Best of Baltimore 2009

We unveil the greatest of everything in Charm City.

We framed this year's Best of Baltimore ad campaign as a "WhoWonIt?" mystery—which is actually kind of perfect. For starters, of course, this is the town that lays rightful claim to Edgar Allan Poe, despite what certain other cities—ahem, Philly—might say (more on that debate in our Arts section). We're home to another pretty-darn-acclaimed mystery novelist, Laura Lippman. And when you think about it, Best of Baltimore really is one of the great mysteries in town—after all, we keep the identities of the winners top secret and only unveil them once a year. In the end, we hope you love reading about the success of our winners as much as we love revealing them. Now, time to start mulling next year's MacGuffin.

 

ARTS

From a rising hip-hop star to a heated literary debate, we recognize the best in Baltimore's red hot arts scene.

» Writer With The Baptism of Billy Bean, Western Maryland's Roger Alan Skipper delivered one of the most accomplished books by a regional writer in recent memory. Skipper—like the late, great Larry Brown—crafts fully formed characters that reflect a strong regional identity and an aching sense of humanity. Their interactions with each other, and with their Appalachian surroundings, produce a gritty, hardscrabble narrative that exudes a peculiar, rough-hewn beauty.

» Tour The Baltimore Round Robin Tour was the hipster event of the past year. Featuring a few dozen local luminaries—including Dan Deacon and Beach House—and an unusual concept that found the bands set up around the perimeter of a venue to play one song each in round robin fashion, it proved to be unpredictable, novel, and thrilling. As such, it gave folks in places like Detroit a peek at the unfettered creativity that's been a hallmark of the local music scene.

» Artful Design The work of Kathy Fahey keeps catching our eye. Her cover art for Wye Oak's If Children CD was simply gorgeous, her show posters for the likes of Caleb Stine are a nod toward Hatch Show Print's classic Americana, and her evocative paintings inspire contemplative sighs. They also inspired a batch of new music, compiled on The Birdwatcher's Companion CD, by some of Baltimore's finest songwriters (including Stine and Wye Oak's Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner). Forget imitation—talented musicians writing songs inspired by your artwork might be the highest form of flattery.

» Debate Poe House curator Jeff Jerome gallantly represented Baltimore at The Great Poe Debate in January. Before a packed house at the Free Library of Philadelphia, Jerome ably defended our city's claims to Poe's legacy against challengers from Philadelphia and Boston. A boisterous spectacle, the event featured spirited debate, Poe-related comedy, a Poe impersonator, a stuffed raven, and promises of more hijinx to come. It was a great way to kick off the bicentennial of Poe's birth and draw attention to the Nevermore 2009 festival, which has been going on all year.

» Rysing Star A teenage rapper straight out of the Baltimore Club scene, Rye Rye figures to break big this year. With the platinum-selling M.I.A., a major label (Interscope), and DJ Blaqstarr in her corner, she's a hotter prospect than Matt Wieters. And the smart money says she's better on the dance floor. Check out the "Shake It to the Ground" and "Making of Bang" videos on YouTube for a look at the future.

» Actor Long a fixture at Centerstage, Laurence O'Dwyer recently relocated from Dallas to Baltimore, so we can rightfully claim him as one of our own. O'Dwyer actually deserves something along the lines of a lifetime achievement award, after playing a wide range of memorable—sometimes, outrageous—roles. Whether he's cavorting as Puck (in high-top sneakers!) in A Midsummer Night's Dream, enriching the ensemble cast of The Investigation, or playing Friar Bonaventura in last season's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, O'Dwyer brings intensity, often infused with some degree of lunacy, to the stage.

» Publisher Far from being a stuffy academic imprint, Johns Hopkins University Press publishes a stunning array of titles, some of them endearingly eccentric. Sure, the back catalog includes the occasional Principles and Practices of Unbiased Stereology, but you'll also find Froth! The Science of Beer, The Orioles Enyclopedia, a volume of Max Apple short stories (The Jew of Home Depot), and Bang! A Complete History of the Universe, co-authored by Queen guitarist/astrophysicist Brian May. Factor in the Biographies of Disease series and a multivolume set of hand-drawn railroad maps (A Railroad Atlas of the United States in 1946), and you have a publisher capable of not only educating and entertaining, but also surprising an audience. The publishing industry could certainly use more of that.

» Humorist Larry Doyle makes us laugh. He wrote for The Simpsons (including the classic "Simpsons Bible Stories" episode) and his New Yorker pieces in the Shouts and Murmurs column best the likes of Woody Allen and Steve Martin. Now, Doyle's 2007 coming of age novel, I Love You, Beth Cooper (winner of last year's Thurber Prize for American Humor), has been made into a film by Chris Columbus, who directed the first two Harry Potter films. From Springfield to the silver screen, we love you, Larry Doyle. answer

» Exhibit MICA's sprawling retrospective of Laure Drogoul's work, Follies, Predicaments, and Other Conundrums, featured a dream team worthy of multiple "Best Of" citations. As a conceptual artist, Drogoul has few equals in these parts, and curator Gerald Ross pulled together her most intriguing work—including "Fugue Chamber for Amnesiacs" and "Scentorium (Olfactory Factory)"—with assistance from Exhibition Development Seminar faculty and students. Rupert Wondolowski, Peter Walsh, and Lisa Leaverton wrote insightful essays for the well-designed catalogue, and related programming included knitting lessons, a scented papermaking workshop, and a performance at Evergreen House. Hats off to all involved.

» Festival The CityLit Festival has become a can't miss event on the city's cultural scene. This April, more than 3,000 book lovers packed the Enoch Pratt's main branch to hear the likes of Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz and National Book Award winner Mark Doty read from their work and peruse offerings from dozens of exhibitors, including local faves Eight-Stone Press (publishers of the fabulous zine Smile, Hon, You're in Baltimore!, itself a "Best of Baltimore" winner in 2008) and the Smartish Pace poetry review. Far from some hushed gathering of lit snobs, the festival boisterously celebrates book culture in ways that are inclusive, entertaining, and fun.

» Musician Carl Grubbs towers over the local jazz scene. Mentored by John Coltrane as a youngster and seasoned by decades of performing, the 65-year-old saxophonist hit new heights this year. His recent collaborations with young pianist Lafayette Gilchrist—jumpstarted by a Maryland Traditions grant—have taken a cross-generational look at Maryland's jazz legacy, including Grubbs's own work and that of Eubie Blake and Chick Webb. This year, Grubbs also won a coveted 2009 Mary Sawyer's Baker Prize and pocketed a $25,000 cash award. The BMA included video of Grubbs playing solo in its Baker Awards exhibit this spring, and the footage was stunning. His old mentor would be proud.

» Dynamic Duo From the streets of Baltimore to the halls of academia, Nolen Strals and Bruce Willen keep pushing the envelope. They've designed eye-popping posters and book covers, curated a traveling exhibition of imaginative lettering designs, lectured at Harvard, and taught at MICA. And they're two-thirds of the city's finest punk band, Double Dagger. The group's recent Thrill Jockey debut features ten bracing songs and, not surprisingly, great cover art—a slyly doctored photo of the sideways Baltimore sign along I-295.

» Choreographer Late last year, Towson University Professor Vincent Thomas performed his ambitious dance piece, Witness, at the Kennedy Center. Full of grand gestures, big ideas, and music ranging from solo cello to hip-hop beats, it succeeded as a thought-provoking work and hinted at greatness to come for its creator. Check it out at the Kennedy Center website, where a 2007 performance of Thomas' The Grandmother Project is also archived.

» Advocacy Maryland Citizens for the Arts were vocal advocates for the arts this past legislative session. Through a broad-based postcard campaign and other measures, MCA effectively engaged the general public in its lobbying efforts and transformed arts patrons into grassroots activists. Such advocacy work has become increasingly essential, as the cultural community works to secure funding.

» Pop Art For the past two years, the folks at Hampden's Atomic Books have asked local artists, designers, and graphic novelists to have a hand at transforming blank vinyl figures—often shaped like cartoon-ish monkeys and rabbits or stubby humans—into pieces of pop art. The figures in the annual Vinylmore exhibitions exude the sort of freewheeling fun and youthful exuberance associated with toys more often than art, and that's the crux of the show's appeal. They also include winking allusions to art history and pop culture, intricately detailed sculptures, and even an elaborate diorama of Hampden, above. If so inspired, you can purchase a blank figure at the shop, decorate it yourself, and vie for a spot in next year's Vinylmore.

Build a perfect…
Museum
We borrowed from a few of our museums to make an ideal one-stop site!
1. Community Outreach Peter Bruun and his roaming Art on Purpose programs meaningfully engage the community through art-based initiatives as inclusive as they are intelligent. 2. Audio Tour The BMA's 60 Objects/Countless Stories tour features commentary from the likes of David Simon, Olu Butterfly Woods, and Michael Kimball alongside insights by museum curators. 3. All Ages Gallery With its stuffed alligator and display cases full of exotic bugs and other curios, The Walters Art Museum's Chamber of Wonders entices children and adults alike. 4. Local Color Maryland Art Place not only features work by regional artists, it also supports critics and curators and houses a local artist registry. 5. Store You can buy original art, various monographs and art books, outrageous jewelry, and a handful of plastic eyeballs at AVAM's Sideshow gift shop. 6. Connoisseurs' Collection The BMA's Cone Collection—with its Matisses, Picassos, and thousands of other pieces—still inspires pilgrimages by art lovers.

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FOOD

Exciting new chefs and delectable dishes make this year's winners list a foodie's paradise.

» Bagels Goldberg's New York Bagels, 1498 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville, 410-415-7001, is the gold standard when it comes to these round-shaped yeast rolls in Baltimore. There is the expected plain bagel, but sometimes, you have to add a little fun to your life. The bustling shop offers the gamut from chocolate chip and pumpernickel to jalapeño and honey whole wheat. They're crusty and chewy and the perfect vehicle for toppings like cream cheese, lox spread, tuna salad, and more. Goldberg's bagels are boiled before baking. But don't bother asking for the recipe: It's been a secret for three generations!

» New Restaurant (county) When chef/owner Roddy Domacassé saw the vacant spot that once housed Cafe Isis in Lutherville, he knew he had found a home for his classic dishes with Latin American and Mediterranean influences. With décor help from Rita St. Clair, Domacassé—formerly of Brasserie Tatin and Linwoods—opened Restaurant Sabor, 12240 Tullamore Road, 410-628-7227, in December. The place has been packed ever since, as diners line up for dishes like pan-roasted salmon with fava-bean-fennel risotto and Cornish hen with black beans and rice.

