Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Is Chiptole Coming To Maple Lawn? Plus, New Mexican, New BGR, Closed Peruvian, Closed Thai

Anthony's New York Pizza & Pasta
The talk about Maple Lawn is that Chipotle is going into the new construction going in near the Harris Teeter.  It's been that way for months now.  People who know real estate explaining why the space and location look right.  Other folks saying that the new facade looks like a Chipotle.

I nod when they say that.

But I honestly don't know how to spot a Chipotle.  I can identify a classic Pizza Hut as I drive past, but I'm taking folks' optimism at the Chipotle and hope that we'll get an announcement soon.

I don't see anything official about the other Maple Lawn construction, but talk is about several other restaurants in the works.  Maybe a seafood place or a pub near Harris Teeter?  Maybe a new breakfast and lunch restaurant in the new office building that they're finishing up on the other side of the development?

Although we're a bit limited these days by toddler bedtimes, we're always looking for new places.  Lil' Chow and I hit up Anthony's New York Pizza & Pasta in Clarksville one night when Mrs. HowChow was out of town.  Unfortunately, this was before Lil' Chow announced "I don't like sauce."  So I ended up eating both our slices and feeding him garlic knots in desperation.

While we're at it, other local food news that built over my hiatus in the comments and emails:
  • Taqueria Los Primos has opened a "brick-and-mortar" store on U.S. 1 in Laurel, reports Steve on a comment.  This is one of the highlight taco trucks, so I'm eager to get over there.  And eager for Lil' Chow to come around to Mexican food more than tortillas.
  • That's an influx of new Mexican.  Cinco De Mayo is filling the space that Royal Taj vacated when it moved to expanded space in Columbia.  Junior Barnes sent me the website link that says Cinco De Mayo will open in "early 2016."
  • And BGR the Burger Joint may be come to Rte 108 next to the new Urban BBQ, says Kevlar51.    On the same comment threat, SHerrington asked if anyone knows what's going into the retail built at 10000 Old Columbia Road -- visible on the south side of Rte 32 but apparently empty as far as I've seen.  Does anyone know?
  • Bangkok Delight in Columbia appears to have closed while I was on hiatus.  Jim S. left a comment, and Nicole mentioned it on Facebook in November.  I'm nostalgic because it was one of the first places that Mrs. HowChow and I went out for dinner.  That was back when we lived off Rte 108.  I remember really enjoying Bangkok Delight, then feeling like the food changed.  Alicyn recommends Little Spice in Hanover as a Thai alternative.
  • Also, has one or more of the Bagel Bins closed?  Folks were talking in November.  Dzoey mentioned a Cafe Bagel on Rte 103.  That's new to me.  And what about Pisco?  That was the Peruvian restaurant near Perfect Pour in Elkridge.  Katie reported last week that it was closed.
  • 5485 Restaurant appears to have opened in Columbia.  This is in the Doubletree Hotel near Rte 29 and Rte 175.  The staff says they renovated and changed from Morgan's to 5485.   When I called, they said the menu isn't on-line yet.  Has anyone tried 5485 yet? 
  • Starting in January, you'll be able to visit the Manor Hill Brewery on Saturdays to buy cans and growlers of their beer, says MoCo Beer.
  • Black Flag Brewing in Columbia has launched a Facebook site so that you can follow the brewery that will open on Snowden River Parkway next year.  And you can watch for the web site that they're building now.
  • What is Mother's Howard County Grille planned for Elkridge?  After figuring out the calendar system to check on the liquor license applications at Wegmans, I'm having fun watching the liquor board web sit.
  • Dzoey hit up the new Pie Five on Rte 40 in Ellicott City.  Several new chains are opening along Rte 40.  Pie Five is in new construction just west of Bean & Burgundy, which Dzoey says still has a good lunch buffet.  This is the report:
Pie Five does not take reservations and they do not deliver, but they have a special way of cooking the pizza so that it bakes in 2 minutes and it is ready for you 5 minutes after you order. You can specify your own pizza, choosing from five different crust types and four sauces and a variety of toppings, or you can use one of their pre-arranged combinations.

I tried three (pre-arranged) pizzas: the BBQ pizza, the Buffalo Chicken pizza, and a meat pizza (I forget the name) with one of their thin crusts and two of their thick crusts. I thought the thin crust was good, better than Domino's, not as good as Ledo's, and the thick crust was good as well, better than Pizza hut, not as good as what I've had in Chicago. The BBQ sauce was on the sweet side, with a hint of smoke and went well with the chicken. The meat pizza was good, with a good balance of salt and spice. The buffalo chicken wasn't what I expected, there was not much buffalo sauce, just some jalapeno peppers. It's a pretty crowded market so I wish them well. It's worth trying out.
  • And finally, you need to check out VCnearDC's long comment about the best cheesesteak in Howard County.  The family did a four-stop taste test.  They decided that Philly's Best in Columbia had the best meat and therefore the best sandwich.  Now that's on my list to try as well.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Uma Uma Soft Open Brings Ramen To Rte 40 -- And Maybe The Best Little Bite I've Eaten All Year

Tomato tonkatsu ramen
Uma Uma has brought the ramen shop to Ellicott City, and you should check out noodle soups and more at the friendly, casual restaurant.

Ramen -- like barbecue -- can lead to food blog warfare among experts about styles and execution.  So I'll leave that to other people and report just my observations.

First, the soup tastes delicious.  Lil' Chow and I lunched twice in four days.  We split three varieties because my toddler spilled much of a miso ramen until he realized that the stylish bowl tipped more-easily than the plastic ones at home.  Each variety was delicious.  All different.  My opening favorite is tonkatsu -- a pork broth served with the ramen, bok choy, slices of pork, and a just-boiled egg.

Uma Uma's pork bun
Second, the pork bun may be the best little bite that I've eaten all year.  It's one of Uma Uma's appetizers.  Steamed bun filled with a thick slice of tender, braised pork and house-pickled onion.  Rich and sharp, warm and chewy.  Each bun is a perfect two or three bites.  Get your own two-bun appetizer.  Don't share.  They're that good.

