Monday, June 30, 2014

If You Want To Splurge, This Should Be Your Signature Cocktail Of Summer 2014

San Remo cocktail from Scarpetta restaurant
Some of us have reason to drink a little this summer, and I'm exploring cocktails as my dropping alcohol tolerance lets me splurge.

When you're only going to have one drink, then you can splurge a bit on that glass -- especially if you construct it at home.

Our inspiration came from a very special birthday dinner for our niece at Scarpetta in New York City.  I tried their "San Remo" drink.  I thought it was delicious, and Mrs. HowChow was stunned to find a bourbon cocktail that she actually loved.

That's because it's about 10% bourbon.  The brown stuff is in the mix, but Scarpetta's "San Remo" is a bright orange glass with two juices and four liquors.  It's a bracing, refreshing drink.  No harsh alcohol flavor, especially if you follow the HowChow variation.  I think it would be popular with folks who want fancy cocktails and with folks who just want a fruity drink.

To make this happen, we went to Perfect Pour in Elkridge on the way home from New York.  We got good advice and toned down two of chef Scott Conant's liquor choices.  It's still a touch more than $100 for four bottles.  Of course, that's many, many drinks for you to enjoy this summer, and it's a great way to check out both Perfect Pour and the deluxe cocktail craze.

Scarpetta's San Remo
adapted from The Food Network's posted recipe

You can make one drink at a time or measure larger quantities, then shake individual drinks as you want them.  

You'll see that we bought cheaper versions of the elderflower liquor and the bourbon.  The Perfect Pour employee said the difference between St. Elder and St. Germain would be imperceptible in a mixed drink.  I just like Buffalo Trace, and it was less than the Michter's from the restaurant.  You can splurge even more if you want Conant's original.

Also, we doubled the orange juice.  The recipe calls for one ounce of juice.  We both thought the drinks tasted more like the restaurant with about two ounces.

1 1/2 ounces sweet vermouth such as Carpano Antica
1 ounce elderflower liqueur like St. Elder (or pricier St. Germain)
1-2 ounces orange juice like the fresh-squeezed stuff from Wegmans
1 ounce bitter orange liqueur like Campari
1/2 ounce bourbon like Buffalo Trace (or pricier Michter's bourbon)
Juice of 1/2 lime
Orange twist for garnish

1) Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice.

2) Shake well, then strain over ice in a rocks glass.  Garnish with the orange twist.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Mission BBQ To Open July 14 In Columbia

The new Mission BBQ in Columbia will open officially on July 14 -- with a special opening for dinner on the July 11, according to a tweet from Linda Dotterer.

The Mission BBQ replaced a Chicken Out in the shopping center with Target just off Rte 175 and Dobbin Road.

Chef Paolino Opens In Ellicott City, But Hunan House In Laurel Has Closed; Know Why?

The restaurant cycle continues as Chef Paolino opens a new joint in Ellicott City, but we need to pay a tribute to the passing of Hunan House in Laurel.

Good news first: Chef Paolino's Cafe has opened just off Rte 40 in the former home of Serafino's, says Alicyn on the HowChow Facebook page.  She ate there.  They don't have a liquor license yet, but the kitchen is open.

But there was bad news off Rte 216 where Hunan House has closed.  Several people have emailed me.  I don't know the story.  BT has been going for more than two decades with family.  We'd both love to know if anyone heard what happened or whether the Hunan House folks have relocated, and she wrote a little tribute:
Hunan House had great sauce; it was extremely flavorful. My mother wrote a review of it for the Sun in 2000; there is a little info about the restaurant there, The owners and staff were always so friendly and recognized and remembered people, and dining in was a nice experience - dishes were served beautifully. I also appreciated that they had an extensive vegetarian menu with a lot of good choices. I believe the owners were relatives of the Hunan Manor owners, and there are many of the same type of dishes at both. Hunan House was the only place I would eat Chinese takeout; it was always so flavorful! I hope that helps some. It has been there for many years; I'm 28 and my parents tell a story often about a time we were dining there and I was very young. I can remember going there for takeout as far back as five or six.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Bean & Burgundy Bread Does The Korean-American Split And Pleases Even Little Diners

Bi bim bop at Bean & Burgundy Bread
The RDADoc went on a limb this weekend after visiting the Miller Library to celebrate National Pink Day.  She rode with her five- and three-year-olds down Rte 40 and gave a try to Bean & Burgundy Bread.

This large, modern-looking space opened late last fall in Ellicott City with a hybrid menu of American food, Korean food, coffees and desserts.  It's good-looking, and I had heard that they spent much of the winter making changes to the menu.

But Mrs. HowChow and I still haven't gotten there, which made us curious about RDADoc's lunch.  She reported:
As we all know preschoolers don't always make the best restaurant guests. However, after going there today I feel comfortable recommending Bean & Burgundy Bread to people with young children. 
Grilled cheese
The atmosphere is casual and kid friend and I did notice several young children there. However, my one caveat is that the only item on the kids menu is grilled cheese.  So this isn't the place for you if your children are looking for a traditional American kids menu including pizza, chicken nuggets or hot dogs.