» Blue-Plate Special It's only appropriate in a faltering economy that the blue-plate special would reappear. And while the plates at Ale Mary's, 1939 Fleet Street, 410-276-2044, are your standard white, the restaurant keeps the budget-minded tradition alive every Tuesday with a rotating selection of substantial, home-style meals, complete with a side of garlic bread, for a mere $5.95. One week, it could be a surprisingly nuanced beef stroganoff; another, the popular (and quick to sell out) vegetable lasagna.

» Butcher In our time of mega-grocery stores, finding a personal meat cutter is about as rare as discovering a pearl in an oyster. But we're happy to report that the family-owned J.W. Treuth & Sons Inc., 328 Oella Avenue, 410-465-4650, is processing meat with customers in mind. Helpful counter people banter and offer advice on cuts of meat, from beef and pork to lamb and poultry. During our visit, a first-time visitor was buying a pork shoulder as big as Ray Lewis's bicep. Other customers in the shop had no qualms about sharing their opinions on the beautiful meat specimen. That's the kind of friendly vibe you can expect to find at a company that's more than 100 years old.

» Pasta Bar It's hard to find fault with any of the classics comprising a concise roster of sauces at Grano, 1031 W. 36th Street, 443-869-3429. A robust, balanced puttanesca reins in its usual sharp brininess, a deeply comforting bolognese is nearly solid with meat and finely chopped aromatics, and an over-the-top gorgonzola walnut is all unapologetic richness and intense flavor. All are available to go, with the smallest (1/2 pint) portions containing enough sauce for two to four servings. Hint: All are delicious cold and make for amazing (if a bit extravagant) dip.

» Coffeehouse Of course, there's free Wi-Fi and delicious, high-test Zeke's java served at Grind-On Café, 4607 Harford Road, 410-426-1161, but it's the openness of the room—a brightly lit cube of space—that we find so welcoming. The friendly, laid-back staff will construct a custom sandwich designed by you from a list ranging from standard lunch meats to spinach, daikon, and the occasional locally grown sprouts. There is a good selection of pastries baked right in the neighborhood, as well as homemade granola and interesting teas. Owner Greg Bandelin has created a comfortable, neighborhood gathering spot. Which makes perfect sense, since he lives there, too!

» A-List Haven We bow before the altar of the chichi Charleston, 1000 Lancaster Street, 410-332-7373. The Harbor East spot rarely, if ever, disappoints. The limos are a dead giveaway that "important" people are dining there. While owners Tony Foreman and chef Cindy Wolf won't name names, we happen to know that former Secretary of State Condi Rice, wine guru Robert Parker Jr., actress Renée Zellweger, and other powerhouses have feasted on Wolf's Southern-inspired cuisine in the luxe space that was redesigned a couple of years ago by architect Patrick Sutton.

» Charcuterie It's such a lovely word for hunks of pork products. But it really means so much more. In restaurants, it usually involves a tray with a couple of meats, a cheese or two, and maybe a pâté. But at Clementine, 5402 Harford Road, 410-444-1497, the charcuterie platter is a smorgasbord of goodies, mostly made in-house. We sampled this rich litany on our visit: Chesapeake boudin (crab, pork, and shrimp sausage), bluefish pâté, chicken liver pâté, rémoulade sauce, bread-and-butter pickles, tomato-ginger jam, and Humboldt Fog goat cheese with baguette slices. On any given visit, the numerous offerings are subject to change. We don't mind. Each presentation is a culinary adventure.

» Corned Beef Sandwich Is it a sacrilege to bypass Attman's and Lenny's for the best corned beef? We don't think so. They've been dishing up sumptuous brined beef for years, and we're appreciative. But now, there's a new kid in town—Freda's Kitchen, 1604 Kelly Avenue, 410-367-7840. The Mt. Washington restaurant, owned by Josh Emmer with his parents, Linda and Martin Emmer, is getting rave reviews for its thinly sliced, melt-in-your mouth, kettle-cooked corned beef. We like it in The Witness Protection sandwich, thick with the delectable corned beef, coleslaw, and Russian dressing on fresh, chewy rye.

» Croque Madame Excusez-moi, Messieurs. Step aside for the lady. Yes, we know all about the croque monsieur, the ooh la la French-inspired, grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich, but what about its female counterpart? It's all about the addition of a fried egg on top. The best version in town can be found at Miss Irene's, 1738 Thames Street, 410-558-0033, the recently renovated Fells Point bar/restaurant. Take a seat in the bistro-like setting and feast on two slices of thick, rustic bread stuffed with shaved imported ham, gooey Gruyère, and that wonderful egg.

» Dessert Menu Some diners can't wait for the sugary finish at the end of the meal. And Crush, 510 E. Belvedere Avenue, 443-278-9001, is just the place to indulge your sweet tooth. Not that you'll want to hurry through your meal. Chef/owner Dan Chaustit turns out modern American fare that always has a creative edge: tiny grilled cheese croutons in soup; blueberries on a spinach salad, for instance. So, it's really no surprise that the desserts here are playful and fun. You'll find old-fashioned favorites like a root-beer float with homemade cookies (macadamia white chocolate, Heath Bar, and peanut butter); a small, pineapple upside-down cake; a mini Jewish apple cake; and chocolate flourless cake.

» Fondue This isn't your mother's cheese dip. Corks, 1026 S. Charles Street, 410-752-3810, has reinvented the once popular '70s party favorite with gourmet cheeses like white Cheddar, Gouda, Gruyère, Brie, and Gorgonzola in three different variations. The updated versions come in a small, classy white tureen with rustic bread cubes. Share it with your tablemates or just gorge yourself. You must get the extra dippers (for a few more dollars). Bison meatballs, Bliss potato slices, and pretty crudité—like asparagus, real baby carrots, and celery—are just some of your temptations to sop up the silky, melted cheese.

» Hot Spot The buzz about Woodberry Kitchen, 2010 Clipper Park Road, 410-464-8000, is for real. Just try and get a Saturday reservation. But it's worth the wait. Chef/owner Spike Gjerde has made his "farm-to-table" concept a delicious reality, and diners are flocking to the refurbished Foundry Building in the artsy Clipper Mill community. Enjoy your meal in the hustle-bustle of the downstairs dining room and bar or upstairs in the slightly less noisy loft that overlooks the action below. On any given night, the earnest wait staff will deliver such dishes as local Marvesta shrimp tempura, Springfield Farm rib-eye steak, and Viking Village monkfish. And you can pat yourself on the back for supporting local farmers.

» Makeover Sometimes, you have to be a visionary, and that's where Eddie Dopkin comes in. Almost singlehandedly, he's revived the commercial area along West Cold Spring Lane with his Crazy Man Restaurant Group, which includes Miss Shirley's, Alonso's, Loco Hombre, and S'ghetti Eddie's. His newest venture this year is the Roland Park Bagel Co., 500 W. Cold Spring Lane, 410-889-3333, and we commend him on the redo. He turned the former, plain-Jane Sam's Bagels into a comfortable hangout with wood floors, window-front counters, high stools, sleek tables, and outdoor seating. A gray-and-white outdoor awning adds a European flair. You'll find the eponymous bagels there, but also sandwiches, salads, and paninis.

» Greek Salad Be thankful for Greeks bearing gifts, especially when they involve food. At least, that's how we feel when we go to Cousins Cafe, 5005 Honeygo Center Drive, Perry Hall, 410-248-0048, where real cousins Peter Amentas and George Polites serve up an impressive Mediterranean salad in their no-frills eatery. The chilled white bowl is filled with crisp romaine, grape tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, pepperoncinis, olives, green peppers, and just the right amount of crumbled feta cheese. But what really pushes this salad to the top is the dressing—creamy, tangy, and garlicky with flecks of oregano and an herb blend.

» Hot Dog It's a dog-eat-dog world in many ways. But at Chili Man Weiners, 18 Allegheny Avenue, Towson, 410-321-7710, it's doggy heaven. The storefront, along a stretch plying cheeseburgers, Indian fare, pizza, and more, specializes in 100-percent-beef frankfurters that get dolled up with lots of extras. Go with "everything" (mustard, onions, and relish) or the "works" (mustard, ketchup, sauerkraut, and onions). And given the eatery's name, it would be unwise not to add chili. Savor the fat, messy dog in the sunshine-yellow-and-orange shop reminiscent of a soda parlor. It serves breakfast, too. A Hangover Helper—eggs, ham, bacon, sausage, onions, peppers, tomoatoes, potatoes, and a hot dog—is just the cure for a rough night out on the town.

» Country Market For three days a week, a cavernous Baltimore county store becomes an oasis of Amish goods and foods. Step inside the Pennsylvania Dutch Market, 11121 York Road, Cockeysville, 410-316-1500, and you'll feel like you've taken a detour to Lancaster County, PA. The men and (mostly) women who service the counters are dressed in the modest, traditional garb of their heritage. We love visiting Aunt Erma's Bakery for its gooey sticky buns and shoofly pie and Amish Country Meats for the plump chickens and fat sausages. Among the 17 stalls, there are also handmade quilts, soaps, candles, and furniture. Be sure and go hungry. There's a sit-down area, where you can savor thick sandwiches, barbecue chicken, and other fare.

» New Chef Our local chefs hardly ever become Food Network celebrities. But that doesn't mean there aren't some outstanding culinary artists here, like Jason Ambrose of Salt and Galen Sampson of The Dogwood. So we're always pleased when another chef of that caliber seeks out our town. Enter Marcus Olson, executive chef of The Brass Elephant, 924 N. Charles Street, 410-547-8480. He came on board to give a boost to the grand-dame restaurant. (The restaurant's building is now on the market for a buyer.) Olson, who calls himself a neo-classic chef, trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Portland, OR, and worked in London, Paris, and New York. But he's not just interested in leaving his mark at the stove. In less than a year, he has created the "Fit Firefighters" initiative to help Charm City's fire guys learn about healthy eating, and has joined with The Downtown Partnership to create special restaurant weeks to celebrate local foods. Here's hoping he'll stick around for a while.

» New Restaurant (city) It's no surprise that Meli American Bistro, 1636 Thames Street, 410-534-6354, was an instant hit. It's the latest (and third) installment of the popular Kali's Restaurant Group, has a swank design by Rita St. Clair, and the magic touch of chef Rashad Edwards. It's a spot where you can have a pastry and coffee in the afternoon, a full-tilt dinner in the evening, or dessert after the movies. The underlying theme is honey (after all, that's what Meli means in Greek!), but you'll find lots of other flavors, too, like house-made duck sausages over rice and cabbage and grilled pork tenderloin with quail eggs and brioche. And you simply can't leave without sampling the sticky, honey-laced (of course!) baklava.

