Monday, July 17, 2017

Soft Stuff Lost The Creepy Motel, But Made A Friendly Corner On Rte 40 For Ice Cream

Soft Stuff ice cream with rainbow sprinkles
I didn't believe that Soft Stuff could recreate the magic on Rte 40, but now I've taken a kid to lick ice cream on a summer night -- and I can see they pulled it off.

Soft Stuff is now a cash-only ice cream takeout in a shopping center on Rte 40 across from the Enchanted Forest shopping center.  Years ago, it was a classic haunt -- a wooden ice cream stand attached to a rundown motel in sight of Rte 40 in Ellicott City.  In 2012, the old site was demolished to make way for the new construction.

Back then, I didn't think the new place would capture the magic.  Soft Stuff had a specific vibe.  Teenagers behind the counter.  Customers basically loitering in a parking lot on hot summer nights.  I loved it then, and I felt the same this summer as Lil' Chow negotiated his way into a waffle cone plus sprinkles, then licked, licked, licked ice cream overlooking the parking lots.

River House Pizza Co. going down the row
The folks who redeveloped the old motel hit some real home runs for food.  They have a Korean restaurant in there, a Korean coffee shop, another Asian restaurant, a kabob place, Glory Days and more.  On my last visit, I surprised to see signs for River House Pizza Co.  That's Nathan Sowers' mobile pizza operation that has run off Main Street for years, and they're expanding to run a restaurant and headquarter his catering business, according to Joshua Gordon in the Baltimore Business Journal.

Definitely hit up Soft Stuff.  It's worth a visit on its own.  You order at the counter, then enjoy one of the few inside seats or the row of outdoor benches.    It's pretty basic soft serve.  But that's perfect for a warm summer night, doubly perfect if you get to watch a kid try to eat the entire cone before everything melts. 

And keep Soft Stuff in mind when I write more about all the great restaurants in the neighborhood.  The Enchanted Forest is headlined by White Oak Tavern.  The Soft Stuff development has its own restaurants.  And across the parking lots is a renovated shopping center with established Honey Pig and a new run of Thai, hot pot and tea.  In many ways, Rte 40 is winning the restaurant competition around here, and I'll post more soon.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Gorman Farm Seems To Have Hit Its Stride; The Share That I Got To Sample Was A Real Gift

Cucumbers sliced and seasoned into kimchi
Gorman Produce Farm seems to have really hit its stride.  Check it out if you want local vegetable adventures.

When I started blogging, I thought that I was going to become entranced by community-supported agriculture.  That's a CSA where you pay a farm's fee at the start of the season, then get a weekly share from the harvest.  In the plan, you get great vegetables, and you get surprises to inspire you.

But I never clicked.  Mostly, it's just that my cooking never got inspired by a box of surprises.  I felt bad when I left something unused, and my mind always ran to menus that required a grocery run to augment the CSA box.  But, in part, I don't think I had the best CSAs.  I did two, both when the farms were new.  Farming is hard.  I got some rough produce and some piles of pedestrian stuff.

Gorman Produce Farm in Laurel changed their model a year or two ago.  They closed their daily farm stand.  Now they just sell through a CSA, and I was lucky enough to sample last month when our friends went away on vacation.  The full share that I picked up in Gorman's barn was an absolute delight.

Spinach, parsley, squash, onions, eggplant, cucumbers, garlic flowers and on and on and on.  I filled two large bags with the full share, and the vegetables blew me away.  They were crisp, fresh and full of flavor.  Mostly, I did simple stuff.  Sauteed the spinach.  Made salad with the lettuce.  But I turned the cucumbers into a Korean kimchi oi-sobagi using Maangchi's cookbook that I need to review in the future.

Monday I steamed Gorman's eggplant that had been in my fridge for at least 10 days.  The eggplant was pristine.  That's amazing for any vegetables.  That tells me that the Gorman folks are able to concentrate on the CSA now -- planning their harvests and caring for the vegetables so that customers get premium supplies.

The Gorman Produce Farm website seems to say you can still sign up for a 2017 share.  I don't know the details.  But definitely check it out, maybe for 2017, maybe for next year.  I don't know that CSAs work for my life right now, but it's not many developed suburbs that have an organic farm sitting right in their midst.

