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Best of Baltimore 2006

Best of Baltimore 2006

Written and edited by Max Weiss with Alex Ball, Geoff Brown, Janelle Erlichman Diamond, Elizabeth Ecker, Ken Iglehart, Hannah Feldman, John Lewis, Jane Marion, and Bianca Sienra. Additional writing by Dave Butcher, Allison Davis, Shannon Dunn, John Farlow, Steve Fink, and Hilary Geisbert. -

Best of Baltimore 2006

Best of Baltimore 2006

Written and edited by Max Weiss with Alex Ball, Geoff Brown, Janelle Erlichman Diamond, Elizabeth Ecker, Ken Iglehart, Hannah Feldman, John Lewis, Jane Marion, and Bianca Sienra. Additional writing by Dave Butcher, Allison Davis, Shannon Dunn, John Farlow, Steve Fink, and Hilary Geisbert. -


Eat

Bread There is no shortage of caringly baked, delicious bread in the greater Baltimore area these days, and for that we are thankful. It was a close race, but our nod for the best goes to the berichonne loaf at Bonaparte Breads, 903 S. Ann Street, 410-342-4000. Its moist, fine crumb, defined but not overly crunchy crust, and oblong shape make for a versatile loaf that can fill a range of daily tasks, from toaster to lunchbox to grill.

Brunch For Party People For those who won't go gently into Monday, the Sunday brunch at Little Havana, 1325 Key Highway, 410-837-9903, gives you ample chance to rage against the dying of the weekend. The cabs start rolling up to the front doors as soon as they open at 11 a.m., carrying patrons who order $12.95 brunches that include some decent Cuban-inflected ballast and unlimited mimosas and (spicy!) Bloody Marys. Reserve your table in advance, as folks tend to stay put for a long time in this waterfront party zone.

Burger And Fries Okay, make that best luxurious burger and fries. But if you're in the mood for the classic American combination, you can do no better than this super-luxe French version—a juicy little burger topped with luscious foie gras sided with an order of duck-fat French fries—at Jason and Jane Ambrose's darling new Patterson Park tavern, Salt, 2127 E. Pratt Street, 410-276-5480. Both are on the appetizer menu. We're lovin' it.

Calamari We know we're already acknowledging Ikan Seafood, Belvedere Square, 410-435-0216, as part of the Belvedere Market's overall success (see "Foodie Wonderland,"below), but we felt a moral obligation to tell you that not only does this fish market sell some of the most pristine seafood to cook for dinner, they also offer fried treats. The calamari in particular is delicious: hot and crispy from the fryer, tender on the inside, surrounded by clouds of delicate tempura batter. Who wants to cook dinner, anyway?

Cheese CaseSure, it's nice to see cheese get its props lately, with more and more supermarkets offering dizzying arrays of cheeses from around the world, all pre-cut and shrink-wrapped and gathered around little description cards. But we prefer a small but intelligently selected collection of high-quality offerings. For that, we go to The Wine Source, 3601 Elm Avenue, 410-467-7777. That we can get many of these cheeses cut to order is just mold on the rind.

Coffee Out of the suddenly numerous local committed individuals sweating over roasting machines, the most sensitive is Eric Rudolph of Bluebird Artisanal Coffee Roasters, bluebirdcoffee.com. He deals in all the fair-trade, organic, shade-grown things that everyone else does, but more importantly, he watches, listens, and smells his beans as they roast so as to stop them at perfection.

Comeback Star chef Edward Kim has mended all the hearts he broke when his Asian-fusion restaurant Soigne closed over a year ago and he retreated to Washington, D.C. All has been forgiven, now that he's returned to run the kitchen at Tony Chemmanoor's Saffron, 802 N. Charles Street, 410-528-1616, where he's given the menu and the staff a new lease on life and where his cooking is better and more inventive than ever. Welcome back!

Cookies It was those gingersnaps that first hooked us on Rose's Cookies, 842 W. 36th Street, 410-235-9801. Soft and sugary and spicy, they tasted like Christmas—and we could get them all year round! But then, baker Rose Lansing started making more treats, paralyzing us with indecision: Did we want her powerful cappuccino-cream-filled cinnamon wafer sandwiches, her gorgeous lemon and lime bars, or those dreamy shortbread cookies loaded with nuts and caramel? We'd still be standing in her little Hampden shop today trying to decide, if we hadn't hit on the perfect answer: A dozen, please, to go!