» Outdoor Dining Some might say that the Oregon Grille, 1201 Shawan Road, Hunt Valley, 410-771-0505, can be a stuffy place, where gents must wear coats in the evening and service may be snooty at times. But that's no reason to pass up a leisurely lunch or dinner on the beautiful bluestone patio surrounded by lush greenery and colorful flowers in season. There's a peaceful air that will permeate your meal from start to finish. You can always count on the Grille to turn out the finest classic American cuisine, from thick steaks and chops to oversized, steamed lobsters. Don't forget to order a mint julep so you can really feel like part of the horsey set.

» Pastry Chef You can drop by pretty Cinghiale, 822 Lancaster Street, 410-547-8282, for the fancy northern Italian cuisine and impressive wine selection. But don't leave without sampling pastry chef Jason Gehring's delectable offerings. He's a marvel at whipping up confections like a silky panna cotta, rich apple torte, zabaglione with seasonal berries, or, in summer, a torta nonna (grandma's cake)—an airy buttermilk cake served with house-made peach ice cream and ripe, local peaches. He's also known for his delicate, traditional Italian cookies. Gehring is a Baltimore International College grad and has strutted his stuff at the Ritz Carlton (Foggy Bottom) and Poste in D.C. before returning to Charm City to open Cinghiale in 2007. We're glad he's back where he belongs.

» Pub Food At first glance, Peter's Inn, 504 S. Ann Street, 410-675-7313, seems like any other Fells Point watering hole—narrow and crammed with a long bar in the front. But then you notice the crisp white tablecloths amid the stuffed blue marlin on the wall, white Christmas lights, and photos of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Then, you check out the chalkboard with an ever-changing menu that suits the seasons and whims of chef/co-owner Karin Tiffany. She wows the palate with dishes like shrimp and grits, blackened scallops with mango coulis, and Alaskan king crab-bacon-potato hash. Oh, and all that is just one entree, beautifully plated on a trendy white square plate! Desserts are just as awesome. Belgian chocolate pot de crème and Key lime tart are perfect with your, yes, French press coffee.

» Restaurant Couple You may go to Teavolve Café & Lounge, 1401 Aliceanna Street, 410-522-1907, for its soothing tea and coffee, Belgian waffles, paninis, croissant sandwiches (definitely try the chicken salad with almonds and cranberries), and signature cocktails. But you really go for the cheerful smiles and service of owners Sunni Gilliam and Del Powell. They're a dynamite duo who make you feel right at home in the welcoming space with soaring ceilings, comfy couches, and lots of light. You'll see Sunni behind the counter or at a table keeping tabs on the inventory on her computer. Del is a stand-up frontman, showing customers to their tables and stopping by to make sure everything is okay. While the wait staff can be a little slow sometimes, Sunni and Del make up for it with their enthusiasm and caring attention.

» Scene Sure, you want to go to Pazo, 1425 Aliceanna Street, 410-534-7296, for chef Michael Costa's small plates—a dizzying Mediterranean menu of snacks, tapas, and more, served in a cavernous, beautifully rehabbed warehouse. But you'll also want to be part of the sophisticated scene, where there's actually a dress code for the chic crowd, mostly in their mid-20s to mid-30s. (Don't worry, baby boomers are allowed.) The rules: No sweatshirts or athletic wear allowed. No caps for the guys. Appropriate dress length for the gals. And no visible underpants for anyone. The result is a glam show that really heats up for late-night socializing.

» Seafood Market Lately we've been heading to Conrad's Crabs & Seafood Market, 1720 E. Joppa Road, Parkville, 410-882-1515, to satisfy our seafood cravings. We think it's great that Tony Conrad, co-owner with his wife Andrea, is a real waterman, who catches a lot of the market's fish. Conrad showcases fish from other parts of the country, too—all beautifully presented on ice. And the staff couldn't be more helpful. They'll cheerfully fillet and clean whatever you want. The store also has prepared items, like shrimp salad and crab cakes, but if you have a hankering for steamed crabs, reserve them early: The spicy, heavy hard shells are much in demand.

» Potato Chips The humble crisps may not seem like a big deal, but it sure caught our fancy at Todd Conner's, 700 S. Broadway, 410-537-5005. And we can't wait to go back for this addictive, salty, house-made snack. The basket of complimentary warm chips is just the antidote to soothe a growling stomach while you're looking over the menu for more sustenance. (If you're just having drinks, you'll want to chase them with TC's signature chips for $1.79.)

» Seafood Restaurant Some nights, you can't even get a parking spot at Bluestone Seafood Grill, 11 W. Aylesbury Road, Timonium, 410-561-1100. It seems like there's always a party going on in the nondescript, modern space that really could be anywhere in the United States. But what sets Bluestone apart is its impeccable seafood, featuring the freshest catches from the sea. On any given day, you might find American red snapper, Tasmanian Ocean salmon, Florida grouper, and Caribbean monkfish on the menu. Preparations are simple. And we wouldn't have it any other way.

» Small Plates Many restaurants have small plates on their menus, or tapas, if you prefer—sometimes to have less expensive choices, but mostly to provide an assortment of tempting nibbles. We are particularly impressed with the variety at the new Taverna Corvino, 1117 S. Charles Street, 410-727-1212. Executive chef Christopher Paternotte, formerly of the now-closed VIN in Towson, hits his stride with dishes that have an Italian influence but are so much more. We are smitten with the Roseda meatballs in Marsala cream, fried oysters with kalamata aioli, and veal cheeks with basil-scented polenta. Heck, when we think about it, we like everything!

» Special Occasion Spot There's something so romantic about Kali's Court, 1606 Thames Street, 410-276-4700. Maybe it's the elegant, seductively dark, high-ceilinged dining room. Maybe it's the super service. Whatever the attraction, it's definitely a place to celebrate anniversaries or other milestones. It's a wonderful bonus that in this gorgeously sexy spot you also get some of the best food in town, courtesy of chef Damon Hersh, who mixes the classics with the modern. Seafood reigns in such dishes as Mediterranean bronzini, wild striped bass, and bouillabaisse. Memories are just waiting to happen in this intimate yet congenial dining room.

» Wine List We're pretty lucky. There are lots of restaurants with 100-plus-bottle wine lists in town. But we still lean toward The Wine Market, 921 E. Fort Avenue, 410-244-6166, for its combo cafe, wine bar, and wine shop—all under one roof! Peruse the 900-bottle storefront wine shop and pick out a favorite before heading back to the trendy, brick dining room or courtyard patio. Or order from executive chef Jason Lear's wine-friendly menu, then mosey back to the shop and pair your food and wine. There's a $9 corkage fee, but that's pretty reasonable when you consider the wines are priced below markup. If you don't want to bother with a bottle, there are 30 wines by the glass for your sipping pleasure.

Build a perfect…
Meal
From soup to s'mores, we created our ultimate Charm City dinner!
1. Bread Need a baguette, a boule, a roll? Bonaparte Breads, 903 S. Ann Street, 410-342-4000, is the place to go for deliciously rustic, artisanal breads. 2. Appetizer At The Black Olive, 814 S. Bond Street, 410-276-7141, the grilled, stuffed calamari is fat and happy with manouri and feta cheeses. You will be, too, after you eat it. 3. Salad This Roquefort wedge at the Mt. Washington Tavern, 5700 Newbury Street, 410-367-6903, is a huge quarter of chilled iceberg with wonderful crumbled blue cheese, chopped bacon, and sliced grape tomatoes on top. 4. Entrée Pig out at Tio Pepe, 10 E. Franklin Street, 410-539-4675, where generous slices of slow-roasted, tender suckling pig are tantalizingly moist and enhanced only by the yummy crackly skin. 5. Side Dish At Sullivan's Steakhouse, 1 E. Pratt Street, 410-962-5503, the simplicity of sautéed spinach with garlic doesn't undermine the dynamite flavors of fresh, wilted greens subtly perfumed with the pungent bulb. 6. Soup The Dogwood, 911 W. 36th Street, 410-889-0952. Of course, chef/owner Galen Sampson, a Maryland native, would have a Baltimore crab soup on the menu. And it's just what we want—heavy with fresh crab, veggies, and spicy seasoning. 7. Dessert Over at Jack's Bistro, 3123 Elliott Street, 410-878-6542, the fried s'mores translate a simple campfire favorite into a decadent plate of two graham-cracker-chocolate-marshmallow cookies with chocolate sauce and s'mores ice cream.

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FUN

We toast the best of nightlife and entertainment.

» Amusement Park Deal The dilemma: There's a recession on and people are cutting back on leisure activities. But everyone needs a little fun in their life! Six Flags America, sixflags.com/america, located just 40 minutes south of Baltimore in Largo, to the rescue. For $49.99—the same price as one day's regular admission—you can get the 2009 Play Pass: unlimited access to the park for the entire season, plus more than $300 worth of discounts on food, games, and souvenirs.

» Wino Heaven Fells Point got a little classier with the opening of V-NO, 905 S. Ann Street, 410-342-8466. The intimate wine bar features outside tables along the water, a bar and wine shop inside, and a modest menu. Wine bottles are categorized by simple adjectives: juicy, rich, crisp, etc. V-NO was the brainchild of Mark and Kristina Bachman, a friendly couple who have traveled the world and now just want to relax. Don't mind if we join them.

» Bar For Grown-Ups On any given evening, Annabel Lee Tavern, 601 S. Clinton Street, 410-522-2929, is packed—and not just with young bar hoppers, but with actual grown-ups! So what's the appeal to the over 30 set? There's the deliciously macabre vibe of the place (it's named after an Edgar Allan Poe poem), plus the new summer menu (think barbecue ribs and grilled corn on the cob), the outdoor seating, and the fabulous libations (Brewer's Art beer and creative cocktails).

» Golf Course Bulle Rock, 320 Blenheim Lane, Havre de Grace, 410-939-8887, may not be the cheapest public course around, but it is almost indisputably the best. A regular on GOLF Magazine's list of the "Top 100 Courses You Can Play" and the former home of the McDonald's LPGA Championship, Bulle Rock boasts huge hazards, wide fairways, and ample greens, plus an epic, water-lined, 485-yard, par 4 18th hole.

» Beer Selection The first pick of the draft goes to Max's Taphouse, 737 S. Broadway, 410-675-6297. Not only does it stock about 70 rotating drafts and almost 1,000 bottled beers from around the world, but it also has brew-centric specials every night, including Wednesday's "pinch-the-pint night." With brews ranging from the familiar (Clipper City) to the exotic (Belgium's Maredsous 8), Max's is sure to impress even the fussiest of beer snobs.

