Your guide to Howard County's new dining hot spots

For The Baltimore Sun
Discover Howard County's new dining hot spots.

Binda and Keir Singh nostalgically recall their childhood raised on a farm in eastern Punjab, India, at the foothills of the Himalayas.

That memory was a key ingredient in the brothers’ recipe for their new Indian restaurant Ananda, which opened in July in Fulton’s Maple Lawn development. Binda Singh bought a five-acre farm in Clarksville last year that supplies okra, tomatoes and squash for Ananda and their popular Ambassador Dining Room in Baltimore. 

“It was always on my mind that we’d like to have a farm. Where you come from always stays with you,” says Singh, who will become a Howard County resident when he moves to the farmhouse from Baltimore County this fall.

Ananda is among the latest in a series of new eateries to open in Howard County this summer and fall. The expansion at The Mall in Columbia attracted two national full-service restaurants, Seasons 52 and Maggiano’s Little Italy. And the owner of Italian concept Facci in Ellicott City and Laurel has opened Peruvian concept Pisco.

Restaurant owners say they are eyeing Howard County because of its affluent residents and their appetite for more dining options. The newbies are in good company; the number of restaurants and food service establishments in the county has grown by 20 percent within the last five years, according to Restaurant Association of Maryland CEO Marshall Weston, and restaurant sales grew from $454 million in 2009 to $507 million this year.

Here’s a look at the newest restaurants to call Howard County home.

 

ANANDA

7421 Maple Lawn Blvd., Fulton
301-725-4800
anandarestaurant.net
Entrée prices: $15-$25

You’ll find familiar North Indian staples like samosa and chicken tikka masala at Maple Lawn’s Ananda. But this $3 million stand-alone restaurant isn’t your average strip-mall curry house. The 200-seat restaurant serves dishes that change seasonally and might include braised short ribs, a squash-and-carrot soup with mango chutney, or roasted duck with a pomegranate reduction.

Though the 7,500-square-foot space was constructed just months ago, it has the feel of an old Colonial club where important men chat about polo or cricket. The inside features floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and leather chairs, while the patio sports lots of dark wood and plush red-cushioned chairs. It also has a fountain — one of many design elements reminiscent of the Ambassador Dining Room, owners Binda and Keir Singh’s other venture. 

The brothers say they chose Maple Lawn because they like the development’s urban feel, with shops, offices and restaurants all within walking distance of one another. It also allowed them the liberty to design their own restaurant, rather than adapt it to a cookie-cutter space.

“We were going out of our way to make sure it looked like an old home turned into a restaurant rather than a commercial warehouse turned into a restaurant,” Singh says. “You do feel like you’re living in a time past.”

Ananda serves dinner every day except Monday and will start offering an abbreviated menu for lunch mid-fall.

 

PISCO

6630 Marie Curie Drive, Elkridge
410-312-4888
piscorestaurante.com
Entrée prices: $7-$32

Gino Palma may have grown up in Naples, Italy, but the cuisine of his wife Pilar’s native Peru inspired his latest endeavor, Pisco.

The Palmas and Peruvian business partners Francisco and Carmen Acevedo spent about $600,000 to open the 114-seat restaurant in August, located in the former Mamma Lucia space in the Gateway Overlook Shopping Center.

Palma says the owners are targeting families and young professionals craving more ethnic cuisine with their ceviche bar, which sports 14 kinds of the popular Peruvian seafood dish. Traditional Peruvian cuisine, such as lomo saltado, strips of sirloin with onions and tomatoes served with french fries and rice, are also on the menu.

It was dishes like these that won Palma over nearly two decades ago when he was courting his future wife. Fresh out of Italy, he spoke little English. She didn’t speak Italian.

“Our communication was interesting. The experience of food made it easier to communicate, he says.“It really helped with the connection with me and [her] family.”

Open for lunch and dinner, Pisco is named for a brandy made from grapes that’s popular in Peru and Chile. It’s often served up with lime, simple syrup, bitters and egg whites to make a pisco sour. Palma can’t serve that just yet (he’s waiting on his liquor license) but he’s planning to offer 50 kinds of pisco and display the bottles on the wall. He’s also planning to serve a variety of South American wines and tropical drinks.

Design plays a big role in all of Palma’s restaurants, and Pisco is no different. Palma wanted to create a tropical look but one that was distinctly Peruvian. The colorful décor includes splashes of red and white, used in the Peruvian flag, and turquoise-blue booths. A black-and-white photo of Machu Picchu takes up one wall.

 

SEASONS 52

The Mall in Columbia
410-715-1152
seasons52.com
Entrée prices: $15-$21

You won’t find a single deep fryer in the 9,000-square-foot Seasons 52 at The Mall in Columbia, says Managing Partner Marshall Lowe. After all, it has to keep its flatbreads, salads, fish tacos, cedar-plank salmon, duck banh mi and the rest of its menu under 476 calories.

The restaurant, which opened in August, takes pride in its healthful, seasonal menu. Desserts like chocolate peanut butter torte and blueberries with lemon curd come in miniature sizes. The 278-seat space features live music at its piano bar and 10 outdoor tables overlooking the mall’s revamped outdoor courtyard. Two private dining rooms allow it to target business groups and other private parties. 

The chain, part of Darden Restaurants Inc., was eager to open a spot in a county known for its healthful lifestyle. Howard County was named one of the healthiest counties in the nation by  U.S. News & World Report and the healthiest county in Maryland by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Darden’s other brands include The Olive Garden, Capital Grille and Bahama Breeze. 

The restaurant takes its name from its selection of 52 wines by the glass. It also offers more than 100 bottles, chosen by the chain’s Master Sommelier George Miliotes, one of just 219 who’ve earned the prestigious title.

 

MAGGIANOLITTLE ITALY

The Mall in Columbia
410-730-3706
maggianos.com
Entrées prices: $13-$46

Columbia residents were the first in the country to get a taste of Maggiano’s “lighter take” menu before the Italian chain rolled it out nationwide. The menu includes lighter versions of classic dishes, including chicken Parmesan and fettuccine Alfredo, with at least one-third fewer calories. The 275-seat restaurant, which opened in June, also offers several soup-and-salad combos. 

The emphasis on healthful dining reflects a shift for the restaurant company, part of Brinker International. In the past, some diners had been turned off by what they felt was heavy” food, says Managing Partner Michael Woernle.

“America is getting healthier, so we have to get healthier with our restaurants,” he says.

But it’s still offering choices that appeal to families and diners with bigger appetites. Its nine classic pasta dishes come with a second serving you can take home and eat the next day, and four-course all-you-can-eat family-style meals are available for parties of four or more.

Maggiano’s was attracted to The Mall in Columbia because of its desire to open more mall locations, Woernle says. The 8,000-square-foot space is the chain’s 46th location and its second in Maryland.  



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Corrections

A previous version of this story listed the wrong telephone number for Ananda. The correct phone number is 301-725-4800. The previous version also misspelled the first name one of the owners of Ananda. His name is Keir Singh.

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