Foodie Wonderland (City) If you'd told us five years ago that Belvedere SquareMarket, belvederesquare.com, would become the hot destination for Baltimore gourmets, we would have patted you on the hand and told you to lie down. But today, no one can dispute the place's allure. Between the bread-and-soup goliath Atwater's, the ultra-fresh fish at Ikan, the smoked treats at Neopol, the dry-aged beef on sale next door at Ceriello's, and the ability to nosh on market treats with a glass of expertly chosen wine at the neighboring Grand Cru . . . well, all we can ask ourselves is: Why aren't we there now?

Foodie Wonderland (County) Now that the Beatles-level shrieks of worship have faded, we can look at Wegmans, 122 Shawan Road, Hunt Valley, 410-773-3900, with a more dispassionate eye. And after taking a deep breath and thinking things through, we still think Wegmans is pretty great. The prepared-foods section alone of this grocery behemoth makes it worth a visit, and we love how the high-end exotic mushrooms and competitively priced toilet paper are equally available.

French ToastWhen it arrives, you think to yourself, "I cannot possibly eat all of this." Then you take your first bite, and you think, "I cannot possibly stop eating this!" Such is the power of the French toast at Miss Shirley's, 410 W. Cold Spring Lane, 410-889-5272. Stuffed with mascarpone, coconut, and cream cheese, topped with flaked coconut, and sided with caramelized bananas and diced strawberries, it is both mammoth and deliriously decadent.

German Sure, it's a bit of a drive, but that seems reasonable when you realize that going to the Old Stein Inn, 1143 Central Avenue, Edgewater, 410-798-6807, feels like a mini-vacation. The sweetly kitschy and ever-welcoming beer hall has been providing crowds with all the schnitzel and wurst—not to mention live polka music and a terrific selection of German beers—they can handle for more than a quarter-century. If you can, snag a table in the outdoor biergarten, and whatever you do, don't skip the incredible apple tart for dessert.

Gumbo When Brian Badger closed his Broadway Market stand, we mourned the loss. Now where were we going to get the fabulous, smoky gumbo, simmered with a dark roux and spicy andouille sausage, that won him a 2003 Best of Baltimore award? Well, here's a tip: Badger is now working at Slainte, 1700 Thames Street, 410-563-6600, and his gumbo is available Wednesdays as a special at this Irish bar.

Italian You would think that bringing a new chef into the kitchen every 18 months would spell disaster. Not at Sotto Sopra, 405 N. Charles Street, 410-625-05340, where owner and head chef Riccardo Bosio keeps an unending foreign exchange of Italian chefs coming in. What ordinarily might spell chaos and inconsistency actually adds up to Italian dishes—from a simple but ambrosial mozzarella alla caprese to a saffron fettucine with osso buco ragu—that sing with freshness and creativity. Homemade pastas are divine, the wine list is loaded with Italian gems, service is young and professional. Whatever Bosio is doing, there's obviously method to his madness.

Makeover Is it possible to make Baltimore's best restaurant even better? Short answer: Yes, and how. Patrick Sutton's revamp of the interior has turned Charleston, 1000 Lancaster Street, 410-332-7373, into an elegant, sumptuous world of rich colors, textures and patterns. A new menu allows diners to run rampant among multiple courses of tasting plates (oy, the agony of choosing!). Chef Cindy Wolf's cooking is more vibrant than ever, making every dinner an extremely rewarding adventure.

MexicanBaltimore has some excellent Mexican restaurants—but, sadly, most of them aren't big on ambience. Kiko's Cocina Mexicana, 8806 Belair Road, Perry Hall, 410-529-4215, gets the whole mix right. Clean and bright, it boasts colorful tiles, a gold Aztec sun god, vivid paintings—and, most importantly, muy autentico food. Everything's handmade in this kitchen, from chips to flan. We particularly like their great, traditional enchiladas.

New Restaurant Last year, when Marc Dettori opened his dream restaurant Brasserie Tatin, 105 W. 39th Street, 443-278-9110, fans of the former maître d' of Petit Louis and Hampton's cheered. Dettori—along with fellow owners Gerard Billebault and Gayle Brier—brings French polish to the service staff and hearty, straight-ahead classic French cookery (compliments of chef Rodolfo Domacasse) to the table, all in a chic, modernesetting that patrons of the former tenant, Jeannier's, won't recognize. Among the menu winners are a perfect, tender seared calf's liver, sautéed trout sprinkled with crispy almonds, and (when in season) a fine and hearty duo of venison loins with chestnut foie-gras mousse and black truffle sauce.