» Bowling Alley Sadly, duckpin bowling seems to be going the way of the dodo bird. But, thankfully, Taylors Stoneleigh Bowling Alley, 6703 York Road, 410-377-8115, is keeping the tradition alive—partly by being so untraditional. After all, what other duckpin alley plays metal on Mondays, has a DJ spin on Tuesdays, and hosts karaoke on Fridays? But the BYOB Taylors keeps one thing old school: the ultra friendly staff.

» Creepy History Lesson Baltimore offers quite a selection of quirky tours, ranging from Segway-powered sightseeing to the kazoo-accompanied Ride the Ducks Tour, but our favorites are the ones offered by Baltimore Ghost Tours, 410-522-7400, which provide spooky primers on two of Baltimore's most storied neighborhoods—Fells Point and Mt. Vernon. Led by costumed tour guides, the tours stop at haunts like Bertha's and The Belvedere, revealing the mysterious, supernatural histories of these landmarks.

» 'Burbs Bar From 9 to 5, Columbia is a bustling suburb full of corporate go-getters, but after the whistle blows, the planned community becomes a bit of a ghost town, leaving locals and the after-work crowd scant nightlife options. That is, until Victoria Gastro Pub, 8201 Snowden River Parkway, Columbia, 410-750-1880, opened in December 2007. Offering unparalleled bar food, encyclopedic beer and wine lists, and attentive service, the pub has become a popular happy hour spot with weekday deals on select beers ($2.95), wines ($5.95), and rail drinks ($1 off) from 4 to 7 p.m. But what really impresses us is the second happy hour it offers weeknights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. We'll drink to that.

» Dance Party Dance parties in this town tend to be rather unreliable. That's why we were so happy to welcome the one hosted by DJ John Eaton at Zodiac, 1726 N. Charles Street, 410-727-8815. The former restaurant holds this party every month at 10 p.m.—like clockwork. When we last visited, Eaton spun what would have made the best iPod shuffle playlist ever: Michael Jackson, The Clash, Madonna, and a spastic remix of "Do Re Mi" from The Sound of Music.

» Day Trip The Brandywine Valley, brandywinevalley.com, is a region that manages to be all things to all people. Setting aside its natural beauty, the Valley has enough attractions to please everyone. There are options for scholars (Brandywine River "Wyeth" Museum), bargain hunters (Delaware is sans sales tax), architecture buffs (numerous DuPont mansions), nature lovers (Longwood Gardens), and gourmands (Brandywine Valley Wine Trail). And you can experience it all on just one tank of gas.

» Game Night Shuffleboard isn't just for retirees anymore. The tabletop version of the game is all the rage in bars around town, but nowhere is this more evident than Wednesday nights at Don't Know Tavern, 1453 Light Street, 410-539-0231. The bar hosts two shuffleboard seasons—fall and spring—and competition is fierce.

» Girls Night Out Girls rule Thursday nights at Mex, 26 Market Place, 410-528-0128, where, from 4 to 9 p.m., they can order off a limited menu and get three appetizers for $10 or one of several entrees (choices include fish 'n' chips, crab-cake platters, and burritos) for $3. Plus, there's half-priced wine until 9 p.m. at the bar. And, as if that wasn't enough, starting at 10 p.m., ladies pay only $10 (men pay $15) to receive endless refills at Mex and Mex's sister bars: Mosaic, Rock Bar, Lucky's Tavern, and the seasonal Plaza Blue Door Bar.

» Guys Night Out If we know dudes, we know there's nothing they love more than meat and beer. That's why we recommend Monday nights at Mahaffey's Pub, 2706 Dillon Street, 410-276-9899, where, from 5 to 10 p.m., you can get $1 chicken or beef sliders, plus any three beers for 4 bucks until close.

» Dive Bar Dive bars used to be a dime a dozen in this town. Now, thanks to that pesky urban gentrification, they're more rare. That's why we are so enthused about Kitty Kat Bar, 400 W. 23rd Street, 410-889-0091. Since opening on a dead-end street in the heart of Remington, Kitty Kat Bar has proudly been flying the dive bar flag, offering low lighting, cheap beer ($1.75 Pabst for the summer!), and eclectic company ranging from bikers to hipsters.

» Vacation Nightlife Spot Bottle & Cork,1807 Highway One, Dewey Beach, Delaware, 302-227-7272, is one of the most high-energy nightlife spots in Delaware. Expect to be in the middle of a packed crowd, dancing to DJs both inside and out, while sipping on cheap drinks, and only a few blocks from the ocean. But the biggest draw? The venue ropes in national acts—this month alone, see The Avett Brothers and Keller Williams (year's past have included Dave Matthews Band, Ziggy Marley, Buddy Guy, and Blondie).

» Jukebox It used to be that a bar's jukebox was like a fingerprint—unique and self-identifying. But since the advent of the digital jukebox, it has become increasingly difficult to learn anything about an establishment from its musical selection. Thankfully, some places have kept their old coin-operated contraptions and continue to fill them with idiosyncratic selections. Our favorite is at Club Charles, 1724 N. Charles Street, 410-727-8815, which offers a potpourri of classics (David Bowie, James Brown), local favorites (Dan Deacon, Beach House), and personal mixes by patrons and staff. It's all music to our ears.

» Karaoke Strange name. Great karaoke. Classic Animal Hipster Karaoke meets every second Monday of the month at Joe Squared and every fourth Wednesday at Fletcher's for a night of performances that can range from Peggy Lee to Led Zeppelin. The Joe Squared night usually draws a bigger crowd, but Fletcher's offers $2 Bud Light drafts, $2.50 Pabst cans, and three shots for the price of two. Not to be outdone, Joe Squared provides free late-night pizza for attendees. As for the name? It means nothing. Event organizer Adam Meister just liked the sound of it.

» Oriole It doesn't take a baseball expert to note that O's centerfielder Adam Jones has been having a stellar year. As of press time, Jones was batting .308 with 46 RBIs and was the O's sole representative on the All-Star team. When Jones was the centerpiece of the trade that sent Erik Bedard to Seattle, fans were understandably skeptical. But now he's living up to the hype as a potential star and making O's president Andy MacPhail look like a genius in the process. Plus, the kid is just plain likeable. Besides having a total rags-to-riches story (at 12, he sold candy door-to-door to afford his first mitt), he tells the press that he loves being an Oriole. Now that's definitely something to cheer for.

» Raven Coming off of a 5-11 campaign with a lot of tension among the team, the Ravens needed a no-nonsense man to take the reins last year. Enter John Harbaugh. He made sure that it was his way or the highway, that veterans weren't treated with favoritism, and that when something wasn't right (e.g. Chris McAlister's noncompliance), he took care of it. His technique clearly worked, as he brought our newly unified Ravens to the AFC Championship for the first time since the Super Bowl year.

» Urban Sports Organization In parks around the city, you'll find lots of sports being played, but none is more ubiquitous than kickball. There's a reason why: In the fall of 2001, friends Brannan Villee and Jim Figlozzi founded the Kickball League of Baltimore (KLOB). At first, they had just four teams and played in Federal Hill. Now, they have 250 teams with 5,000 players all over Baltimore and have several chapters around the country. One KLOB-loving couple enjoyed their membership so much, they had their wedding cake modeled after a kickball field.

» "Hair of the Dog" Deal So it's Sunday and the weekend's almost over. You had fun, but maybe too much fun—and you need to recharge. May we suggest the Sunday Blitz at Rocket to Venus, 3360 Chestnut Avenue, 410-235-7887? Every Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m., you get your pick of brunch menu items like apple flapjacks and falafel wimpies, plus unlimited mimosas, Bloody Mary's, and sangria for just $12.95. The clientele is hip, the atmosphere relaxed, and the lighting mercifully low.

» Sports Bar There's nothing too glamorous about City Limits Sports Bar, 1700 E. Fort Avenue, 410-244-8084, in Locust Point. But why should there be? It has all the sports bar necessities: a huge bar up front, tons of TVs, various games (pool, darts, shuffleboard), 10 different styles of wings, and drink specials every night. When the weather permits, City Limits opens up the windows so you can look out onto Latrobe Park. Plus, the girl-to-guy ratio is surprisingly even.

» Happy Hour Most happy hours are pretty standard: cheap drinks and greasy food. That's why we really like the more upscale (but laid-back) vibe of City Cafe, 1001 Cathedral Street, 410-539-4252. Its happy hour—which runs from 5-8 p.m. everyday—includes 2-for-1 beer and liquor drinks, as well as $5 signature cocktails. But the kicker is the high-quality food deals: stuff like flatbread pizza for $7, ahi tuna for $8, and even two crab cakes for $10.

» Live Music Bar Not only does Cat's Eye Pub, 1730 Thames Street, 410-276-9866, have live music every day of the year, they book some seriously diverse acts. One night, you can see a Zydeco band and the next you can see a spoken word performance. Though there is a quieter space in the back (including a new covered patio), Cat's Eye patrons are all about the music.

» New Bar We already loved the The Metro Gallery, 1700 N. Charles Street, 410-370-0899, for its combination of gallery and an indie music performance space. But it recently added a well-stocked bar that is open Thursdays through Saturdays until 2 a.m. Bonus! While sitting on one of the bar's comfy red stools, you can listen to live music, enjoy a brew, and still hear enough to enjoy casual conversation.

Build a perfect…
Weekend
A Baltimore weekend done right.
1. Hang Out Pre-Game Grab a table or just stand with the throngs outside Pickles Pub, 520 Washington Boulevard, 410-752-1784, before an Orioles game to witness the most dedicated and passionate baseball fandom in the city. Don't miss the game-day $1 beer specials. 2. Hit a Festival Visit one of the many ethnic festivals, bop.org. Whether we're breaking plates at the Greek Folk Festival or watching tae kwon do at the Korean Festival, they allow us to travel without leaving our city. 3. Catch a Flick Visit the swanky Landmark Theatre, 645 President Street, 410-244-6636, in Harbor East, where you can buy a drink at its full bar and imbibe while you enjoy the show. 4. Get Some Exercise Spend your day at one of the largest indoor rock climbing gyms, earthtreksclimbing.com, on the East Coast. At Earth Treks you get three climbs for $18—and don't worry, harnesses are included. 5. Check out the BSO Relax during a BSO performance at Oregon Ridge, bsomusic.org, (complete with wine bottle in tow). Performances have included the music of Queen and John Williams. 6. Go to the Fair While at the Maryland State Fair, make sure to check out the Cow Palace, marylandstatefair.com, where you can take a tour, milk a cow, or even witness live animal births (if so inclined). 7. Make a Toast Stroll over to One-Eyed Mike's, 708 S. Bond Street, 410-327-0445, for its shot in the dark. Before closing time, they turn off the lights, say a few words, and have everyone throw back a shot.

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INDULGE

Our picks for relaxation and pampering in the region. Because you're worth it.

