Monday, August 31, 2015

While I've Been: Victoria's Burger Is Such A Tasty Old Friend That I Never Order Anything Else

Burger and fries
I swear that I planned to order something when we took my parents to Victoria Gastro Pub for my father's birthday.

Our restaurant trips have been fewer in 2015, and many stops have been old haunts where we know that we'll find something good for everyone.  Victoria Gastro Pub fits that bill.  We have been enjoying the food and beer since it opened in 2008, but I focused on their burgers and fries on those early trips and never took my eyes off the meat.

The entire table actually ordered burgers during our August visit.  Except for Lil' Chow who emptied a kid's order of pasta and asked for a second.

Victoria's bicuit
It's just that simple.  Everyone read the menu.  Everyone saw options.  But we each returned to the burgers because they're ideal.  Thick patties that are juicy and meaty without being greasy.  Hearty buns that hold up to the holding and biting.  Fresh, simple tomato, lettuce and pickles.

This is part of my "While I've Been Out" series to restart the blog.  Late last year, the blog got some serious competition.  I'm still working out how to keep writing while I'm doing so many other new things as well.  Tomorrow, I'll follow this old friend with my favorite place that is "new for 2015."

That burger is a success every time, and it's the kind of relaxation that I want from a dinner out.

I added to the fun last month by trying my first Manor Hill beers -- brewed up by the same Marriner family.  I sampled two and forgot to write down my selection.  I'm drifting from the hops stream that had carried me from IPA to IPA for many summers.  I asked for something with flavor, but less bitterness.  I can't remember what I got, but it worked exactly as I wanted.

If you haven't been to Victoria before, then you should also go for the biscuits that they offer once you order.  They're perfect.  Tender but not crumbly.  Rich but not greasy.  I believe they bake them in-house, and it's a terrific advertisement for the care that Victoria takes with their food.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

While I've Been: Facci Ristorante Surprised Us With Even-Better Pizza And Even-More Pasta

Pizza and pasta at Facci
While I've been out, Facci Ristorante turned itself into an even-better restaurant -- and surprised us into making it one of our go-to dinners.

The Italian restaurant on Johns Hopkins Road has been a popular spot since it opened more than five years ago, but it never welcomed or excited us as much as we expected -- especially since it is one of our closest options.

While I've been slow with the blogging, we have eaten a few times at Facci, and we loved all the dishes.  First, we remembered that wood-fired pizza is so much better right out of the oven.  We've done take-out a few times.  It's good, but Facci's pizza is crunchy magic when it skips right from the fire to your plate.

The wood-fired oven
All of these gourmet pizzas depend on the skill of the specific person who throws your pie.  As I have written about other places, quality can vary.  But Facci's quality has run recentlyfrom really good to absolutely perfect.  They do a pistachio pizza with sliced red onions that came out slightly charred and perfectly topped.  The crust was still hot and crisp that I was pleased when Lil' Chow declined a slice.

This is part of my "While I've Been Out" series to restart the blog.  Late last year, the blog got some serious competition.  I'm still working out how to keep writing while I'm doing so many other new things as well.  Tomorrow, my suggestion for a great local adventure for exercise and delicious food.  (Plus puppies!!!)

Lil's Chow never declines noodles.  So he has been pleased by our second discovery:  That Facci now makes many more pastas in-house.  I assume Facci expanded the pasta-making when they opened a second location in Turf Valley in Ellicott City.  Instead of two or three options, there is an entire menu section -- from simple fettuccine through gnocchi and stuffed ravioli.

Spaghetti with all-the-parmesan-he-can-get
Your first try should be the sacchetti cheese pears.  These are small pockets of pasta filled with pears and gorgonzola cheese.  There's technique in the pasta-making.  There's 're in balancing fruit with blue cheese.  The pasta was sweet, salty and perfectly toothsome.  It makes me confident to explore other parts of the restaurant because I can tell that they're paying attention to the details.

I'd recommend an exploration even if you're one of the people who hasn't visited in a while.  Facci had rough service in the early years.  I remember being turned away so brusquely that we didn't return for a long time.  But the Facci folks were really great on both visit.  On one visit, our waiter worked with the bartender to find a wine that fit exactly what Mrs. HowChow wanted.  On both visits, folks have catered to Lil' Chow with multiple cheese gratings -- each Parmesan shower making him happier to suck up his spaghetti.

Facci has changed impressively over the years.  They expanded onto a patio.  They added a special bar with artisan meats and cheeses.  I'm not at a happy hour stage of my life, but I recommend it for anything from fancy dates to casual happy hours, from 5 pm toddler dinner to late-night drinks.