The lunch menu included both sandwiches and Korean dishes. I ordered Bibimbap which is a signature Korean dish served with warm rice, vegetables, gochujang (chili pepper paste), and soy sauce.  I ordered mine with brown rice and tofu although they did offer chicken or meat as options.  I am no where near as well versed in Korean dishes as the HowChows, but I very much enjoyed it.  I just ordered plain tea, but they did have an extensive tea, coffee and smoothie menu.  My children were very pleased with their hot chocolate (which was served with a beautiful heart design), grilled cheese and broccoli.  All in all it was an enjoyable experience.
Bean & Burgundy Bread does a full day menu -- from breakfast to dinner.  Does anyone else have reports?  Elizabeth talked up her meal on the Bare Midriff blog in March.  I'd love to know what other folks think or recommend.  So far, I'm drawn to the baked sweets at Shilla Bakery just east on Rte 40.  The Bean & Burgundy sweets hadn't pulled me away, but there are tons of menu items to try.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Chicharron at Lily's Mexican Market: Let The Experts Fry Chunks Of Pork Belly For You

A chicharron from Lily's Mexican Market
"That which does not kill us makes us stronger."

Apparently, a famous German philosopher had eaten chicharron.  Now, you can as well.

You can thank Seb, who left a comment last month on a post asking for advice on what to order from the butcher at Lily's Mexican Market in Columbia.  Seb steered me a few feet from the butcher to the taco counter where he talked up the chicharron:
It's a star attraction at Lily's. Not for the faint of heart, the square chunks of pork meat and fat are perfectly fried. Super crispy on the outside and sinful fatty goodness on the inside. Napkins required, cardiologist appointment recommended.
Perfectly described.  With chicharron, you get old-school food.  A deep-fried morsel of pork, fat and skin.  With my normal diet, that skin is crispy and exotic.  I bit through the chicharron, and the meat provided a solid chew and flavor.  Then the fat squeezed out and burst around my mouth.

The chicharron at the Lily's taco counter
It's delicious.  It's rich and crunchy.  I bought three as a sample, and it was probably one too many.  For a while that afternoon, I could feel grease coming through the pores on my face.

To me, that the perfect kind of food to buy from an expert.  Lily's folks crisped my chicharron skillfully, and I don't have to butcher pork belly or clean up after deep frying.  They made a great snack.  They're an authentic taste of Mexican cooking.  They'd be amazing party food if you have a friend who talks a big game about loving bacon.

I'm a huge fan of Lily's Mexican Market for the butcher, the house-made tortillas, and the full selection of Latin American items.  I'm still looking for suggestions about what cuts of meat to buy from the butcher.

On my last trip, I bought El Salvadoran crema and grated cotija cheese for terrific corn.  Grill the corn, then spread a light coating of crema, which is the consistency of sour cream.  Then roll that in a dish filled the salty cheese.  The corn becomes a star of any plate.  With some tortillas and other items, you can do authentic, delicious tacos any day.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Cool Detail: Perfect Pour Has Its Own Barrel Of Buffalo Trace, Bottled And Selling Now

Buffalo Trace at Perfect Pour
I hadn't noticed a shortage of Buffalo Trace bourbon, but I stumbled on a cool detail Monday at Perfect Pour in Elkridge.

Apparently, there have been times when Buffalo Trace isn't available.  The giant liquor store apparently  avoided disaster because it had agreed months ago to buy an entire barrel.  That barrel -- bottled up -- has arrived, and it's for sale both in front and in the bourbon aisles.

I'm new to bourbons, but Buffalo Trace has been a favorite -- especially because it costs less than $30 and less than many of the small distillery liquors on the same shelves.

The Perfect Pour bottles even have a special sticker on the side commemorating the barrel.  It's a cool detail, and I'll post next week about the bourbon cocktail that we stumbled on in New York City.

If you're a bourbon fan, this might be a reason to run over.

Trolling: Iranian Kabobs, Exceptional Italian, And Vietnamese Soup From A New (Unmanly) Blogger

Pho at Pho Dat Trahn
It's great fun to welcome Howard County food bloggers, and it's even more fun to introduce one who can't stop writing.

The Unmanly Chef has started up his own blog with recipes on everything from roast pork to breakfast shakes to Persian crispy rice.  The Chef is a young guy from Howard County.  He learned to cook from his immigrant Iranian grandmother, but he has a fully modern array of recipes under his belt -- a manly Flyers' apron on the page where he introduces himself.

We chatted yesterday, and the Chef jumped at the idea of a Trolling post.  Most people say they'll do a Trolling post, then never email me again.  Three paragraphs and a cell phone photo are always welcome, but I understand that they can be too daunting to complete.

For the Unmanly Chef, three paragraphs was too limiting.  He wrote five.  The same afternoon.  Three sections talking up Howard County food that he really enjoys.  Two bonus sections about great Iranian food in Rockville and the farm-to-table of Woodberry Kitchen.