» Holistic Spa Try not to weep with joy as the ladies of Apothecary Wellness, 1301 Light Street, 443-540-4022, tend to anything that ails you, from lower back pain to knots in your shoulder blades to mottled skin. Unlike many spa settings that are all about the artifice without delivering high-quality treatment, Rachel Costello (a licensed massage therapist) and Christine Cochrum (a clinical nutritionist and aesthetician specializing in holistic skin care) offer all the accoutrements—a soothing, Zen-like interior, mood lighting, eco-friendly towels, organic skin-care products—in addition to heavenly, holistic therapeutic massage and results-oriented facials.

» Cutting-Edge Stylist While Luc Fouquet of Hudson & Fouquet Salon, 181 West Street, Annapolis, 410-263-9790, doesn't usually like to cut and tell, the French-born stylist admits he has tended to his fair share of celebrity 'dos (Hillary Clinton, Queen Noor of Jordan, and Bruce Springsteen's wife have all graced his styling chair). Fouquet's chic cuts range from updated to avant garde, and he uses only the most up-to-date treatments, including Balayage highlighting, Keratin relaxers, and Kerostase volumizing. Our favorite salon policy: Every client gets called the day after any service, and if they're not 100-percent satisfied, they get pushed to the top of the very booked appointment book for a gratis repeat visit.

» Day Spa A spa stimulus package? Now that's something we can vote for. At Studio 921, 921 E. Fort Avenue, 410-783-SPAS, if you buy a package of four massages or facials you save $40. There are packages and specials, in fact, for a multitude of services from hair treatments to manicures. And so many options to choose from! We counted eight different kinds of facials alone, not to mention four kinds of body treatments (the papaya pineapple grape seed body scrub leaves us yearning), three types of massage, and a smorgasbord of spa packages for teens, men, and expectant moms.

» Guilty Pleasure If we had our druthers, the whole world would be dipped in chocolate, but for now we'll have to settle for the decadent Chocolate and Cherries Jubilee Wrap at Spa Sante, 1429 Aliceanna Street, 410-534-0009. During the hour-long treatment, dry, dull skin is exfoliated to prepare the body for a mask of organic sour cherries, Hungarian herbal mud, and antioxidant-rich Hungarian cocoa powder. Next, an able aesthetician envelops the body in a warm Mylar wrap to draw impurities, hydrate, and add sparkle to the surface of the skin. Add to that a luxury hand-and-foot massage and an overwhelming sweet-smelling aroma, and we'd be more than happy to live out our days in this blissful, chocolate mummified state.

» Guy's Haircut Not only can he work those shears, but Thom Ebbitt of House of Ebbitt Touch Salon, 422 Sixth Street, Annapolis, 410-268-4033, is also the most well-versed hairstylist in town. You see, Ebbitt—a one-time Scottish National Hairdressing Champion—is also renowned for his hair-centric poetry. ("Twisting, curling, flowing mane. In my hands. They must prevail," reads one verse.) His salon is as delightfully eccentric as he is. Set inside a house from the 1930s, House of Ebbitt (co-owned by Thom's wife, Isabel) is like a tonsorial museum, with 100-year-old flat irons, ceramic scissors from the '70s, and nail files from the '20s. One caveat: if you're looking for a quickie cut, go elsewhere—all cuts are done by hand, and a typical men's mane can take up to 40 minutes.

» Specialty Salon Fifteen years ago, Sherri Romm Miller watched a good friend endure devastating hair loss caused by chemotherapy. Romm Miller, a graduate of Maryland Institute College of Art (who also has a degree in computer engineering from University of Maryland), pioneered one of the first customized, hand-colored, hand-blended, human hair wigs for her friend. Recognizing that she could help others with her artistry, Versacchi Studios, 25 Crossroads Drive, 410-654-4401, was born. With it's five private rooms and Romm Miller's soothing artwork on the walls, the salon caters to clients who suffer from hair loss as a result of alopecia, radiation, trauma, and burns. Lots of TLC comes with every cut, color, and custom wig order.

» Hair Couture From updos, snakeback and basket braiding, cornrowing, and more, Cheta Tuluoglu of Uno the Salon, 10751 Falls Road, 410-821-9080, is Baltimore's go-to-girl for hair couture. Need volume for your updo? Tuluoglu has been known to build height by embedding a Styrofoam coffee cup in your hair. Want to up your glamour quotient? Tuluoglu weaves pieces of jewelry, fresh flowers, and feathers into your hair. She's equally adept at customizing cuts, color, and delivering one-of-a-kind style. Whether it's prom hair, wedding hair, or a party 'do you desire, Tuluoglu leaves everyone asking, "Is it hair or is it art?"

» Pet Spa We love our furballs no matter what, but we love them just a little more when they've gotten a fresh bath and a good brushing. We can't stop gushing about the spa services at Dogma—Life, with Your Pet, 3600 Boston Street, 410-276-3410. Whether you do it yourself—with the shop's immaculate, user-friendly, self-serve bathing stations—or go pro with groomers Linda Burton or Kelly Ingman, who have combined 63 years of experience between them, your little Snookems will be the nattiest dog in the 'hood. We also pant for great grooming products such as Chez Pet's Green Tea and Sea Kelp Shampoo, and a line of natural vegan soaps and shampoos. (The Maryland SPCA tells us it loves it here, too.)

» Self-Improvement Classes You've always wanted to learn how to tap dance, swirl wine like the pros, or speak Arabic. So what are you waiting for? Enroll in one of hundreds of continuing education classes offered through the Kaleidoscope Program, Roland Park Country School, 5204 Roland Avenue, 410-323-5500. Kaleidoscope's impressively well-credentialed pedagogues include renowned historian Joseph Balkoski, who teaches a class on Antietam and the Battle of Baltimore; The Baltimore Sun obit writer Fred Rasmussen, who teaches "How to Write Your Own Obituary;" and a parent-child cooking class with award-wining chef Nancy Longo of Pierpoint.

» Hair Repair For hair repair, none can compare to Jeffrey Alexander of Hair Alexander's Relaxer Center, Sulgrave Avenue and Kelly Avenue, 410-542-6768. After 22 years, the salon is a Mt. Washington mainstay, but it also draws clients from as far as Pennsylvania and Virginia. Alexander's is one of the few treatment salons in the area specializing in corrective hair and scalp disorders, with a particular emphasis on ethnic hair. Alexander, who has certification in trichology, the study of the hair and scalp (as well as a degree in classical jazz composition from Peabody Institute!), is a true artist who can help your hair go from looking like a bad science experiment to runway ready.

» Green Salon Why not turn over a new leaf and chose a sustainable salon? At the Earth-friendly Sprout, 925 W. 36th Street, 410-235-2269, owners Rachael Epstein and Alan Kolb are completely committed to saving the planet. The store has bamboo floors, stocks chemical-free Aubrey hair-care products, and uses energy-efficient fluorescent lights. (Heck, they even compost their lunch scraps here!) The top-notch services—including essential oil deep scalp massages, chemical-free color, and first-rate cuts—range from traditional to trendy, but are always easy on Mother Earth.

» New Kid on the Beauty Block When Jennifer Warner and Kimberly Cincotta, co-owners of Padma Salon, 3401 Keswick Road, 410-243-1717, were looking to name their new business, they settled on the Sanskrit word for lotus, which translates to "new beginning." Warner, an aesthetician, and Cincotta, a salon manager, sharpened their skills at Corbin, Inc., before venturing out on their own to open this adorable Hampden space on the site of the former laundromat where John Waters filmed Pecker. Padma offers everything from Brazilian straightening to styling to tanning, but more than anything, it's the kind of friendly, attitude-free place that never takes itself too seriously. It's no wonder that Gertrude's John Shields, actor John Astin, and City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke all like the vibe—and the services—here.

» Personal Trainer We'd be hard pressed to find a more versatile personal trainer in the Baltimore area than Ali True, True Balance Studio, 1021 Cathedral Street, 410-800-2812. While True, who was Miss Maryland Fitness 2003, trained former America's Next Top Model judge Janice Dickinson and whipped Dolph Lundgren into fighting shape for Rocky IV, she has also helped breast cancer survivors, the grossly overweight, marathon runners, and exercise ingénues. Thanks to the diversity of True's training (she has certifications in sports nutrition, Reiki massage, kickboxing, advanced personal training, and a degree in human kinesiology), she truly outshines the competition.

» Salon Salons have taken a hit in this economy. But Studio 1612, 1501-A Sulgrave Avenue, 410-664-3010, is still bustling after 18 years. The reason is clear: Owners Karen Bialozynski and Judy Weidel are committed to delivering great cuts and color, maintaining a high level of professionalism with their staff, and keeping prices affordable. (The top price with master designer Weidel is $57.) This spot couldn't be less haughty or high gloss, and a long list of devoted clientele stick with 1612 because it's home away from home for them. Stylists and staffers have been known to dog-sit and babysit for clients, and several staffers do pro bono work for elderly clients who can't leave the house anymore. We can feel the love here.

» Tattoo Parlor While most tattoo parlors can be intimidating—with some snarling, overly-inked Harley rider running the register—Saints and Sinners, 1610 Thames Street, 410-276-1300, is a friendly, Fells Point neighborhood place. It's all about the art—and not the attitude—here. Shelves of books on da Vinci, Dali, Michelangelo, and Hokusai serve as a reference to the artists who do both fine-quality reproduction and spectacular free-hand work from tribal designs to flowers. All artists are also excellent at revising someone else's botched job or morphing that heart tattoo of the girl you broke up with into something more timeless like a tree. Marty Bass of WJZ-TV gets his "tats" here.

» Waxing Some waxing experiences are so painful, you require general anesthesia to survive, but with Robin Ferro of Zibazz Day Spa, 9199 Reisterstown Road, Owings Mills, 410-356-2234, you can practically sleep through the experience. Whether it's a brow, leg, lip, or the mother of all beauty torture treatments—the Brazilian—Ferro's hands are so gentle and skilled, they should be insured by Lloyd's of London.

» Wellness Center The gurus at Ojas Wellness Center, 1501 Sulgrave Avenue, 410-664-OJAS, understand the powerful connections between mind, body, and soul. Here, amid Zen fountains and a spare, eco-friendly environment, the path to inner peace is paved with yogurt power peel facials, Reiki energy healing massage, healing hot stones, and more than 100 top-notch yoga and Pilates classes for every type of student (veteran teacher Linda Howard has devotees throughout several counties). The truest testament to the powers of Ojas? Even in these recessionary times, owner Kelly Wilkes reports that business is up 70 percent from last year.