The second Facci is in the Turf Valley shopping center.  The original is on Johns Hopkins Road in a shopping center full of food, including Kloby's Smokehouse for barbecue, La Palapa Too for Mexican, and Tandoor Grill for Indian.  In the blog's main political statement, I need to emphasize that they aren't in Laurel.  The post office thinks they're in Laurel, but the center sits west of Rte 29 just south of Columbia.  As I've written, I love Laurel.  This just isn't Laurel.  This is Tribeco.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

While I've Been: New BBQ, Rum Bar, And Bakery, Plus Stuff Keeps Coming (With A Few Losses)

What's coming to the new construction in Maple Lawn?
So what have I missed?

One of the great parts of HowChow has been collecting news and rumors that I hear in emails and comments on the blog.  People have been sending news even though I haven't been posting, and it's time to share what I know and ask folks to add more in the comments.  We're looking at new barbecue, a new bakery, hopefully new ramen, and probably a new rum bar.  Plus, there is more news and some good-looking spots where I hope restaurants will open.

This is part of my "While I've Been Out" series to restart the blog.  Late last year, the blog got some serious competition.  I'm still working out how to keep writing while I'm doing so many other new things as well.  Thanks to everyone who has kept reading, emailing and commenting.  Tomorrow, my report on the restaurant that surprised me the most this year.

Let's start with the things that I know -- or at least have heard about:
  • Urban BBQ is coming to Ellicott City -- specifically to the shopping center with Coal Fire Pizza off Rte 108 near Snowden River Parkway.  Months ago, Mike sent me a link to Urban BBQ's Web page where they list a location coming soon.  Who has a report on Urban BBQ?  Who knows a timeline?
  • In other barbecue talk, there is chatter that Mission BBQ will be one of the businesses taking over the former Shanty Grill on Rte 40 in Ellicott City.  That's a great location for a barbecue place that opened a spot in Columbia and had such long lines on the day that I went for lunch that I couldn't wait with a toddler.  Think about March or early spring 2016 for the new location.  Anyone know details?
  • Smashburger is coming to Ellicott City, as I posted in July. Tim reports that a new Barakat Kabob looks to be opening nearby on Rte 40 next to the Yama Asian Bistro.  He said they have a menu in the window, but paper still covered them last week.  Tim also talks up the new Carroll Farm meat stand on Rte 144.  I have been there yet, although I assume it is the farm with this Web page.  He reports nice beef and pork selections, including different sausages.  They also sell chicken that you can buy on the day that they're processed.
  • That Rte 40 development is really hot.  Glory Days Grill also opened there, and the Two Dudes Who Love Food blogged about a sneak peak in July.   They talked up wings, fried pickles, pizza and salmon.
  • Primo Hoagies says they're opening a shop on Dobbin Center Way in Columbia.  Dori and I would like to know more.  Anyone know when?  Anyone eaten their sandwiches?  I lived in Philadelphia so I'm very cautious when people claim to be selling Philly-level hoagies.
  • Coho Grill has re-opened.  The Columbia restaurant closed during renovations at the golf club's clubhouse.  I haven't heard details about the new space or menu, but Stan Rapport wrote a profile with some video.
  • Renata's Tasty Bites has taken over the bakery on Snowden River Parkway that used to be Linda's Bakery.  I haven't been yet, but I saw that we're going to become regulars once the weather gets a little colder.  They're open at 8 am on weekend mornings.  Coffee and a pasty could entertain us and Lil' Chow on our way to grocery shop or some toddler classes.  Renata's has been around for several years, so please let me know what you'd recommend that I try.
  • Paper Lantern Asian Grill & Sushi has opened on Marriottsville Road.  JJ tweeted about the opening, and I'd love to hear about good Asian food in the western county.
  • Uma Uma is still aiming to bring ramen and yakitori to Rte 40 in Ellicott City.  This is across from the former Shanty Grill next to Lighthouse Tofu and a Boston Chicken.  The owners have been working to renovate a former sub shop since last summer.  I hope to slurp noodles there this fall, and I'll keep you up to date.
  • Highland Inn closed.  It's heartbreaking because I saw the years and clear money that people put into opening that restaurant on Rte 216.  They were going for a real upscale experience, but it doesn't seem to have worked out.  We ate there.  I wish that I could have blogged positively about the experience.
  • BrickNFire Pizza won a recent competition with Marriott where they were picked as the best restaurant concept and get a six-month tryout in the Marriott near Camden Yards.  Richard Gorelick wrote up the contest in June.  (Hat tip to CrunchDaddy -- whose Columbia-made popcorns are spectacular.  His butter-rum and cranberry flavor got a write-up in the June edition of the Food Network's magazine.)
Then some stuff that I am hoping that you can answer:
A great space on  Main Street
  • What's the timing and plans for the new Bulk Head brewery that is supposed to open on Old Annapolis Road in Columbia?  Sarah Meehan wrote up the plans in June and described a beach-themed brewery from two founders who did home brewing.  Meehan talked about a fall opening.
  • What are the plans for FoodPlenty -- the Clarksville restaurant being planned by the folks behind Victoria Gastropub?  The place-holder website says they're aiming for 2016.  Anyone know more? 
  • Is Black Eyed Susan Brewing open for business?  The website doesn't seem definitive.  Has anyone tried the beer?
  • What's the timing on Mutiny Pirate Bar, which still has a sign saying that they're coming to downtown Ellicott City?  It's a spot just off the major intersection of Main Street and Old Columbia Pike.  When I posted in March, the signs said "Summer 2015."  They say its a rum bar.  It didn't look close when I biked past in August.  This is the second location of a restaurant by the folks who run Iron Bridge Wine Co. so I have high hopes.
  • Anyone know if a restaurant has signed to open right at the Main Street-Old Columbia Pike intersection?  That's the old Taylor Antique Mall, and I had linked in December to a Sun article where the landlord's agent talked about Joe Squared opening there.  I haven't seen any progress, and the sign still offered the space for rent on my last visit.
  • What is going into the new Maple Lawn construction?  I hear that the buildings going up near the Harris Teeter are slated for at least two restaurants.  At one point, there had been talk of the Looney's folks getting into brewing their own beer, but I don't know whether anyone has signed up for the space.
In other news, check out the "Farm To Fork Frederick" events that run August 28 to September 7.  Restaurants, farms, breweries and others in our neighboring county have gathered together to schedule specials and events that celebrate Frederick-grown foods.  Their Web site is here.  It looks like fun for folks who enjoy a food adventure -- and who don't have to juggle naps or 7:45 pm baths.  It's not Howard County, but we outer boroughs need to stick together.