Gorman Produce Farm is right off Rte 29 on Gorman Road.  It's really easy to reach from anywhere in Columbia and for anyone who commutes south towards DC.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Mod Pizza Brings The Five-Minute Pie To Columbia; Pick A Topping, Every Topping

Mod Pizza -- an attempt to get Lil' Chow to split a pie.  It didn't work.
The individual pizza game has opened in Howard County, and I am a surprised fan.

Several new pizza joints have opened as chains open around the country.  They're filling a spot that's a little more upscale and individualized than the standard pizza chain, yet more casual and quicker than wood-fired pioneers like Facci Ristorante.

Mod Pizza was the first one that I tried.  It follows the standard pattern -- counter service where you pick an individual-sized pie and then pick from dozens of toppings.  More varied and fresher than the canned mushrooms or chopped pepper that you might get at a standard place.  Then they bake your pizza with a blistering oven -- maybe a gas-fired oven, maybe a rolling conveyor belt.

I'm a fan.

Mod Pizza comes in two sizes.  Each work as a personal pizza.  I've alternated between the two sizes, depending on my hunger and whether I figured Lil' Chow would leave a slice or two when he was done.

Crusts come out crisp and slightly charred.  Mod folks place them in a gas oven and watch them cook.  The crusts have the individual char of a specialty pizza, but they've been uniformly terrific.  No burnt pizzas.  No under-cooked.  I've only eaten Mod Pizza on site.  I see lots of people carry out, although my experience is that crisp special pizzas -- like Facci Ristorante -- are better right out of the oven.
A slide outside Mod Pizza

In the end, it's the toppings that make Mod Pizza stand out.  So many pizzas in my past have eft me uninspired because the only toppings were oily pepperoni, chopped onions, maybe canned olives and artichokes.  The pies are heavy and dense.

Mod Pizza -- like its compatriot You Pizza in Clarksville that I'll write about soon -- goes big on the toppings.  You can pick suggestions from the menu.  Or you can stand at the counter and add any topping that you want.  Cheeses that start at mozzarella and go through ricotta, goat and parmesan.  A half dozen meats.  A dozen vegetables that range from crisp red peppers to briny artichokes.  Finishing sauces.  You can pick anything, and, most importantly, it's all fresh and full of flavor.

Then the blast in the oven brings it all together  My current creation starts with ricotta with a little tomato sauce, garlic and bacon.  Then mostly vegetables, often artichokes, maybe spicy peppers, sweet peppers, olives, parmesan cheese . . . .

You can add too much.  I've made pies where the toppings were too much to lift.  That's why I backed off the ricotta and parmesan cheeses.  Chopped bacon adds salt and smoke without the mass of the heavier meats.

This pie had too many toppings
In addition, I'm in the tank for Mod Pizza because this is where Lil' Chow found his favorite pizza this spring.  At birthday parties, Lil' Chow eats whatever pizza you put in front of him.  Anywhere else, he was picky.  No sauce.  Just cheese and bread, and even that didn't inspire him.

Until Mod Pizza.  When I announced our first visit, Lil' Chow screamed objections.  Then he go to the shop and saw that he got to pick his own food.  A small pie, just mozzarella and salami.  On maybe the second trip, an awesome Mod Pizza employee layered salami like the scales of an armadillo.  Lil' Chow was hooked.  On a stretch when Mrs. HowChow was busy at work, I think Lil' and I ate there five times in 10 days.  He ordered salami, no-sauce every time.  I experimented and enjoyed every one.

One fun part of the Mod Pizza location is that there is basically a small playground outside.   This is at the base of an apartment building across from the COlumbia Mall.  You can pack inside the building.  The entrance is on the side street.  Next to the restaurants -- also a CaliBurger and a Corner Bakery -- is a play area.  Several petal-shaped sculptures that are toddler-sized slides and hiding places.  Plus water sprays that mist from the ground -- providing a perfect cooling fun without soaking anyone's clothes.  Look for buttons on the stone bench near the nozzles.  They trigger patterns of mist.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Taco Battle On U.S. 1: Get In The Line Of Fire And Pick Your Favorite Between R&R And El Papi

El Papi's taco special -- four tacos, a pair or each
There is a taco battle under way on U.S. 1, and this is one of the rare times that you should get right in a line of fire.

