Best of Howard County: 75 favorites for 2017

The Columbia Gym's Bonnie Pace was voted best personal trainer in Howard Magazine's 2017 Best of Howard County readers' poll.
The Columbia Gym's Bonnie Pace was voted best personal trainer in Howard Magazine's 2017 Best of Howard County readers' poll. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

The fervor for the Best of Howard County is a five-month affair. From the time the readers’ poll launches in August to the delivery of Howard Magazine’s December issue, businesses, nonprofits and readers are abuzz in anticipation of who might take home the coveted title.

At last, the wait is over.


This year, more than 16,000 voters selected their favorites in 75 categories, ranging from everyday needs like child care to special-occaision spots like event venues.

Readers’ passion is clear; when we asked voters to tell us why they chose one of their favorites, the responses were enthusiastic and heartfelt. A few of those testimonials are sprinkled throughout the results.


Editor’s note: Winners and honorable mentions were determined by popular vote. Readers were invited to vote online in August.

Pig races at 72nd annual Howard County Fair.
Pig races at 72nd annual Howard County Fair. (Brian Krista / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Annual festival/event: Howard County Fair

“All the fun of the Maryland State Fair, but none of the congestion, none of the sprawl and none of the parking hassles. This is by far our favorite event, and it's not summer unless we get to go!” —Mary Helen Sprecher, Columbia

Honorable mentions:


Wine in the Woods

Columbia Festival of the Arts

Hot Air Balloon Festival

Art gallery: Howard County Center for the Arts

Honorable mentions:

HorseSpirit Arts Gallery

Pistachio Gallery

Artists’ Gallery

Main Street Ellicott City boutique Sweet Elizabeth Jane reopened in a new location just four months after the July 2016 flood.
Main Street Ellicott City boutique Sweet Elizabeth Jane reopened in a new location just four months after the July 2016 flood. (Jen Rynda / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Ellicott City comeback: Sweet Elizabeth Jane

When floodwaters swept through historic Ellicott City on July 30 last year, Tammy Beideman’s Main Street boutique was devastated, her merchandise destroyed, the building left uninhabitable.

Less than four months later, against all odds and thanks to her own herculean efforts and the help of countless volunteers, Sweet Elizabeth Jane reopened in a new location just down the street.

It reopened, in fact, on Black Friday — just in time to salvage the year in sales – and long lines of customers snaked through the store.

“It was really amazing, a race to the finish line,” Beideman says. “We worked and worked and worked, and we made it.”

A year later, the popular shop is still not functioning as smoothly as it did before the flood. But sales are good, Beideman said, and Sweet Elizabeth Jane, a Main Street institution, is back.

8289 Main St., Ellicott City. 410-465-6400. sweetelizabethjane.com.

Honorable mentions:

Phoenix Emporium

Bean Hollow

HorseSpirit Arts Gallery

Kids’ activity: Clark’s Elioak Farm

Honorable mentions:

Sky Zone Columbia


Columbia SportsPark

Performing arts group: Toby’s Dinner Theatre

Honorable mentions:

Columbia Orchestra

Rep Stage

Columbia Pro Cantare

Special event venue: Turf Valley Resort

Honorable mentions:

Howard County Conservancy

The Great Room at Savage Mill

Waverly Mansion

Volunteer organization: Howard County Fire and Rescue

Honorable mentions:

Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center

Neighbor Ride

The Arc of Howard County

Antique shop: The Antique Center at Historic Savage Mill

Honorable mentions:

The Pink Cabbage

Antique Depot

Cottage Antiques

Bookstore: Barnes & Noble

Honorable mentions:

Daedalus Books

Second Edition


Bike shop: Race Pace Bicycles

Honorable mentions:

Princeton Sports

The Cycle Mill

Performance Bicycle

Bridal shop: The Bridal Boutique

Honorable mentions:

Curvaceous Couture

Cherie Amour

Venus Bridal

A 2018 Honda Accord Touring at O'Donnell Honda.
A 2018 Honda Accord Touring at O'Donnell Honda. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

Car dealership: O’Donnell Honda

When he’s in the mood for a sweet treat at work, Brian Schwenk knows where to go: the service department of his car dealership.

“Multiple times a week, I’ll go down there and a customer will have brought in cakes or cookies or something, as an appreciation to the people there,” says Schwenk, the general manager of O’Donnell Honda on U.S. 40 in Ellicott City. “That’s kind of unheard of.”

Schwenk attributes his customers’ generosity, and his dealership’s overall success, to the expertise and experience of his staff.

