Best of Baltimore 2010

Our 35th annual celebration of all the best stuff in the best city in the world.

Sing it with us..."It’s the most wonderful time of the year!" Okay, at least that’s how we feel about the Best of Baltimore issue. It’s our opportunity to shout from the rooftops about the people, businesses, and happenings that make Baltimore such a great place to live. Indeed, we like assembling our Best of Baltimore issue so much, we’ve done it 35 times. This year, a fun new wrinkle: Throwdowns! We were inspired by Bobby Flay’s recent trip to Baltimore, where the Food Network star took on pie guy Rodney Henry in a quiche-off. Sadly, Rodney lost . . . but things just may turn around for him in a few pages. (Foreshadowing!) Here’s how our Throwdowns work: We take two titans (think Cal vs. Phelps; G & M vs. Faidley’s) and have them go head-to-head to determine the ultimate Best of Baltimore champion. Yes, it was sometimes hard to choose. Yes, things got a little heated around the office. (We had to take some Throwdown timeouts.) But this is a town that inspires that kind of passion—–and that’s why we all love it.

ARTS

Edited by John Lewis

Anthology CityLit Project has blossomed into a local treasure on a variety of fronts—especially its public programming and workshops—and it recently added a publishing imprint to its list of minor miracles. For its debut release, CityLit Press smartly put together City Sages, a wide-ranging anthology of Baltimore writers, past and present. It includes the usual suspects such as Mencken, Poe, and Tyler, but it also highlights excellent work from contemporary scribes like Michael Kimball, Lia Purpura, Rosalia Scalia, and Jessica Anya Blau. As a result, it dovetails nicely with CityLit’s mission of "nurturing the culture of literature in Baltimore."

Artist Five years ago, we were thrilled to peek through the keyhole of the BMA’s Latrobe Spring House and spy Richard Cleaver’s altar-like installation of intricate ceramic figures practically glowing in the shadows. This year, we were glad to see his work prominently exhibited in the museum’s Contemporary Wing, as part of the Baker Artist Awards show. Cleaver fully exploits ceramics’ stiff, doll-like qualities to evoke a posed, sepia-tinged past. But he gives that nostalgic vibe a wicked spin by incorporating hidden compartments and elaborate layers of handmade ceramics into the work, all of which convey a sense of mystery and secrecy and hint at complex inner lives behind the stoic faces. This definitely isn’t your Aunt Ida’s ceramics.

Autobiography (Plus One) In The Other Wes Moore, the author tells the stories of two Wes Moores who grew up in Baltimore. As youngsters, their bios more or less parallel one another, but, as young men, they diverge sharply and dramatically—the author becomes a decorated vet, Rhodes Scholar, White House Fellow, and business exec, while "the other Wes Moore" becomes an accessory to the murder of a cop and gets sentenced to life in prison. Moore tells the stories with sensitivity and clarity, examining what went wrong and what went right, and crafts an uplifting memoir and cautionary tale rolled into one. And now, Moore can add another entry to his impressive resume—best-selling author. The Other Wes Moore made The New York Times best-seller list for nonfiction. (Read our interview with Moore here.) 

THROWDOWN: WRITERS

H.L. Mencken vs. Edgar Allan Poe

The Lowdown
The mighty journalist, eminent critic, and lifelong Baltimorean versus the mysterious icon of American literature.

Tale of the Tape
The influence of Mencken’s work is enormous, though not always obvious; the cult of Poe is so pervasive that he inspired the naming of an NFL franchise. 

The Decision
Mencken was certainly a titan in his day, but Poe continues to capture the imagination. Poe lives!


THROWDOWN: BANDS

Animal Collective vs. Beach House

The Lowdown
As darlings of indie rock, both bands have garnered national and international followings.

Tale of the Tape
The members of Animal Collective have developed their own musical language, become global citizens, and positioned themselves as sonic innovators; Beach House crafts moody and melodic dream pop that figures to age well.

The Decision
Animal Collective! The 21st-century’s most inventive group doesn’t seem to have peaked yet.

Cabaret Tucked away in an upstairs dining room of an erstwhile Little Italy eatery, The Cabaret at Germano’s, 300 S. High Street, 410-752-4515, gets maximum returns from its small performance space and baby grand piano. From world-class entertainers—the likes of Tracie Thoms and cast members from Fiddler on the Roof have appeared here—to spirited youngsters honing their skills—School for the Arts students are regularly on the bill—its roster of acts balances polished professionalism with Glee-like infectiousness. The performers are talented, the atmosphere is intimate, and the food is excellent—it’s the perfect recipe for cabaret.

Documentary Michael Lawrence’s Bach & Friends is no Bach bio. Rather, it’s an extended meditation on the composer’s ongoing relevance and widespread influence. Lawrence, a local filmmaker whose credits include a documentary on guitarist Manual Barrueco, filmed a "who’s who" of contemporary musicians—including Philip Glass, Simone Dinnerstein, Joshua Bell, Bobby McFerrin, Béla Fleck, Hilary Hahn, and Barrueco—riffing about Bach’s significance and backing up their statements with jaw-dropping performances. A few talking heads add some critical perspective, but Lawrence pretty much lets the music do the talking. The DVD includes a bonus disc of unedited performances, and they help reinforce Lawrence’s premise that Bach rocks.

Filmmaker The films of Matt Porterfield exude a poetic realism and ambient drama gleaned from the periphery of urban life. Utilizing a cast comprised mostly of non-actors improvising much of the dialogue, Porterfield mixes documentary and narrative film elements with startling clarity. His most recent effort, Putty Hill, is a modest, thoughtfully composed gem that will see theatrical release soon. And don’t be surprised if Porterfield eventually joins Waters and Levinson on the A-list of Baltimore filmmakers.  

Forum Like Stoop Storytelling, Ignite Baltimore has taken a simple concept and turned it into an entertaining and essential cultural event. Now held at the Walters—after it quickly outgrew its previous venue, The Windup Space—each program features 16 artists/thinkers speaking for five minutes on the topic of their choice, with an eye toward "sparking new conversations and collaborations across cultures and disciplines." So you might get someone discussing what you don’t know about the Bible followed by talks about sustainable seafood or saving opera. It’s wide-ranging, freewheeling, heavy mental fun.

Hip-Hop Ambassador Shodekeh, the fearless local beatboxer with a mighty mouth and a penchant for collaboration, turns up everywhere these days. At The Creative Alliance’s Hip-Hop on the Mountain cross-cultural hoedown in May, he not only accompanied the folky Shapenote Sisters, he also performed with a pair of cloggers from Footworks dance company. This summer, he’s slated to perform with Marin Alsop and the BSO, and he’ll also appear at the Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado and the American Dance Festival in North Carolina. Shodekeh’s adventurous spirit makes hip-hop innovators The Roots look timid.  

Local Historian Deborah Rudacille writes with grit and grace, a perfect combination for chronicling Bethlehem Steel from the inside. But Rudacille doesn’t tell it from the inside of a boardroom; she sets her book, Roots of Steel, inside the tight-knit Dundalk community where she was raised. As a result, she’s able to personalize the effects of boardroom decisions and frame them with historical perspective that highlights key aspects of the labor movement and the struggle to improve safety and pay. Her family’s Dundalk is a blue-collar nirvana that slowly goes to hell as the fires of Sparrows Point are snuffed. Through Rudacille, we understand its significance and mourn the loss.

Set Design At the beginning of the 2009-2010 season, CenterStage announced that, due to financial constraints, it was scaling back set designs for its upcoming shows. In the case of The Importance of Being Earnest, necessity was the mother of invention, as Ricardo Hernández designed a stunning set for the season opener. Comprised primarily of rotating, 10-foot-high letters spelling out E-A-R-N-E-S-T, it proved to be architecturally impressive and artfully stunning. It nodded to the significance of language, while perfectly complementing Irene Lewis’s lively production.

Storyteller Did you think David Simon could top The Wire? Well, if you followed the arc of his television career from Homicide and The Corner through The Wire and Generation Kill, you knew he had a shot. But Treme exceeded all the lofty expectations and catapulted Simon past the likes of David Milch (creator of NYPD Blue and Deadwood) to a new level of TV storytelling and critical acclaim. And the fact that he did it after trading his comfort zone on the streets of Baltimore for post-Katrina New Orleans makes it all the more impressive.

Theater Everyman Theatre keeps connecting deeply with audiences, thanks to plays like Rabbit Hole, the show that kicked off this past season. A stark and gripping portrayal of a couple struggling with the loss of a child, it demanded engagement on a cerebral and emotional level. The rest of the season followed suit, with the similarly compelling Blackbird, the madcap The Mystery of Irma Vep, and the classic Our Town being particularly noteworthy. At this point, Everyman seems perfectly placed for a Westside move that figures to up its profile, reinforce its considerable strengths, and expand upon its enormous potential.

The MVPs
5 art world heroes who make us cheer. 

Ambassador BMA Director Doreen Bolger gets high marks for not only making the museum accessible and keeping it viable during tough times, but also for venturing out and exploring lesser known aspects of the city’s arts scene. It’s refreshing to see her turn up at events like The Transmodern Festival.

Explorer As both musician (playing sax) and curator (booking the Contemporary’s excellent Mobtown Modern Music Series), Brian Sacawa has helped raise the profile of new music in Baltimore. And folks are still buzzing about Rite of Swing, Mobtown’s jazzy take on Stravinsky’s Rite, which closed out its season in May.

Pioneer Twentysomething J. Buck Jabaily moved to town from Boulder, CO, cofounded Single Carrot Theatre on North Avenue, and established it as one of the city’s most innovative arts outlets. Now, Jabaily brings his youthful energy and pioneering spirit to the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance, where he’s been executive director since January.

Preservationists With an appreciation for the past and an eye toward the future, Elaine Eff and Cliff Murphy, co-directors of Maryland Traditions, do an extraordinary job preserving and sustaining traditional arts—from boat building to letterpress poster printing—throughout the state.

 

FOOD

Edited by Suzanne Loudermilk

Butcher The days of the independent butcher may be waning, but you can count on the meat department at Eddie’s of Roland Park, two locations, including 6213 N. Charles Street, 410-377-8040, to showcase beautiful, hand-cut slabs of beef, chicken, and pork as well as market-made sausages. We especially like the knowledgeable staff behind the counter, who share advice on various cuts, cooking times, and the number of servings you’ll get from that porterhouse steak or prime rib.

Bar With Great Food One thing we really like about our city is the number of row-house bars serving up terrific fare. Annabel Lee Tavern, 601 S. Clinton Street, 410-522-2929, is the best of the bunch. Sure, the tavern is a comfortable spot for Resurrection Ales and camaraderie. But chef Mark Littleton gives you every reason to want to eat there, too. Brussels sprouts as an appetizer? That’s a seasonal favorite. The halved orbs are coated with a tangy balsamic vinegar and sautéed with marinated tomatoes and feta. Entrees we’ve tried include a luscious seafood Edgar with shrimp and crab in a rich truffle cream with risotto. It’s an inspired creation, sort of like Edgar Allan Poe’s poem "Annabel Lee," after which the pub is named.

THROWDOWN: COFFEE

Baltimore Coffee & Tea Co. vs. Zeke’s Coffee

The Lowdown
They both take pride in roasting their own beans and delivering fresh brews.

Tale of the Tape
Baltimore Coffee—a family business since 1895—provides provocative blends here and abroad. Zeke’s—a newer purveyor—is as mellow as its coffee with a laid-back style and creative roasts. It now has a retail outlet (4607 Harford Road, 410-254-0122).