Uma Uma just soft opened on December 23.  They're getting organized, and they're starting at a run because the tables are already packed at the busy hours.  Yelp folks are already uncharitable about wait times and hiccups.  Don't be that way.  Go check out Uma Uma for something new and delicious that you can reach in 15 minutes.

For the uninitiated, ramen is noodle soup.  Again, the experts will crucify me for simplification.  Ramen lives in many, many forms.  Folks suggest ramen as a way to explore Tokyo.  They write about the best in the world.  But go check that last link.  The "best in the world" meant Japan, California and Manhattan.  On our local menus, ramen appears at places like Matcha Time and White Oak Tavern.  This is the first specialty shop, trying to make a go with ramen, grilled chicken, buns and a few other dishes.

Miso ramen
To me, ramen's real draw is slurping the broth.  Each spoonful -- and even the chopsticks bringing up dripping noodles -- offers the rich, cloudy broth.  The broths differ.  Miso, spicy miso, pork, etc.  But they're the backdrop for each bowl, and you can alternate mouthfuls of pork or vegetables.  I love bok choy.  A little crunch and mild peppery flavor paired beautifully with the almost-creamy tonkatsu stock.

Give Uma Uma a while to come into its own.  They've been open a week.  Chefs will adjust their recipes.  Waiters will pick up the ordering system and the kitchen flow.  I respect the comments on my White Oak Tavern post that suggest that the ramen there can differ day-to-day.  So go slurp up Uma Uma's good start and see how it goes from here.

Now, Uma Uma has some nice desserts.  The owner charmed Lil Chow with a green-tea mochi filled with ice cream.  But know that you can walk around the corner of Uma Uma's parking lot to a terrific bakery and coffee shop -- Tous Le Jours, a French bakery by way of Seoul with pastries, cakes, macarons, coffee and more.  It's a great place to hang out after dinner.  Please ignore the toddler who turns to a table of talkative young adults and shouts "Quiet! Be quiet!"  I have idea who that kid could be.

Use winter to explore an entire season of noodles and soups.  Like ramen, you can get them together in the hand-cut noodle soups at Hang Ari in Catonsville.  Or go noodles and fried chicken at Tian Chinese Cuisine in Ellicott City or Da Rae Won in Beltsville.   Or go exotic noodles with the fish noodle entree at Grace Garden in Odenton.  My one bummer is a vegetarian friend with Japanese wife.  There are no vegetarian ramen at Uma Uma.  What do people recommend as the best vegetarian soup around here?

Uma Uma
9380 Baltimore National Pike
Ellicott City, MD 21042

NEAR:  Uma Uma is on the north side of Rte 40 to the west of Rte 29.  It's between Boston Chicken and Lighthouse Tofu -- another great option for warm soup if you want soondooboo tofu stew.  There are a few parking spaces in front of Uma Uma, but your better bet is the lot along the side of the shopping center.  You turn off Rte 40 just before Boston Chicken, then park in the spaces in front of you or to your right.  It's good -- you're midway between dinner at Lighthouse or Uma Uma and dessert at Tous Le Jours.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Mai Dragon Brings A New Dim Sum Option Right Across The Line In Hanover

Dim sum at Mai Dragon in Hanover
New dim sum has come to the area and gotten a rave from friend of the blog Min.

Mai Dragon runs a pan-Asian menu in Hanover, and their website suggests that they do dim sum every day from lunchtime until 5 pm.  They roll trolleys through the restaurant on weekends and make it to-order during the week.

As far as I know, Asian Court in Ellicott City is the only dim sum option in Howard County.  We have often enjoyed it -- although leisurely brunches of exotic foods aren't exactly Lil' Chow's favorite activities.

So for now, I'll have to count on Min's review and try to plan a trip:
We caught up with the owners Meiling and her husband on Saturday and chatted for a while as I haven't seen them since she left Red Pearl. We also see some friendly faces in the waitstaff that we recognized from the original Asian Court.
Food is great! The aroma of dried shitake mushrooms in the siu-mais and shreds of dried scallops in the sticky rice chicken in lotus leaves (nuo-mi ji) are exciting indicators of decent dim sum. (Well, the surrounding Cantonese-speaking patrons is another.)  The multi-layered black sesame cake is a must-try. 
DH is very happy we finally have an establishment so good and so close to home that can be on par with the Philly dim sum scene.
Meiling said the dim sum chef studied under a very renowned chef in Hong Kong.  Also on chefs (Cantonese cousins) previously at other famous eateries in NoVA and Rockville. There will be a renovation coming  up soon. The restaurant will be able to host banquets up to about 26 tables afterwards.
Last but not least, just in case you're a fan of durian, the king of fruits, I asked for durian pastry (liu-lian su, melt-in-your-mouth durian wrapped in puff pastry sheets) and was told it'll be available next weekend.
Min wrote during my hiatus, so I assume the durian pastry is available now.  Mai Dragon is the name of the restaurant.  Some places on-line, it looks like there is a Mai Dim Sum with a different address.  It's all the same place -- just a dim sum menu on top of the regular Mai Dragon menu.

I am always open to Chinese recommendations in the area.  People like all different kinds of places.  We're partial to Grace Garden, which is even a little farther into Anne Arundel in Odenton.  A nondescript decor, but amazing food.  Does anyone have new finds -- restaurants or dishes -- to recommend around the area?

Mai Dragon
2649A Annapolis Road
Hanover, MD 21076
Phone: (410) 551-9498

NEAR:  This is on Rte 175 just east of the BW Parkway.  So it's just over the line in Anne Arundel County, but close enough for us to try to annex.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Surprise: I Went For Chicken Tenders And Went Back For Frisco Tap House's Ancho Glaze Wings

Ancho glaze wings at Frisco Tap House
Frisco Tap House has been many things in my decade in Howard County -- a Southwestern restaurant, a beer bar, a brewery.

Somehow, I was pleasantly surprised to discover my current favorite wings in Howard County when I stopped there for lunch.

Lil' Chow won't nap at home.  We've developed a pattern for weekends or other days without daycare.  We have morning fun, then eat lunch, then nap in the car.  For months, we looped and looped.  Now, I can stop driving once he falls asleep.