“People know they’re talking to someone who has knowledge, someone who can help them out,” he says. “They know we’re going to take care of the customers.”

8620 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City. 410-461-5000. odonnellhonda.com.

Honorable mentions:

Apple Ford Lincoln

Antwerpen Toyota and Nissan

Jim Coleman Honda

Consignment/resale shop: 2nd Avenue

Honorable mentions:

Charity’s Closet


Once Upon A Child

Clothing boutique: Sweet Elizabeth Jane

Honorable mentions:


Kokopelli (closed)

Kelsey’s Kloset

Furniture store: Oak Tree Furniture

Honorable mentions:

Su Casa


Indoor Furniture

Jeweler: Smyth

Honorable mentions:

Sergio’s Fine Jewelers

Edward Arthur Jewelers

Fulton Station Jewelers

Pet supplies store: PetSmart

Honorable mentions:


My Pet Store and More


Beer, wine and/or liquor store: Pine Orchard Liquors

Honorable mentions:

The Perfect Pour

Jason’s Wine & Spirit

The Wine Bin

Among the entrees Putting on the Ritz serves is blackened salmon with black bean sauce, saffron rice, corn, asparagus and lima beans.
Among the entrees Putting on the Ritz serves is blackened salmon with black bean sauce, saffron rice, corn, asparagus and lima beans.

Caterer: Putting on the Ritz

Experience counts, they say. And nobody believes that more than Bobby Ray Mitchell, co-owner of the North Laurel-based Putting on the Ritz, a multiple-time winner of the best caterer title.

“We’ve been doing this for a long time,” Mitchell says of his family business’ 34 years. “We know the amounts of food to send so we don’t run out, how to handle people, how to make sure we have enough staff on each job and giving yourself plenty of time to set up.”

Putting on the Ritz specializes in tableside stations that offer, for example, three kinds of gourmet macaroni and cheese. But the business, which caters 800 events a year, has no single specialty dish, Mitchell says. “To be a caterer, you have to have a lot of specialties … to keep everybody happy.”

9115 Whiskey Bottom Road, Suite E, Laurel. 800-213-7427. puttingontheritz.com.

Honorable mentions:

Kloby’s Smokehouse

Smokin’ Hot Bar & Grille

Absolutely Perfect Catering

Farmers’ market/stand: Howard County Farmers Market Ellicott City

Honorable mentions:

Frank’s Produce and Greenhouse


Ellicott City Old Town Market


Gorman Farm

Howard County residents have dozens of recommendations for any occasion. Nearly 1,900 voted in our 2017 Best Restaurants readers’ poll, delivering winners in 46 categories.

Health food/supplement store: Trader Joe’s

Honorable mentions:


David’s Natural Market

Roots Market

Place to buy seafood: Wegmans

Honorable mentions:

Today’s Catch

Sea King

Whole Foods

Alternative wellness center: Maryland University of Integrative Health

Honorable mentions:

The Still Point

Awaken Wellness

Quiet Time Hypnosis

Audiologist/hearing repair: ENTAA Care and Kaplan Hearing Center (tie)

Honorable mentions:

Costco Hearing Aid Center

Dr. Alicia D.D. Spoor, Designer Audiology

Chiropractor: Howard County Chiropractic Spine & Sports Rehabilitation

“Drs. Russ and Veronica Antico … are excellent at explaining what they are doing and why, and both have outstanding personalities.” — Kevin Murray, Elkridge

Honorable mentions:

Morrison Chiropractic

Dabbs Rehab Center of Maryland

Chesapeake Family Wellness Center

Day spa: The Pearl Modern Spa & Boutique

Honorable mentions:

The Spa at Turf Valley

Lynn’s Day Spa

Brightwater: The Spa at Skin Care Institute

Dental practice: Columbia Smiles Family Dentistry

Honorable mentions:

Roschella & Zinger Dental Group

Dobbin Dental Suite

Menton Family Dental Care

Eye care: Wilmer Eye Institute at Columbia

Honorable mentions:

Physician’s Eye Care and Laser Center

Columbia Eye Associates

Columbia Family Eye Care

Medispa: Oasis Day Spa

Honorable mentions:

Doctor K MediSpa (formerly AllCare)

Pura Vida Medical Spa

Between the Lines MediSpa

OB/GYN: Capital Women’s Care

Honorable mentions:

Signature OB/GYN

The Women’s OB/GYN Group

John’s Hopkins Community Physicians

Orthodontist: Baltimore Orthodontic Group

Honorable mentions:

OX Orthodontix

Rubler & Halpern Orthodontics

Vanguard Orthodontics

Dr. Parul A. Shah of Klebanow & Associates lets 4-year-old Yasmeen Nowak of Ellicott City listen to her own heartbeat.
Dr. Parul A. Shah of Klebanow & Associates lets 4-year-old Yasmeen Nowak of Ellicott City listen to her own heartbeat. (Brian Krista / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Pediatric practice: Klebanow & Associates

Klebanow & Associates is all about convenience.