R&R Taqueria has been a HowChow landmark since 2009 when Alberto Flores first turned me onto excellent Mexican tacos in the Shell station at U.S. 1 and Rte 175.  By 2011, R&R was a darling of the local food writers -- and then ended up on Diners, Drive Ins and Dives.

Then R&R ended up across the parking lot.  The owner Rod Albarran-Torres moved out of the Shell station and into a restaurant space in the next shopping center.  A bigger menu with tacos, tortas, burritos, and even a dedicated burger menu that they call Chef Rod's Outrageous Burgers.  Chef Rod made a YouTube video about the move.

R&R tacos with the star, carnitas
That seems to be when R&R's former chef opened his own taqueria in the original space.  That's Jose Flores who started with his own taco offerings and whose El Papi Taqueira got raves from Tim Carmen in the Washington Post last month.

What we have here is a true taco battle.  Flores hung enormous signs that tout "Authentic Mexican Street Tacos" at the gas station and a photo of him with Guy Fieri.  He also did post a little El Papi sign that might let people know that this isn't the taqueria in the gas station that you had heard about when it was R&R.

Friday, July 7, 2017

New Restaurants Coming Or Opened While I Was Out -- Lib's Grill, Shake Shake, A Speakeasy, More

Hot Pot Hero has opened in Ellicott City
It's going to take time to catch up to all the restaurants that opened while I was out or that are coming soon.  Great folks have told me about these in comments or emails.  I'll work out visits over time.  Here is a fast rundown of some:
  • Texas Roadhouse is opening off Snowden River Parkway, noted several commentators including Anonymous.  I'm still trying to figure out the exact location because I haven't seen the construction.
  • Lib's Grill will open in Fulton this fall in the Maple Lawn spot that has been a steak house and was most-recently Maple Lawn Grill.  Julekha Dash wrote a quick story on the Bisnow website that a different anonymous commentator flagged for me.
  • OC Brewing Company will open next to Perfect Pour in Elkridge, according to a comment by Anonymous.  I assume that's the space that previously was a Peruvian restaurant.
  • Shake Shack and others are coming to the Columbia Mall, according to a Columbia Flier article written by Andrew Michaels and highlighted to me by RJ.  Shake Shack will take over a piece of the space where Champps closed.  As a side note, I'm psyched to hear Barnes and Nobles is coming to Columbia Mall.  Book stores are good.
  • A speakeasy is coming to one of the new office buildings near the Columbia Mall, reported Joshua Gordon in the Baltimore Business Journal in May.  It's actually a restaurant called Cured with a small restaurant and bar behind an unmarked door called 18th and 21st.  That sounds fun, although I can't actually tell you anything because the description is a word salad of "rustic," "classic" and "modern" that I assume is just copied from a press release:
Cured will combine a rustic vibe and classic mid-Atlantic recipes with a modern twist while 18th & 21st, named after the Constitutional amendments that created and repealed prohibition, will be accessible through an unmarked door in the back of Cured.
  • The same folks are opening a Mutiny Pirate Bar on Troy Hill Drive in Elkridge, again as reported by Joshua Gordon in the Baltimore Business Journal.  This replaces an earlier plan to open in downtown Ellicott City. 
  • A Caribbean restaurant Jazz's Island Soul has replaced Zapata's in Harper's Choice Village Center.  Suzanne Loudermilk talked it up in a Howard Magazine review last month.
  • Hot Pot Hero and Kung Fu Tea both opened in Ellicott City.  They're in the same shopping center as Honey Pig, which I love for a casual night of Korean barbecue.  Hot pot is definitely on my list.  The last time that I ate it was the first day that we met Lil' Chow -- and the last time that a coughing fit sent me running to the bathroom because I misunderstood how spicy the broth had gotten.  I need to figure out a kid-friendly option on the Hot Pot Hero menu like noodles, rice or tofu.  I'd love to think Lil' Chow would try cooking his own food, but I'm not confident yet. 
  • And finally, a Korean BBQ place called Iron Age (update:  apparently is about to open) in Catonsville on Rte 40 just east of the new Lotte supermarket.  I haven't been, but David P. described it in a Facebook comment as "Fogo De Chao but for Korean BBQ. 25 dollars gets you endless meat."  That's inspiration for a guy's night.
I know there are many other new places.  Asian Court moved to Turf Valley.  I really want to hit the new place for dim sum.  Please feel free to report about your experiences with anything listed above or about other places that people should know.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Hit Up Larriland Farm And The New Town Grill -- BBQ And Smoked Meats Come To Ellicott City