So I went to Frisco for the chicken and fries.  Lil' Chow requested a special treat, and I wanted somewhere new that would put a little extra effort into chicken tenders.  It was a complete bonus that my lunch had that extra effort as well.

This is part of a "Surprise" series that I'm writing as I try to start blogging again.  Come back for more in the next few days.

Lil' Chow's chicken and fries
Eight big meaty wings.  Or at least meaty half-wings.  Years ago, there were several local joints serving exceptional wings, but I'd given them up recently because they'd switched to tiny products that were mostly bone and skin.  Frisco sells wings as an appetizer, but they've been lunch twice for me.

Once, a Thai special.  Once, the regular ancho pepper glaze.  It's a real glaze, almost crunchy and nothing like the globs of barbecue sauce that I've seen over other plates.  The wings come slightly charred, crisp to the teeth and then moist inside.  I started to write myself a note that the wings were sweet, not spicy.  Then my lips started a warm tingle and I realized the ancho was doing its work.  There is skill in those wings, and they're one of those treats that I can't pull off in my own kitchen.

Frisco is a friendly place for lunch.  Half full on both of my recent visits.  Just enough conversation and noise to give the place some energy.  It's a nice escape from being trapped with a toddler, and even the young staff is personable.  One waiter played along when I deflected Lil's Chow's 10th question of "Where is our food now?"  The waiter explained the chicken and fries were cooking in the kitchen.  That finally satisfied the kid.  Well, that and the chicken tenders.

Where else do people recommend for wings these days?  Bon Chon Chicken in Ellicott City is my absolute favorite, but Korean fried chicken seems separate from the competition for wings.  The Town Grille in Lisbon guaranteed a Ravens Super Bowl with their special wings and a bunch of people commented on that 2013 post.  I've liked garam masala wings at Tandoor Grill on Johns Hopkins Road and the Old Bay Wings at Second Chance Saloon in Columbia.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

No Liquor At Wegmans? The Liquor License Request Seems To Have Been Withdrawn

No Wegmans liquor for now, but here comes barbecue
For now, there isn't an active plan to open a liquor store at the Wegmans in Columbia, according to a Baltimore Sun article that came out while I was on hiatus.

In August, I had flagged the liquor license application filed by The Loft Wine & Spirits.  In November, Amanda Yeager reported that the application was withdrawn because of a zoning issue.  Apparently, the county says a liquor store isn't appropriate there.

Reading between the lines, it looks like folks are tussling behind the scenes.  I'm sure Wegmans would like to rent that second-story space, and liquor store owners are pushing the liquor and zoning laws.  Does anyone know updates since mid-November?

But while I was nosing around the liquor board website, I came across some other tidbits about new restaurants, including the Urban Bar-B-Que that looks really close on Rte 108 near Snowden River Parkway and the Mission BBQ on Rte 40 that I'll blog about soon.  Here's fun stuff:
We had a few rare hours to ourselves for dinner, and I wanted Mexican. There's nothing good up our way, so we had planned on going to El Azteca in Clarksville.  Just out of curiosity, I fired up the Yelp app to see if there were any more options, and Los Compadres popped up with really good reviews.

Since it was so much closer, we decided to take a chance and I'm super glad that we did. Rommel, the owner, introduced himself and took us through the menu. It's mainly the standard fare, but they also had less common items like sopes and tortas.  My wife got three enchiladas with one each of pastor, carne asada and barbacoa.  I got chile rellenos.

I pretty much hold R&R as the gold standard.  If I graded R&R as a "10," I'd have to say that the food we had was a solid 8.5.  It was all very well seasoned and the flavor profiles were spot on.

The prices were very reasonable, with our bill coming in at $20.

I think the place is a real gem and deserves some good attention from the food press.
 Unfortunately, I think sometimes that the food press is evaporating around us.  I appreciate the Sun and WPost articles because they're becoming fewer and farther between.  I also welcome any reports on these new places in the comments below.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Surprise: My Favorite Ramen Slurps At A Farm-To-Table Restaurant (For Now)

Ramen at White Oak Tavern
I stumbled on my favorite local ramen at a "guys night out" at White Oak Tavern.

White Oak is a casual bar and grill trying to push seasonal dishes and farm-to-table ideas on Rte 40 in Ellicott City.  It's working a middle ground with aspirations for high-end meals, but a casual feel a little less expensive that a meal in DC or Baltimore.

Coming soon to Rte 40
It hit a home run with everything on my night out.  A brussels sprout appetizer that looks so good that we each ordered had one as an appetizer.  Then a main event of rich, dark broth cooked with chewy noodles, bok choy, and a just-cooked egg.

This is part of a "Surprise" series that I'm writing as I try to start blogging again.  Come back for more in the next few days.

A real restaurant reviewer would focus on the delicious broth.  A ramen expert could explain why that savory liquid paired so well with the tender noodles.  But I'm going to tell you about the pork belly.

It was the best pieces of pork belly that I've ever had in my life.

Slightly crisp,  Rich pork flavor.  No fattiness.  It was firm like a piece of meat, and it reminded me why pork belly has been a craze.  With a really good beer and the brussels sprout appetizer, it was as good a meal as I remember eating this year.  Now, it was a pricey bowl.  I don't remember exactly, but it was an out-to-eat dinner price like $15-25.  Absolutely worth the price, but entirely fair to compare it with the equally-fun ramen at Matcha Time in Ellicott City.

Ramen at Matcha Time
But it will be a blast to start comparing White Oak to Matcha Time to Uma Uma.  Uma Uma is the ramen and yakitori restaurant that has been planning and constructing since Spring 2014.  They're close now.  (Update:  I just heard that they plan to open on December 23, 2015!)  They had chairs there when Lil' Chow and I walked past 10 days ago.

Uma Uma sounds like a place that Lil' Chow will love -- soup, noodles, rice and chicken.  They're between Lighthouse Tofu and Boston Chicken on the north side of Rte 40.  When you check them out, walk around the corner for dessert at Tous Les Jours.  That French bakery by way of Seoul has great pastries, coffees, drinks and a great atmosphere to hang out.