Voted Howard County’s best pediatric practice for 20 consecutive years, the office is open 364 days a year (every day except Christmas, although hours are limited on weekends) and has evening hours Monday through Thursday.

The staff includes 10 physicians and five nurse practitioners, three of whom are board-certified lactation consultants. It also includes a full-time pediatric psychologist, who works with the pediatricians to address behavioral issues and concerns.

“I aim to treat my patients as I would my own family, and I am thankful to be a part of a practice that shares this vision,” says Dr. Parul A. Mehta Shah, a pediatrician at the practice for the past 10 years.

Established in 1982, the Columbia pediatrician also partners with several local schools for telemedicine visits so children can stay in school, and sees newborns at Howard County General Hospital when they are admitted and when they are discharged.

8821 Columbia 100 Parkway, Columbia. 410-997-1700. klebanowandassociates.com.

Honorable mentions:

Howard County Pediatrics

Ellicott City Pediatric Associates

The Pediatric Center

Physical therapist: Howard County Physical Therapy

Honorable mentions:

Life Fitness Physical Therapy

Revive Physical Therapy

BodyWise Physical Therapy & Wellness

Plastic surgeon: Plastic Surgery Professionals

Honorable mentions:

Dr. Sarah Mess

Columbia Aesthetic Plastic Surgery

Dr. Terri Hill

Therapist/counselor: Together Couples Counseling

Honorable mentions:

Congruent Counseling

Stanton Psychotherapy

Spirit Therapy

Urgent care: Patient First

Honorable mentions:

KinderMender Walk-In Pediatric Center

Righttime Medical Care


Veterinary practice: Countryside Veterinary Clinic

“Dr. Carroll Thumel … is simply the best vet I’ve ever known. My daughter drives her cats all the way from Timonium to be treated by him.” —Linda McKeldin, Ellicott City

Honorable mentions:

Triadelphia Veterinary Clinic

Cat and Dog Hospital of Columbia

Dunloggin Veterinary Hospital

Flooring and carpeting: Bode Floors

Honorable mentions:

A Plus Carpet & Flooring

The Vertical Connection Carpet One

Main Street Oriental Rugs

Garden center/nursery: Frank’s Produce & Greenhouse

“Customers are valued friends at Frank’s. I will go out of my way to stop by! Flowers and plants are healthy and gorgeous, and produce is fresh and delicious!” —Gail Zanelotti, Ellicott City

Honorable mentions:

Sun Nurseries

Grandfather’s Garden Center

The Nursery at Lauren’s Garden Service

Heating/air conditioning repair: Environmental Systems Associates

Honorable mentions:

B&B Air Conditioning and Heating Service Co.

Ron Air

No-Frost A/C & Heating Co.

Homebuilder: Ryan Homes

Honorable mentions:

Columbia Builders

Williamsburg Homes

Trinity Homes

Housecleaners: The Cleaning Authority

Honorable mentions:

Merry Maids

Pioneer Custom Cleaning

Home Sweet Home Cleaning Services

Landscaper: Mike’s Landscaping Supplies

Honorable mentions:

Rhine Landscaping

Oaklawn Landscaping

Lauren’s Garden Service

Plumber: Ken Griffin Plumbing Services

Honorable mentions:

Zepp Plumbing & Heating

Heil Plumbing

Mark Brew Plumbing and Heating

Real Estate Agent: Bob Lucido, Keller Williams Integrity

Honorable mentions:

Creig Northrop, Long & Foster Real Estate

Jesse Hoffman, The Jesse Hoffman Real Estate Team

David Yungmann, Keller Williams Integrity

Remodeler: Cossentino and Sons Remodeling and Design

Honorable mentions:

Cornerstone Remodeling

Ken Griffin Plumbing Services

Allan Homes Unlimited

Barbara Schuyler, 78, does the "Superman" exercise during Boot Camp at Vantage House.
Barbara Schuyler, 78, does the "Superman" exercise during Boot Camp at Vantage House. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Senior housing community: Vantage House

At Vantage House, a housing community in Columbia for those 60 years and older, employees do not use words like “senior” or “elderly” to describe their residents.

