding paths through an eclectic warehouse of displays.  Some clothes.  Some jewelry. A bunch of kitchen items like spatulas, plates, mugs, cheese trays, and butter crocks.  It's smart stuff.  Mrs. HowChow can browse here for longer than most stores, and she will often walk out with something that she didn't plan like a cookbook or Hammond's candies at the checkout.
  • The Breadery in Oella.  It's a pretty walk up the hill from Main Street Ellicott City, and the bakery will feed you while you peruse their shopping.  Again, they have carried the national brand Stonewall Kitchen, but they have also sold Baltimore stuff like Zeke's coffee and inFUSED spreads.  (You can always drive up to the Breadery as well.)
A Danish bowl set (sold off HA site)
Dessert is Home Anthology.  This is the Catonsville vintage store where people find reasonably-priced (and moderately used) tables, chairs, cabinets and other furniture.  But they also stock vintage kitchenware if you need a gift for someone who loves a 1950s to 1970s vibe.

Colorful Danish bowls.  Fondue sets.  Vintage shot glasses.  You never know what you will find, but Home Anthology has real pieces of the mid-century in cups, pots, and teak salad bowls.  You need the right friend, but a walk through Home Anthology is always fun -- especially if you get snacks a few blocks away at Atwater's.  They're open Saturdays and Sundays, and you can also check inventory on their Web site.

What am I missing?  What other local stores stock cool kitchen items or cookbooks?  I thought about the Asian pottery and kitchen items at the Hanoori Home Plaza in the same shopping center as H Mart -- both in Catonsville.  Bento boxes or whimsical chopsticks might be stocking stuffers, but most of the items tend more useful than gift-like.  What do you recommend?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Howard County Gift Basket: Local Treats You Can Buy Alone Or Assemble A Local Gift

Sugar cookies from Touche Touchet
Let's say that you need a gift basket -- as a hostess gift, as a friendly nod to a customer, or just as a gesture to cheer up a friend.

This week, I'm writing a "Gift Week" series of posts aimed at inspiring folks to shop at local spots.

Think local (and buy your own basket), and you can deliver something unique and delicious.  It's even better if you're someone like a real estate agent or someone else trying to promote Howard County.  You can find great food produced by local folks.

Every item below would make a fine gift on its own, but you could customize baskets that will really catch people's attention with some of my suggestions:
Southern Skies coffee
  • Sugar cookies from Touche Touchet in Columbia.  For $4.50 and up, they sell hand-decorated cookies that will last weeks sealed in their packages.  Winter scenes.  Christmas scenes.  Hanukkah, hospital scrubs, or just "Thank You" cookies.  They're pricey, but they're gorgeous and delicious.  They're the touch that you put on top of the basket for pizzazz.
  • Coffee from Southern Skies in Finksburg.  Just over the county line, Jeff Givens roasts small batches with aim to deliver fresh, seasonal beans.  It's so good that Red Envelope is offering a gift set with Southern Skies coffees, mug and a wooden box.  Or order from their Web site.  (If you want true Howard County, you can buy from local roasters like Mad City Coffee in Columbia as well.)
  • Caramel and other popcorns from Crunch Daddy Popcorn.  As I said yesterday, the popcorn is spectacular.  Not just sweet.  Crunch Daddy does wonderful flavors that are actually unique. Again, made by hand in the county.  They have retail locations from Columbia to Catonsville (and beyond), plus you can check out their Web site.
  • Cotton candy from the Sweet Treats stand at the Columbia Mall.  This is your secret weapon.  You need to buy it fresh, but it adds striking, colorful fun to any basket.  Plus, it's just $3 a bag, and they're spinning several flavors every day.  It's worth figuring out how to slip it in your basket.
  • Jams from Rare Opportunity Farms in Westminster.  I sampled these at the Second Sunday market this month off Main Street, and they had all kinds of fall flavors in jelly jars (plus cookies, a chocolate chip cookie worth driving to Carroll County).  They are scheduled to come back for the final Second Sunday market in December, plus their Web site says they sell at the Little French Market in Ellicott City and Mad City Coffee in Columbia.
  • Barbecue sauce from Kloby's Smokehouse on Johns Hopkins Road.  The pit boss in your life will love a savory contrast to the holiday sweets.  Kloby's sells five different bottles, including some seriously spicy "Honey Hab" and some local flavor in the "Chesapeake.
  • Olives and chutney from Scratch, a little company run by Stephen Etzine.  Stephen's effort is new enough that the company has no Web site, but we had his chutneys and his own olives at the Second Sunday market.  They're terrific, and he does some beautiful, minimal packaging so the jars would be great in a basket.  You can reach Stephen by emailing the company at
Really, all these items are great for stand-alone gifts or "stocking stuffers."  Southern Skies even sells a "Java Passport" where they ship you coffee every month.  No minimum length.  That's fun for a coffee lover.