If you know more news, please add comments below.  I'm still working through email so I'm sure that I'll have more posts with news and questions.

I hope to blog more regularly going forward.  It's great fun.  It's a great inspiration to try new food.  And it's always a blast to get emails or comments with news about Howard County food.  So please stay with me.

Monday, August 24, 2015

While I've Been Out: Reporting On Lil' Finds And Starting To Catch Up On Openings and Closings

Gyro at Hickory Ridge Grill
While I've been out, the good food has kept rolling.  Even when I couldn't post, I appreciated all the comments and emails, and I'm trying to start blogging again.

Let's start with the gyro at the Hickory Ridge Grill in Columbia.  Over the years, the little diner has renovated itself into a nice, casual restaurant off Cedar Lane.  In our early weeks home, we took a posse there for Sunday breakfast -- eggs, pancakes

Our last visit was dinner on a summer night.  Lil' Chow and I were part of my new reality -- sitting down at 5:30 pm and looking first at the kid's menu.  It's a tough schedule for blogging, but we still eat well.  He went kid's spaghetti.  I considered something light, but went gyro under the idea that I try to eat good versions of food that might be bad for me.

This is part of my "While I've Been Out" series to restart the blog.  Late last year, the blog got some serious competition.  I'm still working out how to keep writing while I'm doing so many other new things as well.  Saturday, I noted that Wegmans seems to be trying again to open a liquor store in their Columbia location.  Tomorrow, a full post about new places opening, old places closing, and big questions that I hope folks can answer.

The gyro made my night.  Gyros can be a come-on with great smells, then provide more grease than flavor.  In contrast, the Hickory Ridge gyro was meaty and nicely charred on the edges, and it came with a fresh topping of tomatoes and lettuce and salty cheese that cut through heaviness.

I ate all the fries.  You can see the heap in the photo above.  I promised myself that I'd stop halfway through.  I gave a few to Lil' Chow, who preferred his pasta.  Then I kept dipping fries into the tzaziki until there was nothing left of either.

Lil's Chow's birthday on Ananda's watermelon salad
We have had a good year even though I haven't been able to write as much as I hoped.  The long adoption wait may prepare some new parents for the changes.  It didn't prepare us.

Along the way, we have had great food.  Lil' Chow's birthday dinner at Tian Chinese Cuisine in Ellicott City with black bean noodles that are always a hit there or at Da Rae Won in Beltsville.  His birthday brunch with family at Ananda in Fulton, truly become one of the best restaurants around.

We had a spring brunch at Ananda that is truly the great "lost HowChow post" for the ages.  As I have noted before, I got a few lines of notes into my phone, then never had time to write more.  But it was a perfect mean.   A warm morning on Ananda's open-window patio with the Cordis Couple -- a table where Lil' Chow discovered Ananda's  French toast and I ate a special duck dumplings.

The French toast is a regular, and it's reason enough to go to Ananda for a weekend brunch.  Cooked in the oven and lightly twisted with a cardamon maple syrup.  It's a perfect example of how Ananda succeeds.  It's full of flavor, yet fresh, lighter than you'd expect.  It's a dish that you'd recognize, yet done with a twist that I wouldn't do at home and I can't find anywhere else.