Replacement Player When Barry Rumsey and Deborah Mazzoleni decided to sell their popular Federal Hill restaurant, The Bicycle, 1444 Light Street, 410-234-1900, Baltimore foodies panicked. They needn't have. Chef and new owner Nicholas Batey has achieved a near-miracle: keeping this beloved institution perfectly intact and just as superb as it always was. His respect for Rumsey's high-wire act of blending world cuisines and a dizzying array of ingredients makes for some show-stopping meals.

Retro TreatMichael Roberts—the chef at Harris Crab House in Stevensville—and his wife Sherry started making childhood favorite Nutty Buddies at their Kent Island company Bayside Freeze about four years ago. The 9 oz. goodies are handmade with a very high butter-fat vanilla ice cream (yum!) and sugar cone which is frozen overnight before being dipped in chocolate and covered with nuts. They're found at lots of local crab shacks including Magothy Seafood Crab Deck and Tiki Bar (700 Mill Creek Road, Arnold, 410-647-5793), which sells them for $4.

Romantic Dining Climb the stairs to the rooftop dining/bar area at Metropolitan, 169 West Street, Annapolis, 410-268-7733, on a warm, lovely summer night, preferably just as the sun is going down over Annapolis's trendy West End neighborhood. White tablecloths, candles, and a glam crowd set the mood, as does Chef Minetola's exciting, cutting-edge menu of perfectly executed New American cuisine. Share a plate of Minetola's fabulously creamy black-truffle lobster risotto with your loved one. You'll be feeling extra amorous for the rest of the night.

Seafood Extravaganza The towering cold seafood platter at The Oceanaire Seafood Room, 801 Aliceanna Street, 443-872-0000, makes the perfect excuse to get your seafood jones on. Picking through the bounty of shrimp, lobster, crab, and raw oysters piled on a mountain of cracked ice is a beautiful—and fun—way to sate cravings for those lovely, briny tidbits. Add a split of champagne to this indulgence and the seafood lover in you will be approaching bliss.

Service We never fail to be impressed by the waitstaff at The Capital Grille, 500 E. Pratt Street, 443-703-4064. Not only will they do everything humanly possible to give you excellent service, they also go the extra mile to make you feel special, cared for, and fussed over.

Steak SaladWe love the concept of the steak salad. It's like ordering steak, but getting credit for ordering a salad! And nowhere does this serendipitous pairing of red meat and greens come together better than The Wine Market, 921 E. Fort Avenue, 410-244-6166. Their sliced grilled steak salad, featuring egg, avocado, big lumps of Fire Fly goat's cheese, and a roasted poblano dressing, is a true work of art. The steak is tender and seasoned with a slightly spicy Southwestern rub, the dressing has a pleasing kick, and the rest of the ingredients blend in perfect concert. It could almost make us swear off that New York strip. Well, almost.

Sushi Bargain Sorry, Baltimore County residents—your secret is out: We're here to report that the Pan Asian restaurant Pacific Rim, 9726 York Road, Cockeysville, 410-666-2336, has some of the most unbelievably inexpensive sushi in town. The first time we ordered the artfully presented chirashi ($14.95)—a giant bowl of sashimi over vinegared rice—we thought the high quality was a fluke. But after a few more visits, including many samples of the maki and nigiri, we confirmed that the sushi was consistently fabulous. High-priced sushi bars: Start sweating now.

SurpriseWell, maybe you wouldn't be surprised to find several excellent varieties of risotto at what by all appearances qualifies as a dive bar. Maybe discovering that the pizza-topping options include venison and Stilton cheese elicits nothing but a yawn from you. But for us, our first trip to Joe Squared, 133 North Avenue, 410-545-0444, left us equal parts baffled and delighted.

Tea ShopNever has a name matched a personality so well as Sunni Gilliam's does. The ever-smiling proprietor of Teavolve, 1705 Eastern Avenue, 410-327-4832, gives her shop a wonderfully relaxing vibe, and her enthusiasm for tea is infectious. Spend some time with her, and she'll be happy to discuss the origins and merits of her Fruit of the Forest versus her Earl Grey with Violet. Add in free Wi-Fi and a series of music and poetry events, and you've got a very nice brew indeed.

Thing To Happen To Towson We have our quarrels with Vin, 1 E. Joppa Road, Towson, 410-337-0797. The wine markup is atrocious, the list itself could use some more creative selections, and whimsical spellings (it's pronounced "Vine") tend to work our nerves. But the thing is: Towson needed a place like this, a place that's sleek and sexy and too sophisticated for the college kids. And the food can be pretty impressive. Give Vin a little time to aerate and mellow, and this wine bar could become quite a destination.