What else would you put in a Howard County gift basket?  I know there must be other people making great products in -- or near -- the county.  Tell folks what you would recommend.  Feel free to include Web site links.

Macsmom turned me on yesterday to a bakery called From Momma's Kitchen, and other bakeries may do some item that would last in a basket.  You could also pick up a good bottle of wine or beer at one of our local shops or more coffee from the Little French Market in Ellicott City  I wish Larriland Farm were open because they sold bottles of local honey in their barn store.  Is that Larriland honey sold retail anywhere else?
Kloby's BBQ sauces

Monday, November 11, 2013

Is Buffalo Wild Wings Coming To Columbia?

Can anyone confirm that Buffalo Wild Wings is coming to Columbia?

I heard talk that one of the restaurants has closed near Target on Rte 175.  I'm not sure.  No one answers the phone there.  But the chatter is that Buffalo Wild Wings would replace the restaurant.  Chain for chain, but that's area has a pretty good variety with BGR The Burger Joint, Maiwand Kabob, and others.

Years ago, there had been talk of a Buffalo Wild Wings in the space that became the Alehouse Columbia, but that turned out to be premature.  Anyone know these plans?  Hat tip to Alicyn.

(Update:  See the comments below.  It appears that Don Pablo has closed -- to be replaced by the Buffalo Wild Wings.)

Expect Two New Maple Lawn Restaurants In Next Weeks -- First The Grille, Then The Polo Club

Expect two new restaurants in open in Maple Lawn in the next few weeks -- first The Grille and then the Polo Club.

That's according to the Maple Lawn developer who discussed the restaurants at the community's meeting last night.  None of the plans are final -- which makes sense because opening a restaurant seems like complex work.

The Grille is working on some final arrangements, the developer said.  This is the restaurant replacing the Venegas Prime Filet just off Rte 216.  He said they had an inspection last Thursday and are probably aiming for a soft opening some time next week.

The Polo Club is a few more weeks behind.  (Update:  In 2014, it appears that the Indian restaurant will be called Ananda.)  The talk was about an opening in late December or early January.  This is an Indian place being built from scratch up near Johns Hopkins Road by the folks behind the Ambassador.  I still don't see a Web site for them.

2 Dudes Score Lunch And An Interview With The Chef Opening The New Gadsby's Bar American

Robert Gadsby has taken over the former Greystone Grill in Columbia, and he is changing the menu and restaurant over to Gadsby's Bar American.

The guys behind the 2 Dudes Who Love Food blog had lunch there Sunday, and they scored a talk with Gadsby, who talked to them about food and Stevie Wonder.  You have to love two guys who will chat up a professional chef.  You have to love a chef who will invite the 2 Dudes into the kitchen to taste his new menu.

Check out the 2 Dudes' post here.

Gift Buying Week: Local Flavors To Share With Friends And Family Over The Holidays

Crunch Daddy popcorn
At the moment, my brain is completely obsessed by CrunchDaddy Popcorn.

My family gave me a birthday gift certificate, and CrunchDaddy hooked me up with an extra bag of one of his special holiday flavors.  That's a [secret flavor -- one of three to be announced soon] that really had great crunch and creaminess.  But I'm actually obsessed by the "peanut better & jelly" where they mix in real peanut better and minced grape jelly beans.  I keep sneaking back to the half-gallon bucket for one handful more.

The beauty of CrunchDaddy's popcorn is that it isn't just sugary.  They're real flavors -- leaning sweet with caramel variations, but giving a nod to savory with "Maryland crab seasoning" and getting brilliant with flavors like a sesame-ginger.  You should buy some to eat.  You should think about people who might want sweets as a holiday gift.