Check out the Unmanly Chef blog.  Follow him on Twitter.  Like the blog's page on Facebook.  Just generally welcome into the local conversation:
Friends & Farms -- a delivery service in Columbia
At first I was very apprehensive to joining Friends and Farms, because I thought it would be just another CSA that gives pounds of veggies.  Meanwhile we were spending way too much on groceries each week for just two people.  Friends and Farms delivers on both fronts.  It gives a variety of meat and produce, while cutting my food bill in half.  With Friends and Farms, you can customize your basket size to suit your needs.  I'd recommend doing a sample basket for one week to see if it's for you.  The quality of the food is excellent (especially the protein).  Everything is from local farms.  If you have any questions, you can engage with their staff via email,phone, or in person.  (I've done all three.)  It certainly is not for everyone, if you don't cook or can't handle changing seasonal ingredients, don't waste your time.  Pricing ranges from $53/week to $99/week depending on what size basket you receive.

Yekta Kabobi Restaurant & Market in Rockville
Amongst Iranians in the Maryland area, Yekta is regarded as the premier Kabobi (or Chelow Kabob) place in the area.  I'm fully aware of Nora's Kabob in Ellicott City or Maiwand Kabob in Columbia.  They are great people, but their ground beef kabob or Koobideh does not stack up, and that is the true marker of a great Kabobi restaurant. F or the best experience, go to Yekta in Rocville and order the following: ask for the Tahdig (Crispy Rice), Mahst-e-Moosir (Yogurt with Shallots), and then get the Yekta Special.  It's a lot of food, but this will give you the true Iranian Chelo Kabobi experience. 
The real draw is a combination of everything.  The consistency of the food is key. But juiciness of the meat and the larger variety of traditional Iranian side dishes make it great. For me, what makes it worth the drive is their Kabob Koobideh (ground beef kabob).  It's the perfect mixture of salty and savory.  Yekta also has daily specials, if you are there on a Tuesday or Friday, get the Baghali Polow Mahicheh (Lamb Shank with Fava Bean Rice), this is an authentic Iranian dish that is a true delicacy in Iran. After you've finished, you can go next door to their grocery store for some great treats.

Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore
Nestled away off I-83 lies a culinary oasis that brings rustic Chesapeake watershed cuisine to your table at a reasonable price.  Woodberry Kitchen sources all their ingredients from local farms and makes everything in house.  I first heard about it actually from Duff Goldman of Ace of Cakes fame) when he was on Food Network. You literally cannot make a wrong choice with their menu.  Select whatever you crave, and prepare to be thrilled.
I've had the chicken and biscuits, and they are incredible.  Cooked to perfection, they fry the skin, but not the whole chicken. T hey use a thigh instead of a breast so it's incredibly moist.  Another great dish there is the mac & cheese, Fried chicken and mac & cheese are my two favorite foods so I always seek them out at a high quality place.  Since it's a rustic American-style place, I base my choices off of my favorite American flavors -- savory and cheese.  Haha.
You have to make a reservation generally because it's too popular now to walk in. But make the trip.  It's worth it. They are open for breakfast/brunch on the weekends and dinner every night.

Aida Bistro & Wine Bar in Columbia
Italian food is often a difficult dining out choice for me because I always feel I can make it better than wherever one would usually go for Italian food in Howard County.  Not with Aida Bistro & Wine Bar.  Everything is locally sourced and hand-made in the kitchen. I've been twice now; both times were excellent. They do a seasonal menu.  In the winter, I ordered a Lamb Shank Bolognese, and this past weekend we did an assortment of appetizers.  Their pork belly appetizer is great.  You think it's going to be somewhat chewy. But instead, it falls apart, and the crispy skin on the top makes it melt in your mouth.  They serve it as a thick square of pork belly rather than the traditional korean BBQ way.  It's almost like they braised the pork belly meat, but crisped the skin. It was awesome.   For dessert, their cannoli are outstanding, not to sweet, and they have a home-made shell.  The service is attentive and will offer their opinions if you ask.  Aida's is great for any occasion.

Pho Dat Tanh in Columbia
Good pho is hard to find.  Pho Dat Tanh in Columbia does exactly what you want.  No fuss, no frills. They have carry-out, but I would not recommend ordering the pho for carry-out.  It's not the same experience.  We always come here when we have a cold because their pho will clear your sinuses and provide that warm soup craving.  I always order the Pho Ga (Chicken Pho) instead of the Beef Pho. Mainly because I think it's healthier and it's a little less heavy. Their food is very reasonably priced and if you want pho, it's a great local source for it.
Trolling (sometimes on Tuesday) is my attempt at a series where readers share three things with other HowChow readers -- favorite restaurant dishes, food to buy, food experiences, etc.  Click here for all the Trolling posts.  Click here for the explanation and the rules.  Anyone can submit.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Pisco And Ceviche Coming By Mid-July To Elkridge

Pisco coming to Elkridge off Rte 175
Get ready for Peruvian fish and liquor at the new Pisco restaurant opening in weeks off Rte 175 in Elkridge.