Unlikely Wine Bar Bartenders, 2218 Boston Street, 410-534-2337, looks and feels like a great neighborhood watering spot, complete with a long beer list, a diner-style menu (try the pizza), and wide-screen sports. But this one is different. Co-owner Danny Coker has been spending time hanging around older brother Chris, sommelier at Corks. The result is an adventurous set of wines by the glass or by the bottle, as well as weekly specials.

Vending Machine It's worth taking a trip to the White Marsh Home Depot, 9955 Pulaski Highway, 410-780-9200, just to stop at "Leon's Grill," a fully automatic hotdog-vending machine. You pay your $2 (or $2.50, if you want cheddarwurst), and then watch as robotic arms select your dog, split your bun, and then cook and assemble them. And the dogs themselves? Pretty tasty!

Wait Having to wait for a table is never any fun. But at The Ambassador Dining Room, 3811 Canterbury Road, 410-366-1484, they let you pass the time by strolling around their lovely garden with a glass of wine (and contemplating the bubbling fountain). It almost makes you forget how much you're craving that murgh tikka.

Focus

Ad CampaignProving that "Protect This House" wasn't just a lucky score, athletic apparel maker Under Armour's in-house advertising has gone deep again with "Click-Clack," the campaign promoting their new line of cleats. These ads work for two reasons: They get loyal customers repeating the infectious catch phrase, and they get people with zero interest in athletic apparel asking what the heck "Protect This House" and "Click-Clack" mean.

Blog Yes, we know, Sun reporter Frank Roylance's MarylandWeather.com blog is part of the mainstream media—but there's nobody else's local blog we try to read every day. And from the number of hits it gets, it appears that everyone else in Baltimore likes to see what Roylance has posted, too—be it the latest flood warnings, explanations of meteors, or even charming missives from inside The Sun's HQ. Take this idiosyncratic June 2005 weather report: "So what's not to like? Unless of course you're sitting in an office with nothing but a sliver of light from a distant window that overlooks something like the State Prison. Or, in my case, exactly the State Prison. Sigh."

ColumnistWe'll be honest: The fact is that The Sun's Dan Rodricks is probably going to keep winning this until he retires—or expires. He's transformed himself from a well-known, semi-serious, semi-wisecracking chronicler of the city's characters and events into a beacon of hope for those who've been scarred by Baltimore's vicious drug trade. He's changed lives. He's given second (and third) chances to people who've been abandoned. Who else has managed to effect actual, palpable change from the bully pulpit?

Dinnertime TV Anchors Whether we're grabbing a quick microwave meal in our kitchen or just crashing on a couch in our TV room, there are two people we don't mind having over for dinner every weekday night: WJZ-TV's Vic Carter and Denise Koch. When the news is bad, they're good; when the news is good, they're better. And the pair aren't afraid to act like human beings: Their genuine, heartfelt reactions to stories mirror our own.

Investigative TV Reporter You want to know why we're giving this award (once again) to WBAL-TV's Jayne Miller? Because we're scared she'll come after us if we don't! Have you seen how merciless she is in her questioning? Seriously, though, Miller's managed to keep a keen edge on her reporting (her latest target: the Baltimore City Police Department) and not drift into the hype zone into which so many other investigative reporters often fall.

Magazine We Needed (But Didn't Know We Needed) It was a new monthly publication that proved a bit confusing at first: The Urbanite? What's that? It has shopping sections, but also fiction? Yet, as Baltimore City entered a new era of resurgence and civic thought, it turned out to be the right read for the right time. Addressing issues and ideas in ways no other local publication does, the Urbanite(published by Tracy Durkin and edited by former Baltimoremagazine regular Elizabeth Evitts) has found itself a home in the hands of Charm City residents.

Media Website It's been our favorite weekly newspaper for years; now, following a slight redesign, the Baltimore Business Journal's website—baltimore.bizjournals.com—is our preferred method of getting our local business news. With updates throughout the day, and easy access to previous stories, the BBJ's site gives us the best coverage of deals, steals, and upheavals in town. Sure, there are too many ads, and too many corporate B2B links, but they're easy to ignore—and the daily news updates are always worth at least a skim.

Morning AM DJ It's not easy getting up for work. Now try doing it at 1:30 a.m., five days a week, for 16 years. Now, try doing it and sounding just as chipper, clever, and avuncular on day 4,000 as you did on day one. WBAL-AM's Dave Durian isn't just the city's top-rated AM radio host; he's like the Cal Ripken of the airwaves. No matter how lousy the morning, if we can get even a few minutes of Durian's warm, calming voice, we're ready for anything.