Sliced smoked lamb with chips and coleslaw at the new Town Grill in Ellicott City
Some things keep getting better -- and one of those is a trip to pick-your-own fruit and then to feast on barbecue and smoked meats.

Larriland Farm in Woodbine is one of my favorite places in Howard County.  I've been going for more than a decade, and it truly gets better each time.  They've got delicious fruit -- and vegetables and flowers.  Plus credit card machines in the fields.  What else do you want?

Lil' Chow and I drove out I-70 Saturday, and we hit the blueberry fields at the end of the opening rush.  Honestly, we only hit about 10 bushes.  The plants were covered in ripe blueberries.  We worked mostly standing still, and we got three pounds of berries by just reaching out.

I was pleased to see that Lil' Chow could mostly identify the ripe fruit.  Our cardboard box had a few purple berries, but this seemed like an idea field for kids because even a four-year-old could reach the bushes, see the ripe blue ones, and avoid crushing them like we did with strawberries a few year ago.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

New Music And Food Venue Coming To Columbia Lake Front After Clyde's Closes Tomato Palace

The Columbia lakefront will get a new music and food venue where the Clyde's restaurant group will offer live music and casual food, reports Warren Rojas in the DC Eater.

The Clyde's folks apparently closed the Tomato Palace.  They're renovating to create a 240-seat performance space, not yet named but modeled after a DC spot called The Hamilton.  They'll share a kitchen with the Clyde's next door, but offer a different menu.

The Web Says Bon Chon Chicken Will Open Next To The Columbia Mall; Who Knows The Plans?

Bon Chon fried chicken -- with the udon soup
Bon Chon Chicken has two websites describing a new location in Columbia, and I want to know where that chicken is going to land.

Bon Chon is a Korean chain that does superb fried chicken -- along with other really good Korean dishes.  The Ellicott City location is a HowChow favorite.  Lil' Chow loves chicken tenders, and he slurps down the udon noodle soup.  I have loved the bi bim bap -- the bottom rice crisped by a super-hot bowl -- on nights when I want something lighter.

But I go for the chicken.  Crunchy crust around juicy meat.  At first, I was obsessed with the wings.  But Lil' Chow has brought me around to chicken strips.  (Plus, there were a few meals where I ordered both wings and strips and then ate way too much because it was just me and a toddler.)

I split my orders between the two flavors -- a soy-garlic and a spicy.  Spicy has real heat.  Delicious, but I limit myself to maybe three spicy and seven soy-garlic.  Once before Lil' Chow spoke, I inadvertently let him touch a spicy wing.  Finger ended up in mouth.  Tears poured down his face.  I cringed and figured that everyone was staring, but really people were probably just engaged with their chicken and beer.

So is that all coming to Columbia?  It makes sense because they've opened a mess of other locations.

Mark Siegel tweeted me about a "coming soon" Columbia location.  Bon Chon's website does have a page that says "Columbia, MD -- Coming Soon."   Plus, someone created a Facebook page in February for a Bon Chon Columbia with a real Bon Chon phone number and an address of 10000 Town Center Avenue.  That's one of the new apartment buildings across from the Columbia Mall.  I think it already has Mod Pizza and other restaurants on the first floor.  Maybe in the building next door?

Who knows the details?

I absolutely recommend the Bon Chon in Ellicott City.  It's just off Rte 40 west of 29.  I'm not worry about addresses anymore because people can find them on-line so easily.  Bon Chon is basically behind Jason's Liquors.  You turn south onto Plumtree Drive, then make an immediate left into a parking lot that serves Bon Chon, Chef Paulino, and a Zumba studio.  That's where I taught Lil' Chow that two guys can't stand at the glass window of a Zumba studio and stare inside.  "Move along!"