The Decision
All hail Zeke’s! We love Baltimore Coffee’s Black Raven blend among others, but Zeke’s still wows us with such brews as Hippie Blend and Mexican Chiapas.


THROWDOWN: COOKIES

Berger vs. Otterbein’s

The Lowdown
Both bakeries have been producing sweet temptations locally since the 19th century.

Tale of the Tape
Berger may be the more recognizable cookie with its thick chocolate topping, but the Otterbein’s sugar cookie is often a family tradition.

The Decision
An upset: Otterbein’s! We can anticipate the hate mail coming from Berger devotees, but Otterbein’s thin, delicate cookies are our all-time treat.


THROWDOWN: SANDWICHES

Attman’s vs. Lenny’s

The Lowdown
These Lombard Street institutions are neighbors and competitors.

Tale of the Tape
Attman’s packs 4.5 ounces of sliced corned beef on its soft caraway rye for $6.29; Lenny’s piles 5 ounces of shaved corned beef on similar bread for $5.99.

The Decision
It’s Lenny’s! The inch-thick sandwich wins extra points for its melt-in-your-mouth beef and easy-on-your-wallet price.


THROWDOWN: PIZZA

Joe Squared vs. Matthew’s Pizzeria

The Lowdown
The loyalties are fierce between these two city favorites: relative newcomer Joe on North Avenue and longtime Matthew’s in Highlandtown.

Tale of the Tape
Matthew’s cooks up wonderful, old-fashioned comfort pizza with a thick, doughy crust and chunky toppings; Joe is all modern with a square shape, fancy combos, and coal-fired oven.

The Decision
Close call, but we pick Joe Squared for the fresh flavors, thin crust (with a pleasant bit of a char), and friendly service. When we ordered carryout, the waiter even included complimentary plates and napkins.


THROWDOWN: CRAB CAKES

Faidley Seafood vs. G & M Restaurant

The Lowdown
Faidley in Lexington Market has been owned and operated since 1886. G & M in Linthicum Heights is celebrating its 16th anniversary.

Tale of the Tape
G & M’s legendary patty is all jumbo lump with little filler or seasoning. Faidley’s mound is full of lump, too, but there’s subtle seasoning and some filler.

The Decision
Can’t beat Faidley for its Maryland-roots flavor and authenticity.

Brunch Rather than conforming to a rigid three-squares mandate, brunch is synonymous with a carefree embrace of the weekend. Mr. Rain’s Fun House, 800 Key Highway, American Visionary Art Museum, 443-524-7379, is the perfect embodiment of this not-so-serious approach to mealtime, with its mixed menu of classic American breakfasts—French toast with sausage; steak and eggs—and surprising flavors that awaken even the drowsiest of taste buds, like roasted garlic and radish soup, curried vegetable crêpes, or a wild boar sausage with kimchi and bean paste. In keeping with the tone, you can start with a Bloody Mary or a Michelada cocktail of Pabst Blue Ribbon, Worcestershire, Mexican hot sauce, and lime.

Cooking Classes There are some fine instructors around town, but we think Galen Sampson, chef/owner of The Dogwood, 911 W. 36th St., 410-889-0952, raises the bar when it comes to cooking classes—well, you do get to sip vino afterward. The affable chef leads monthly, interactive classes at his Hampden restaurant with his wife Bridget, a self-taught baker. He focuses on foods from some of his favorite places, like mushrooms from Kennett Square, PA. Students receive menu packets—and leave full of more than knowledge. They finish the afternoon with lunch, paired with that wine. Yum.

Dessert You might get sidetracked by the delicious all-beef dogs at Stuggy’s Old-Fashioned Hot Dogs and Sausages, 809 S. Broadway, 410-327-0228, but make sure you get fried Oreos for dessert. It’s fun to watch the staff making the decadent treats: first, dipping Oreo cookies into homemade funnel-cake batter, then dropping the coated sandwich cookies, one by one, into a deep fryer to crisp before giving them a generous sprinkle of powdered sugar. Bite into one of the crunchy rounds, and you’ll be rewarded with a soft, chocolate interior and a warm creamy filling. You get five cookies for $2.29. You won’t want to share. We didn’t.

Frozen Yogurt The soft frozen yogurt at Mr. Yogato, 723-A South Broadway, 443-955-6681, is more than a mere ice cream facsimile. Its bare-bones flavor offerings—"tangy," "creamy," and monthly specials like caramel and blackberry—can be dressed up with toppings like Fruity Pebbles, ground Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, fresh blueberries, and even balsamic vinegar. And if Mr. Yogato were indeed a real person, he’d offer you free access to his Wi-Fi, set up a play area for the kids, and entertain you with goofy trivia quizzes to earn discounts on his treats. Oh, wait; he does all that.

Ice Cream When was the last time an ice cream cone satisfied not only your lust for cold treats, but your ravenous social conscience? Taharka Bros. Ice Cream, 1405 Forge Avenue, 410-433-6800, has an irresistible ice-cream menu that includes cake batter, pomegranate chip, and salty caramel, even as it offers the chance for urban youth to get a foothold in the workplace through its management training program. The Mt. Washington storefront is the headquarters for cones, sundaes, and shakes, but the cold creamy stuff, made in a Hampden factory, is also available at places like Bon Bon’s in Belvedere Square and The Nut Farm in Green Spring Station.

Latin American To fully appreciate the range of offerings that constitute Latin American food, you can book a months-long trek of the various regions—or you can visit Pikesville’s Mari Luna Latin Grille, 1010 Reisterstown Road, 410-653-5151, where Chef Jaime Luna does a darn good job presenting a south-of-the-border gastronomic tour for north-of-the-border sensibilities. His culinary offerings even embrace the Caribbean with jerk chicken and conch chowder. We love the mojitos and caipirinhas almost as much as we love the popovers and mango-papaya butter that come with every meal.

Lunch (Casual) There were a few skeptical eyebrows when Max’s Empanadas, 313 S. High Street, 410-547-7900, brought Argentine fare into Little Italy. What could this upstart be thinking, coming into the land of pasta and spaghetti sauce? But the risk has paid off. The storefront offers the South American country’s traditional savory turnovers, paninis, salads, and native desserts in a tiny, bright space with several tables and chairs in the back. It’s a bargain, too. Empanadas stuffed with yummy ingredients like spicy chorizo, ham and cheese with green olives, and spinach with mozzarella are $3.15 each. Pair one with a primavera salad for $5.99.

Lunch (Fancy) There’s no lack of places to get a good midday meal in downtown Baltimore. But there aren’t too many high-end restaurants serving special-occasion menus in the noon hour. Restaurateurs Tony Foreman and Cindy Wolf saw a need and began serving three- and five-course, prix-fixe lunches at Charleston, 1000 Lancaster Street, 410-332-7373, in February. The quiet, luxe locale is a refined setting for a power lunch or to celebrate a birthday or other milestone. Chef Wolf prepares such delights as cornmeal fried oysters for a first course, grilled lamb tenderloin as a main dish, and chilled tangerine consommé for dessert, all for $44. (If you’ve got a Mad Men expense account, you can pair the food with wine for $69.) The only drawback is having to go back to work afterward.

Mobile Wagon We love when the food comes to us. Kooper’s Chowhound Burger Wagon—owned by Bill Irvin and Patrick Russell, who also run Kooper’s Tavern, Sláinte Irish Pub and Restaurant, and Woody’s Rum Bar in Fells Point—specializes in fat Angus hamburgers in a variety of styles. Hungry? Grab the one-pound Charlie Brown ($10.95). Looking for your inner burger? Build your own for $8. Start with a patty of beef, turkey, veggie, or bison, and keep going with choices like Maytag blue, sautéed mushrooms, Baja slaw, and jalapeño ranch dressing. Don’t forget the Fifty-Fifty fries (half regular and half sweet potato). (For locations, check Twitter updates @BRGRwagon, or go to kooperschowhound.com.)

Mother/Daughter Team Leave it to a mother/daughter duo to create a genuinely warm atmosphere in Little Italy. Giovanna Blatterman, long a doyenne of the salon world (she owns Salon Giovanna in Mt. Washington) pitches in to help daughter Gia run her eponymous cafe, Café Gia, 410 S. High Street, 410-685-6727. The two can be found there daily, Gia waiting tables and pouring drinks, Giovanna greeting dinner guests and monitoring the dining room, with its brightly painted tables and murals, to make sure everyone is satisfied. The comforting menu of Sicilian-inspired specialties has direct roots to Giovanna’s birthplace.

New Chef We love the playfulness­—and culinary skill—that executive chef Chad Gauss brings to City Cafe, 1001 Cathedral Street, 410-539-4252, in Mt. Vernon. After the restaurant went though a substantial renovation a year ago, Gauss came onboard to revamp the kitchen’s offerings, too. He changes the menu often to reflect the seasons, but we still happily recall the meal we had there several months ago—a "TV Dinner" (Kobe beef, creamy mashed potatoes, a vegetable medley with edamame, and a thick brownie) and "Three Little Pigs" (a grilled pork loin topped with pulled pork and crowned by strips of crisp bacon).

New Restaurant The American cuisine by chef E. Michael Reidt at B&O American Brasserie, 2 N. Charles Street, 443-692-6172, is seasonal and adventuresome—just what you’d expect from a Culinary Institute of America grad and one of Food & Wine magazine’s "Best New Chefs." We were smitten with the free-range chicken with pesto mashed potatoes and steak frites with duck-fat (oh, yes!) fries. We also like the environs in refurbished digs that once housed the stately B&O railroad headquarters: The first-floor setting is just right for fancy cocktails, flatbreads (try the confit duck), or smoked pork belly; the upstairs is a sophisticated dining room with plush banquettes and romantic lighting. We like the whole package.

Pastry Chef Bettina Clair has been dazzling Baltimore sweet tooths since 2003 when she arrived here from the West Coast. She eventually bought a house in Patterson Park and plans to stick around for a while—which is good news for us. These days, you’ll find Clair at Blue Hill Tavern, 938 S. Conkling St., 443-388-9363, where she turns out show-stopping desserts like chocolate silken pie with chocolate-covered Cocoa Puffs and, for summer, baked Alaska—a mound of raspberry ice cream swathed in orange-blossom Italian meringue. "I pretty much like making all desserts," Clair says. "They all give me a chance to plan different flavor creations." We can’t wait to see what’s coming out of the oven next.

Pies Pies become dangerous when they are so devastatingly tasty that you risk squandering your hard-earned paycheck and all those hours at the gym to indulge. We guess that’s what Rodney Henry had in mind with Dangerously Delicious Pies, 1036 Light Street, 410-522-PIES (7437). There’s no guarantee you won’t overdo it—especially once you’ve nibbled on his "Mobtown Brown Pie," a pecan pie laced with caramel and chocolate, or the Key Bridge lime, made from the juice of real limes. You can do pie 24/7 with Henry’s savory offerings: steak chili, pork BBQ, and "Hot Rod" potato (with or without bacon, ham, or crab). We recommend moderation, lest things get truly dangerous.

Restaurant Bread Sometimes, a restaurant’s bread does more than satisfy the initial pangs of hunger. It makes you take notice, as is the case with the cornbread at Darker Than Blue, 3034 Greenmount Avenue, 443-872-4468. Cornbread can be grainy and dry, but chef/owner Casey Jenkins captures just the right blend of cornmeal and liquid to produce a moist, sweet, hot-from-the-oven loaf that is guaranteed to disappear quickly from the table. The accompanying whipped, sweet-potato butter simply puts it over the top.