The former home of Mama Lucia is still under construction, but talk at the site Monday was that it will open in the first half of July.  Maybe first week.  Maybe second week.

Tile floors were in.  You could see the outline of the kitchen and a large square bar in the entrance where chefs will make ceviche.  I respect the amount of work that goes into creating a restaurant, so I'll be cool if work goes deeper into the summer.  But the talk was definitely early July when Mrs. HowChow asked yesterday.

People started to mention Pisco last December.  This appears to be a new place from the folks who own Facci.  That's a good sign.  We love ceviche, and I think people will love pisco sours.  If Pisco does Peruvian like Facci does Italian, then this could be some terrific fun.

Pisco Restaurant -- coming in July 2014??
6630 Marie Curie Drive
Elkridge, MD 21075

NEAR:  This is the shopping center with Trader Joe's and Perfect Pour at the intersection of Rte 175 and Rte 108.  The center backs onto Rte 108 and faces the Costco.  In some ways, this area is really Columbia, but I'm going with the post here.  The former Mamma Lucia was on the end away from Trader Joe's.

Monday, June 23, 2014

I Don't Often Blog About Politics, But When I Do, I Prefer Tom Coale For Delegate In Ellicott City

Tom Coale, running in the Democratic primary for District 9B
You probably shouldn't base your votes on a food blog.

Drive blindly if I recommend pit beef in Woodlawn or barbecue in Laurel.  But do your own research on politicians, and I'd recommend that you start with Tom Coale, who is running tomorrow in the Democratic primary for a delegate in District 9B.

You should go to the polls for the June 24 primary and vote for Tom if you live in his district.

Tom is a really good guy.  We met through blogging -- him at HoCo Rising.  He is enthusiastic.  He is smart.  He has been involved in Columbia and Howard County civic life for years.  You can check out his positions at his campaign Web site.  But I'd recommend Tom to anyone who likes HowChow because I have watched him take the optimistic, thoughtful tone that I try to keep here on the blog.

Honestly, we need more thoughtful, and we need more optimistic.  I'm old enough that friends tell me first hand stories about politicians, and they're often cringe-inducing tales about ego and self-interest.  I think Tom will write different stories if he can get to Annapolis, and I hope you'll check him out to see if you support him.

District 9B runs between U.S. 70 and Rte 108 on both sides of Rte 29.  You can see the map above.  To see detail, check out this Google map.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Salazon Chocolate In Sykesville: Gourmet From Caramels To Coffee, Hot Sauce To Ice Cream

Salazon's gift box packed with good stuff
Eat first, then get yourself to Salazon Chocolate up on Main Street in Sykesville.

You need to eat because you don't want to shop a place this delicious on an empty stomach.  To protect yourself, you can try the crepes that I wrote about yesterday at the French Twist Cafe.  Then walk short blocks to this friendly shop selling salty to sweet, white wine to blackberry jam.

Salazon Chocolate Co. does a national business selling chocolate bars.  You can buy Salazon in Whole Foods and many other places with variations of salts, peppers, nuts and more.  They're interesting flavors -- exotic ideas, but done subtly well not gimmicky.  I wrote about them four years ago after finding their bars in Roots, Mom's Organic Market and David's Natural Foods.

In the Sykesville market, Salazon becomes the curator of many other foods.  Their chocolate is on the central display, but the shelves are filled with all kinds of other cool food items.  Wines.  Pickles.  Candies.  Hot sauces.  Cookies.

Again, this is a reason to annex Sykesville.  It's just across from railroad tracks from Howard County, and we could use a place with this kind of lineup.  Many items are local -- including CrunchDaddy popcorn and Southern Skies coffee.  But it's an amazing variety in a pretty small store.  We came home with chocolate, a small salami, Tanner's pickles and Mouth Party caramels.  (Somehow both the pickles and the seasonal caramels are flavored with Old Bay.)

Salazon's wall of discoveries
We also bought a pint of chocolate peanut butter ice cream from Trickling Springs Creamery.  I had forgotten until I was drafting this post.  Just for you HowChow readers, I took a break and confirmed that it's pretty great.  That's really creamy ice cream from the operation just across the border in Pennsylvania.  Intense peanut butter flavor that has me thinking about a second bowl.

In the store, Mrs. HowChow had her eye on a gift box that Salazon sells for $5.  It's a cool look and a nice size to fill up with tasty treats.  They're selling premium items, mostly from small companies.  Nothing is cheap.  So far, everything has been delicious.  If that's your scene, then you'll have a very good time nosing around shop.  If it's not, then the chocolate alone can be worth the drive.

The Salazon folks are looking to move and expand, according to talk in the store.  I think he said that they want to open a wine bar, which I guess might even mean a kitchen.  He said they were looking to open the new place this year.