Build a perfect…
Makeover
The best of beauty, from head to toe.
Facial French native Myléne Nine, About Faces, 110 W. Timonium Road, 410-560-6600, makes all of her clients glow as she takes a dermatological approach to helping you choose the right services and products.
Makeup Using Shu Uemura makeup, Dean Krapf, Lluminaire, 15 W. Allegheny Avenue, 410-583-1500, brings out the beauty in everyone from plain Janes to the famous faces of Portia De Rossi and Molly Sims. (He also did Nicole Kidman's hair.)
Manicure Try the hot stone manicure with Kim Walker, Elements of Style, 1115 Liberty Road, 410-795-9465. It feels divine, and her chip-proof Chi brand polish with ceramic, silk, and silver, seems to last forever.
Color You'll be made in the shade with Kevin Rock, DK Salon and Spa, 5701 Newbury Street, 410-377-4300, who can rock your look with a few foil wrappers, a brush, and a tube of high-quality, Italian Alfaparf "paint."
Cut Kenny Saenz, K Co. Design Salon and Day Spa, 6080 Falls Road, 410-377-7727, grooms Baltimore society women and Westminster-winning longhaired Chihuahuas to make all of his muses look Best in Show.

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MEDIA

The best and brightest from broadcast, print, and the blogosphere.

» Radio Station The low end of the FM dial has earned a reputation as a haven for classical music and religious services, but local public radio affiliate WYPR (88.1 FM) blows out the competition across both dials, providing a constant, engaging presence for news and culture generalists—all without the endless ads that plague other stations. Talk show Maryland Morning with Sheila Kast and Baltimore culture spotlight The Signal mix with National Public Radio mainstays Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and national treasures like Car Talk and This American Life with (Baltimore's own) Ira Glass to present a perfect companion at home or on the road.

» Columnist Baltimore Sun writer Peter Schmuck has everything you want in a sports columnist: A great sense of humor, keen insight into hometown teams, and the creativity to keep things fresh over the course of, say, another sub-.500 season from the O's—which is good, because with the layoffs of sportswriters Rick Maese and David Steele, Schmuck has many shoes to fill.

» Morning News Team Morning news anchors succeed when they break up the drudgery of news, weather, and traffic with personality—and not in a perma-grin, stilted-small-talk kind of way. Jamie Costello and Meghan Pringle, hosts of WMAR's Good Morning Maryland, are the friendliest news team in town, and, while they certainly do deliver the stories of the day effectively, they also genuinely seem like the kind of folks you'd have over for coffee—whether they brought the news or not.

» Literary Magazine As if you needed another reason to explore the many treasures of Normal's (425 E. 31st Street, 410-243-6888): The lovingly packed-to-the-gills bookstore is the only place to find The Shattered Wig Review, the often bizarre, always charming literary magazine hand-crafted by proprietor Rupert Wondolowski. The poetry, short stories, illustrations, comic strips and endless other pieces range from surreal and hysterical to deeply sad and disturbing, and all are arranged in the old-school mimeograph machine way. Pick one up and lose yourself in Wondolowski's wonderful, weird world.

» Music Station Not since the glory days of WHFS has Baltimore had a hometown station that catered to the eclectic tastes of music lovers the way the Towson University-based public radio station WTMD (89.7 FM) does. While commercial radio is filled with rigidly segmented music stations, a recent, typical morning on WTMD featured indie-rock (The Hold Steady), blues (Taj Mahal), country (Steve Earle), and classics old (The Beatles) and newish (The Clash).

» Sports Blog If you want analysis, visit Peter Schmuck's blog (“The Schmuck Stops Here”) or the hometown pundits at thelosscolumn.com, but if you're an O's obsessive looking for volumes of sheer data—and a place to debate it, nothing beats Orioles Hangout, orioleshangout.com. You'll find extensive recaps of not only every O's game, but every game of every team in the farm system, plus encyclopedic profiles of every player in the Orioles organization, detailed scouting information, and an incredibly informed message board.

» Storytellers For most people, after high school or college, history is, well, history. So, it's nice, in the middle of the morning commute, to hear the artfully told tale of Jewish and Italian kids in 1946 secretly loading weapons onto a ship docked at the Inner Harbor (to help Israel in its War of Independence), or the story of Elizabeth Patterson, known as “the Belle of Baltimore,” who wooed and married Napoleon Bonaparte's brother, briefly souring relations in the imperial French family. Gil Sandler's “Baltimore Stories,” which generally focuses on the last 50 or 60 years, appears during WYPR's morning programming, while Ric Cottom's “Your Maryland,” which goes a bit further back, airs at 5:30 on Thursdays on WYPR, both providing a longer view than the lightning pace the daily grind often provides.

» Argument for Newspapers Three days after Schools CEO Dr. Andrés Alonso quietly appointed former School Board chair Brian Morris, a devoted supporter, to a new, unadvertised $175,000-a-year position as Deputy CEO for Operations, The Sun ran a front-page story detailing Morris's history of shady financial dealings and unpaid taxes and questioning the hiring at a time of budget shortfalls. Morris resigned the next day. It was a refreshing demonstration of the watchdog role the fourth estate can play in a healthy democracy and a reminder of what might be lost as once vibrant newspapers are diminished.

» Sun Blog The Baltimore Sun website has 37 blogs—thirty-seven! There are individual Sun blogs about mixed martial arts, professional wrestling, gardening, and beer. Our favorite is Z on TV, baltimoresun.com/zontv, with critic David Zurawik's take on all things television. Because Zurawik effortlessly mixes posts about ratings, programming, and upcoming shows with reviews, observations (sometimes hardhitting, as when he took on MPT's paucity of national programming), and just general chatter, he's like the very well-informed friend you talk to about what was on TV last night.

» Arts Blog In recent years, Baltimore has become an explosive center for new music, garnering national and international attention, but until Aural States, auralstates.com, launched last year, there was no single website that effectively captured the enthusiasm and dedication of the city's music obsessives. Founder Greg Szeto and like-minded writers post audio and epic reviews from shows, endlessly promote local bands, and, to celebrate the site's first anniversary in January, hosted the city's best new festival, Aural States Fest, featuring hometown standouts Arbouretum, Wye Oak, and Caverns.

» Comeback When the controversy over Marc Steiner's firing from WYPR in 2008 finally died down, the talk-show host quietly resumed doing what he does best: He took to the airwaves—this time at Morgan State-based public radio station WEAA (88.9 FM)—and talked with passion and emotion about the issues confronting his hometown. Within a year of relaunching The Marc Steiner Show at WEAA, Steiner has expanded to two hours, resumed his annual Annapolis roundtable with Governor Martin O'Malley and members of the state legislature, and helped to double WEAA's listening audience.

» Color Commentary In recent years, by the third or fourth month of the baseball season, the casual Orioles fan needs a reason to tune into MASN for the games. (Hint: It ain't playoff fever.) Enter Jim Palmer. Of course the Hall of Famer knows the O's backwards and forwards and can expound on line-up options and base-running scenarios ad nauseum, but to hear him break down a pitcher's thinking and options throughout the count is such a thing of beauty that you might actually forget if we're winning or losing.

» Sun Watcher Where do you turn for news when the inner workings of the city's primary news outlet is the news? When The Sun endured a brutal round of layoffs in April, cutting nearly one-third of its newsroom staff, local news and media blog Baltimore Brew, baltimorebrew.com—itself written largely by former Sun staffers—was there, with detailed, on-the-scene accounts (“A muffin and a Mountain Dew sit on Ray Frager's desk, just where he left them when he was called in to be fired Tuesday night.”) and have continued to follow the aftermath and the paper's ongoing woes.

» Silver Lining Baltimore lost an important voice in February, when The Baltimore Examiner shut down, but from its ashes came Investigative Voice, investigativevoice.com, a gritty no-holds-barred news website founded by three former Examiner staffers, including assistant managing editor Regina Holmes. In its short tenure, the site has earned a reputation for hard-nosed, dogged reporting, uncovering wasteful expenses by the city pension board, and relentlessly pursuing allegations of police brutality.

Build a perfect…
Newscast
We create the Mt. Rushmore of local TV news.
Female Anchor Not to be impolite, but Marianne Banister of WBAL didn't start anchoring last week and it shows. Let the new kids do the remotes from the beach—for the news, we need someone who sounds like she knows what she's talking about.
Male Anchor WJZ evening anchor Vic Carter has the gravitas to deliver the serious, hard-hitting stories, the voice and demeanor to engage viewers, and the smile to dole out the warmth as needed.
Reporter WMAR's Delia Gonçalves often covers the top story of the day, whether it's the move to once-a-week garbage pickup or the shooting at the Holocaust Museum, because she has the rare ability to break down complicated, evolving stories clearly.
Sports Guy The consummate professional, WJZ's Mark Viviano knows his stuff like no one else, does the legwork to get to the bottom of important stories, and presents a perfectly unflappable persona on air.
Weatherman No one cares about the weather more than WBAL's Tom Tasselmyer. Whether it's 10 below or 90 and humid, he delivers a forecast that is informative, reliable, and passionate.
Set In recent years, newscasts have trended toward plain, blue-screen backdrops, but we prefer WBFF's slick black set with rotating flat screens. It's like watching the news with the Jetsons.

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SERVICE

For home and beyond, when it needs to get done—and needs to be right—we turn to these businesses.

» Computer Repairs We recommend Marc Seidler's firm, The Computer Doctors, 410-840-3434, and his team of housecall pros for quick service on Apples and PCs, whether it's a hard drive crash, the virus du jour, hardware and software installation, or security issues. And his staff can even sometimes talk you off the cyberledge on the telephone.

» Auto Body Picking the right auto body guy can be tricky, and a bad choice can hurt the value of your car. Leading Edge Auto Body, 5807 Falls Road, 410-433-6433, isn't the biggest shop in town, but has a loyal following in North Baltimore. A typical online customer review (five stars in this case): "Very courteous and professional, and they did a great job on my car." Owner Jeff Siegel's shop is factory-authorized to do body work on Mercedes, BMW, and Lexus (though Leading Edge works on all makes).

» Piano Technician Sticky key? Horribly out-of-tune octaves? Caleb Tsai, 410-744-0604, has an ear for this stuff: After winning 21 music competitions as a child in Hong Kong, studying at Peabody, and going on to win acclaim for piano performances in major music halls all over the globe (he won the William Kapell International Piano Competition in 1985), he was sidelined by a muscular disorder that changed his career path. He instead became a registered piano technician, and now has a number of historic restorations to his credit. You did say you wanted the best, right?

» Fencing In those who-do-you-trust public-opinion polls, fencing companies usually rank down there with car salesmen and, well, journalists. But Weaco, 2144 Harford Road, 410-467-1354, will defy the stereotype every time with its custom and ornamental ironwork fencing and grates, its relatively respectful handling of landscaping, and its intuition regarding security weakpoints and solutions. Yup, those finials on their real tall iron fences can be very sharp, indeed.