It’s part of the facility’s overarching effort to treat its residents as individuals, not as cliches, according to the sales and marketing director, Andrew Morgan, and it helps explain Vantage House’s popularity.

“More than anything, [our success] is based on the fact that we see the person before we see their age,” he says.

Vantage House also prides itself on giving residents a voice in how their facility is run, Morgan said. For example, a residents’ committee has as much, if not more, influence over what activities are offered than Vantage House’s paid activities director.

5400 Vantage Point Road, Columbia. 410-964-5454. vantagehouse.org.


Honorable mentions:

The Lutheran Village at Miller’s Grant

Waverly Woods West

Ellicott Meadows

Accountant: Daniel Mules, Geier Asset Management

Honorable mentions:

Keith Dorsey, Dorsey Accounting & Tax Services

Jeffery D. Ring, Fisher Ring LLC

Dembo Jones

Auto repair: Hillmuth Auto Care

Honorable mentions:

British American Auto Care

Neubauer’s Auto Repair

Ken’s Service Center

Bank/credit union: Tower Federal Credit Union

Honorable mentions:

M&T Bank


The Columbia Bank

Barbershop: Floyd’s 99 Barbershop

Honorable mentions:

Sal’s Barber Shop

Rob’s Barber Shop

Master Barber

Child care: Bet Yeladim Preschool

Honorable mentions:

The Goddard School

Columbia Academy

The Young School

Computer repair: Best Buy Geek Squad

Honorable mentions:

IT by Lee


ScottE Software

Doggie day care: Camp Bow Wow

Honorable mentions:


The Coventry School Inc. for Dogs and Their People

Club Pooche

Family lawyer: Mulinazzi Law Office

Honorable mentions:

Weinberg & Schwartz, LLC

Law Offices of Alisa G. Cummins

Law Firm of Robert L. Flanagan

Financial adviser: Geier Asset Management

Honorable mentions:

Gary Williams, Williams Asset Management

Baltimore Washington Financial Advisors

Brian Avrunin, Ameriprise

Florist: Wilhide’s Unique Flowers & Gifts

Honorable mentions:

The Flower Basket

Raimondi’s Florist

Clarksville Flower Station

Interior decorator/designer: Classic Interiors

Honorable mentions:

The Decorating Therapist

Terra Maria Home Interiors

Drury Lane Interiors

Pet groomer: PetSmart

Honorable mentions:

The Dog Wash

Highland Groomery

The Coventry School Inc. for Dogs and Their People

Ashleigh Burnstein shampoos Karen Gentle's hair at Mason & Friends.
Ashleigh Burnstein shampoos Karen Gentle's hair at Mason & Friends. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Salon: Mason & Friends Salon & Sp

Pam Mason doesn’t hesitate when asked what makes her Columbia salon stand out from others in Howard County.

“I think it’s our welcoming and friendly environment,” she says. “We’re about being friends with our clients, and we love making them feel good — and making them look good.”

That philosophy helps explain the salon’s name: Mason & Friends. The name and the philosophy were the brainchildren of her husband, John Mason, a hair stylist who built the salon in its current location 21 years ago, and who died four years ago.

During the recession a decade ago, Pam Mason recalled, her husband would tell his employees not to charge hard-luck clients who’d lost their jobs. “He was about giving back, helping people that need it,” she says. “And we all still live by that.”

6770 Oak Hall Lane, Columbia. 410-381-2440. masonhair.com.

Honorable mentions:

Looks Salon & Spa

Victoria & Albert Hair Studio

Cloud 9 Salon

Travel agent: AAA Columbia Car Insurance and Travel Center

Honorable mentions:

The Travel Boutique

Destinations Inc.

Monica Baker Travel

Blog: HoCo Rising

Honorable mentions:

Village Green/Town Squared

Pilates, Pearls, and Peanut Butter

Dr. Chao Wu

Monsignor Joseph L. Luca of St. Louis Catholic Church.
Monsignor Joseph L. Luca of St. Louis Catholic Church. (Nate Pesce / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Clergyperson: Monsignor Joseph L. Luca, St. Louis Catholic Church

“Monsignor Luca is … available in a deeply personal way when needed for consolation. He’s a great teacher at Mass and is widely respected for the humor and knowledge he imparts during his ‘eight-minute’ homilies.”—Pat Kutchins, Columbia

Honorable mentions:

Rabbi Craig H. Axler, Temple Isaiah

The Rev. Matthew Buening, formerly St. Paul Catholic Church

The Rev. Paige Getty, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia

Elected official: County Executive Allan H. Kittleman

Honorable mentions:

County Councilman Calvin Ball

County Councilman Jon Weinstein

County Councilwoman Jen Terrasa

Bonnie Pace spots fellow personal trainer Cameron Kirby at the Columbia Gym.
Bonnie Pace spots fellow personal trainer Cameron Kirby at the Columbia Gym. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

Personal trainer: Bonnie Pace, Columbia Gym

Bonnie Pace has given some thought to the fact that she’s been voted best personal trainer by readers five of the last six years.

