Wednesday, January 12, 2011

(Some of) The Best of 2010!

I've been lazy in writing about my favorite dining experiences of the past year, something I usually spend a good bit of time sorting through but have had little time to which to devote as of late. I had a lot of good eats in 2010, including the usual suspects - the Helmands and Sotto Sopras and Minatos and Joong Kaks of the land (all excellent again in 2010). Below I bring you ten of my favorites that haven't wound up on this list before. It doesn't mean they weren't any good until now. They often just get lost in the shuffle, though there are some newbies that I just did not know about until last year. One thing I noticed: many more of my favorites than ever before were of the cart or mobile van variety, or had mobile components to them. It's the new thing, and I hope it sticks around.

Ahem. In no particular order...

The Haute Dog Carte (hot dogs - Mount Washington) - If the burning desire for a 1/2 pound Angus Dog with various tomato jams and Dijon mustards or a juicy Maharlika dog from the Philippines ($5 each) don't make you come back for more, Daniel's friendly banter (and willingness to stand out in the freakin' cold half an hour after he was planning to close up for the day) will.

The Curry Shack
(Caribbean - Waverly, Remington) - I do not know why I haven't mentioned them before, because every trip - I mean every single trip - that I make to Waverly's Farmers' Market (open year round) begins with a beeline to the Curry Shack, where I usually get a luscious $2 West Indian Pie. Recently I just missed their Bison Pie, because it sold out. Stop by South Mountain Creamery's booth if you can, for real cream-line milk.

Harris Teeter
(supermarket - Columbia, Fulton and various locations below the Mason-Dixon Line) - I know, I know, a big corporate supermarket that isn't even a local company makes it on this list. No, before I picked up work in Columbia this year I had no idea who or what a "Harris Teeter" was. Now this Charlotte-based supermarket chain has three Maryland locations, with a fourth one in Locust Point (their first Baltimore City location) in limbo. What I like the most: their free samples of cheese, bread and jams, and their petit fours (12 for $5) and dessert sliders.

City Café (American - Mount Vernon) - I did not realize that they hadn't made it onto my Best Of list before. My opinion of City Café in the past was that they were a bit overpriced, but had okay food. Their 1/2 priced burgers were worth a trip on Monday nights, but in general the place wasn't anything special. Boy, have they become somethin' special. Chef Chad Gauss hasn't exactly made cheaper food, but he's certainly made it worth the price. Some of my favorites: the crab-topped fried green tomatoes, the Lollipop Lamb appetizer (had that with Eric & Alan on New Year's Eve, among many other things), and "Usual Suspects" - a crab cake and small filet mignon ($28 - a very rare splurge for me, unless it's the rare occasion like Christmas Eve when it was half priced). And yes, the burger.

Marie Louise Bistro
(American - Mount Vernon) - The first time I ate here I was, well, less than impressed. This is another restaurant that has really gotten much better. When I don't just stop in for one of their many desserts (note: the chocolate creme brulée is good, but it isn't exactly creme brulée), I get their macaroni & cheese or their burger, juicy and served on a wonderfully soft bun that, like the rolls used by the Haute Dog Carte, is almost as worth eating as the meat inside it!

Sláinte Pub (Irish, pub fair - Fells Point) - As long as someone isn't blaring that goddamned vuvuzela in my ear again, I'm happy drinking a Guinness ($6 when not Happy Hour but only $4 on Mondays) and eating a hamburger ($9) or a shepherd's pie ($8 on Wednesdays) while watching an English Premier League match while waiting around another 3 1/2 years for the next World Cup. If Sláinte is standing-room only, go next door to Kooper's for a Donnybrook Stout or a Dogfish Head 60 Minute Pale Ale, and a somewhat similar menu to its Irish neighbor.

Iced Gems Creations (cupcakes - Reisterstown and various locations around town) - The Vanilla Vanilla, Chocolate Chocolate and English Rose cupcakes damn near changed my life. Okay no they didn't, but they were still good. If you can't get to the Reisterstown location, do what I do: find their cupcake truck, like I usually do outside Towson's Farmer's Market on Thursdays (in season), and get a cupcake ($2.50) and a taste of chef Christine Richardson's English charm.

Log Cabin Chocolates (chocolates - Fallston) - When I first started working in Harford County, I stopped by on the way home for some beautiful buttercreams at $7.50 for half a pound. My post about them is here.

Grilled Cheese & Company (American - Catonsville) - Why haven't more people thought about a grilled cheese restaurant before? If you don't want an original grilled cheese ($5), opt for the filling Fresco ($7) with mozzarella, pesto and roasted red bell peppers. Next time I must try their dessert grilled cheese, the Sweetest Thing ($7.50) with brie, mascarpone and raspberry preserves. Note: you will need to go to the gym after eating here.

Kumari (Nepalese, Indian - Mount Vernon) - In retrospect, I am surprised at how often I have stopped here over the past year. I shouldn't be, because their typical vegetarian and non-vegetarian Nepalese combos (about $14) always satisfy me to the point where I have to get a doggie bag.

Also worth noting:

Vito's (pizza - Cedarcroft) - I don't know if New Yorkers will consider it authentic pizza, but I like their large slices ($3 to $5 depending on which you get) enough to make them into two meals. Plus it's convenient to home.

Zhong Shan Restaurant (Chinese, dim sum - Downtown) - I got there too late for their dim sum, but perhaps too early to see a crowd. The crispy breaded pork that I got the one time I went there was not too bready and did what so much Chinese-American food I have brought home does not do so well: stood up well to a re-heating in the microwave. Yes, you will need to take some home.

Graul's (supermarket - Ruxton among other locations) - Another popular local market that Mr. Clueless here did not know about until earlier this year, when one of our Men's Chorus members ordered a big box of cupcakes for our recent concert. I admit: I stop in all the time for their free samples, and then figure out what to buy after that.

The Hippo (gay/lesbian, bar) and Brewer's Art Pub (American, bar - both in Mount Vernon) - Good for a Dogfish or a Resurrection Ale on tap. The Hippo is also great fun for Friday and Saturday night karaoke.

Memorable eats out of town:

Los Angeles - The Bool BBQ truck and its bulgogi tacos are some of the cheapest and best things I have eaten off of a truck.

New Orleans -
Mr. B's Bistro in the French Quarter is a must for its barbequed shrimp, which is not what anyone outside of Louisiana would think of as "barbequed".

Rehoboth Beach - If you can't stop in the Dogfish Head Brewpub for a burger or a tour (get a $5 shot of their peanut butter vodka - it is so worth it), perhaps you should stop by the Finbar Irish Pub, which the locals love. The Blue Moon and Double L are two of my favorite gay bars in town.

Washington, DC area - The Bangkok 54 Restaurant in Arlington is the perfect place to stop before seeing your favorite comedian at the Arlington Draft House next door. Oh and look - another Harris Teeter!