» Roofing Look at the Better Business Bureau ratings and you'll see picking a good roofer can be a crap shoot. But Brothers Services, 111 Hanover Pike, Hampstead, 410-276-8437, has managed 40,000 jobs in the past 24 years, many on older homes demanding custom solutions, and come away with its reputation unscathed for honesty and professionalism. (They have an A-plus rating with the Better Business Bureau, with a mere four complaints, all resolved, in 24 years.) There are a couple other good roofers out there, certainly including Fick Brothers, but no one can touch those numbers.

» Gutter Cleaning Unlike some fly-by-night operators, owners Patrick Tobin and Ched Wright of Bayside Property Services, 1400 Greenspring Valley Road, 443-739-4991, have gained a reputation from both residential and commercial clients all over the Baltimore-Washington area as responsive and thorough. And they won't drop gutter muck in your rose garden. They also do siding power-washing and holiday light-hanging and removal.

» Bird Accessories Store There's a colorful and quaint shop in the Roundwood Shopping Center that's strictly for the birds: Wild Bird Center, 12234 Tullamore Road, Timonium, 410-666-4550. It carries feeders that are alternately novel, artful, and practical; a wide selection of feed, suet, and other goodies; bird sculpture and bird guides; interesting chimes—you name it. The prices are surprisingly competitive with the big box stores, and they pass out discount cards to customers.

» Window Replacement For an honest job well done, and unusually personal service, Hillard Folis of Baltimore Aluminum, 6600 York Road, 410-377-1846, is our pick. He burnished his reputation in the neighborhoods installing siding, windows, and doors for 30 years, but now does windows and doors exclusively, specializing in two of the highest-quality brands, CertainTeed and Pella.

» Elder Care Helpers If one of your family needs home care, whether it's 24/7 tending or just companionship and help with cooking or cleaning, turn to We Care Private Duty Service, 1852 Reisterstown Road, Suite 209, Pikesville, 410-602-3993, a 14-year-old fully-accredited outfit that has grown through referrals from a small band of family and friends assisting 10 clients to more than 300 trained caregivers, ranging from health aides to specialized R.N.s, serving 200 clients all over the region.

» Shoe Repair North Baltimore folks with holes in their soles are hobbling over to Stefan's Leather and Shoe Repair, 3810 Falls Road, 410-243-6852. And with good reason. With 46 years in the business, leather master Stefan Gegala fixes shoes and leather garments, and dyes shoes (it's a wedding thing) to nearly-new perfection. There may be hope yet for your favorite tattered bomber jacket from the '70s.

» eBay Dropoff If you're too busy (or too cyber-challenged) to do it yourself, manager Isabelle Schorr at Village Consignments, 10429 Stevenson Road, Stevenson, 410-602-5200, makes it easy for you to sell your items on eBay. Simply drop the stuff off, she prices it, photographs it, and markets it professionally. Village Consignments even has the eBay franchise logo out front, which it's able to use because of its "Platinum Power Seller" ranking—more than 10,000 transactions with a 99.6 percent satisfaction rate. Oh, and if Schorr tells you that dented Star Wars lunchbox won't sell, just take her word for it: She knows her stuff.

» Limo Service Freedom Services, 1406 Shoemaker Road, 410-321-5600, is the wheels you want for limo or sedan service. Their uniformed drivers are smart (they can tell you when you need to be at the airport, exactly what the traffic will be doing, and keep tabs on your flight status), experienced, friendly, and always on time—and they don't accept tips.

» Fabric Calico Corners, 2060 York Road, Lutherville, 410-252-7900, is the place for all manner of designer-quality fabric, but at prices lower than the big-name boutiques. You can try before you buy (swatches are free), and they offer in-home consultations.

» Neighborhood Garden Store For a unique plant or gift, or a solution to a tricky gardening problem, gallop out to leafy Stevenson Village's Myland Farm, 10441 Stevenson Road, Stevenson, 410-484-5540. The friendly and garden-smart staff use local growers almost exclusively and can usually get special-order plants in a day.

» Car Wash Don't think the words "car wash" and "trendy" go together? They do at Canton Car Wash, 1101 Ponca Street, 410-633-0055, which features a cafe with free Wi-Fi and high-definition flat screens, all in a relaxed setting. Starting at $11.95, the car wash packages are eco-friendly, recycling 80 percent of the facility's water, using biodegradable products, and are half-price for hybrid drivers.

» Oriental Rugs It would be almost laughable to name anyone in this category besides 80-year-old Alex Cooper Auctioneers, 908 York Road, Towson, 410-828-4838, which carries thousands of rugs in every price range—both traditional and modern, imported and domestic—and which dispatches its buyers all over the world.

» Home Stager For anyone trying to sell a house in a down market, a good home stager can be a lifesaver. We'd rely on Joy Waida of Joy Home Design, 105 Fallston Meadow Court, Fallston, 443-621-8077. An accredited staging professional, she's the one Realtors say can tell you straight up to move your clutter into storage, rearrange the furniture to make it more buyer-friendly, and lose the Elvis painting (sorry).

» Pool Service Sweetwater Pool and Spa Center, two locations, including 10216 S. Dolfield Road, Owings Mills, 410-363-3500, has kept most of its client base for years, because its staff is courteous, punctual, trustworthy, and can handle as much of your pool maintenance—or as little—as you want them to.

» Nursery Sun Nurseries, 14790 Bushy Park Road, Woodbine, 410-442-2090, gets our nod for its locally grown nursery stock, ability to install large trees, reasonable prices, certified professional horticulturists on staff, and the lengths to which they go to educate and train their staff. What's not to like? (Oh, and they also do landscaping.)

» Chimney Service Property management companies and private homeowners alike swear by Mark and Buttons, 10111 Barnes Avenue, Owings Mills, 410-655-4367, which provides chimney cleaning and repair service as well as complete rebuilds. Their prices are more reasonable than some other firms, and they can come up with solutions to tricky problems, as well as being punctual, courteous, and extraordinarily neat.

» Errand Service It's a bird, it's a plane, it's My Girl Friday, 410-236-2097, the Superwoman solution for the overwhelmed or time-starved. For $30 an hour, this pair of Roland Park mothers will shop for you, run errands, wait for contractors, drive you to the doctor or airport, help organize work spaces, and lots more. We tried really hard to find one client who thought Beth Adams and Susan English weren't priceless gifts of time. We gave up—the gushing wouldn't stop.

» Home Inspector Some Realtors for the seller shake in fear when they hear Stephen Dallmus, 410-323-7600 or 410-323-1671, is coming to do the inspection. (They call him the "deal-breaker.") But we notice that when the Realtors are shopping for a home for themselves, they'll often call Dallmus to make sure no defect goes unrecorded. He's especially good with first-time buyers, explaining the systems of a house and why some are more critical than others.

» Pool Construction Price should not be the determining factor when building a pool: You could regret the shortcuts later. But as it happens, Pleasure Pools, 905 Berrymans Lane, Reisterstown, 410-833-0850, is not only a top-notch installer that stands by its work for years and is incredibly easy to deal with, but also tends to come in lower price-wise than some of the bigger operations. It has some very high-end pools to show you in its portfolio, as well as more modest ones.

» Carpet Cleaners The customer feedback on Heaven's Best of Baltimore Carpet and Upholstery Cleaning, 410-467-1272, is relentlessly good. Owners Tim and Dan McLaughlin do carpets, rugs (even those that have had really bad things happen to them), and upholstery in homes, offices, and restaurants. They're fast, professional, and fairly priced. And no, we didn't give them that name, but now they really are "Best of Baltimore."

Build a perfect…
Living Room
Your new interior is a blank canvas. Here are its Picassos.
1. Design Start with a grand plan from interior designer Henry Johnson, Johnson Berman, 18 W. Hamilton Street, 410-752-2030. He's created lots of stunning high-end interiors and has the design awards to prove it. 2. Carpentry Move a wall, put in hardwood floors, or opt for gorgeous crown moldings and wainscoating from Delbert Adams Construction Group, 1417 Clarkview Road, 410-583-7575. Adams and partner Taylor Classen are known among their discerning clients for high-end remodeling, additions, and restoration done right. 3. Lighting Turn the room on with striking lamps, chandeliers, and shades from Wilson Lighting & Interiors, 208 York Road, Towson, 410-823-0423, which is packed with hundreds of choices in style and price, has professional designers on staff to help you decide, and carries the right stuff to fix that favorite old fixture. 4. Upholstery Find the perfect fabric to revive the chairs and sofas, then hand it over to Joseph Loiero Upholstering, 10768 York Road, Cockeysville, 410-666-9037, for a flawless job at a fair price. 5. Paint and Fabric Get colorful at Budeke's Paints, 2103 Greenspring Drive, Timonium, 410-560-1230, and four other locations, the fifth-generation company that offers quality paints and supplies, a savvy staff, and in-home design services. 6. Antiques and Accessories Add something surprising to the space from designer Stiles Colwill's new Halcyon House Antiques, 11219 Greenspring Avenue, 410-828-8889, a very cool store boasting early 19th-century Baltimore furniture, Chinese exports, art, ceramics, and more.

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SHOPPING

Shop 'til you drop with this year's exciting roster of winners.

» Shopping Neighborhood The competition is getting tighter and tighter every year, but we really can't think of a place we'd rather spend a Saturday afternoon than Hampden's 36th Street. The mix of shops (Antique Exchange, Milagro, Mud and Metal, Earth Alley, Minás, Ma Petite Shoe, In Watermelon Sugar, and on and on and on) is almost overwhelming. You can also get an organic haircut, a wine recommendation, a taco, or a tattoo, all without leaving the Avenue.

» New Boutique Whimsy|Reason, 1033 S. Charles Street, 410-234-0204, is streamlining the way men and women shop by bringing them together under one charming roof. Femme, flirty, and inspired by nature, Whimsy on the main floor mixes faves from French Connection, Only Hearts, and Voom with great jewelry and accessories. Just upstairs, Reason houses tees and denim from Ben Sherman, Penguin, and Scotch & Soda. And co-owners Jennifer Solomon and her mom Patty Pearson might be the two nicest people in Federal Hill.

» Sassy Shoes Poppy and Stella, 728 S. Broadway, 410-522-1970, has a collection of shoes that would make even Carrie Bradshaw drool. Offering fun, reasonably priced shoes for all ages, we love the store's selection of sweet patent leather cut-out flats by Sam Edelman, gold T-straps by Naughty Monkey, black jelly gladiator sandals by Madeline, elegant satin peep-toe heels by Me Too, and strappy Pour La Victoire sandals, pictured —many for under $100.