Sandwich It’s no wonder the salmon club at Miss Shirley’s, two locations including 750 E. Pratt Street, 410-528-5373, has been a menu mainstay since its first restaurant opened in Roland Park five years ago. The soothing smoke of creamy salmon, salty bacon, and fresh veggies, bound with rémoulade, complement each other without throwing your taste buds into confusion. The sandwich is a bit unwieldy, but if you can manage to get a bit of everything in each bite, you won’t be disappointed. Choose one of the nominally healthy sides—fruit salad, coleslaw with toasted almonds, or mixed greens, or forget about your waistline and go for a cone of the addictive sweet-potato fries.

Outdoor Dining
5 picks for when the fresh air beckons.

Comfort Food One thing has remained virtually unchanged at Sander’s Corner, 2260 Cromwell Bridge Road, Towson, 410-825-5187, over the years: its pristine setting. A table on the porch means a pastoral view that slopes to the Loch Raven reservoir, along with a homey meal.

Greek A serene oasis from the clatter of Fells Point’s cobblestone streets, the brick-walled patio at Kali’s Court, 1606 Thames Street, 410-276-4700, is a great place to savor Greek specialties, both classic and updated, like grilled calamari and whole bronzini.

Mediterranean You can’t get any closer to the harbor than a table on the dock at Tabrizi’s, 500 Harborview Drive, 410-727-3663, where you can take in Baltimore’s best panoramic views while enjoying a 360-degree tour of Mediterranean cuisine.

New American The enclosed garden at Feast@4 East, 4 E. Madison Street, 410-332-0880, is a favorite spot for weddings and graduation parties. We recommend bringing a bottle of wine and creating your own celebration with chef Sandy Lawler’s farm-to-table cuisine.

Seafood There’s no better way to enjoy chef John Shields’s artful Chesapeake-inspired dishes than in the lovely sculpture garden at Gertrude’s at the BMA, 10 Art Museum Drive, 410-889-3399.

 

Scene When we have a hankering to get spiffied up and join the glam set, we head to Little Italy’s Milan, 1000 Eastern Avenue, 410-685-6111. Ever since this palace of opulence opened in January, it has attracted a dressed-for-success crowd. The 12,000-square-foot, multilevel space is stunning. The lounge level—in stark white, crimson, and espresso shades—features low couches and tables scattered around a gray marble fireplace. Up the red-carpeted stairs, there’s a striking dining room, with chandeliers and beaded partitions. Frankly, we’re glad that Milan has a dress code. It’s nice to have a chic place to hang out.

Seafood Restaurant When it comes to seafood, The Black Olive, 814 S. Bond Street, 410-276-7141, reels us in with its impeccable freshness and stellar selection. We like the fish show-and-tell at this family-owned restaurant, where your server invites you to a cold case filled with your possible dinner—rockfish, red snapper, sea bass, and more. You learn each specimen’s origin and how it will be prepared. (We always appreciate it grilled and simply dressed with a lemon-olive oil sauce.) Starters, like mussels in ouzo and grilled calamari stuffed with manouri and feta cheeses, also capitalize on quality seafood. It really doesn’t get any better than this on dry land.

Side Dish We pretty much like all kinds of spuds, but we always find ourselves going back to A.J’s tater tots at Regi’s American Bistro, 1002 Light Street, 410-539-7344. The hash-brown nuggets are in a class by themselves with rich, oozy Brie cheese and chunks of applewood bacon. Alan Morstein, Regi’s owner, lays claim to updating the ’50s Ore-Ida kid favorite for Baltimore diners when he added the tots to his menu eight years ago. "I’m the man who put tater tots on the map," he proudly asserts. Thank you, Alan.

Small Plates We wondered if Baltimore really needed another tapas place. Short answer: Yes, we do. With dishes like calamari meatballs, grilled asparagus with quail egg, paella loaded with meat and seafood, and delicate sea scallops dusted with ground pistachios, executive chef Rashad Edwards at Tapas Adela, 814 S. Broadway, 410-534-6262, can cook for us anytime.

Sweet Snack We’re happy to report that the sticky, crunchy rice-cereal treat of our youth has gotten a gourmet update for kids and grownups alike, courtesy of White Marsh resident and entrepreneur Nikki Lewis. Her Mallow Munchies, mallowmunchies.com, are super-sized squares made with Lewis’s homemade marshmallow, handmade caramel, and fine Belgian chocolate among other ingredients, including, of course, rice cereal. The five varieties—featuring the cherubic face of Lewis’s four-year-old son Nigel on the package—are available online and at local venues, including the Baltimore Farmers’ Market under the JFX. Believe us, these aren’t granny’s dessert bars. (No offense, Grandma.)

Wine Bar When 13.5% Wine Bar 1117 W. 36th Street, 410-889-1064, arrived in Hampden last summer, the storefront wasted no time proclaiming itself, "Hip in Hampden." It was an immediate success, packing in yuppies, oldsters, and an arty crowd with its 40 wines by the glass (starting at $5), 200 wines by the bottle (with an $8 corkage fee), and an ever-changing menu of snacks, paninis, pizzas, and small plates. Sip your vino with a charcuterie plate of cured meats, duck rillette, whole-grain mustard, and cornichons, or a ciabatta layered with portobellos, roasted peppers, arugula, and balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Or come on Sundays, when chef Sarah Acconcia does a divine prix-fixe menu based on goodies she found at the Farmers’ Market.

Wine List While Italy can’t claim to have invented wine—though the ancient Romans produced and drank their fair share—the boot-shaped country can certainly pat itself on the ankle for helping to popularize the stuff. The wine list at Cinghiale, 822 Lancaster Street, 410-547-8282—more than 600 labels in all—should further enhance the reputation of the fermented grape elixir. Wine director Tony Foreman has carefully selected wines from the growing regions and vineyards he’s personally visited, and bottle prices range from the cost of a ride across the harbor on the water taxi to a round-trip visit to Tuscany. On Tuesdays, Cinghiale’s "cellar raid" means half-priced bottles in the Enoteca (bar side), always a plus.

Date Night
5 restaurants destined to ignite romance

Eclectic You can let loose with your sweetie at Jack’s Bistro, 3123 Elliott Street, 410-878-6542, a casual restaurant with a chef who turns out captivating (and sometimes whacky) fare.

Urban Gourmet You won’t be at a loss for words at Peter’s Inn, 504 S. Ann Street, 410-675-7313, even on a first date. The restaurant has kitschy knickknacks worthy of discussion and stellar food to keep the dialogue going.

Continental There’s nothing like a 1740s restored country manor with period dining rooms to woo a special friend. The Milton Inn, 14833 York Road, Sparks, 410-771-4366, capitalizes on its historic surroundings with refined service and innovative cuisine.

Indian Whether you sit in the elegant indoor space at the Ambassador Dining Room, 3811 Canterbury Road, 410-366-1484, or outside on the pretty terrace, the royal Indian cuisine will transport you and your partner to a more refined, romantic era.

Upscale American Antrim 1844, 30 Trevanion Road, Taneytown, 410-756-6812, will definitely impress your guest with its amazing six-course, prix-fixe dinner, set in a grand manor home.

 

FUN

Edited by Jess Blumberg and Amy Mulvihill

Beach Sometimes we’re in the mood for the beach, but don’t want to deal with traffic, tolls, or the monotonous landscape of Route 50. That’s why we love Sandy Point State Park, 1100 East College Parkway, Annapolis, 410-974-2149—because it’s a beach on our side of the bay. The 786-acre state park is located on the northwestern shore of the Chesapeake Bay and offers miles of beaches and scenic water views. Plus, you can swim, picnic, fish, crab, boat, or hike to your heart’s content. One of our favorite ways to spend time there is to bring a late-afternoon picnic, swim in the warmed-up brackish water, and watch the sunset behind the Bay Bridge.

Adventure Are you man (or woman) enough for shark tagging, 410-727-FISH, aqua.org? Yup, it’s exactly what it sounds like. For $250, anyone age 13 and up can go to the coast of Ocean City and help Captain Mark Sampson affix a tracking device to a shark. The data collected will provide the folks at the National Aquarium of Baltimore with vital information on sharks and you with heroic stories to impress your friends. 

THROWDOWN: GYM

Maryland Athletic Club (MAC) vs. Merritt Athletic Club

The Lowdown
These local chains are the marquee names in Baltimore fitness.

Tale of the Tape
MAC’s three locations (Harbor East, Hunt Valley, and Timonium) offer stellar, spa-like facilities including lap pools, whirlpools, squash courts, and cardio equipment plus numerous fitness classes covering everything from Pilates to spinning. Merritt has nine locations (two of them 24-hour) in the greater Baltimore area with a tenth (in Hanover) scheduled to open this fall with comparable amenities and classes at most locations.

The Decision
We’re going with MAC. Though Merritt definitely has the edge when it comes to convenience and sheer volume of gyms, some of its locations can feel a little dated. MAC’s luxe touches, like individual TVs on all cardio machines and soothing décor, keep us coming back for more and make working out feel like less of a chore.


THROWDOWN: SPORTS LEGENDS

Cal Ripken Jr. vs. Michael Phelps

The Lowdown
They have both broken impressive world records, but who will remain Baltimore’s lasting legend?

Tale of the Tape
Ripken is a Hall-of-Fame baseball player, who played a whopping 2,632 consecutive games; Phelps is a prodigious swimmer, who has won 14 gold medals, the most by any Olympian in history.

The Decision
Close call, but our hearts belong to Ripken. Many sports writers have said that Ripken’s streak is what got America back into baseball after the 1994 strike. Plus, he was able to handle the limelight basically free of scandal (alas, more than we can say for Phelps). Ripken reminds us
all of the O’s glory days—making him a lasting legend in Baltimore.

Bar Bathroom Generally speaking, we don’t give much thought to the bathrooms in our favorite bars. But Hamilton Tavern, 5517 Harford Road, 410-426-1930, has bathrooms that are worth noticing. The men’s and women’s loos are ferreted away at the back of the tavern, down a hallway lined with portraits of famed scribes. Inside, the walls are papered with pages from the greats—Toni Morrison, Jane Austen, and the Brontës in the ladies room; Shakespeare, Hemingway, and Bukowski in the men’s room. The creative décor is a frequent conversation piece at the tavern and gives new meaning to the phrase "bathroom reading."

Burbs Bar When you think of nightlife, Joppa Road doesn’t spring to mind, but business at Casey’s Bar and Restaurant, 1742 East Joppa Road, Parkville, 410-668-1616, is always booming. The family-friendly spot delivers delicious Italian and American food during lunch and dinner (dare to tackle the mammoth chicken pot pie). But after diners leave, latenight drink specials kick in and the crowd packs in for whatever local sports game is on. Casey’s website declares "the fun never ends," and with specials like spin-the-wheel drink discounts, buckets of beer during sports games, and DJ sets on Tuesdays and weekends, we have to agree.

Cocktail The locavore and organic movement doesn’t stop at food—drinks have people thinking more mindfully, too. Nowhere is this more evident than at Woodberry Kitchen, 2010 Clipper Park Road, 410-464-8000, where the farm-to-table attitude has moved to the bar, and tenders use organic liquors and make their own ginger beer on-site. Our favorite cocktail on its menu is the Gov’t Mule, made with Prairie organic vodka, house-made ginger beer, lime-ginger syrup, and served in a copper mug. Not only is it one-of-a-kind and extremely refreshing, but the mug keeps the drink nice and cold, while also making us feel transported to a speakeasy in the 1920s.