Again, Salazon and Sykesville are an easy drive. Look at the comments on yesterday's post, and people recommended a pub with smoked meats and a bunch of other places.  You just follow Rte 32 north across I-70.  It's 30 minutes or less from almost anywhere in Howard County, and it's a terrific side trip if you're heading out to Larriland Farm for pick-your-own fruit.

Salazon Chocolate Co. & Market
7552 Main Street
Sykesville, MD 21784
(443) 300-8877

NEAR:  Sykesville is literally across a railroad track from northern Howard County.  From Howard County, you take Rte 32 north across I-70, then turn left onto West Friendship Road.  That curves across the border and turns into Main Street as it enters Sykesville.  Salazon Chocolate is on the left.  If you visit, definitely check out the French Twist Cafe a block off Main Street on Oklahoma Street.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Other Side Of The Tracks: Why You Need To Check Out Sykesville (And We Should Annex)

Crepe-making.  That's the balsamic glaze going on.
This post begins my plan to annex Sykesville.

The little town just across the railroad tracks in Carroll County is a terrific excursion, especially as a side trip on the way home from picking some fruit Larriland Farm.  It's half an hour from most of Howard County, and it's a cool place to explore and get some good food.

Jeff from Southern Skies Coffee turned me on to Sykesville -- and specifically emailed last month to tout the French Twist Cafe:
I wanted you to know about a really special place that just opened. It's a coffee shop just over the Carroll County line in downtown Sykesville.  Hélène, the owner, grew up in France and makes authentic crepes (both sweet and savory) and ridiculously good coffee drinks. She trained at the American Barista & Coffee School in Portland and obviously took the training to heart, as evidenced by her perfect cappuccinos. 
The crepes are made with buckwheat flour, which in spite of its name, contains no wheat and is gluten free. I've had the ham and cheese crepe and the nutella and banana crepe and both were stellar. 
The shop itself is located in a charming house with a big front porch that's perfect for lingering. If you make it up this way, please let me know and we can have coffee.
Everything that Jeff said was true, which is why we need to roll into town and annex the place.  Once Ulman is lieutenant government, Carroll County won't be able to stop us.

Crepe folded to eat
Mrs. HowChow and I stopped last weekend after picking cherries at Larriland.  I'll admit that I've followed emails into some shady joints, and Mrs. HowChow has followed me loyally into every one.  So she was pretty psyched when the French Twist Cafe turned out to be charming counter offering a superb lunch.

Crepe made to order.  The chef working two special griddles with a bottle of crepe batter and a long metal tool.  The crepes are impossibly pliable, yet crisp.  For savory one, they cover half the circle with a mix of cheese and vegetables.  Warm it through with the perfect amount of oil and balsamic glaze to dress the greens.

I lost a bet on that dressing.  The crepes come folded into fourths -- a really portable sandwich.  That made it way more fun to eat than a fussy knife and fork.  We got a Greek one -- a generous serving of greens, olives, and feta.  A light flavor from the buckwheat crepe.  The rich payoff of really good ingredients and crunch from some onion and green peppers.

Mrs. HowChow figured out that they'd added dressing.  That really brought the sandwich together, and the whole meal was light and exciting.  Crepes are exotic fun worth the drive, but the menu is completely accessible -- ranging from breakfast versions with eggs to savory items like basic ham, our Greek or a fancy crab meat.  And, of course, there are sweet crepes hyped up by butter, chocolate, Nutella, fruit and more.

Jeff's coffee shot
Remember that Jeff talked up the coffees.  Jeff roasts his own coffee, so you should listen when he says they serve a perfect cappuccino.

Overall, French Twist is a cool place to check out.  I was impressed with the quality of the ingredients.  It makes all the difference, and it means you could get all kinds of fun.  Coffee and breakfast.  A relaxed lunch.  A break on a bike ride.  A chocolate crepe to entertain some kids on an afternoon.

Notice that they start with breakfast service and cook into the late afternoon or early evening most days.  Check their hours.  Remember they're making the crepes to order.  Expect to wait a bit.  We lounged at a porch table in perfect weather, so we were content.

Up tomorrow:  The chocolate, wine and food store around the corner on Main Street that lets you turn a Sykesville trip into a full food excursion.

Can anyone tell me about the model train museum in Sykesville?  There is an old railroad car parked across from the French Twist.  As far as I can tell from the Web, it's a model train display run by a volunteer club and open on the first Sunday afternoon of every month.

French Twist Cafe
732 Oklahoma Avenue
Sykesville, MD 21784
(443) 920-3151

NEAR:  Sykesville is literally across a railroad track from northern Howard County.  From Howard County, you take Rte 32 north across I-70, then turn left onto West Friendship Road.  That curves across the border and turns into Main Street as it enters Sykesville.  Turn left at Oklahoma Avenue, but the French Twist will be on your right across from the railroad car.

French Twist Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Six Years Into A Completely Unreasonable Hobby: Why I Still Write About Food And Eating

Food is only what you make of it.