I hope folks will be patient with HowChow's new reality.  I'm going to try to start again this week.  I have tried to collect news for tomorrow and then some posts for the next two weeks.  As always, I love comments and would love people to propose Trolling posts to augment my opinions.  See the rules for Trolling posts here.

See you tomorrow!

Thanks to Mrs. HowChow who ran a long Saturday morning through a gymnastic class to Sushi Sono to give me time to write posts.  We're trying hard.  Mostly, it's working out.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

While I've Been Out: Is Wegmans Trying Again For A Liquor Store? We Have A Sign, Not The Story

Among the many tweets and emails that I overlooked during the summer is the post above asking if the Columbia Wegmans is trying again for a liquor license.

Does anyone know?

The tweet seems to show a poster advertising a July 20 liquor board hearing for something called The Loft Wine & Spirits.  I see a county Web page that mentions a hearing, saying it was for Thomas quick.  I see decisions from July 21 and July 28, but nothing that mentions the Loft.

One aside, I did notice the extension that Petit Louis got so that you can now order liquor on their entire patio.  I have dreams about a relaxed fall evening with a glass of wine and dessert from Le Comptoir.  I also saw that Ananda has asked for a refillable container permit, which I assume means growlers.  That sounds great too.

But back to the big question: Does anyone know about plans for the Loft Wine & Spirits at Wegmans?  What have I missed?  I just searched a bit and don't see Web mentions of the Loft Wine & Spirits.  I'm agnostic on Wegmans opening a store.  I love Wegmans.  I buy very little alcohol, but I'm happy when I buy from a nice store with good stuff and good advice.  I go out of my way to check Perfect Pour in Elkridge because I get fair treatment and good advice.

Wegmans has a huge space on the second floor.  So I could see why they want to try again.  If they do, I would expect a similar fight from liquor store owners who don't want a massive competitor that people would visit as part of their regular shopping.  On the one hand, I don't buy the "save the children" arguments that seem to suggest liquor shouldn't mix with groceries.  On the other hand, the 2012 application seemed to just flout the law by installing a straw owner.

This is part of my "While I've Been Out" series to restart the blog.  Late last year, the blog got some serious competition.  I'm still working out how to keep writing while I'm doing so many other new things as well.  Thanks to everyone who has kept reading, emailing and commenting.  Monday, I'll be back with a gyro at Hickory Ridge Grill and the brunch at Ananda that was my great "lost post"

While I've Been Out: Sushi On A Picnic Table And Other Unexpected Adventures This Summer

Sashimi lunch on a picnic table at Lake Elkhorn
Just when I think I have everything under control, life -- and a toddler -- teach me that they're in charge.

Above is a luxurious lunch that I had planned to eat at Sushi King.  Lil' Chow and I did errands one summer day, and I patted myself on the back as we walked into the Columbia restauran.

Lil' Chow loves soups, especially Asian soups like miso, soybean paste, and miyok guk.  We would eat lunch.  I'd draft a blog post.  I was a brilliant father who would enjoy a relaxed meal and restart his food writing.

Note that the photo above is a picnic table at Lake Elkhorn.  I gave Lil' Chow a spoon just a few minutes early.  The miso soup was too hot.  He screamed, reasonably.  And then he was inconsolable, loudly.  Really loudly.  It was the first time that I retreated from a restaurant because was embarrassed to be bothering the other customers.

That sashimi lunch special was delicious.  In recent years, Mrs. HowChow and I have become infatuated with Sushi Sono -- it's amazing rolls, its exciting specials, its lakefront location.  But Sushi King was our first Columbia spot for fish, and they still slice delicious pieces into a special lunch with rice and soup.  Sushi is one of those restaurant meals that I seek out because I don't have those skills at home.  Even simple sashimi shines when someone like the Sushi King chefs do the right things with slicing and pairing fish with lemon and crunchy radish pieces.

The Sushi King folks were also really nice when I abruptly shifted my order to go.  I ended up at a shaded picnic table at Lake Elkhorn, perfectly happy as Lil' Chow nosed around the pavillion and I thought about how even a parenting disaster work fine on a beautiful summer day.  Give me a picnic table in July over any freezing day in February.

So things haven't worked out the way that I planned.  I had thought that I'd keep blogging even with last fall's toddler adoption.  I even thought once or twice this year that I had my feet under me enough to start posting again.  I was wrong then.  We'll see if I'm right now.  Look for more HowChow next week -- and hopefully going into the future. 

This is part of my "While I've Been Out" series to restart the blog.  Late last year, the blog got some serious competition.  I'm still working out how to keep writing while I'm doing so many other new things as well.  Look for more posts next week.  Thanks to everyone who has kept reading, emailing and commenting.