Day Trip It’s no wonder that so many people from the Baltimore area have weekend houses on Solomons Island, solomonsmaryland.com—it’s downright gorgeous. Everywhere you look, there are breathtaking water views, stately sailboats, historic lighthouses, and it has its own boardwalk to boot. But the beauty doesn’t stop with the water. Solomons is home to The Annmarie Garden, a Smithsonian-affiliated sculpture park that has many pieces on loan from the National Gallery and the Hirshhorn. Plus, you can enjoy straight-off-the-boat seafood and the annual opening party of the island’s famous Tiki Bar—all within a two-hour drive of the city.

Happy Hour More than drink specials and good food, what we’re really looking for in a happy hour is an atmosphere that lets us leave the stresses of the workday behind. Particularly in summer, no place fits that bill better than Little Havana, 1325 Key Highway, 410-837-9903. Between its waterfront deck and arcade games, it always feels like vacation there. Add daily specials, like $10 pitchers of margaritas on Thursdays and $3 Coronas on Wednesdays, and the place practically guarantees that work will recede like a fading bad dream.

Hidden History Before it drifted into the mists of time, London Town was a bustling, 100-acre port on the South River in Anne Arundel County boasting residences, streets, docks, taverns, and even the county government’s offices (until that pesky Annapolis came around in 1694). Historic London Town and Gardens, 839 Londontown Road, Edgewater, 410-222-1919, is a 23-acre park on the site of the former tobacco trade hub where archeological remnants of the lost town can be found along with rebuilt Colonial structures and the landmark circa 1764 William Brown House. The grounds also include ornamental, woodland, and native plant gardens and are open year-round, meaning this trip through time is always just a car ride away.

New Bar We realize that 2009 wasn’t the best year for new businesses, so we wanted to reward Talara, 615 President Street, 410-528-9883, which managed to not just open but thrive during the recession. Maybe it’s because of its obvious South Beach flare, setting it apart from other Harbor East spots. Or maybe it’s Talara’s generous happy hour, with $5 tapas, $5 cocktails, $4 glasses of wine, and $3 South American beer. Or it might be the extensive menu of creative mojitos. Better still, it could be its free Monday night salsa lessons. Whatever the case, Harbor East revelers are buying what Talara is selling—and so are we.

Not-Quite-A-Dive Bar Grey Goose Bar & Grille, 1601 Union Avenue, 410-366-1566, defies easy categorization. First of all, we’re not really sure what neighborhood it’s in: Hampden? Woodberry? Clipper Mill? Secondly, it’s a peculiar mix of mega bar (two floors, two outside decks, pool tables, big-screen TV) and humble, local watering hole with friendly barkeeps, low prices, and a classic menu featuring crab pretzels, funnel cake, and Polock Johnny’s brats. We’re tempted to classify it as a dive bar but, frankly, it’s nicer than that. We finally gave up trying to figure it out and focused on enjoying it, which is what we suggest you do, too.

Oriole After Brian Roberts went on the disabled list in April, the Orioles needed a leader. Enter Nick Markakis, who signed a massive six-year deal with the team early last year. Not only will Markakis remain in an Orioles uniform for seasons to come, but his on-base percentage (.402 at press time) has been remarkable amidst an otherwise dismal lineup this season. Even more notable, he gave a very candid, uncharacteristic interview with The Sun, in which he aired his frustrations with this Orioles season. We admire his honesty and passion, and want to thank him for, quite literally, stepping up to the plate.

Raven If Ray Rice was on Sesame Street, he’d be sponsored by the letter "R." Besides his obvious initials, he plays running back, attended Rutgers, was drafted by the Ravens, and has been nicknamed "road runner." But the "R"-word we might use to describe him? Remarkable. Rice finished the 2009 regular season with 254 carries for 1,339 yards and seven touchdowns and was responsible for one of the Ravens’ greatest moments to date: On January 10, against the Patriots, Rice scored an 83-yard touchdown on the first offensive play, the longest Ravens play in 2009, and the second longest rush in NFL postseason history. Plus, how can you not love his positive attitude, adorable smile, and little-brother-like relationship with Ray Lewis?

Spectator Sport Even after viewing several matches, we’re still a little fuzzy on the rules of women’s flat track roller derby. What we can tell you is that ignorance of the rules is no impediment to your enjoyment of the sport. We defy anyone to attend a Charm City Roller Girls derby (home games are at Du Burns Arena in Canton) and leave without a smile on your face. The bouts are part competition/part spectacle, with roller girls adopting campy alter egos (Joy Collision! Flux Incapacitator!) and sporting ripped fishnets and dramatic war paint. But there’s also real athleticism and brute force on display to balance the showmanship. Best of all, there is a ragtag congeniality to the proceedings, which makes even losing games fun to watch. 

Sports Bar For the past two months, the sound of those annoying vuvuzela horns and announcers shouting "gooooal!" filled sports bars everywhere. But there is one place that took the World Cup to a new level. Sláinte Irish Pub and Restaurant, 1700 Thames Street, 410-563-6600, has always been a staple for soccer fans, but people forget that it’s also a haven for other under-appreciated sports in America, like rugby and hockey. Sláinte broadcasts the games in full high definition on its many flat screens, hosts fantasy leagues online, offers drink specials during all of the games, and gets premier sports channels (like NHL Center Ice, Fox Soccer, and GoalTV) that most sports bars just don’t have.

Urban Hiking Spot We’re not sure about you, but one of our favorite parts of hiking is the cooldown. That’s why we love the Patapsco Valley State Park, 8020 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City, 410-461-5005, a lush oasis just southwest of the city. The park boasts 170 miles of trails of varying grades that all meander around a central point: the Patapsco River itself. So, no matter where you’re hiking, there’s usually a point of entry to the river so you can chill out by a rapid, pool, or waterfall. The best part? Every day in the summer, the "Patapsco Peddler," a mobile concession stand, is wandering around the park offering patrons cold drinks, snacks, ice cream, and maps.

Into the Wild
5 parks with something special to offer

Beginner Park Not everyone is a natural naturalist, so when we’re dealing with neophytes, we make it a point to take them to Robert E. Lee Park. Located just off Falls Road in Baltimore County, its mostly flat, well-groomed trails are appropriate for all fitness levels.  

Bike Park Thanks to new bike lanes in some sections of town, Baltimore is becoming ever more bike-friendly, but Lake Montebello has long been the destination of choice for serious cyclists. On any given day, you can see spandex-clad riders whizzing around the lake in its designated bike lane.

Dog Park One by one, Baltimore parks are going to the dogs—and that’s a good thing! Last fall the Locust Point Dog Park opened in the southeast corner of Latrobe Park boasting Astroturf, rock outcroppings, and a water slide for adventurous canines.

Evolving Park Ever since the Olmsted Brothers recommended its creation in 1904, the 15-mile Gwynns Falls Trail, which links West Baltimore parks to the Inner Harbor, has been a work in progress. Recent improvements include new signage, an audio tour, and bike racks.

Pool in a Park From the early morning adult lap swims to its group lessons and occasional water ballets, pool season at Patterson Park makes us savor the summer.

 

Liquor Locales
5 bars that excel in a specific type of elixir

Scotch If you’re in the mood for Scotch, there’s no better place than Birds of a Feather, 1712 Aliceanna Street, 410-675-8466, which offers 120 single-malt varieties.

Tequila At Blue Agave Restaurante y Tequileria, 1032 Light Street, 410-576-3938, you can sample one of the more than 125 tequila selections. Olé!

Rum The drink menu at Joe Squared, 133 W. North Avenue, 410-545-0444, features more than 50 varieties of rum from around the world and they make the best Dark and Stormy (a rum and ginger beer concotion) we’ve ever had.

Grand Marnier Those who love this orange liqueur join the Grand Marnier Club at One-Eyed Mike’s, 708 S. Bond Street, 410-327-0445. Members pay a fee and have their own personal GM bottle stored at the bar.

Vodka The dance-friendly bar Stalking Horse, 26 E. Cross Street, 410-244-6722, boasts more than 40 types of vodka, as well as frozen vodka slushies, with flavors like sweet tea, Red Bull, and raven. (Yup, that’s grape.)

 

INDULGE

Edited by Jane Marion

Color Artists A good colorist is equal parts artist and chemist. In the beauty biz for more than 29 years, and an educator for more than a decade, Laurie Schroeder of Salon Laurie, 5910 Falls Road, 410-464-1500, takes all the worry out of color work. With a single knowing glance, Schroeder, whose clients run the gamut from Roland Park moms to fiery-haired artists, works wonders whether she is toning down brassiness or taking the chill off a surfeit of cool tones.

Classic Stylist Trends come and go, but quality is never out of style. That’s why we stick with Dean Krapf of Lluminaire Salon, 15 W. Allegheny Avenue, Towson, 410-583-1500. He is adept with every type of follicle, from ultra curly to stick straight (Case in point: his portfolio of A-listers includes Molly Sims, Nicole Kidman, and Daniel Craig), and his precision-perfect, timeless designs stay fresh forever.

THROWDOWN: DAY SPAS

Renaissance Salon and Spa vs. About Faces Day Spa and Salon

The Lowdown
These beauty behemoths dominate the suburban salon and spa scene.

Tale of the Tape
Renaissance has about 23,000 square feet with two locations and an epic spa menu with an emphasis on high-tech, anti-aging treatments (non-surgical facelift anyone?); in business for 40 years, About Faces has more than 52,000 square feet across six locations (the paint is still drying at the newest location in Annapolis), with an equally exhaustive list of services and an impressive retail area featuring Giella custom-blend cosmetics.

The Decision
In this clash of the salon titans, About Faces wins for size and unparalleled longevity. (About Faces celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.) Not an easy feat in the fickle business of beauty.


THROWDOWN: HAIR REMOVAL

Waxing vs. Threading

The Lowdown
Vesna Stojanovic is Mt. Washington Salon and Spa’s high priestess of waxing while Usha Gupta of Towson’s Usha Salon & Day Spa is known around town as the go-to-girl for  threading.

Tale of the Tape
Vesna’s waxing is like a sleight-of-hand trick, as she waxes on and waxes off in a matter of minutes. (Her Brazilians have been clocked at under 10 minutes.) Usha brought the ancient art form of threading (in which groups of hair are plucked by a thread) to Baltimore 35 years ago and is known for achieving strong arches and clean lip lines.

The Decision
Waxing with Vesna for her lightening quick speed, her homemade mix of beeswax, tea tree oil, fresh lemon juice, and lanolin, and her sheer versatility with her medium.


THROWDOWN: ONE-NAME WONDERS

Corbin (Grinage) vs. Uno (Tuluoglu)

The Lowdown
Local hair gurus with loyal fan base of clients who could easily hightail it to New York for highlights.

Tale of the Tape
Corbin has been trimming tresses ($95 a clip) for more than 30 years and has loyal upper-crust clients who swear that his cuts are peerless; Uno has been taming manes ($100 a head) for more than 30 years, and Greenspring Valley types, plus former First Lady of Turkey Semra Ozal and former First Lady of Maryland Kendel Ehrlich, are on his hair resume.

The Decision
Uno, by a hair. Though both Uno and Corbin have earned their stripes, Uno never takes himself too seriously, where coy Corbin, who doesn’t like to reveal his last name, has been known for his share of out-of-salon antics. Frankly, we’d rather reserve the drama for our hair.

Cost-Conscious Cut No need to go broke for beauty at You Salon, 4785 Dorsey Hall Drive, Ellicott City, 443-367-0200. We love You’s graduated pricing system (i.e., priced according to the stylist’s experience) on everything from cuts ($70 for a master stylist; $37 for new talent) to perms, foil services, and even updos. The best part? Expert designers supervise protégés so clients are actually getting two stylists for the price of one. The caring, knowledgeable staff emphasizes education—they even maintain a lively blog that offers free beauty tips (yousalonthisandthat.com).