The 56-year-old has come up with a couple of explanations.

“I care about my clients and their results, but I also care about them on a personal level,” she says. “I consider them all my friends.”

The fact that she’s also a licensed nutritionist also sets her apart, she adds.

“I’m in good shape for a middle-aged female,” says the former competitive power lifter and body builder. “But I’m approachable — I look like a normal human being. I don’t think I’m intimidating, but that doesn’t mean I can’t provide tough love.”

Columbia Gym, 6151 Day Long Lane, Clarksville. 410-531-0800 ext. 2303. columbiaassociation.org.

Honorable mentions:

Stephanie Dignan, The Boot Camp Girl

Vic Selvaggi, Colosseum Gym

Mac Cassity, Extreme Fun & Fit Boot Camp (closed)

Police officer: Vic Broccolino Jr.

Honorable mentions:

Mary Levy

Steve Willingham

Mike Johnson

Principal: Marcia Leonard, formerly Hammond High School

Honorable mentions:

Nick Novak, Howard High School

Patrick Saunderson, formerly Reservoir High School

James LeMon, formerly Wilde Lake High School

CrossFit box: CrossFit Cove

Honorable mentions:

Top Tier CrossFit Columbia

CrossFit PCR

12 Labours CrossFit

Dance lessons: B. Funk Dance Company

Honorable mentions:

Backstage Dance Studio

Arabesque Dance Studio

Studio Dans

Atholton's Brandon Nguyen putts during the Howard County championship golf tournament at Hobbit's Glen Golf Course.
Atholton's Brandon Nguyen putts during the Howard County championship golf tournament at Hobbit's Glen Golf Course. (Jen Rynda / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Golf course: Hobbit’s Glen Golf Clu

Joan Lovelace grew up playing golf at Hobbit’s Glen Golf Course, and she remembers it as an “extremely intimidating” experience.

So when she took over 10 years ago as Hobbit’s Glenn’s head pro and general manager, her top priority was to make playing there a warm, friendly and welcoming experience.

“Our No. 1 priority for our members and guests is we want them to have fun when they’re here,” she says. To that end, she says, employees make an effort to connect with customers; they ask about their family and make them feel at home.

The popularity of the Columbia golf course — a consistent Best of Howard winner — suggests her plan has worked. And it helps, Lovelace adds, that the course is always in “terrific shape” and when golfers finish their round, they can retire to the newly renovated clubhouse for a cocktail.


11130 Willow Bottom Drive, Columbia. 410-730-5980. columbiaassociation.org/facilities/golf/hobbits-glen.

Honorable mentions:

Turf Valley Resort

Waverly Woods Golf Club

The Timbers at Troy

Gym: Life Time Athletic

Honorable mentions:

Columbia Gym

Supreme Sports Club

Dancel Family Center

Martial arts classes: American Academy of Martial Arts

Honorable mentions:

Klotz Institute of Karate

WKD Karate for Girls

Hwarang Martial Arts

Music lessons: Mike’s Music

Honorable mentions:

Music & Arts

Damon Foreman Music Academy

Olenka School of Music

Pool for kids: Swansfield Pool and Mini Water Park

Honorable mentions:

North Saint John’s Swim & Tennis Club

River Hill Pool

Life Time Athletic

Students work on their warrior pose during a class at the Yoga Center of Columbia.
Students work on their warrior pose during a class at the Yoga Center of Columbia. (Brian Krista / Patuxent Publishing)

Yoga studio: The Yoga Center of Columbia

“The Yoga Center of Columbia, besides being a wonderful yoga center, is a very caring community. I always feel better after my yoga class... physically, mentally and emotionally.” —Barbara Bury, Ellicott City

Honorable mentions:

BYC Yoga 26

Yoga Love

Gogo Guru Yoga (closed)

Profiles by Pete Pichaske. Results tallied by Brad Mutchnik.

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