The other beauty of CrunchDaddy's popcorn is that it's local.  It's a Howard County guy cooking in a Howard County kitchen.  If you're thinking about holiday gifts, you can shop local and find terrific items for the food lovers in your life.  We're not a shopping destination like DC or Bethesda, but I thought that a week of posts might inspire you to look around.  You could have fun.  You could support local businesses.  And you don't need to compromise.

Food Lover's Guide To Baltimore
You'll need to decide what you care about when it comes to local.  Etsy has the hardcore option -- on-line shops for artists who work in Howard County like Kiki(Verde)'s jewelry from Laurel.  In contrast, the Maryland Shop in Westminster goes with the statewide theme -- mixing some locally-produced items like honey from the Hillside Apiary with other cool items that may be more "Maryland-theme" than "Maryland-made."

The Food Lover's Guide To Baltimore has the similar issue.  Authors are local.  Published presumably in China.  Sold on Amazon unless you can find it at the Barnes and Noble in Columbia.  But it's a terrific handbook for anyone who wants to explore Baltimore eating.  It's local in my book.

I buy things from all over.  I just think that -- as you think about buying gifts -- you should consider the value of finding good stuff that you can buy from local folks.  CrunchDaddy is now available at David's Natural Market in Columbia, the Breadery in Oella, and liquor stores like Jason's on Rte 40, the Wine Bin on Main Street, and Decanter Fine Wine in the Hickory Ridge village center.  (All retail locations are on this Web page.)  You support a local manufacturer and a local store that you're probably happy to have around for other shopping.  And the friend on your gift list will be happy as well.

Coming this week:

  • Tuesday: "Make A Howard County Gift Bag,"
  • Wednesday: "Food And Kitchen Shopping In Howard County,"
  • Thursday: "Other Cool Shopping in Howard County"
Click below for another voice about local shopping.  Nikki tells the story that you can't get from a big company.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Time To Order That Local Maple Lawn Turkey

Here come the holidays.  Sure, they can be stressful, but you should plan lots of fun.  Start with some local food -- like a turkey from the Maple Lawn Farm on Rte 216 in Fulton.

They grow and butcher the turkeys on the farm, and you can pre-order now to pick up right before Thanksgiving.  I actually haven't done this yet.  I  haven't cooked my own Thanksgiving since 2004.  But it's a local spot, and you get a truly fresh turkey -- along with options for other products like turkey sausage, smoked turkeys, and bags of wings, necks or drumsticks.

If you're thinking about Maple Lawn, consider sausage from Boarman's in Highland. That's just a little farther out Rte 216, and they make sausage that AnnieRie will use for stuffing.  You can pre-order sausage, oysters and more.

Howard County May Close Two Farmers Markets

The board behind the Howard County farmers markets may close two of the weekly markets in 2014 -- specifically the Thursday market in East Columbia and the Saturday market in Glenwood, reports Sara Toth in the Sun.

It sounds like folks are trying to balance the business.  It's great to have options, but farmers who invest a long day in coming to sell need to have enough customers to make it worth their while.  Read Toth's story for the details.

Hat tip to AnnieRie, who linked to Toth's story.

Bean & Burgundy Soft Opens With Coffee, Sandwiches, And A Pretty Modern Space

Bean & Burgundy Bread has soft-opened, and it's a huge modern space with everything from coffee to pastries, sandwiches to Korean food.

The new restaurant on Rte 40 has counters for coffee and sandwiches.  There is also an glass-walled kitchen where you can see the cooks at work.  I just had a cup of coffee.  I had just eat a pit beef sandwich at Gadsby's Bar American, so I couldn't even spring for the bulgogi-Philly cheesesteak hybrid that they were advertising.

Give them a little time to get a rhythm.  But let me know what you try and what you think.  I saw a speciality coffee with honey and lavender whipped cream.  They were out of the cream, but I could see Mrs. HowChow wanting to try that when we go back.

Does anyone know what they're doing for dinner?  More than sandwiches?