» Lingerie Having undergone a recent renovation, Bare Necessities, 10751 Falls Road, 410-583-1383, now feels like an elegant boudoir piled high with chic intimates. But it is so much more than a bra shop. The store caters to all shapes and sizes from 30A to 52L (including sports bras up to size H) and features sassy bras from Betsy Johnson, seductive lace gowns by Claire Pettibone, and even a sexy, red and black leopard print maternity cami by Larrivo. Add in some expert fitters and stellar customer service, and we're almost sad we have to cover up all our favorite finds with actual clothing.

» Aromatherapy We always head straight to the back of SoBotanical, 1130 S. Charles Street, 410-234-0333. Sure, there are great all-natural lotions and potions (from Pangea, Ecco Bella, and Earth Angel Mama Baby) in the front of this adorable modern apothecary, but our favorite is the aromatherapy bar—set up for custom blending with more than 150 organic essential oils. The staff is well versed in mixing scents to their fullest holistic potential. Not feeling experimental? The shop's signature line—SoBo Essentials—includes pre-blended perfumes and colognes.

» Sneakers We've got more than a schoolgirl crush on Gentei, two locations including 1010 Morton Street, 410-244-8961. Beside all the original lines (like Garni and Calee) and its own Gentei-branded shirts, this shop does sneakers right. There are the exclusives, including Nike SB skateboarding line and Vans Syndicate, plus Converse, Y-3 Adidas, and Alife. Earlier this year, when the store released the highly anticipated Kanye West/Nike "Air Yeezy" sneaker at midnight, guys started lining up a good 36 hours ahead of time. There's just no other place like it in Baltimore.

» Weekend Clothes Come Friday afternoon when we're ready to shed our work duds and slip into something slightly more effortless, we always think WWDD? That is, What Would doubledutch, 3616 Falls Road, 410-554-0055, Do? The Hampden boutique never disappoints: Playful dresses from Nick & Mo, Kensie, and Dear Creatures; fanciful Beck(y) bags crafted from recycled skateboards; whimsical accessories from dandelion blu and Erica Weiner; and shoes from Pink Studio Footwear. We also love its denim line from See Thru Soul and the redesigned vintage '80s mini dresses and secretary blouses by Taxi CDC, found in the store's "Shop Handmade" section.

» Stationers Our favorite place for milestones (new babies, anniversaries, birthdays, weddings, you name it) is Simply Noted, 544 E. Belvedere Avenue 410-464-1166. It features a stellar selection of cards—Mr. Boddington's Studio, Hello! Lucky, Old School Stationers, and Smudge Ink—plus rows and rows of custom stationery. Its single sheets of wrapping paper range from sweet to clever and make even the dullest gift steal the show. And we love the assortment of ribbons and gift tags that really make our packages pop off the gift table.

» Ties When did ties get a bad rap? There is nothing boring about the selection at J.S. Edwards, 1809 Reisterstown Road, 410-653-2266, which stocks a well-edited collection of handsome, stylish ties in remarkable colors, patterns, and fabrics. Robert Talbott, Tino Cosma, Etro, and Canali appeal to a classic, more refined crowd. Meanwhile, Psycho Bunny, a line that adds a little edge to all things preppy with its signature bunny and crossbones emblem, is a great twist on tradition for the younger set. It's safe to give ties as gifts again—we promise.

» Fancy Shoes Yes, spending $300-plus for a pair of shoes these days seems slightly this side of crazy—but if you're going to splurge, at least do it in style. Sassanova, 805 Aliceanna Street, 410-244-1114, which recently celebrated its first birthday, does luxe right—sparkling chandeliers, mirrored panels, and pastel pink walls. But the real stars? Oscar de la Renta, Bettye Muller, Tory Burch, Loeffler Randall, Pollini, and Moschino—with their handcrafted goodness, delicate beading, Italian leather, and fine fabrics. And smartly, the Harbor East shop has been growing its selection of toddler shoes with adorable selections from Livie & Luca, Salt Water Sandals, and Morgan & Milo for the
mini fashionista.

» Mall A much-needed renovation has breathed new life into Towson Town Center, 825 Dulaney Valley Road, 410-494-8800. The shopping center has always been a mainstay, thanks to Nordstrom and Anthropologie, but wasn't quite enough to inspire mall envy. But now, with a slew of new shops, including Burberry, Bose, Pottery Barn, Sephora, Louis Vuitton, BCBGMAXAZRIA, and LUSH—we can take on any mall, anywhere (we're coming after you, Tysons Corner!). Preppy haven Lacoste recently opened its shop. And the new supersized Crate & Barrel has the entire furniture line (much better than perusing it in the catalogue). If we ever get a Barney's Co-op, we'll be unstoppable!

» T-Shirts We kind of feel like proud parents when it comes to Squidfire, 1100 W. 36th Street, 410-554-3737, Jean-Baptiste Regnard and Kevin Sherry's popular local tee company. We've seen them morph into a real company, add new products (messenger bags, shoes, wallets), and open a brick-and-mortar in downtown Hampden. The designs—printed by hand on manual presses—are just as clever as always: zombies, bunnies, pandas, and dancing vegetables. In a city full of great tees—like contender Charm City Surf Co.—they still stand out as our favorite.

» Fashionista Temple We have a hunch that new proprietor Ray Mitchener continues to make his store's namesake proud by stocking Ruth Shaw, 68 Village Square, 410-532-7886, with top designer brands like Moschino Cheap & Chic, Blumarine, Narciso Rodriguez, and even Jimmy Choo shoes. But he's also managed to add some new flavor to the Baltimore staple by sourcing hot lines and keeping the casual wear fun and (relatively) affordable. Where else can you find a slinky evening dress or tee from Organic by John Patrick, an eco-friendly line that makes 70 percent of its clothing from sustainable materials in the U.S.?

» Consignment Consignment stores seem to be all the rage this year—for obvious reasons. But that doesn't have to mean sifting through rows and rows of gross second-hand goods—at least not at Fashion Attic, 1926 Fleet Street, 410-276-0817. Mixed among gently used threads from J.Crew, Ann Taylor, and Banana Republic, you'll spot lots of designer duds including Cynthia Steffe, Ellie Tahari, Coach, Lilly Pulitzer, J. Brand, and Citizens of Humanity. Plus, the store cleverly features a rack of maternity wear. After all, women who need entire new wardrobes, but for a short amount of time, are pretty much the perfect consignment shop customer!

» Toy Store While we still love the cozy Fells Point version, the shiny, new, light-filled aMuse, 2576 Quarry Lake Dr., 410-415-0000, at the Shops at Quarry Lake, has become our favorite playland. Because of its size, the store can stock bigger items, like super hip Oko Trike, ultra cute HABA children's play rugs, and Plan Toy's train table and (countless) accessories. Older kids get plenty of love here—and about half the store—with thoughtful toys, games, and kits including UberArc Architectural Series for building skyscrapers from real blueprints.

» Jeans If we had an award for Best Rebound, we would give it to Jean Pool, 92 Village Square, 410-466-1177. Despite being broken into twice in one week earlier this year (in its previous location in Mt. Washington), the store still has our favorite jeans from about 15 different brands including Tag, People's Liberation, and Lofli. Co-owner (and expert jean fitter) Scott Wable gamely tries to keep all prices under $200. (Yes, mom, dungarees are now in the hundreds.) The store also sells slinky dresses and tops for women, and club-ready dress shirts, polos, and belts for men.

» Customer Service Kenneth Himmelstein, haberdasher at large and owner of Samuel Parker Clothier, Lake Falls Village, 6080 Falls Road, 410-372-0078, is known for his warmth, greeting customers with a hug and affectionately calling everyone "my friend." He remembers kids' names, sick parents, and past purchases without any disingenuous schmoozing. No wonder his clientele is so loyal, Himmelstein is a frequent dinner guest at his customers' homes (along with wife and business partner Ellen). His elegant store also breeds comfort with its cozy hunt-club-colored walls, antique armoires and wardrobes, model sailboats, tweed pillows, and full-length wooden mirrors.

» Accessories Still our go-to place for all the trimmings, Dresscode by Gita, 36 Village Square, 410-323-9009, is run by the über chic Gita Chowdhury, who has been a buyer for Browns in London and worked for Paul Smith in New York City. Chowdhury imports jewelry from spots all over the world, including London, Paris, Spain, Turkey, and India, and the vastness of her taste is reflected in her eclectic collections. Keep an eye out for Smith's quirky cuff links, Tom Binns's edgy floral cuffs iced out with crystal rhinestones, adorable animal charms from DODO, and Aurelie Bidermann's free-spirited pieces of colorful enamel and mother of pearl peace signs on fabric cords.

» Use of Space It's hard to imagine a better fit at the old Bagby Furniture building than The Dutch Connection, 1008 Fleet Street, 410-528-7296. The European flower shop has a large outdoor courtyard filled with plants and garden goodies and a stunning space inside with tons of skylights, unique vases, a giant walk-in cooler stocked full of fresh flowers, and a gorgeous wood floor made of the building's original beams.

Build a perfect…
Outfit
Want to look this good? Here's where we shopped.
Tank Form, A Designer's Boutique, 1115 W. 36th Street, 410-889-3116, is the closet thing Baltimore has to a Manhattan boutique. Owner Aimee Bracken has an eye for beautiful shapes and stunning fabrics. Lavender Label Vera Wang navy tank, $285.
Skirt Urban Chic, 811 Aliceanna Street, 410-685-1601, owner Lindsay Buscher has created a fashion empire by compiling all the best designers—Splendid, Eze Commune, Nanette Lepore, Juicy Couture, Ali Ro—under one stylish roof. Catherine Malandrino peach knit skirt, $295.
Sandals Hands down one of the best shoe stores we've been to—anywhere—Joanna Gray Shoes, 23 Village Square, 410-435-2233, has an amazing array of brands and styles from the obscure to the super well-known. Cynthia Vincent wedges, $350.
Bag Charming owner George Sakellaris is just one of the reasons to shop at the upscale Handbags In the City, 840 Aliceanna Street, 410-528-1443. The others? Lulu Guinness, Isabella Fiori, Kooba, Botkier, Moschino, L.A.M.B.... Tory Burch clutch, $295.
Finishing Touches When we don't want the expected, Shine Collective,1007A W. 36th Street, 410-366-6100, is our mecca for some of the greatest accessories in Charm City. The Hampden shop also highlights local designers like Karen Garalde, Christy Zuccarini, and Hannah Brancato. Iosselliani necklace, $349, and Wendy Nichol gray leather cuff, $170.

Issue date: August, 2009
12 issues for $18!