I fear, of course, that I have made way too much.  HowChow started because I couldn't find food when I started coming to Ellicott City.  As I have said before, I came for a woman.  Mrs. HowChow works some weekends, so I had entire days hanging alone and driving around to find something to cook for dinner.

HowChow started irregularly.  I found cool places, both markets and restaurants.  We had fun checking out new options, and I wrote some test posts before I even made the blog public.  That seems to have been in early 2008.  I had no idea what I was doing.  I had just stumbled on stuff like Produce Galore's corned beef sandwich and figured that was worth telling people.

I went public in June 2008.  Barely anyone knew for months.  Most of the comments on those early posts were from people writing in 2009.  JessieX was running a HocoLoco Girl site then with restaurant listings, and I linked a whole bunch of my posts from HocoLoco.  The crop of existing bloggers -- including Columbia Talk and others who stopped regular posts years ago -- taught me how the new medium could be full of links and compliments and letting people know when someone else started to write.

I'm indebted to them because the best part about HowChow has been how much I learned about Howard County.  Mrs. HowChow and I have wandered from one end to the other following comments about everything from pick-your-own fruit to new Chinese, from taco trucks to Korean soups.

When I started, there were regularly newspaper articles with punk ledes on the theme of "The suburbs are just full of chain restaurants, and you'd never expect to find the [fill in the blank] that I discovered for you."  I feel like that has disappeared.

Maybe that's because so much of the papers has vanished over the same years.  But I think perceptions changed, in part, because people have talked on HowChow, Yelp, Chowhound and other sites about the great options out here.  I certainly appreciate all the suggestions.  I have years of "Best Of Howard County" posts, but I still have an entire list of places that I haven't checked out yet.  Milita's Tacos on U.S. 1 needs to be my next stop, thanks to raves from Kevlar51.

Thanks, in fact, to everyone who leaves comments or sends me emails.  I love tips and suggestions.  Thanks especially to Dan, Nikki, Adam, Min and the other folks who have written guest posts with their own views.  The Trolling posts make me happy every time.  It's those connections -- and their suggestions to find great oysters, tasty egusi, or the beauty of fried chicken and house-made black-bean noodles -- that make me grateful that I have had six years to blog.

Food has helped me explore the place that I live, and it has connected me to all kinds of new people. That has made much more from this completely unreasonable hobby than I ever expected.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Pizza And Crab Soup At Johnny's Bistro: A Casual Kitchen With Real Ambition On Main Street

Pizza from Johnny's Bistro
I'm underestimating Johnny's Bistro on Main Street in Ellicott City.

A few weekend ago, I sat down planning a simple lunch, and the waitress served us tiny samples of crab soup that left me hungry for more.  Like an entire bowl, which I ordered and really enjoyed.  Suddenly, I was inspired to get a salad or a panini as something new.

But I had promised pizza to a three-year-old.

That's what we have eaten whenever we popped into Johnny's, and it didn't seem fair to abandon the pie that BigJ had been promised.  Especially when the pies are really good.  Three of us -- me, BigJ and BigJ's father -- split a pepperoni, and we happily ate every scrap.

I think Johnny's Bistro has one of the best pizzas around.  Nice crust with character and char.  Good sauce and cheese.  Johnny's is a casual joint on the hill in downtown Ellicott City, but the kitchen has real ambition.  Even a pizza for a five-year-old compared to my favorite local places like Facci or Coal Fire.

Next trip, we need to get past the pizza and try other dishes.  I'd love any suggestions.

Johnny's Bistro
8167 Main Street
Ellicott City, MD 21043

NEAR:  Johnny's is in the historic downtown Ellicott City.  It's downhill from the intersection with Old Columbia Pike and just uphill from the Sweet Cascades candy shop.

Johnny's Bistro on Main on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 16, 2014

Mark Your Calendar Now For A Day At Larriland; Cherries Were Magic, But You Can Get More

Yellow and red cherries from Larriland Farm
You need to mark your calendar now for a day at Larriland Farm, and you can only hope for something as glorious as last weekend.

Larriland will have a flow of great "pick-your-own" fruits and vegetables through October.  But this weekend they had cherries.

Larriland knows how to handle crowds
That's almost a miracle.  Among the trees, we talked to one of Larriland's owners who described years and years where the cherry trees don't fruit because the weather doesn't cooperate.  This year filled the grove with cherries, but this last week's rain threaten to cause them all to burst.  So the Larriland crew had been applying calcium four times a day to keep everything firm.

That's how we ended up standing inside magical trees on Saturday morning.  Mrs. HowChow had gotten a Larriland email saying the cherry trees would be open on Saturday.  We arrived before the fields open, and there were already dozens of people parked and picking.

The fruit is really fun.  Sweet cherries in deep red and dark yellow.  Trees with hundreds of ripe cherries hanging in arms length.  We picked like maniacs.  We stopped only because our boxes seemed ridiculous, and we ended up with almost 20 pounds.  I should have spent all Sunday putting them away.  I'll need to plan one project -- freeze, jam, bourbon cherries -- for each night this week.