Do teenagers live in these coffee shops?  My friends and I ordered bread sticks and sodas many afternoons so that we could claim a Pizza Hut booth and stay out of our parents' homes  Sitting in Bean & Burgundy, I thought that this would be so much better than Pizza Hut.  No kids at lunchtime since there was school, but I wondered if teenagers know how good they have it and buy some coffees and pastries at places like this, Bon Appetit or Shilla.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Gadsby's American Grill: New Restaurant From Robert Gadsby Quietly Replaces Greystone Grill

Pit beef sandwich from the first day of lunch service
New kitchens come
on little Gat feet.

They come cooking
beside Route 100
starting with lunches
and then dinner's on.

With apologizes to Carl Sandburg, we can announce that Robert Gadsby has unveiled a new restaurant in the heart of Howard County.   His team is doing it quietly.  You might say they're creeping in like the fog.

The new menu kicked off today at lunch.  The restaurant is Gadsby's Bar American.  It's in the space that used to be -- and still has signs for -- Greystone Grill just off Rte 100 in the Columbia 100 development near Centre Park Road.

You can still get directions from the Greystone Grill Web site.  The transition appears gradual.  The new name and new lunch menu started today.  I ate a pit beef sandwich, and I loved the horseradish sauce and the raw onion.  I'd never put raw onion on a sandwich, even at pit beef stands where it is a basic condiment.  I love when a kitchen shows me that I'm wrong.  The onion and horseradish were crunch and bite on the thin-sliced beef, and I may never eat pit beef without onion again.

I'm sure it will take time for Gadsby to turn the restaurant into his own place.  The bartender and a bunch of the servers seemed like long-time folks.  I assume the dinner menu and signs will change over time.

But even the first lunch menu says that Gadsby is going to try to do something notable.  The menu looks upscale American -- starting off with burgers, po' boys, pulled pork and other standards offering tweeks and specials like my horseradish sauce.  Then, it runs through more-posh items like a warm potato salad with smoked salmon, a pasta with house-made fennel sausage, and slow-cooked lamb shank with mashed potatoes, carrots and wilted greens.

I ate from the nice selection of $8-9 sandwiches that makes Gadsby's an option for anyone.  But they had a three-course lunch option that looks like fun -- $21 for a soup/salad, a pasta and a main plate.  In the same vein, my server talked up the persimmon in one of the salads, and the lunch menu has five desserts and 14 wines.  That's a place that wants to be special.  It wants you to come for everything from a quick lunch at the bar to fancy meals for business or pleasure.

Give 'em some time to get the place working.  My sandwich was absolutely worth the visit.  There will be big expectations -- especially for a $21 lunch or its equivalent.  I'd love for this to be a Restaurant of Big Shoulders.

If you haven't followed the prior posts in HowChow, Robert Gadsby is a chef with a high-end pedigree and a history in LA and DC.  He has opened a terrific barbecue place on U.S. 1 in Laurel called RG's BBQ Cafe, and folks were talking about his taking over a restaurant in Maple Lawn.   Hat tip to _____ for emailing me about the new menu.

(Update:  The 2 Dudes met Gadsby when they had lunch at the new place.  They talked to him and posted about the conversation.)

Gadsby's Bar American
8850 Columbia 100 Parkway
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR:  Gadsby's is the space that used to be Greystone Grill.  It's just off Rte 100.  From either Rte 108 or Rte 100, you turn onto Centre Park Drive.  Then you turn onto Columbia 100 Parkway.  Gadsby's is in the base of a small office building that backs against Rte 100.

Check It: Pure Wine Cafe's Bedrock Wine Cellar

Pure Wine's wine cellar -- half way to the second floor
Here's how you know that you aren't eating in a shopping center:  Pure Wine Cafe parades you past their new cellar -- built into the bedrock above Main Street in Ellicott City.

When Pure Wine expanded, they busted through a wall and built stairs up to a second floor dining room and an outdoor patio.  They built a pretty nice modern bathroom on the landing, and they had an awkward space under the stairs.

Awkward space or awesome space?

They built a wine cellar with a glass wall.  So you can see inside as you walk up the stairs, and you can see wine bottles and the stone of the hillside.  Cool lighting.  Modern tiles and paneling.  It's a fun little detail on a restaurant that pays attention to details.