Day Spa If a genie could grant us a wish for one day, we’d choose to spend it luxuriating at La Papillon, 9642 Deereco Road, Timonium, 410-252-1400. Given its small size, this boutique spa has an outstanding selection of services, from massages and airbrush makeup application to ear candling. We can’t stop OMGing over the heavenly facials (oxygen infusion therapy, pumpkin enzyme) by esthetician Chris Matthews or the transformative brow waxes and makeup work by M-A-C-trained owner Madeleine Homes. This is also a one-stop shop for retail therapy for exclusive makeup brands (Paul & Joe, True Cosmetics) not sold anywhere else in the state.

Event Salon You’ve got jitters before your big day. But with its intimate, soothing atmosphere (warm woods, gold accents) and super-friendly staff, Scene 217, 217 Albemarle Street, 410-244-0647, is the perfect place to relax while you get gorgeous. Offering everything from sculptural updos to glam mineral makeup application, owner Debbie Ingrao and company will make sure that all eyes are on you on this special occasion. (P.S. If you don’t want to make the drive downtown to Little Italy, Team Scene is happy to make house calls.)

Exotic Beauty Treatment The Red Clover and Seaweed Body Masque at Spa in the Valley, 118 Shawan Road, Hunt Valley, 410-771-0200, is the closest thing we’ve found to heaven on earth. Picture this: While lying in a Vichy capsule, an aromatic clover and seaweed scrub is painted onto the skin. As the scrub sets, a massage therapist delivers a soothing head and face massage, and light therapy helps you relax. Finally, a Vichy shower with 22 jets of water washes away the scrub and the stress and a cinnamon and paprika moisturizer is applied to seal in the moisture. This treatment is said to exfoliate, hydrate, and detoxify, but frankly, it’s so enjoyable, we don’t care what it does.

Face Time
5 ways to get good face

Classic Facial The newly opened Facelogic, 8890 Centre Park Drive, Columbia, 443-367-0303, offers a divine, deep-cleansing signature facial and a makeup artist who touches you up for free on your way out the door!

Specialty Facial There aren’t enough superlatives for the facials (including ginseng and pearl) at The Skin Care Institute, 10705 Charter Drive, Columbia, 410-740-0007, which manage to be both relaxing and effective.

Makeup Artist A Chanel counter veteran, Karen Weiner of Studio of Make-up, 9143 Reisterstown Road, Owings Mills, 410-902-7422, brings out the beauty in everyone, from Miss USA contestants to broadcasters and brides.

Makeup Counter We are wowed by the selection of specialty, hard-to-find brands of makeup, including Natura Bisse and Alexandra de Markoff, at Fields of Pikesville, 1401 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville, 410-486-3300.

Beauty Supplies Sally Beauty, several locations including 1819 York Road, Lutherville, 410-252-6603, has it all—from boar bristle brushes to green-tea-mint massage oil—without blowing your beauty budget.

 

Green Salon If you crave color and an aromatherapy facial, but also want to be kind to Mother Earth, Bee Beautiful, 11341 York Road, Hunt Valley, 410-527-4630, is the place for you. Baltimore County’s first full-service green salon really practices what it preaches, from the décor (VOC-free paint, grass furniture, low-energy lighting) to the products (by Mineralogie and Surface) to its policy of recycling every piece of hair that hits the bamboo floor. (On a recent visit, hair—which can be used to absorb toxins in the environment—was being gathered to aid in Gulf oil spill efforts.)

Holistic Salon/Spa Hard to say what we love most about Varuna Salon Spa, 1 Park Place, Annapolis, 410-268-2828.  Is it the complete commitment to using products with pure flower and plant essences? The unique services such as chakra balancing massage and botanical skin resurfacing? The great green design with crushed sunflower countertops? Or the simple fact that employees are required to do monthly community service? Suffice it to say, this place has its head and its heart in the right place. No surprise that actor and environmental activist Ed Begley Jr. stops by whenever he’s in town.

Makeover Maven So let’s just say that after thumbing through the latest issue of Vogue, you realize that your frosted lipstick, baby blue shadow, and stonewashed jeans are way past their expiration date. Who you gonna call for the overhaul? Impossibly stylish Lauren Rutkovitz of A Style Studio, 25 Hooks Lane, Pikesville, 410-484-1115, will save you from yourself with a head-to-toe makeover. Her newly opened store is part makeup boutique (her own private line of mineral makeup flatters all skin types) and part clothing shop (think totally "now" tanks, tees, and accessories) and is the go-to spot for an instant style statement. WBAL-TV’s Deborah Weiner is a fan.

Massage We have a hard time believing that the massage therapists of Apothecary Wellness, 1301 Light Street, 443-540-4022, have only two hands as they knead the knots out, deliver to-die-for scalp massages, and tend to our trouble spots with a gentle application of lavender, peppermint, and rosemary body scrub. Bonus! The spa will soon double in size.

Men’s Stylist Lulu Carter of FX Studios, 11270 Pepper Road, Hunt Valley, 410-771-1500, understands that guy grooming is best practiced with a modicum of fuss and a pair of Rusk scissors. Don’t look for fancy mousses or heavily scented styling sprays here. Carter, a former bartender at McCafferty’s, serves her cuts straight up—from trendy faux hawks to conservative clipper cuts, though every service comes complete with a bliss-inducing hot towel and scalp massage.

Nail Techs Nail enthusiasts know that the best treatments have nothing to do with the paint job—it’s really all about the prep work. We’ve had mani-pedis throughout greater Baltimore and simply haven’t found more highly skilled soakers, buffers, cuticle cutters, massagers, or polishers than the lovely ladies of La Clinica, 1624 York Road, Lutherville, 410-828-7464. You’ll truly get waited on hand and foot here. 

New Salon and Spa With its Swarovski crystal wallpaper, sheer descent waterfalls, and endlessly swank service menu (Chardonnay grape seed scrub, anyone?), the new Chas Spa Salon at the Ritz Carlton Residence, 801 Key Highway, 410-625-2427, could well be the eighth wonder of the world. Veteran stylist Chas Kuhn and his wife Peggy Painter took over the struggling Pearl Spa space and have transformed it into a luxe locale where no (hot) stone is unturned—be it a four-handed massage, a self-serve mud and scrub bar, or the latest in Keratin Therapy hair treatment. There’s even free valet parking!

Let’s Get Physical
4 spots to stay fit and be well

New Wellness Center Workout trends come and go, but at the newly opened Arenal Fitness, 2638 Quarry Lake Drive, 410-653-7878, the emphasis is on "functional fitness"— strengthening exercises that aid you in your day-to-day tasks, from carrying kids to groceries.

Newfangled Workout Over the circuit-training routine? Try gravity-defying aerial training on a hoop, hammock, or fabric with former Las Vegas acrobat Robin Miller at Meadow Mill, 3600 Clipper Mill Road, 410-235-7000. It’s like running away to the circus and getting fit at the same time!

Personal Trainer Black belt Reese Ashe of Federal Hill Fitness, 39 E. Cross Street, 410-752-3004, is a rare combination of demanding and doting and trains everyone from former First Daughter Jenna Bush Hager to Cork’s Jerry Pelligrino and the Ravens cheerleaders.

Yoga Studio If you take yoga seriously and want to study with the area’s most rigorously trained teachers (owner Suzy Pennington studied in India with living guru B.K.S. Iyengar), strike a pose at Susquehanna Yoga & Meditation, 12-A W. Aylesbury Road, Timonium, 410-308-9950.

 

Pet Grooming We love our dogs even when they look like they’ve just gone through the weed whacker, but there’s nothing like a visit to Pampered Paws, 203 Old Padonia Road, Cockeysville, 410-628-7055, to spruce up our furry friends. Owner Donna Weiner and groomer Kelly Ingman are experts at clipping, cleaning, hand drying, and even tooth cleaning (!), though their real specialty is giving total TLC to every client who walks on four legs through the door.

Trendy Stylist Some stylists follow trends. Longtime Rusk educator Marcus Caillet of Bren-Dia’s, 10 Crossroads Drive, Owings Mills, 410-902-7222, sets the trends as he travels all over the world and brings new looks back to Baltimore. Caillet, whose mother Brenda co-owns the salon, has worked hair for some of the biggest style shows of the season, from the Sundance Film Festival to Miami Fashion Week. And while Caillet has trimmed the tresses of Denise Richards and Shar Jackson, mere mortals also get the red-carpet treatment in this friendly, low-key salon.

 

MEDIA

Edited by Evan Serpick

Anchor Rarely do journalistic gravitas and reporting tenacity come in such a telegenic package as WBAL-TV’s Donna Hamilton. And maybe that’s why she has played anchors in movies, like Philadelphia and In the Line of Fire, while also hosting shows for The Discovery Channel and The Learning Channel and producing an award-winning documentary about the Israeli peace movement, The Peacemakers. Lucky for us, the Birmingham, AL, native has called Baltimore home through all that, dating back to Evening Magazine, which she launched in 1981, right up to her series this year on Lyme disease (which she contracted in 2009) and her pitch-perfect, wire-to-wire coverage of Preakness 2010.

Blizzard Coverage When we were all collectively snowed in during the Snowpocalypse—or was it Snowmaggedon?—intrepid WBAL-TV reporter Rob Roblin brought heavy doses of his folksy humor and try-anything attitude to lighten the mood under all that snow. Whether he was sitting on a lawn chair in the middle of an Eldersburg street—snow up to his chest—taking off with some snowmobilers in Carroll County, or just chatting with his coworkers (at one point, he told the two female anchors back in the studio, "old and cold, that’s what I am this morning, baby girls"), Roblin captured the wide-eyed wonder we were all feeling during our historic lost week.

THROWDOWN: WEATHERMAN

Bob Turk vs. Tom Tasselmyer

The Lowdown
WJZ’s Turk, the 37-year veteran and local institution faces off against relative rookie (with just 21 years in town), WBAL’s Tasselmyer.

Tale of the Tape
Tasselmyer has a more academic, erudite flow, instilling confidence in his forecasts, but Turk has an unmistakable instinct for the way the jet stream works in these parts, plus he’s appeared live from every crab feast, county fair, and farmers’ market under the clear blue skies.

The Decision
Bob Turk. Like his old jingle once said, he’s got “sunshine on a cloudy day.” What more can you ask of a weatherman?


THROWDOWN: BALTIMORE SIGNS

Natty Boh vs. Domino Sugar

The Lowdown
They’re both iconic Baltimore graphics—Natty Boh is the face of National Bohemian Beer and peers out over Natty Boh Towers in Brewers Hill, while the Domino Sugar sign presides over Locust Point and shines brightly over the Inner Harbor.

Tale of the Tape
Natty Boh is Charm City’s unofficial one-eyed, handlebar-mustachioed mascot; the 1950s red neon Domino Sugar sign brightens the cityscape from atop the sugar plant and harkens back to Baltimore’s days as a key industrial center.

The Decision
Call it the Domino effect. Only one company still screams Baltimore. Domino has been in Baltimore since 1922; in 2000, National Bohemian beer went 200 miles south to North Carolina, where the suds are now brewed by Miller Brewing Co.


THROWDOWN: LEGAL PITCH MAN

Stephen L. Miles vs. Barry Glazer

The Lowdown
O.J. (Original Jurist) Miles, has been doing TV commercials so long, you might think he invented them, but in recent years, another amped-up, Baltimore-accented litigator has taken to the tube, and Glazer’s nutty rants give Miles a run for his money.