Larriland is one of my favorite places in all of Howard County.  The family-run farm in Woodbine is an easy 30 minutes from most of the county.  They just do everything well.  Signs take you to the fields.  People direct traffic, give you bags, help you know what to pick, and check you out right next to the fields.  They were packed Saturday for cherries and strawberries, and everything was friendly and smooth.

Challah rolls from The Breadery
The cherries will disappear, but you should pencil in a day or two now to make a trip to Larriland.  Blueberries and peaches, then apples, tomatoes and pumpkins.  I post similar advice almost every year after we have a magical day.  Can tomatoes.  Go for the weekend festival atmosphere before Halloween.  It's great for a date, for taking kids, or for meeting friends out in the country.

If you do, don't miss stopping at the big barn in the main part of Larriland.  They sell all kinds of vegetables and fruits, along with some sodas, candies, and the dried fruit candy that you need to try at the register.  They also sell breads from The Breadery in Oella -- including challah rolls that looked like cousins to hot dog buns that I have deemed "the best hot dog buns you'll find anywhere."  I bought two bags in preparation for our next ground meat purchase from Laurel Meat Market.

For years, I have championed the barbecue and smoked fish from the Town Grille in Lisbon.  That's a half-block out of your way from Larriland, and you'll have a terrific lunch there.  Now, I'll add some alternatives with posts later this week.  Jeff from Southern Skies Coffee Roasters turned me on to Sykesville, and I heartily recommend a short detour for lunch and shopping.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Best Seat In The House: Chocolate Cookies, Sunset And A View Of The Columbia Lakefront

The best seat in the house
That's the best seat in the house.

Sunset.  Two chocolate cookies from Le Comptoir, the new dessert and sandwich counter next to Petit Louis.  And a view out onto the Columbia lakefront.

I can't recommend enough a night on the outdoor seats at Le Comptoir.  For a few dollars, you can enjoy an idyllic view and a delicious dessert.  Pair with a walk on the lake.  Go after dinner at Sushi Sono or before a drink at one of the bars.  You might almost be in a pedestrian spot, and in a few months . . . . Whole Foods just down the lake.

Go have fun this weekend.

Friday, June 13, 2014

New Farmers Market In Maple Lawn: Get Ful-Ton On Veggies, Eggs, Meats, Coffee, And More

Love Dove Farm
A new farmers market has started Saturday mornings on Maple Lawn Boulevard in Fulton -- vegetables, eggs, baked goods and more in a parking lot .

The market started last weekend, and it should run every other Saturday mornings into the fall.  Last weekend was fun -- and it isn't even the season for the best vegetables.

(Updated:  I added "every other" because I misunderstood.  Thanks Amber.  Look at this Web site for the dates.)

Mrs. HowChow and I got a tomato plant from Pong's Orchard.  Then we filled a shopping bag with radishes, kale, and eggs.  I bought spinach, but I think that I left it on the Love Dove Farm table.  At least, I never found it in our fridge to cook this week.

Markets are fun.  This one had two bakeries, a coffee company and used books on top of the farm stands.  Folks came out with kids and dogs.  People who live in Maple Lawn can walk over, but there is plenty of parking for anyone from Laurel to Clarksville who wanted to check it out.  We had fun, and the selection should just get better as fields ripen with tomatoes, cucumbers, melons and the great tastes of summer.

To me, the find of the morning were eggs from TLV Tree Farm.  I've been replacing some chicken dinners with dishes made with eggs, and the TLV eggs were delicious.  Folks swear by small farm eggs.  I thought these were especially bright, and the yolks were firm and tasty.  For Sunday night, I made them the stars of a dish from Yotom Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's cookbook Jerusalem.

Shakshuka w/TLV eggs
They taught me to make shakshuka -- a Tunisian dish for breakfast or lunch.  You basically cook a sauce of tomato and peppers flavored with garlic, cumin, and a harissa paste made from spices, red pepper, red onion, garlic and hot peppers.  Then you crack eggs into indentations and let them cook in the sauce.  A great reason to try TLV eggs or to check Jerusalem out of the Howard County library.

The Maple Lawn farmers market is on Maple Lawn Boulevard just south of Johns Hopkins Road.  It is the parking lot of a medical office building across from the Maple Lawn pool.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Maggiano's Has Opened At The Columbia Mall; One Of The Two Dudes Has The Full Report

The Columbia Mall continues to add new restaurants, and Maggiano's cut the ceremonial pasta today with full coverage by the Two Dudes Who Love Food blog

Thomas got the full tour and some tastings -- while on his lunch break from school.  He liked the Italian food, and I think the place will be packed.

Here We Go Again: Folks Say Ananda Will Open In 3-4 Weeks, Bringing Indian To Maple Lawn

I don't want to be Chicken Little, but folks are saying again that the new Ananda restaurant will open in Maple Lawn in 3-4 weeks.