But back to the White Oak dinner, my friend and I had a really good night.  It's a basic decor, more like Frisco Tap House than Aida Bistro.  But they're pushing for really interesting food, and the place impresses me.  I'd love to hear if other people can comment below with recommended dishes or reports about dinners at White Oak.

Folks have been emailing me about the Uma Uma sign.  I appreciate them all.  I'd love to hear from folks if they see it is open or (even better) if they get to try the food.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Where Can I Get Local Beer In Cans? (Asks The Guy Who Can't Peruse Liquor Stores Anymore)

Cheers with a toddler
I will admit that was my two-year-old calling out "I want to go to the liquor store" on Main Street at lunchtime last Sunday.

I had promised Lil' Chow pizza.  I said we needed to stop at the liquor store before we circled back to River House Pizza Company, so he kept shouting "I want to go to the liquor store" as we waited for the Wine Bin to open.

Unfortunately, the Wine Bin is too high end to sell single beers so I ate my pizza with water.

I can't nose around liquor stores like I did in the old days.  Lil' Chow was on my shoulders in the Wine Bin, but I still thought he was going to sweep glass bottles off shelves onto the floor.  I understand.  It's boring shopping for him.

So where can I find some of the Howard County beers in cans to stock at home?

Manor Hill Brewing has started to sell cans, I saw in a tweet from MoCoBeer.  I know that I've seen Jailbreak Brewery options in different places.

But I get at most a handful of chances a month to stop at a liquor store, usually when it just happens to be next to somewhere else that I need to stop.  I've been buying Mrs. HowChow her favorite Hite because it's stocked at the liquor store next to the new H Mart in Ellicott City.  So I'd love to know if I should check out any specific store for the local brewery options.

(Update:  Looks like Manor Hill actually debuted canned beer on Friday.  For now, Allview Liquors in Ellicott City is the only place where you can grab your own.)

Surprise: For The Best Ice Cream, Hit Up A Garden Center For A Scoop (And Paddle)

You can feast on Scoop & Paddle ice cream in Clarksville
If food blogs exist for anything, it is to bang hard on a very local drum.  So let me say again that the best ice cream in Howard County is served at garden center in Clarksville.

If that surprises you, then you should check out Scoop & Paddle, which has set up weekend hours inside the River Hill Garden Center on Rte 108.  This is the best ice cream in Howard County.  It's absolutely worth you driving today for a mix of regular and seasonal flavors.

I might have grabbed the last gingerbread Saturday.  We added a seasonal peppermint stick and a classic salted caramel.

This is part of a "Surprise" series that I'm writing as I try to start blogging again.  Come back for more in the next few days.

We've been eating that caramel since Scoop & Paddle debuted last summer.  Back then, they were parking their customized VW bus in River Hill's parking lot.  They're still doing some standards like espresso chip and mint chip chocolate, but the seasonal choices have shifted from summer fruits to winter flavors like eggnog and cinnamon.

The ice cream is superb.  Creamy and rich.  But Scoop & Paddle really stands out because the flavors come through.  The winter flavors push spices.  Deep flavor, but not overpowering.  The eggnog and the gingerbread taste like those things -- except in a cold, creamy dessert.  It's pricey at $10.50 a pint, but I promise that I haven't had ice cream this exceptional anywhere nearby.  It's Capogiro quality, which is HowChow's highest standard.

The Scoop & Paddle cart sits inside River Hill in sight of the registers.  Along with pints, you can buy ice cream sandwiches.  I have two in our freezer -- chocolate cookies and peppermint ice cream.  (Shhhhh.  Don't tell Mrs. HowChow.  They're a surprise.)

Seriously, I miss summer so much.  Go to Scoop & Paddle to recapture some summer fun or to spice up your winter table.  Either way, it's a local taste worth trying.

To check on Scoop and Paddle's hours, I suggest you check on their Facebook page.  They say 12-3 pm today.  One warning: The hours change.  Mrs. HowChow has planned several trips only to realize that Scoop and Paddle closed early or shifted their location.  Chill out.  It's a little business working with teenagers.  The ice cream is worth some flexibility.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Surprise: My Favorite Pizza May Be Outdoors, And It's Leaving This Weekend (Until Spring)

River House Pizza Company "namaste" toppings with a kid-friendly section
I'm trying to restart my blogging with a bunch of surprises that I've had while HowChow was quiet.

Like -- my favorite pizza may be served outside.

It's the River House Pizza Company that runs an mobile wood-fired oven off Main Street in Ellicott City.  This is part of the Tonge Row shops anchored by the Little French Market.  Lil' Chow and I split a pie last weekend, and I'm blogging this morning because this is the last weekend until spring for you to run over and enjoy a pizza yourself.

This is part of a "Surprise" series that I'm writing as I try to start blogging again.  Come back for more over the next few days.

River House sells crisp pizzas with a perfect char and a variety of high-end toppings.  You order at a window and then pick up the pizza from the chefs working under an awning next to the movile oven.  Last Sunday, Lil' Chow and I walked partway up the Trolley Trail towards the Breadery, then circled back to walk up Main Street.

Discovery #1:  Lil' Chow doesn't want to window shop.  He was polite.  But he was on my shoulders, and I'd hear a firm "No" whenever I paused to look in the window a store.

Discovery #2:  He likes pizza better without sauce.

Lil' Chow loves to cook pizza with me.  He has never eaten a huge amount, and I realized a few weeks ago that he preferred the crusts to the even the "plain" slice with sauce and cheese.  So, when we wandered to River House off the parking lot behind Tersiguel's, I asked to fill three-quarters of our pie with their "namaste" toppings and one-quarter with just cheese.

This is really exceptional.  It's better than the pizza that I make at home.  That wood oven chars the crust and browns the mozzarella.  They dot the surface with toppings -- dashes of chunky marinara sauce, onion, baby portabellos, and roasted red pepper.  We had the added pleasures of a warm December day and a toddler who ate with enthusiasm and good cheer.  But that pizza stands up on its own.

Unfortunately, they're closing up shop after this weekend for a cold-weather break.  Probably back in March.  Go for lunch now!