Tale of the Tape
Miles has pitched through three different slogans—and two were gems: His original, “Let’s talk about it,” occasionally sung as a jingle, has a human appeal, and when he joined Saiontz and Kirk in 1999, he took up their reassuring, “If you have a phone, you have a lawyer.” Since going solo again last year, he’s opted for, “You’re going to like the way you’re treated… I guarantee it.” (Isn’t that the slogan for Men’s Wearhouse?) As for Glazer? No slogans, all anger. A personal injury lawyer with a particular distaste for insurance companies, Glazer refers to them as “bastards,” assaults the Geico gecko in one ad, and demands: “Don’t urinate on my leg and
tell me it’s raining!”

The Decision
Miles gets credit for being an originator, but Barry Glazer has taken the game to a whole new level. We want him on our side next time we’re staring down the bastards.


THROWDOWN: ACTOR

Edward Norton vs. Mo’Nique

The Lowdown
Columbia-raised Norton has gone from Hollywood wunderkind to established actor and activist; Baltimore-bred comedian/talk show host Mo’Nique surprised the world with her heartbreaking
(and Oscar-winning) performance in Precious. 

Tale of the Tape
This would’ve been a no-brainer a couple of years ago—for Norton. But Mo’Nique won scores of admirers, not just with her performance, but with her poignant acceptance speeches and steadfast refusal to play the Hollywood schmooze game. Norton has taken to Twitter to advocate for causes like conservation and world hunger, but his acting career is in a bit of
a holding pattern.

The Decision
It has to go to Academy Award-winning actress Mo’Nique. She can pretty much write her own ticket right now. But don’t despair Edward, we think one day you might win one of
those shiny guys, too.

Blog Collection With 34 blogs, covering everything from professional wrestling to reality TV, The Sun’s website has something for pretty much everyone. But aside from the sheer number of blogs, we’re impressed by the quality of so many of them. Among our favorites are David Zurawik’s commentary on all things small screen at Z on TV; Jill Rosen’s chronicle for pet owners, Unleashed; and copy chief John McIntyre’s careful examination of language and journalism, You Don’t Say, which recently returned to The Sun fold when McIntyre was rehired after being laid off in 2009.

Blotter The Baltimore Guide’s "Neighborhood Watch" column is for everyone who wished the police blotter was a little more like a front-stoop gossip: It’s got all the pertinent details ("200 block S. Monroe St., Sunday, April 4, 6:40 p.m.: A man was accosted by an acquaintance who said, ‘You talked about me while I was in jail,’ and attacked him"), mixed with a little local flavor ("S. High Street, 200 block, May 4, 11:54 p.m. A woman told police that a man had approached her, threatened her with a gun, and said, ‘Give me your pocketbook, Hon’"), and just the right amount of editorializing ("100 block S. Gilmor St., Sunday, May 9, 10:53 a.m.: Some lowlife stole an 82-year-old woman’s walker from her front steps"). We’re addicted.

Baltimore Blogs
4 Local Blogs That Break Through the Chatter

Art Among the many terrific blogs featured on Charm City Current, Art-Full Life (charmcitycurrent.com/bolger), where BMA director Doreen Bolger reflects on the city’s cultural landscape, stands out for her careful consideration of everything from major exhibitions to the work of MICA students.

Beer Few blogs are as well-informed about their area of expertise as Beer In Baltimore (beerinbaltimore.com). Whether he’s heralding the arrival of new brews from local breweries or interviewing Clipper City Brewing Company partner (and co-host of WYPR’s "Cellar Notes") Hugh Sisson, editor Brad Klipner gives Baltimore’s brewing industry the attention and respect it deserves.

Commentary Chief blogger Evan over at The City That Breeds: The Dumber Side of Baltimore (citythatbreeds.com) has a knack for finding humor in local life, from his Onion-esque take on Dave Trembley’s firing ("Cal Ripken bobbleheads to assume position") to his suggestions for solving the city’s budget crisis ("Murder Tax," anyone?)

Music Bmore Musically Informed (bmoremusic.net) is like that awesome friend who always seems to know what cool stuff is going on in local music, giving you songs to listen to, pointing out great shows, and showing you pictures of the events you missed.

 

Columnist Baltimore Sun metro columnist Jean Marbella became the go-to source for analysis during the trial of mayor Sheila Dixon, the way Jimmy Breslin did after the JFK assassination or Mike Royko did during the reign of Chicago’s Mayor Daley. With sharp wit and a deep well of wisdom, she chronicled the last days of our "impolitic politician," who accomplished much, but was destroyed by her mistakes and her inability to own up to them.

Comeback This city just has too much going on culturally for its daily paper of record to not have at least a weekly arts section. Luckily, the higher-ups at The Sun realized this and, despite a general trend toward reducing sections and pages, reprised the Friday "LIVE!" section, which had been jettisoned two years ago. In recent years, local writers have sometimes been sidelined in favor of staffers from owners the Tribune Company—replacing Michael Sragow’s movie reviews with those by a rotating roster of Tribune regulars was a particular travesty—so the new "LIVE!" section is a great way to highlight the work of Sun staffers like Tim Smith and Sam Sessa (and, occasionally, Sragow). Covering a broad range of music, theater, art, movies, and TV, "LIVE!" goes a long way toward giving the Baltimore arts and entertainment community the forum it deserves.

Media Splash WBAL-TV’s morning and noon meteorologist Sandra Shaw has been unstoppable lately. On the air, she’s tried out to be a Ravens cheerleader, endured 100 mph winds in a wind tunnel, and taken the polar-bear plunge, all for our entertainment. And last year, after an aggressive web and on-air campaign to drum up votes, she won a trip to New York to fill in for Kelly Ripa on Live with Regis and Kelly, where she chatted with Reege about lobster and kibitzed with Tim Gunn of Project Runway. And if you needed proof that Shaw truly had arrived, she even inspired a website, Sandra Shaw – Weather in Satin (weatherinsatin.blogspot.com), with the sole purpose of critiquing her on-air fashion.

News Series With the hard-hitting series, "Growing Up Baltimore," WYPR aimed to encapsulate the monumental challenges facing Baltimore’s at-risk children and showed just how powerful and important local journalism can be. In more than 30 distinct segments, the series profiled dozens of area young people, chronicling their struggles to survive and thrive against increasingly long odds. Focusing on everything from the city’s economic downturn to drugs, crime, foster care, abuse, violence, problems with schools, and the breakdown of families, the series’ dogged reporters and editors painted a bleak picture. But they also included portraits of kids who manage to succeed despite all of the obstacles in their path and the people and programs—like Dr. Carnell Cooper and the Violence Intervention Program—that help them along the way. (Pictured, left to right: Associate producers Sunni Khalid, Mary Rose Madden, and C. Fraser Smith with executive producer Deborah George.)

Online News When we gave Investigative Voice (investigativevoice.com) a "Best of Baltimore" award last year, it was for being a silver lining, salvaging some of the best investigative reporters from the defunct Baltimore Examiner to cover the city’s darkest corners for the new website. This year, the site is in full bloom, packing a hard-hitting wallop in a town that’s gone softer on hard news in recent years, largely as a result of cuts at The Sun. IV broke a particularly big story earlier this year, uncovering fraud in the City’s payroll department that allowed an incarcerated former employee and sex offender to collect more than $12,000 in compensation while in prison. IV’s series on the fraud prompted the City’s Inspector General to launch an investigation that led to punishment and reform—exactly the results you hope for with an engaged, active press.

Parent Resource For parents trying to navigate the seemingly endless series of questions and searches that crop up while raising children, there is no single local resource as complete as Baltimore’s Child. Non-breeders may scoff at the free monthly as they breeze past it at supermarket doors, but in-the-know moms and dads rely on it for everything from family events in the area and health information to its unparalleled directories of summer camps, preschools, after-school activities, party entertainers, private music teachers, and pretty much anything else a Baltimore parent would need to know.

Videographer For two years in a row, WBFF’s Darren Durlach has won the National Press Photographers’ Association’s Ernie Crisp Television News Photographer of the Year award, and for good reason. His artful camerawork on stories ranging from the Presidential inauguration to the water main break in East Baltimore have a cinematic flair that elevates the news to art. His work always provides superior visual context to a given story, allowing viewers to see an endless series of perspectives, many atypical, like from under a car, through a tunnel, or from above, giving every segment he shoots a rich, added dimension.

 

SERVICE

Edited by Ken Iglehart

Antiques Appraisal Ever wonder what your 5,000-piece Pez dispenser collection is worth? You can’t find a more savvy expert on antiques’ and collectibles’ values than Parting With Possession’s Fred J. Winer, 410-337-0085, partingwithpossessions.com, a former president of the International Society of Appraisers. Winer will tell it to you straight—even if that chair you thought was worth $5,000 is actually a bad reproduction. But just as often, he’ll find that hidden gem in your house that you didn’t realize was valuable.

Art Installer Imagine you have a large wall you want to use as a tableau for a dozen works of art, all in different sizes. Time to call John Kramer, Kramer Installation, 9 Teresa Marie Court, Millers, 443-465-0331, whose specialty is hanging artwork, including heavy mirrors and oddly shaped objects like sculpture. This MICA grad and 15-year installation veteran has an innate sense about which piece of artwork belongs where—which explains why top interior designers and high-end frame shops are on his regular client list.

THROWDOWN: CAR WASHES

WashWorks vs. Canton Car Wash

The Lowdown
Both these auto washeries win the green star: environmentally cool recycling, low chemical use, and standout service.

Tale of the Tape
We’re giving extra points to Canton Car Wash for its detailing service and espresso bar, but we prefer WashWorks’s “Touchless” washes.

The Decision
Canton Car Wash’s 50 percent discount for hybrid cars is the clincher for us. With what’s going down in the Gulf these days, that means a lot.


THROWDOWN: HARDWARE STORES

Stebbins-Anderson vs. The Home Depot

The Lowdown
Home Depot has six acres of choices, from lightbulbs to contractors’ bulk supplies; Stebbins offers a nice selection of housewares, hardware, paints, key and glass services, and garden/patio merchandise.

Tale of the Tape
If you’re rehabbing a gutted $1 row house in Blightsville, you’ll need Home Depot for those 40 sheets of exterior plywood and 100 feet of PVC pipe. But the average do-it-yourself homeowner might prefer the more manageable Stebbins-Anderson.

The Decision
Stebbins-Anderson’s seasoned staffers are the winning difference for us, offering really superior service and how-to advice. They not only know where all the left-handed widgets are, they can tell you how to use them.


THROWDOWN: ROOFERS

Brothers Services vs. Fick Brothers

The Lowdown
Both these outfits have the science of top-quality roofing nailed, with tens of thousands of jobs under their (tool) belts and nary a dissatisfied customer on record.

Tale of the Tape
Brothers was a Best of Baltimore winner last year; but fourth-generation Fick actually has a longer track record, with 80,000 roof jobs since 1949.

The Decision
We give a tiny edge to Fick Brothers for their peerless customer-relations record, from the first phone call to the finished job.

Carpet Cleaners After making a name for himself operating the franchise Heaven’s Best cleaners, Tim McLaughlin decided to start his own venture, Baltimore Steam Cleaners, 410-46-STEAM, baltimoresteamcleaners.com. "We found a better way to do things," he says. "And now we’re busier than ever." Instead of hand-held, low-moisture units used by the franchise—which, he says, are okay for "maintaining" clean rugs—he moved to a system that can eradicate the really tough stuff, like nasty smells and pet stains.

Fabric Store Whether you’re looking for a new look for your furniture, a striking window treatment, or just great design advice, we suggest Calico Corners, several locations including 2060 York Road, Timonium, 410-252-7900. There are almost too many choices: over 3,000 fabrics, including designer brands like Ralph Lauren, Annie Selke, and Sunbrella. And if they don’t carry it? They’ll find it for you. The knowledgable staff offers free design consultations and all the take-home swatches your heart could desire.