Can anyone else suggest cool details that people should check out in local restaurants?  I like the ambiance of the wine storage all around Iron Bridge.  There must be more.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Barbecue Sundae: Pork, Slaw, And Corn Bread, But It's The Fried Pickle That Makes The Sundae

Town Grill's Barbecue Sundae
I love pulled pork, but I find that I like it even more outside the sandwich.

Kloby's sparked my desire to "lose the bun" with it's jarbecue -- pulled pork, cole slaw and baked beans served in a Mason jar.  Last month, we discovered Town Grill's barbecue sundae, and it's the fried pickle that takes that to the next level.

We ate Town Grill at Larriland Farm right before Halloween.  We picked pumpkins and apples, then sat at picnic table with our niece, her fiance, and paper bowls layered with corn bread, pulled pork, cole slaw and a fried pickle.

The barbecue sundae shows off Town Grill's real aspiration.  The Lisbon restaurant is in a gas station, but the kitchen wants to compete with any casual restaurant around.  Rotating specials.  House-smoked salmon and trout.  Blackberry-chipotle wings that caused the Ravens' Super Bowl win.  But barbecue is the heart of the place -- with both smokers and a pit turning out chicken, pork, beef brisket, ribs, and more.

The barbecue sundae shows off the aspiration by layering four really good items.  Meaty, rich shredded pork.  A light coleslaw that gives crunch and a bit of bite.  Corn bread on the bottom that soaked up sauce, and the fried pickle on top that shocked me.

I would never have even wanted a batter-fried pickle.  I would have expected a greasy mess.

But Town Grill -- even operating from a tent and portable frying station -- served up crunchy pickles that turned the sundae into a star.  Crisp batter on the outside that avoided the grease.  Then salty pickle on the inside.  Great flavor.  Great fun.  A terrific contrast to the rest of the "sundae" and way more fun than a bun.

Town Grill makes a perfect warm weather trip when you pick-your-own at Larriland, then stop in Lisbon for a meal on the way home.  But it's worth the drive year-round even if you can't get into the fields.  Check all the posts.  I still need to go for the smoked salmon BLT.  They do a big breakfast, and they have Thursday specials where you take-home dinner like a fried chicken, pot pies, or grilled trout.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

#15 Roll Comes To Sushi Sono -- Bringing Crunch, Warmth, And A Noodle Chew To Your Dinner

That's actually the "Green Tea Noodle Roll" or something similar
You'll need to cut me a break here because I took notes on a chopsticks wrapper.

We went to Sushi Sono for a "pick me up" dinner, and we got picked up by a new item -- the #15 Roll -- that we hadn't expected.

(Update:  OK.  This is embarrassing.  This post originally described the roll above as the #15 Roll, and that was wrong.  I discovered that in January 2014 when Sushi Sono's staff said that the roll above translates as something like "Green Tea Noodle Roll" and that HowChow had gotten that wrong.  Que lastima!)

(Below, I have revised the post to note the right name for this special, which the chefs continue to tinker with.  And I will post separately about the real #15.  They're both exceptional.)

The "Green Tea Noodle Roll" continues the Sushi Sono run of creating new rolls that are really new.  They're imaginative, but they're real chef's dishes -- balanced, thoughtful mixtures that come together better than anything that I'd come up with myself.

The "Green Tea Noodle Roll" is crab, roe and green tea noodles, wrapped in nori and then fried in the absolute thinnest layer of tempura batter.  Crunch outside.  It's hot at first, then the chewy noodle inside.  There is a sweet crab flavor, but it's subtle.  The roll is more about texture, the crunch and chew of the noodles with a dipping sauce that adds creaminess as well.

That's an amazing contrast with almost any platter of sushi that you want to try.

#12 and #14 Rolls
It's been a long time since we ate at the Columbia lakefront restaurant without ordering the #12 Roll -- a tempura shrimp with squash wrapped in nori and topped with spicy tuna.  It's crisp on the inside with the zest of spicy fish and scallions on top.  On this last visit, we remembered the #14 Roll, which is on the Web site but not all the printed menus.  That's a roll with slabs of seared salmon and a brush of eel sauce on top of a roll stuffed with spicy tuna and crunchy seaweed.