Now, I'm a sucker for the wood-fired ovens.  So my other top pizzas run from Facci on Johns Hopkins Road to the other mobile pizza oven at Brick'n Fire that often parks in Oella.   Lil's Chow and I also really enjoyed Bella Luna in Columbia.  With these ovens, pizzas differ.  It takes a skilled chef, and the pizzas at each place vary depending on who is running the oven.  Check out all my posts about pizza.

Anyone have other recommendations for pizza?  Anyone know the status of new restaurants on Main Street.  There had been talk about Joe's Squared coming to Ellicott City, but I guess that hasn't actually happened.

Sometimes, You Get Distracted, And You Need Tacos And Pizza And Ice Cream To Shake You Out

Sometimes, you get distracted, and you need tacos, pizza and ice cream shake you out of it.

It's been a nice fall, but life kept me away even from the fun stuff like HowChow.  It's like Lil' Chow ignoring the Bon Chon fried chicken because he was mesmerized by the television.  Football that he clearly can't understand.

But then people plied me with enough great food that I needed to come back.  Expect short posts.  I'm still working a hobby blog into the new reality.

First up -- R&R Taqueria is moving, expanding and then being replaced by a burger joint in the Shell station.  Junior Barnes left a comment with the announcement last week.  The new R&R will be next door to its current gas station location.  The R&R Taqueria Web site says the new location -- with 126 seats and a party room -- will open in late December or early January "where the Jessup Lhasa is."

I'm actually not 100% sure what that means.  The Shell station sits next to a strip shopping center.  Down the road is new construction, but I don't think it has commercial spots.

Can anyone describe where the new restaurant will go?

(Update:  Through the magic of tweets, Rodrigo told me that the new restaurant will replace the Jessup Deli.  That's a big space.  I'm psyched.)

I personally will be psyched.  I love the R&R food.  Touting the tacos highlighted by reader Alberto Flores has been one of my favorite parts of this blog.  But I ate those tacos sitting at one of the few stools or balancing a delicious tray in my car.  That's not an option when I'm looking for weekend lunch with Lil' Chow so I'll look forward to introducing him to more good stuff -- with a high chair and no televisions to distract him.

Thanks to everyone who has left comments or sent me emails.  I appreciate.  I love the blog.  I love that people enjoy it.  I have been spotting ideas all fall, just never could make the time to sit at the keyboard.  I'm just starting to work through the tips and emails, and I will reply.

Check out the R&R Taqueria Web site for the announcementChef Rodrigo Albarran-Torres says he'll turn the current taqueria into a new restaurant with burgers, wings, fries, milkshakes and other items.  He is also working on a cookbook!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Jolly Pig Will Make You Happy, Reports Jeff As We Motor On With His Food Truck Series

Tacos from The Jolly Pig truck
Tacos seem to be the heart-and-soul of the current food truck revival -- traditional, Korean, exotic, almost any variety of meats that you can put inside a tortilla.

Jeff Givens of Southern Skies Coffee Roasters continues his guest series posting about food trucks that hit up Howard County, including the National Business Park when he was working there.  Today's, it's the Jolly Pig truck:
The Calwells
Tad and Joann Calwell offer a variety of tacos with most of them using inspiration from flavors worldwide. When they first began, they started with Korean-style tacos. They now offer around 10 varieties at any one time, with others offered on a seasonal basis.

Like many other food truck operators, Joann and her husband Tad didn't start out in the restaurant industry.  hey used to be in the mortgage business as title searchers, but when the mortgage crisis hit, they decided to start a food truck.  Joann had always thrown big parties for her family and friends so preparing food and hosting meals came naturally.  They searched around for more than a year to find the perfect truck and opened for business in early 2012.  By August of that year, they had already garnered enough recognition to be rated one of the top 10 food trucks in Baltimore by the Baltimore Sun.

Joann is always experimenting with new flavors and intimated to me that she’s developing a Moroccan-spiced taco right now.

I had the Korean, the al pastor and the Thai tacos. Wrapped in a flour tortilla, the ingredients were very fresh, and the flavor profiles captured the essence of their inspiration.
As always, Twitter and Facebook are the best way to track these trucks.  You can see when the Jolly Pig will be near you by watching its Twitter feed.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Blue Sand Seafood & Grill Brings A Seafood Riff To Korean Food On Rte 40: Raw, Grilled, Soup

Seafood dolset
As I'm getting better at understanding Korean food, I feel like the Korean food is getting better in Ellicott City.

The newest find:  Blue Sand Seafood and Grill, which opened in the back of the Bethany 40 shopping center and served a delicious dinner -- fresh, flavorful seafood that tasted authentic, but would also welcome folks looking to try Korean food.

Now, it's just one meal.  But I'm incredibly optimistic.  We had a kid-friendly noodle soup, grilled fish and a seafood rice bowl.  Everyone left happy, even though we hadn't touched the flashy stuff at the heart of the menu.

I say flashy stuff because the restaurant and the menu put the sushi bar and the enormous platters front and center.  We watched hand rolls go past us.  We saw enormous platters -- primarily of sashimi on the night that we visited, but ranging from broiled fish to shellfish to thin-sliced beef on the menu.

Grilled mackerel
We started simple.  Grilled mackerel, seaweed noodle soup, and a dolset seafood.  The dolset is a hot stone bowl filled with rice, vegetables, squid and a shrimp.  This is an ocean version of the dolset bi bim bap that I recommend in my Korean 101 post.

This was really good food.  Mackerel comes split and grilled.  The meat is firm and meaty.  The flavor a step stronger than salmon, but that keeps the meat moist even cooked through.  We pulled the backbone and the fish came off in chunks even with chop sticks.

We alternated with the seafood dolset.  I'm a huge fan of squid, and this was cooked perfectly, firm but not chewy.  Some greens, scallions and other vegetables made the bowl filling but light.  I added some of the spicy sauce served with the dolset, maybe a tablespoon too much for Mrs. HowChow.

In contrast, Blue Sand's seaweed soup was mild.  It was perfect for Lil' Chow, who loves soup, noodles and seaweed.  I'd recommend it, although I may stick him with miso next time and try the spicy seafood noodle soup myself.