Flooring Service There’s nothing like gleaming hardwood floors to dress a place up, and for that, we call Jason Brown Wood Floors, 7828 Westmoreland Avenue, 410-668-9131. Since 1996, this small outfit has earned a reputation for great work on hardwood- and exotic-floor installation and refinishing, as well as for being tidy, prompt, and reasonably priced. The key, says Brown, is that he personally supervises every job himself.

Framing The artsy folks at Framin’ Place, 1350 Smith Avenue, 410-433-3434, have framed up some weird stuff in the past few years: the ear canal of a fish, a set of human fingernails, and even a bra, recalls manager Mark Thompson. But that’s not what most of its customers go there for, some from as far away as New York. It’s for the selection of 4,000-plus frames, the great ideas from the experienced staff (the "new guy" there is a seven-year vet), and the artwork and document restoration. (Yes, they can fix the hole you put in the Picasso—no questions asked.)

Glass Repair Whether it’s busted glass in a storm door or a cracked glass tabletop, try 84-year-old Caplan Bros. Glass, 700 W. Hamburg Street, 410-685-6400. They’ll fix it quickly and offer a 24-hour emergency service, too. (They’ve been Johnny-on-the-spot for desperate storeowners who’ve suffered smashed windows in pre-dawn burglaries.) They’ll also cut glass to specs for you do-it-yourselfers out there.

Grocery Service Tired of the hassle of grocery shopping? So don’t go: Log on to peapod.com instead. A sister company of Giant Foods since 2000, Peapod lets you choose your groceries online—and that means just about anything you’d find in a Giant. Your goods are picked up by real humans and show up at your door in whatever time frame you specify. Your days of pushing that grocery cart with a bum wheel are behind you.

Home Computer Wizard If your computer thinks it’s a toaster, put a call into Digital Geek’s Geoffrey Parrish, 443-451-4296. Parrish is renowned for his mastery of virus diagnosis as well as his web design. He’s also received the Angie’s List Super Service Award for the last three years running. Oh, and if you want him to hold a tune, he can do that, too—he has a master’s degree in vocal performance from the Peabody Institute.

Home Contractor Looking for a do-it-all home repair guy who does great work, shows up on time, and is affordable? Add Kevin Harns, Fresh Look Custom Contracting, 410-200-6844, to your speed dial. In his spare time, he rehabs gutted city row houses for investors, so there’s very little he can’t handle. In business for 14 years, he’s also straight with customers, which is why he’s a favorite on neighborhood vendor lists all over the area.

Home Entertainment Systems Discriminating music and film lovers rely on Starr Systems Designs, 1421 Clarkview Road, Suite 122, 410-494-4310, which has won industry accolades for its integrated audio systems and home theaters that include such Jetsons-esque touches as lighting and temperature controls and sound and motion detection.

The Inside Job
4 in-home fix-it guys

Appliance Repair For fast, dependable—and guaranteed—service on your appliances of all types, go to BGE Home, 888-BGE-HOME. Their technicians are experienced BGE Home employees, not subcontractors; they show up on time, and they know their compressors from their range burners.

Electrician If your dream electrician is responsive, punctual, and a master of his craft, call Winn Electric Contracting, 3 Spring House Road, Lutherville, 410-484-5544. Partners Arnold Friedlander or Bill Winn do it all, from basic wiring to trace lighting—they’ll network your electrics with your computer, install cable lines and generators, and much more.

Plumber Brent E. Goldsmith Inc., 901 W. University Parkway, 443-463-2766, is a plumber with a pedigree: This fifth-generation family business—in its 105th year!—has built a name for itself in the tonier ’hoods of northern Baltimore. (Calvert School is a client.)

Tile and Grout Restoration The best thing about Alvin Stevenson’s Grout Medic, 410-545-1200? His only business is regrouting, sealing, and replacing cracked tiles, so you don’t have to contemplate thousands of dollars in new tiles.

 

Landscaper Whether it’s a new home, a renovation, or just a reinvention of your home’s exterior look, Bob Jackson Landscapes, 11436 Cronridge Drive, Owings Mills, 410-356-1620, is your best bet. Founder Jackson and his crew are the first choice of high-end general contractors and discriminating homeowners in greater Baltimore’s most desirable neighborhoods. Their peers like them, too: Jackson’s designs and installations have won the firm numerous industry accolades.

Men’s Tailor For a little extra sartorial splendor with a European flair, Christopher Schafer, Tom James of Baltimore, 1777 Reisterstown Road, Suite 153, 410-404-5131, is the needle master to call. Attorneys, bankers, Orioles, and Ravens count on him for that sharp look you can only get from a guy trained on London’s Savile Row.

Nursery If you only have a pathetic maple seedling in the front yard, head for Pinehurst Nursery, 4809 Long Green Road, Glen Arm, 410-592-5030, where you’ll find the area’s best selection of large specimens, including a wide selection of ornamental trees and a variety of large shade trees. In all, there are something like 50,000 trees and shrubs on the 125 acres the nursery owns in Long Green Valley. Its trained horticulturists help you choose the right tree for the spot, and, of course, it has the equipment and expertise to plant those trees properly.

Car Talk
3 surefire automotive solutions

Auto Glass Service If a passing gravel truck scored a bulls-eye on your windshield, count on Smith Auto Glass, several locations including 939 York Rd., Towson, 410-296-4777. Founded by Grandpa Smith nearly 50 years ago, they’re fast, efficient, and do great work. They’ve even been used to repair broken windows on action film sets.

Mobile Car Detailing Want to revisit that new car feeling? Call Rob Schruefer of On The Spot Mobile Detailing, 443-864-8671. His 14 staffers and several mobile units will make your car just-out-of-the-showroom clean. They also do mobile minor repairs to leather and vinyl and paint touch-ups.

Downtown Auto Repair If you work downtown and need honest, fast, competent car repair, point your wheezing clunker toward Central Service & Repair, 1026 Eastern Avenue, 410-685-4298. Forty-year car veteran Len Young and his crew will do everything in their power to get you back on the road ASAP. (They also have some of the lowest gas prices in town.)

 

Painter In the market for a perfectionist with a paintbrush? Check out Frederick "Bill" Spencer, F.W. Spencer and Associates, 410-526-4980, who runs a small outfit with a big following of picky clients. For more than 20 years, he’s painted some of the grandest homes in Baltimore City and County. Among his credits are the personal home of bakery mogul John Paterakis Jr., as well as the Hyatt Regency Inner Harbor and the BMA. But beware: He has no website. "People keep telling me I need one," he says, "but all of my work is by word-of-mouth."

Upholsterer So who do high-end interior designers like Mona Hajj, Rita St. Clair, and Jay Jenkins go to for their high-quality upholstering? They swear by Remington’s Ibello & Co., 429 Fawcett Street, 410-243-1163, a third-generation family business run by president Alan Ibello, with help from his 82-year-old father, 67-year-old uncle, and 15 staffers. Says Jenkins, "We wouldn’t think of going anywhere else."

Window Cleaner Sean Carr, Friendly Neighorhood Window Cleaning, 410-733-5511, takes a very professional approach to his craft: He’s incorporated, buys liability insurance way over the state minimum requirement, is a member of the International Association of Window Cleaners, and has 15 years of experience. Now that’s a guy you want hanging from your windows.

 

SHOPPING

Edited by Janelle Erlichman Diamond

Accessories Sure, Sassa-nova, 805 Aliceanna Street, 410-244-1114, is known as the place for shoes, but it’s the accessories—beaded earrings, outrageous rings, and statement necklaces in every color from fire engine red to cool ocean blue—that make us weak in the knees. We especially love the colorful summer scarves and headbands, silky smooth leather Deux Lux bags, and classy Anya Hindmarch cosmetic clutches. It’s like a candy shop for baubles.

Antiques It can feel a bit strange to shop at Halcyon House Antiques, 11219 Greenspring Avenue, 410-828-8889, a sensation akin to pulling a lamp off a friend’s side table and asking how much he’s selling it for. But that’s the point. Designer Stiles Colwill’s store—opened on an adjoining property to his family’s Halcyon Farms—is an extension of him. Originally just an antique shop, focusing on 18th- and 19th-century furniture, Colwill took a cue from the economy and infused more modern and contemporary items (read: more affordable) into the mix. So now there’s flatware, candles, garden furniture, and antique urns, all cohabitating beautifully with the finer pieces. And yes, it’s all for sale.

THROWDOWN: TOWNE CENTRES

Annapolis Towne Centre vs. Hunt Valley Towne Centre

The Lowdown
Both have dining, entertainment, and shopping under the stars (or sun).

Tale of the Tape
Hunt Valley packs in Box of Rain, Ann Taylor Loft, Olly Shoes, Greetings & Readings, and their ace in the hole: Wegmans; Annapolis boasts Anthropologie, lululemon Athletica, Urban Chic, Paper Source, and Whole Foods. Will Wegmans trump Whole Foods?

The Decision
Wegmans almost tips the scale, but in the end, it’s Annapolis Towne Centre! More options and variety between stores—plus did we mention the Anthropologie?


THROWDOWN: AVENUES

The Avenue in Hampden vs. The Avenue in Highlandtown

The Lowdown
Polish Fest vs. HonFest. G&A hot dogs vs. Golden West Cafe’s Elvis pancakes. The Creative Alliance vs. Minàs Gallery.

Tale of the Tape
Hands down, Hampden trumps Highlandtown with some of the best shopping in the city. And we’d give our right arm for a beautiful night on the Rocket to Venus patio. But Highlandtown has its own powerful weapon: Patterson Park.

The Decision
The Avenue in Highlandtown, by a Hon. The mix of Baltimore’s Central Park and The Creative Alliance takes the so-called “heart of Baltimore” over the edge.


THROWDOWN: DAPPER DANS

J.S. Edwards vs. Samuel Parker Clothier

The Lowdown
They come out swinging—and dressed to the nines: Both shops offer impeccable threads and easy parking.

Tale of the Tape
J.S. Edwards has a more modern vibe with Hugo Boss, Robert Graham, and Etro; Samuel Parker is more tailored with Polo Ralph Lauren and Samuelsohn of Canada.

The Decision
J.S. Edwards by a (well-groomed) hair. The bigger selection means more spruced dudes.


THROWDOWN: BRIDESMAID DRESSES

Bella Bridesmaid vs. Garnish Boutique

The Lowdown
Bella, a national chain with a Federal Hill locale, and Garnish, tucked away near Mt. Washington, offer an overlapping number of dresses for the modern ’maid.

Tale of the Tape
Bella Bridesmaid stocks Coren Moore, LulaKate, Jenny Yoo, and Ardour (along with a ton of others); Garnish’s selection is smaller including Thread, Simple Silhouettes, and Anna Elyse.

The Decision
Thanks to personal service, Garnish caught the bouquet. Owner Mia Isse is one of the most personable shop owners you’ll meet and is as giddy about your wedding day as you are.

Dresses True story: Jess needed a dress to wear on an impromptu day trip to New York City. So, she went to Whimsy, 1033 S. Charles Street, 410-234-0204, and they put her in gorgeous Valerie Dumaine and she went on her merry way. Turns out she got engaged that weekend. Was it the dress? Who knows—but the Federal Hill boutique does have the best collection of dresses in the city. There’s the bold, bright colors of French Connection, flirty VOOM, the fashion forwardness of Walter by Walter, and sophisticated Max & Cleo. We’re not saying you’ll get a marriage proposal every time you wear a Whimsy dress—but you’ll definitely get a compliment.