Again, the new roll stands on its own.  But the mix of crunch-warmth-and-chewy green tea noodles contrasted with the other rolls.  That's what makes a Sushi Sono dinner so different than just a platter of different fish wrapped in rice.  You can find unique dishes like the "Hurricane Eye" roll that comes sliced thin with a dot of hot sauce and a crunchy edge of popped brown rice.

I can't recommend Sushi Sono enough.  I wrote last week that it is probably my pick if I could only eat at one Howard County restaurant.  You can scan all the posts about Sushi Sono -- and should ask for the green tea that they serve on the house.  But I have written that sushi -- along with Indian and Korean -- is among the county's deepest cuisines, and Dan commented last week that he -- a veteran of three years living in Japan -- thinks that the fish is even more fresh and authentic at Sushi King in Columbia.  He talks up the eel.  We need to try the King again.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Vote For HowChow And Your Other Favorite Blogs

The Sun's annual Mobbies contest runs from today through November 14.  You can sign in once a day to vote for HowChow and your other favorite blogs.

Check out the Mobbies' page to vote.  The Sun does a nice job each year of letting people know about many different kinds of blogs around Baltimore.  The contest whips up some excitement.  Check out all the blogs on the Mobbies page -- and especially check of the HoCo Blogs listing of Howard County blogs in the contest.

Vote every day!!!

New Sauces At Kloby's Smokehouse: A Traffic Light Of Flavors Run From Sweet To Spicy

Three new sauces at Kloby's
You should drive to Kloby's Smokehouse for a traffic light of new flavors.

The barbecue restaurant on Johns Hopkins Road has always sold about eight sauces -- from a vinegar based "Carolina" to a sweet-hot "Honey Hab."  But they just added a new trio of sauces that match nicely with the three colors of a traffic light:

  • Green: Smoked jalapeño and peach
  • Yellow: Smoked poblano and serrano
  • Red: Sweet blueberry BBQ sauce.

They're three great new options that run sweet to spicy.  The blueberry is really sweet, although still enough savory to be a barbecue sauce and not a jam.  The jalapeño peach comes in the middle with a spicy flavor, but a strong smokey fruitiness that balanced beautifully.  The poblano-serrano is for real heat-seekers, starting spicy like the jalepeno but then get even-hotter with a bright spicy finish.

These are all delicious   The two spicy sauces are done right.  They're spice as flavor, mixed nicely with fruitiness and smoke.  I tasted all three with an order of the basic wings, and they each added character and zest.

I have to say that my lunch reminded me how much I enjoy Kloby's plain wings.  The wings are meaty and large compared to most restaurants, and, all on their own, they have a deep smoke flavor and the perfect crispy skin.  For a while, I have been ordering "Dirty & Old" wings -- dusted with Old Bay and fried a second time.  But I will probably come back to the originals with a couple of sauces.  The jalapeño-peach would probably be my choice if I had to eat all five wings with one sauce, but I had way more fun dipping from sauce to sauce to sauce.

If you go to Kloby's, check out my prior posts -- especially the ideas of the jarbecue and "flight" of bread puddings.  Kloby's does an array of craft beer and bourbons, and it's a terrific casual place where they're making an effort to make special food.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Construction Coming Along At The Foreman-Wolf Spot In Columbia; New Chef At Greystone?

You can see the bones of a restaurant in the Columbia lakefront space being renovated into a restaurant by Tony Foreman and Cindy Wolf.

Walls have gone up.  You can see what looks like entry area, a bar, maybe a private room or an alcove.  They're just rough construction materials and utility lights, so I can't imagine how the place could open in 2013.  But that was the original plan, and I'm no expert.

Has anyone heard about the current timeline for opening?  Or heard what name or menu they're picked for their Columbia spot?

While we're asking questions, has anyone heard about changes at the Greystone Grill in Ellicott City?  I have heard rumors about Robert Gadsby, the chef who has created terrific food at a casual barbecue place on U.S. 1 in Laurel.  His RG's BBQ Cafe has spectacular ribs, chicken and specials like lamb shank, but his real history has been upscale restaurants.  People -- including me -- jumped the gun earlier this year and thought Gadsby would take off the former Venegas in Fulton.  That didn't happen, but the skill in that barbecue will make me line up wherever he takes over -- even to "Gadsby's Bar American."