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

New While I Was Out: Beer! Hysteria Joins Jailbeak, Black Flag, Manor HIll And Others

Raising a toddler impeded my ability to write, but it has done wonders for the amount of alcohol that I'm drinking.

The tequila post will come in time, but my recent adoption has been an old school option -- cans of beer.

Picnics, neighborhood cookouts, many, many evenings watching kids ride bikes, play light sabers and shoot arrows in our alley.  Beer cans make much more sense, especially after I felt really self-conscious bringing a bottle of beer onto a playground.

A question in one of my final posts had been "Where can I find local beer in cans?"  And the answer now is "Way more places."

Hysteria Brewing opened Saturday on Berger Road in Columbia and joined a brewery scene that has all opened in recent years.   Black Flag in ColumbiaJailbreak in LaurelManor Hill in Ellicott City.  Along with the brewing at Frisco Tap Room and Columbia Ale House.

Hysteria opened with a great-looking party.  By which I mean that there were no open parking spaces when I tried to sneak a visit before taking Lil' Chow to a movie on Saturday.  I just looked.  Beer, food trucks.  I had hoped we could each relax -- me with a beer, him with a Dragons: Race To The Edge show on my iPad.  But I didn't have the window to find parking across the road and walk him through the heat.

Luckily, we went to dinner at Frisco, which the waitress told us was the former home of one of the Hysteria brewers.  They served up a Trash Panda IPA.  It tasted like a good, hoppy IPA.   But I ended up picking a crisp alternative because my taste buds have turned against bitter after a multi-year fling with Flying Dog's Raging Bitch.  I'll be excited to try the stouts, sours and other barrel-aged beers that Jess Mayhugh wrote up in a Baltimore Mag profile of Hysteria.  I have my eye on the Farm Truck saison.

I'd love advice.  What do people recommend from the local breweries?  I have heard little bits of styles -- "culinary" ingredients at Jailbreak, this barrel-aging at Hysteria -- but I'd love to hear what people think when they think of the local lines.  And what liquor stores carry the local beer?  I saw that the new Maple Lawn liquor store bulked up in comparison to its i.m. Wine predecessor.  Prior comments talked up Perfect Pour, Allview, Richburn and others.

You know what I'd really love?  A sampler six-pack.  I'll buy new beers, but I'm always torn about buying six of something that I've never tried where there are always old standards in the cooler.  Oftne, I get introduced to new local beers at a friend's house.  I'd love a sampler -- for example, six (or three in pairs) of Jailbreak's varieties aimed at a local who wants find his favorite.

My curiosity is really up about Lost Ark Distilling.  They're making corn whiskey and other spirits right down from Hysteria on Berger Road.  Bed time makes it difficult, but I want to get there to taste their stuff.  On that note, does anyone know if Bulk Head Brewing Company will be around?  There is Twitter from April, but I don't see anything current.

Monday, July 3, 2017

This Ice Cream Sandwich Deserves A Food Blog; What Is Coming To Clarksville Commons?

Ice cream sandwich from Scoop and Paddle
I mean, does anyone really need a food blog?

Probably not since the Internet left blogging behind five years ago.  But then folks built a spot in Clarksville where they're trying to offer personalized pizzas, gourmet ice cream, and maybe more, more, more.

And you think: People need to know they can eat well here in Howard County.

Then you think:  How much ice cream can the kid smear across his face while we're sitting on this bench?

But you're a veteran now.  You have handful of napkins, so things will work out okay.

Scoop & Paddle's current cart
Sigh.  Hope that you have had a good 18 months since January 2016.  Mrs. HowChow and I sleep again.  We're learning all about Lego and underwear and what happens when a four-year-old lays down a balance bike on asphalt.

And we're eating.  For summer, we are eating ice cream at the new Clarksville spot where folks are trying to create a food attraction.  Already open at the Clarksville Commons -- You Pizza, which I'll write about soon, and Scoop & Paddle -- the best ice cream that I know made in Howard County.