The latest word was a post on the Maple Lawn 2.0 Facebook page by someone who said she talked to the manager.  This will be an Indian restaurant.  The building has been going up for more than a year.  Construction has been glacial all 2014, and I don't think it has a sign or a Web site.

I sent an email to an address that someone wrote in a January ad looking for servers and kitchen help.  The restaurant was opening in February when they posted that.

(Update:  Don't count on a June opening.  On June 12, I heard back from a nice person who said they don't have an opening date yet.  The advice was that I email back in a few weeks, and they'll have a date then.")

Ananda seems like it could be terrific.  It's owned by the folks who run the Ambassador in Baltimore, and I'm infatuated by the windows on one side that open like garage doors.  Those should turn the room into almost-outdoor dining in good weather.

Does anyone know more?  Has anyone seen a Web page or any announcements? Hat tip to K8teebug, who flagged the Facebook page for me.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

New Phubs Bringing Bahn Mi And Vietnamese Near Arundel Mills; We're Taking Over The Next County

Sandwiches at Phubs in Hanover
HowChow -- and the new Phubs restaurant -- are going to take over Anne Arundel, or at least the close sections.

Reader THC talked up the new Vietnamese restaurant in Hanover just of Rte 100 east of the BW Parkway.  It apparently Phubs opened recently, and she and her sidekicks, the Hubs and Stormageddon, found a casual spot focused on subs and soups with a Vietnamese style.

This isn't my normal stomping ground, but THC provided a full report -- and I know many people slide over towards Arundel Mills for work for fun.  Cafe Au Lait in Ellicott City sells the bahn mi sandwiches, but a good bahn mi is worth a serious drove.  Here is TMC's report:
A few weeks back when the Hubs and I saw the coming soon sign for Phubs we were stoked about a pho place being so close to our house.  We vowed to return immediately upon them opening. 
There is very comfortable looking outside seating (four tables). The interior of the restaurant has a clean minimalistic vibe.  A bamboo half wall separates the ordering counter from the dining room and the bamboo theme continues on a grand scale on the long wall in the dining room with a gigantic graphic of vibrant green bamboo.  There are a few high counter seats that face the parking lot as well as booths and tables. 
The menu is a good size without being overwhelming for someone unfamiliar with the cuisine.  I was pleased to see that there were plenty of options for vegetarians, vegans, gluten free folk, and of course unapologetic carnivores.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Let This Be Your Summer Of Twist Peppers

"Twist" or shishito peppers at Lotte
Even cooks who burn their food can make delicious, trendy food by grabbing a bag of magic peppers.

On fancy restaurant menus, these are shishito peppers -- a sweet green pepper that chefs dress up with all kinds of flavors.  They're mostly sweet, although a few shishito on every plate with have a spicy kick, less than a jalapeño but more than the sweet flavor in most of the dish.

For you, they're "twist peppers" for $3 a pound in Asian supermarkets like Lotte and H Mart.

This is super-easy, and the terrific side dish goes with anything from burgers to Asian food.  They're just exotic enough to be worth a drive.  But they're basically sweet peppers, so you shouldn't scare anyone off.

Literally, this is the three-step recipe to cook twist peppers:
1) Heat a film of oil in a non-stick, cast iron pan, or a wok.   
2) Add the peppers.  Cook them over medium until the skin starts to blister.  
3)  When they have a few char marks and have softened slightly, toss them in a bowl.  Add a few pinches of salt -- best with some big-grained salt like sea salt -- until you like the taste.  
The cook time is up to you.  I like the peppers to have a little bite, so I take them off as soon as them soften.  If you want shishito ideas with more flavors or more vegetables, check the Internet for articles like this Denver Post post.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Two Restaurants Closed, But The Trend Has Been Really Good Places Are Taking Over Leases

Two longtime Howard County restaurants have apparently closed -- the Copeland's near the mall and the Applebee's in the "restaurant park" off Rte 108.

I actually hadn't eaten at either.  But I know they had fans, and the Copeland's closing was a surprise when I heard about it from Eileen on the HowChow Facebook page.

The recent trend has been that restaurant space gets leased pretty quickly:
We got carry out from Royal Taj last night. First of all, this is the first time I remember the owner asking how hot we wanted our food. Perhaps this means they are moving toward more authentic Indian rather than Americanized??? Or, they just forgot to ask in the past. Or, my husband forgot they asked - LOL 
The time to get there for carry out is right when they open, because then the owner is in the front and not very busy, so able to talk He said they have begun construction in the new location, opening planned before October. When it is time to move, they will close the existing Royal Taj for a week and transition to the new one. His goal is that when they open in the new location everything will be running smoothly from day one. 
And by the way, I got Chicken Saag and I think it was prepared better than I remember it from the past.
Does anyone know the plan for the Copeland's space?  The company's Web site doesn't show any locations in Maryland now, so maybe they had a plan to retrench.  I assume that's a prime restaurant location just off Little Patuxent Parkway and near the lakefront scene with Petit Louis, Sushi Sono, Clyde's and Tomato Palace.