I'd actually love advice on other things to order.  I have posted many times about Korean food, but I'm an amateur.  Can anyone leave a comment with suggestions for Blue Sand or for Korean seafood in general?  A group could have a ball ordering those platters or maybe filling a table with grilled fish, soup, a dolset and some sushi.  I also see that Blue Sands could be a spot for people with adventurous tastes like sea squirt and live sashimi.

But I'd recommend our three dishes even for someone just learning about Korean food.  Or consider swapping out the soup for a sushi order or hwae dup bap -- a rice and sashimi mixture that I posted about last year.  That's all accessible and obvious.  Plus, you'll get a good introduction, especially because the small dishes served with the meal -- called panchan -- were really good.  The cabbage kimchi had a crunchy and a warm, but not sour flavor.  The stuffed cucumber kimchi was crisp and refreshing, a terrific taste after some grilled mackerel.

"Push button" -- Lil' Chow
If you work near Rte 40, Blue Sand offers several lunch specials for $11-14, including bento boxes headlined by sashimi, sushi, kalbi and salmon.  Blue Sand replaced the Kimco Seafood restaurant, which I don't remember having as an interesting or as tasty a menu.

If you go to Blue Sands, look for the numbered button near your table.  Many are on the walls at Blue Sands, but they can be on the table at other restaurants.  When you want something, push the button.  Often, the staff in a Korean restaurant doesn't check back with a table.  They wait for a ring, then come to assist.

Don't seat your children next to the button.  Lil' Chow spent a significant part of our meal alternating between singing "ding dong, ding dong" and asking me to push the button.  I was just glad it was out of his reach.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Roots Celebrating A Renovated Grocery -- Specials, Samples To Sell My Wife Spices

La Pasta's ravioli pan-fried by Mrs. HowChow
Roots Market in Clarksville is celebrated a renovated store with a "re-grand opening" that runs all week.

They packed the place with specials and samples, reports Mrs. HowChow.  She often jokes that she'll buy anything that she samples.  Yesterday, it was pan-fried ravioli made by La Pasta in Silver Spring.

Her shopping list
Mrs. HowChow watched a demonstration, crunched some ravioli and came with pasta, garlic sauce and rosemary.  We chowed for dinner last night -- double-chowed because I had also picked up a pizza dough with Lil' Chow as we wandered around after a long stint at the Korean Society of Maryland festival.

Roots has grown on Mrs. HowChow.  She didn't feel it when we first started hanging around Clarksville.  Mostly, she went for Roots' guacamole.  But now she loves it for snacks, drinks, fruit and prepared foods. 

I think Roots does a really nice job.  We seem to end up at Whole Foods often these days, often because we love the lakefront and grass to run Lil' Chow.  But I  enjoy Roots for everything that Mrs. HowChow buys plus produce, cheeses, and interesting brands of crackers, spreads, etc.  When I need help on dinner, I need to think more about Roots' expanded prepared foods.  Anyone in the western part of the county should give the store a shot.

Click here for all of the Roots specials that run through September 27.  They also posted the list of samples and tastings, which run all week but group today and next weekend.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Drive-Through Starbucks Has Opened On Rte 108; Now You Don't Have To Stop For Caffeine

A drive-through Starbucks has open on Rte 108 near Coal Fire Pizza in Columbia.

(This post has been updated early Thursday morning with photos.)

Dave and I were emailing about the Starbucks in the Shipley's Grant development.  This is on Rte 108 just west of Snowden River Parkway and just off Rte 100.  Earlier in the week, there were signs that said the Starbucks would move across the parking lot to a new space with a drive-through.  Now, it looks like coffee is being poured.

Dave's wife now has a standing job offer to be the nighttime photographer for the HowChow blog.  She stopped last night after I posted and snapped a few shots.  Dave and I were both properly impressed:
I’ll give credit to my wife, she happened to be driving back late tonight and I asked her to stop by a take a few pictures of the new Starbucks when I saw your email. Selfishly, we are excited in that it is located about 1 mile from our house and frankly, much easier to get in and out of than fighting the traffic/intersection into Dobbin Center at that Starbucks drive thru.
On a related topic, Urban BBQ has announced plans to open in the same shopping center.   Dave and I were wondering if they'll replace the old Starbucks or go in next door to the new one.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Pizza di Joey Starts Our Parade Of Food Trucks; Jeff Reports Lunch From Annapolis Junction

Joey Vanoni of Pizza di Joey
Food trucks aren't just for cities anymore, and I want to get in on the ones that make the trek out to Howard County.

I have posted about food trucks in the past, but Jeff Givens starts off what we hope will be a series of posts about other options -- focused on trucks that visited the National Business Park in Annapolis Junction where Jeff used to work.

Jeff is a long-time friend of the blog.  He runs Southern Skies Coffee Roasters from his home in Carroll County.  He writes and photographs about food on the side, and he took notes about the food trucks at National Business Park when he was working there.  As Jeff says, the Annapolis Junction office park is massive, but offers little in brick-and-mortar lunch options.

To fill the gap, the building management turned to food trucks.  Office workers often line up more than 20 deep in the parking lot at National Business Parkway and Technology Drive, and Jeff explored his way out there.

Jeff followed the trucks' schedules on Twitter, but he has written profiles for HowChow -- starting off with the Pizza di Joey (update: who I hear also stops at the Applied Physics Labs on some days):
Monster slices
Joey Vanoni has baked pizza everywhere from the cramped quarters of fast-attack submarines to the mountains of Afghanistan. He spent 7 years on active duty in the Navy. During the long, arduous tours aboard a submarine, he helped to keep up morale by baking artisan pizzas - a skill he learned while working in a coal fire, brick oven pizzeria during his youth in New Jersey.

After leaving active duty, he spent time in Afghanistan as a contractor, where he continued to make pizzas during his off time. Joey's pizzas were so popular that his coworkers pitched together and built a brick oven.

When he returned to the U.S., Joey's retirement dream of starting a mobile pizzeria was put into high gear when the government sequestration occurred. He and his partner, Tomas Ruperto, had a truck outfitted with a brick pizza oven which can bake up to 4 pies at a time at temperatures of 700 degrees Fahrenheit. The oven weighs 4000 lbs, so the truck had to be custom built in a specialty shop in upstate NY.