Eyewear Oh, how we love Mt. Vernon’s trendy eyeglass shop Paris West Optical, 521 North Charles Street, 410-528-1877. It has an amazing selection—Chanel, Oliver Peoples, Bevel, Salt, Etnia Barcelona, Mykita, Kirk Originals—curated by the insanely friendly Jordan Flitter. He loves glasses like people love their spouses—truly, madly, deeply. With over 7,000 frames it’s easy to spends hours perusing, trying on, and critiquing. But, in all honesty, sometimes we find ourselves drawn there even when we don’t need new frames. We just want to hang out.

Fashionista Temple Ever since Form, 2002 Clipper Park Road, 410-889-3116, arrived in 2007, we’ve been impressed with owner Aimee Bracken’s vision: a small collection, finely edited with pristine service in a beautiful setting. This year, Bracken moved her business from The Avenue in Hampden to the Poole and Hunt Building in Clipper Mill—right next door to Woodberry Kitchen. In her new space—with its open ceiling and soothing color palette—the clothes (from Shoshanna, Diane Von Furstenberg, Milly, and J Brand) are still the main stars. She also has Alexis Bittar jewelry and high-end designer label consignment. And never one to sit still, Bracken is concentrating on her own handcrafted jewelry—lots of stones and metal—and getting ready to debut her private label clothing line this fall.

Gifts As soon as the invitation arrives in the mail—be it wedding, baby shower, or housewarming—we head directly to Red Tree, 921 W. 36th Street, 410-366-3456. For newcomers, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff inside the two-floor shop. But rest assured, everything is organized neatly into sections: kitchen, office, bathroom, baby, bar, and holiday. And the incredibly charming staff—owner Carmen Brock just might be the friendliest person in Baltimore—loves to help you navigate. There’s clothing, jewelry, gadgets, kid’s toys, and great art. And don’t forget the card—yep, Red Tree has those, too.

Guy Tees Yes, South Moon Under, several locations including 815 Aliceanna Street, 410-685-7820, has a bazillion tee styles emblazoned with various photos, words, and graphics—brands like RVCA, Obey, and Penguin come to mind. But it’s the simple Alternative Apparel organic crew tees that find a way into our shopping bag each time. Super soft, better with each wash, under $20 a pop, and in muted shades of red, purple, blue, and charcoal—they work with jeans or cargo shorts, on twentysomething dudes or graying dads. Stock up.

Home Goods
5 places to score for your home

Potluck At The Avenue’s Antique Exchange, 3545 Chestnut Avenue, 410-532-7000, anything goes: new items from John Robshaw, Two’s Company, and Middle Kingdom, and old (but pristine) items ranging from wing chairs to dining room sets and settees.

Eclectic While the front of the shop feels like a contemporary apothecary, the back of In Watermelon Sugar, 3555 Chestnut Avenue, 410-662-9090, houses wonderful knickknacks stored on beautiful pieces of furniture. (They’re for sale, too.)

Urban The modern Mecca Calligaris by Pad, 1500 Thames Street, 410-563-4723, makes us love the Italians even more. The contemporary essentials—tables, couches, and chairs—are as delicious as a bowl of pasta.

Shabby Chic Ellicott City is lucky to house The Good Life Market, 3752 Old Columbia Pike, 410-480-4324, a mix of goodies like lamps, clocks, and chandeliers, but also stuff for your outdoor space like bird houses and garden accents.

Traditional The Kellogg Collection, 6241 Falls Road, 410-296-4378, screams, well, whispers elegance—right down to the superior selection of rugs, lamps, and consoles.

 

Kid Boutique It’s hard to imagine Wee Chic, 10751 Falls Road, 410-878-7400, without owner Bridget Stickline. She loves her job—like shout-it-from-the-rooftop loves it—and has made the corner shop at Green Spring Station a whole lot of fun. There are photo sessions and trunk shows; her "onesie bar" is a must for any parent-to-be (the "iPooed" one still cracks us up); and there’s also shoes, as well as a sprinkling of toys, hats, and lullaby renditions of rock music. And of course the clothes—ranging from newborns to kid size eight. Stickline, a mother herself, knows clothes have to withstand sticky hands and skinned knees, and stocks her store with mostly play-friendly but style-heavy pieces from Splendid, Ella Moss, Lucky Jade, LA Made, and Alpha Industries.

Kids’ Accessories It’s a rarity to find an adorable baby boutique—with an ample repertoire of clothes, books, puzzles, and bedding—that also manages to squeeze in custom cribs from Spot on Square and Oeuf and strollers from Mountain Buggy and Phil & Ted. The Corduroy Button, 1625 Thames Street, 410-276-5437, in its bigger, better, new digs manages to do both. Unforeseen bonus? Take that stroller for a spin—the bumpy cobblestone streets in Fells Point let you see how well it really handles.

Modern Furniture Finally, Home on the Harbor, 1414 Key Highway, 410-433-1616, is living up to its name. The new location—across the street from the Baltimore Museum of Industry—actually is on the harbor. The large space—three-and-a-half times the size of the old spot—is filled with vignettes that show off tables, chairs, sofas, rugs, and lamps from the likes of Knoll, Gus Modern, Kartell, American Leather, and Blue Dot. The biggest pop of color comes from the creative Alessi accessories displayed in the corner: tea kettles, corkscrews, and juicers. Wandering around, it’s easy to start falling in love with everything. But don’t get (too) carried away.

New Boutique How refreshing to find a boutique that actually carries real sizes but doesn’t skimp on the fashion. Owner Jade Greer has hunted down the best dresses, jeans, tops, leggings—you name it—in sizes 12 to 30 at her Hampden boutique K Staton, 817 W. 36th Street, 410-400-9113, tucked away in the back of Lynne’s Gifts. But the greatest thing about this shop—aside from the super cute and trendy clothes—is the contagious giddiness of Greer.

Locally Made
4 designers who make homemade look easy

Baby There is nothing cutesy about Chelsea Graham’s tot line Lola Miren, lolamiren.etsy.com, and we mean that in the nicest way possible. Her tees, blankets, burp cloths, and bibs are modern keepsakes in fabulous fabrics and appliqués.

Clothes We’ve had our eye on the talented Lacey Wheatley of Kalivoda, kalivoda.com, for some time. Her clothing pieces are well-tailored, interesting, and very feminine. (And we like her jewelry, too!)

Jewelry Alexandra Webb’s jewelry—sold at her eponymous Federal Hill boutique, 1028 S. Charles Street, 410-244-5144—is simple, elegant, and lovely. She has an eye for color, texture, and shape—and she loves to create custom pieces as well.

Pottery Never has pottery said so much as the pieces at Pinkkiss, pinkkiss.etsy.com, Shawna Pincus’s contempo heirlooms.  Each dish, cup, mug, and bowl—painted with an underglaze and screen-printed—has a story to tell.

 

Objects The mid-century warehouse wonderland that is Home Anthology, 91 Mellor Avenue, Catonsville, 410-744-0042, is like a secret society: Can you find the building? Are they open? But trust us, it’s so worth learning the secret handshake. The unadorned space is a wonderfully clean palette for the bold furniture and intriguing accessories. There is so much eye candy—teak salad bowl sets by Dansk, Wayne Husted large green Blenko glass decanters, enamel fondue pots, vintage wooden napkin holders by Viking, Joe Colombo molded plastic chairs—that we usually have to circle the store at least three times just to take it all in.

Shoes This shop easily walks away with the win again. Why? A quick peek inside Poppy and Stella, 728 S. Broadway, 410-522-1970, and it’s clear that there’s a little something for everyone: butt-kicking cowboy boots, fierce nude pumps, leather gladiator sandals, edgy wedges, classic ballet flats, and throwback jellies. Kelley Krohn Heuisler’s recent expansion to the Annapolis Towne Centre at Parole proves she has the right formula—stay true to trends, find great lines (from Frye, French Sole, Coclico, All Black), and offer a wide range of prices. Heuisler’s blog—poppyandstella.blogspot.com—is frequently updated and gives a sneak peek at what will soon be the envy of your peers.

Shopping Center The Village of Cross Keys, 5100 Falls Road, 410-323-1000, nestled off Falls Road and surrounded by lush greenery, is the best of both worlds—all the convenience of a mall (ample free parking), but all the intrigue of (mostly) independent shops. Among the many great stores are La Terra for gifts, Pied Piper and Barston’s Child’s Play for the kids, Jean Pool for denim needs, dresscode by gita for jewelry and accessories, Ruth Shaw for designer duds, Williams-Sonoma for cookware, Art de Femme for lingerie and swimwear, Joanna Gray for designer shoes, and The Store Ltd. for home goods and Betty Cooke jewelry.

Sneakers The first thing you do when you get to Charm City Run, 2045 York Road, Timonium, 410-561-3570, is take off your shoes. See, expert fitters measure your feet and carefully watch you walk. They’re peeking at your pronation (insert joke here)—the way your foot moves when you move. Wanna see for yourself? Hop on the treadmill and they’ll videotape your stride. Soon they’ll emerge with boxes of sneakers that will all magically fit your feet perfectly. They’re like sneaker superheroes!

Stationery Do people still write letters? They do if they’ve been to The Pleasure of Your Company, 2360 W. Joppa Road, 410-821-6369, a Lutherville staple run under the discriminating eye of Hannah Rodewald. Rodewald—who sits on the advisory board for the National Stationery Show—has been in the business long enough to know exactly what her customers want. She sells loose sheets of paper and matching envelopes, box sets of cards, and a wide range of greeting cards. Her custom work, though, is what sets her apart. She stocks the best of the best—Julie Holcomb Printers, William Arthur, Dauphine, Elum Designs, and Crane & Co.—for calling cards, special occasion invitations, and everyday stationery. You can finally show your kids what a stamp looks like.

Use of Space One of the coolest things to hit Charm City this past year was the Pop-Up Shops in the bottom of the Legg Mason building in Harbor East. Jewelry shop owner Gita Chowdhury proposed the idea after seeing similar temporary shops in London and New York. A pop-up gives a customer a small taste of a shop that isn’t normally in their neighborhood. For one glorious month, just in time for Christmas shopping, five retailers—dresscode by gita, doubledutch, Shine Collective, Patrick Sutton Home, and Di[e]ce—moved in. (Patrick Sutton liked the space so much he came back—permanently.)

Wedding Registry Sure gift registry can seem a bit daunting—kitchen, bed, bath, dining, repeat—but it’s also really fun. When else do you get to make a list of exactly what you want and have people willingly buy it? And there is no better place than the Towson Town Center luxury wing, 825 Dulaney Valley Road, Towson, 410-494-8800, for an all-day registry marathon. Start at Crate and Barrel for gadgets, flatware, and cookware before checking out Pottery Barn’s amazing selection of home décor. Refuel downstairs with some lettuce wraps at P.F. Chang’s before hitting Tiffany & Company for crystal vases and pilsner glasses. Still wanting more? Head across the way to Macy’s—there’s a Martha Stewart collection to zap.

Women’s Boutique The charming doubledutch, 3616 Falls Road, 410-554-0055, is always the first place we drag out-of-town guests. Co-owners Lesley Jennings and Megan Luther stock all the labels we can’t find anywhere else: WeSc, Sailor Jerry, Shinzi Katoh, and Industry. Better still, they truly promote local designers like Emily Li Mandri of Natty Paint, Jonna Buckner, dandelion blu, The Littlest Bean, Red Prairie Press, and Pistol Stitched Designs. Come to think of it, maybe we should make it the last stop on our tour of Charm City—no other boutique can compare.

Issue date: August, 2010
12 issues for $18!