About the pizza:

Joey makes his NY style pizza in true artisan fashion with high-quality ingredients. He buys hormone-free beef from a farm near Westminster, MD and the pork sausage is made locally from Duroc pork to a recipe by Rich Shore of Sausage Barons. The slices are HUGE and made simply. Even "The Works" pie has only pepperoni, garlic, onions, peppers and mushrooms. Most of the other varieties only have 1 or 2 toppings, allowing the quality of each ingredient to shine through.

The pizza was really delicious. The crust had the perfect amount of chew and was slightly crispy on the bottom. The sausage that Joey has made to his recipe was well-seasoned and fresh. One slice is more than enough for someone who sits behind a keyboard all day.

On the side of his truck it says "Serving those who have served." It's not just branding, as Pizza di Joey donates a portion of his revenue to different charities, including the Wounded Warrior Project and House of Ruth. Active and retired military are also offered a discount on their purchase.
To find Pizza di Joey, watch for updates on Joe's his Twitter feed @PizzadiJoey.  Or check their Facebook page.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Who Is Getting Atwaters To Open In Howard County? Sandwiches Break Tradition, Still Excel

A Cuban sandwich that doesn't look like a Cuban, but tastes delicious
Who is working on getting Atwater's to open in Howard County?

The Baltimore bakery chain has a location in Catonsville.  I annexed Catonsville a while ago -- along with Sykesville and the AA and PG areas near our Laurel.  But I hadn't eaten in Catonsville recently until we stopped again at Home Anthology to nose around for modern furniture.

First lesson of the day:  Furniture shopping changes when you bring a toddler.  Like, it cuts to 15 minutes and out.

Second lesson: A few blocks north of the store, Atwater's makes delicious sandwiches -- and some jams that would make beautiful holiday gifts.

Atwater's sandwiches stood out even though they were on the wrong bread.  Mrs. HowChow and I split a Cuban.  We have finally learned that Lil' Chow isn't going to eat much of a grilled cheese sandwich so we each got a slice of that as well.

A traditional Cuban sandwich comes on length of split crusty bread, normally squashed by a hot press to make a crispy top and a heated sandwich.  Atwaters substituted slices of their own white bread that were probably pressed on something like a hot skillet.  But they made up for variation by hitting it out of the park with the ingredients.

Really good pork loin, ham, cheese and pickles.  The menu says pickled jicama.  It's a take on a Cuban sandwich, not a Miami local, and I'll take one any day.  That was a fresh, meaty sandwich that had the hallmark of "I couldn't do that at home" -- down to the pickles that at least tasted like they were made in house.

Those sandwiches make me confident that the rest of the menu -- from salads to cool-looking "tiffin" lunch combos -- would be worth exploring.  Plus, Atwater's is a friendly little joint.  Tons of seating upstairs with art by local high school students.  Our niece ordered a salad.  She complimented the dish, although I didn't take enough notes to remember why.

A few doors down from Atwater's are several dessert options.  including a candy store and You Scream Ice cream.  I'd always recommend a weekend visit to Home Anthology and then lunch on Frederick Road. You could even go for the food alone.

Seriously, Catonsville is an easy drive from most of Howard County, and it's worth the visit to check out food like Linsy's tacos and Hang Ari's noodle soup.  I still haven't had time to shop at the Chinese grocery store Great Wall.  Click here for all the Catonsville reviews.

815 Frederick Road
Catonsville, Maryland 21228

NEAR: Atwater's is on Frederick Road just west of I-695. This is downtown Catonsville. There are a few blocks of stores and restaurants to stroll and window shop.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Comments: Black Flag Brewing Is Coming; Wild Seafood Has Made The Grade; And More

Fried dumplings at Tian
Black Flag Brewing is coming to Columbia.  The Black Flag folks and I surprised each other -- a liquor board hearing notice was my first word about the brewery, and my post was their first word about the hearing.

Black Flag is leasing space in a new building under construction next to Lincoln Tech on Snowden River Parkway.  They're getting licensed as a brewery, which means that they'll make beer and host people to come drink and eat.  But it will be "carry in" eating or food trucks, not a kitchen in the brewery.  Brian emailed me to say they'll announce more news as they get closer and talked about the name:
We will be all over the map with our beers. The name Black Flag (which appears to be hotly contested in the comments section haha) comes from way back when ships or other groups of people would fly the flag to show no allegiance or affiliation to any group or country. That's what we intend to do with the beers we make - no specific focus. We think that the local area could use some more hoppy IPA options - the new craft breweries seem to have avoided them slightly. We also intend to have some culinary focus (have a great breakfast stout with coffee/oats/chocolate) and would love to be the first in the area to offer a true sour. It makes ingredient logistics a bit of a mess but should keep things interesting for the customers.
Mrs. HowChow and I have our eye on the swimming school that I think will open in the same building.  Here is hoping that we will eventually be able to have Lil' Chow swim lessons, then lunch and a beer at Black Flag.

Think mid-winter for Black Flag to open.

What else has been going on?  Marcia emailed me Saturday about Wild Seafood -- the retail successor to Frank's Seafood in the Jessup seafood market.  That was my local place for crabs, which are getting into the great fall season now.  I need to check it out after Marcia's rave:
We've been to Wild Seafood twice recently, and it's better than ever.  I am now seeing many of the former Frank's employees, and they tell me business is getting close to previous numbers. They have rearranged things slightly, you no longer hand money over top of the prepared seafood. That always bugged me. 
Today the whole fish, especially snapper, looked exceptionally fresh.  They will still clean whole fish for free.  They have Maryland crabmeat, today they also had North Carolina crabmeat which was slightly less expensive. On both visits they also had the $1 steamed crabs!
It was good before as Frank's, it is even better now as Wild.
Thanks to Marcia and everyone else who emails or leaves comments.  I'm a bit disappointed to learn that some of y'all have been going for weekend ramen at Matcha Time in Ellicott City without telling me.  LOL.  Look at their Facebook page from August!! But if you'll promise to mention when you see the next ramen weekend, I'll pass along these other comments and tidbits:
  • Beef Brothers is opening on Rte 40 in Ellicott City, reports Brianscrazytalk and an email from Lisa.  This looks like a Baltimore joint doing deli, sandwiches, and salads.  They're going into the shopping center with Bon Appetit.
  • Joe Squared may still be bringing its pizza to Main Street in Ellicott City, according to a Facebook post that Lisa copied into a comment.  It looks like Joe Squared is focused on the original Baltimore location, but still has plans for Ellicott City.
  • I need to organize another black-bean dinner at Tian Chinese Cuisine in Ellicott City.  The photo above is the fried dumplings.  They're excellent split among a large group.  I'm going through old photos, and my toddler-addled memory has lost the details of dinners that I had planned to post about.  But I love the black bean noodles at Tian and recommend filling a table to try Korea's Chinese food.
  • Wondergirl recommends the eggplant Parmesan at Luna Bella in Columbia.  A bunch of people chimed in with thoughts on Facci -- both the original and the new one in Turf Valley.
  • Does anyone know about Los Compadres in Woodstock?  I saw a liquor license transferring from Sedona Cafe & Grill to Los Compadres on the September 1, 2015 liquor board hearing agenda.  I see a few Web sites that mention a Mexican and American restaurant.  Has anyone been?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Pizza Time At Luna Bella -- Crisp Crust, Fresh Toppings, And All-The-Parmesan A Kid Could Eat

Luna Bella's pizza -- with parmesan topper
When the woman leaned over and busted me as HowChow, she said it was the Parmesan cheese that had given us away.

Luna Bella is a long-established Columbia restaurant, and I figured that Lil' Chow and I could slip inside on a weeknight.  Luna Bella does a full Italian menu from salads to fish, pastas to chicken parm, but I've always gone for pizza.  That was the choice that I gave Lil' Chow as we stepped from the parking lot into the Hickory Ridge village center -- "Chicken or pizza?"

He went pizza, so I'll see next time if he'll explore yucca fries and Peruvian chicken.

Lil' Chow got his own kid's-size pie.  I went with a vegetable stromboli.  I wanted the bite of provolone instead of mozzarella, and I wanted veggies over meatballs because I lack the discipline to eat only half.

I really recommend Luna Bella, especially because the Hickory Ridge village center lets you hang out after dinner near the fountain or run a toddler around with a cup of chocolate ice cream from Meadows Frozen Custard.  Amid a white-table-cloth joint full of adults, the Luna Bella folks treated me and Lil' Chow perfectly -- immediate ordering, quick delivery, and really nice food.

Our crusts had the crispness that you get from a wood-fired oven.  I think it's a step above most pizza around Howard County, even if it isn't a match for the charred crust and specialized ingredients on a Facci pie.  I saw several salads that looked delicious, and folks next to us had a calamari appetizer that made me wonder if I could get Lil's Chow to eat fried squid.

My stroboli came stuffed with squash, mushrooms and onions.  I dipped up the entire side of marinara.  Lil' Chow's pizza worked for me, but he felt that it didn't have enough cheese.  By which I  mean, that he removed the mozzarella and replaced it with shredded Parmesan.  Two deliveries.

That was when the woman at the next table asked if I wrote the blog.  She said she had suspected, but become convinced when she saw Lil' Chow's love of cheese.  The recent Facci post had discussed Lil' Chow's all-you-can-eat love for Parmesan.  Plus, we're a matching pair of middle-aged white guy and two-year-old Korean immigrant.  I laughed and fessed up.

Next time, I'm going to sit outside and try Luna Bella's meats.  They put sausage and pepperoni right at the front of the list of ingredients you can add to a calzone.  I'll promise myself to save half for lunch, and I'll go full glutton with sausage, pepperoni and caramelized onions.  But then, there are also meatballs . . . . .

Has anyone had Luna Bella's sandwiches?  I hadn't realized that they did sandwiches, but their menu on-line talks about some heavy-duty options like a meatball hoagie, a chicken parm sub, and a chicken cheese steak.  I love them all.  But I only want exceptional because a bad chicken parm sub would be a softball in your stomach.  I'm included to try Luna Bella's sandwiches one day for lunch.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Matcha Time Cafe Is A Small Spot With Big Reasons To Stop, Including Onigiri For Me

Miso soup and onigiri at Matcha Time Cafe
It's a small spot with a small menu, but there are big reasons to stop into Matcha Time Cafe off Main Street in Ellicott City.

Matcha Time is a two-room Japanese restaurant at the top of the public parking lot at Hamilton Street.  They mostly serve sushi, teas and ice cream.  For each, it's unusual options.  These are unique varieties of tea, ice cream concoctions from Japan, and sushi that range from basic rolls to make-your-own hand rolls.

I went for onigiri -- an Asian snack or light meal made with palm-sized rice balls.  The rice is flavored with or wrapped around fish or other ingredients.  Lil' Chow and I had just finished biking the Trollery Line #9 trail up to the Breadery, so I ordered two onigiri -- one salmon and one another spicy fish.  I forget which fish.

I remember that it was a well-done lunch.  Filling but light.  Fresh rice and good fish.  That makes sense because Matcha Time's main savory offerings are sushi.   The menu had basic rolls, along with a shrimp tempera udon and hand roll sets where you get nori and sushi to roll your own.  Those are pretty unique -- and I assume authentically Japanese -- options for such a small restaurant.

If anything, Matcha Time will get better in the winter.  It's a cozy spot for lunch or for tea and dessert.  When the weather chills, Lil' Chow is going to demand indoor places to eat ice cream, and I could imagine taking a walk on Main Street and come back to Matcha Time for warming tea, filling sushi, and exciting ice cream.
Can anyone explain the Japanese ice cream options?  The do ice creams like green tea and black sesame (along with vanilla).  Then they do kakifori or "shave ice" -- both "western style" and "Japanese style."  What do people recommend?

Matcha Time Cafe
375 Hamilton Street
Historic Ellicott City, MD 21043

NEAR: Matcha Time Cafe is just off Main Street in downtown Ellicott City.  Matcha Time's address is Hamilton Street, but you should park in the public lot behind Tersiguel's.  Matcha Time is visible at the top of the parking lot next to La Palapa.