Morning FM DJ Ok, now, even though we really aren't big fans of the "new country," we always try to tune in on WPOC-FM's Laurie DeYoung to hear how a radio show should be done. She blends all the classic elements of audience participation (Guess the secret sound!) and musings on current events (Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman's wedding!) into a show that's got fans far beyond the Baltimore metro area (congrats on the Country Music Association nomination, Laurie!).

Morning TV Anchors We love it when a puzzled newcomer to Baltimore says, "I was flipping around, trying to find some morning news to watch, and turned to channel 13—who the heck are those two guys?" Why, they're WJZ-TV's Morning Edition with Marty Bass and Don Scott, of course! You want a real Charm City program? These two genuine, unique TV vets will guide you through the morning's weather, traffic, news, and pop culture reports with nary a trace of gloss or saccharine.

Newspaper Series We were ready to declare "no winner" for this award when, from out of seemingly nowhere, came The Sun's "A neighborhood abandoned," written by Eric Siegel and photographed by Karl Merton Ferron. It was, frankly, a surprise to see such an in-depth, heavily reported, shoe-leather story about the residents of a struggling East Baltimore community, capturing scenes of the everyday lives of people that the more fortunate members of our region never get to know. These are the kind of long-form articles a newspaper is best at delivering, and with this series, The Sun really shined.

Nighttime TV Anchors The last newscast of the day is a big deal for both viewers and anchors. For viewers, we want to know what happened today, and what's going to happen tomorrow. And for anchors, it's their chance to really nail the newscast and wrap up the day one last time. To us, nobody does it better than WBAL-TV's Marianne Banister and Rod Daniels: They combine to provide just the right amount of gravitas and warmth.

Noon TV Anchors The whole "news at noon" makes us a wee bit wistful; we remember when we were carefree and young and unemployed, and started our days by waking up late with a little cereal and the midday update. On those rare occasions when we get to watch TV at noon, we turn our dial to WJZ-TV's Kellye Lynn and Don Scott. The pair works together without a hitch, and they've got the right mix of energy (not too up, not too down) and tone (not too heavy, not too light) for the middle of the day.

Nose For News Scandal It's the last thing a journalist in this town wants to hear:
"Hi, this is Gadi Dechter from City Paper. Do you have a moment to answer some questions?" Ever since the 31-year-old Dechter re-ignited the alternative weekly's "Media Circus" section in June 2005, he's managed to shine a bright light into
the dark recesses of Baltimore journalism. Suncolumnist Michael Olesker resigned following a Dechter investigation; next came news of Sun architecture critic Ed Gunts's extensive real estate holdings in neighborhoods Gunts frequently extolled (Gunts has since sold off the properties). Wonder how he'll be received at his new gig: On July 7, Dechter became a metro reporter for The Sun.

Radio Show We listened to its first tentative audio steps back in late 2004, and now,WYPR-FM's The Signal has grown into an intriguing, often captivating look at Baltimore's denizens. Ostensibly a show about arts and culture, The Signal is best described this way: It's what public radio's This American Lifewould sound like if it were run by Gil Sandler and John Waters.

Reasons To Give Up On The Sun Where to start? The taupe, azure, and mauve-rich redesign? The confusing, meaningless headlines? Getting scooped by the new-tabloid-on-the-block Examiner? A string of embarrassing revelations about Sun columnists? The cost-cutting Tribune Company owners who've created, according to those still at the paper, a miserable work environment? The decision to turn the Real Estate section into a marketing, rather than editorial, product? We could go on . . . and yet. . . .

Reasons To Keep Reading The Sun Many of the folks who've stayed behind at the paper give us some hope that things aren't terminal. For example, the coverage of the BGE rate hike and its political battles was a useful, informative mix of analysis and easy-to-comprehend charts and graphs. There are not-infrequent rays of wit and intelligence in every section. And, along with the aforementioned Best of Baltimore winners, columnists like Jay Hancock, Mike Preston, and Laura Vozzella have our attention, even when we don't agree with them.

SportscasterThe reason we're selecting WJZ-TV and ESPN Radio 1300's Mark Vivianogoes beyond his dashing, professional demeanor and level-headed approach to covering what are, ultimately, grown adults playing kids' games (albeit for millions of dollars). No, what we like most is that Viv—unlike so many other sportscasters in town, who announce pro games at stadiums (conflict of interest much?) or do play-by-play—sticks with doing real sports reporting.

Way To Develop A Nervous Tic You're driving your car to work, listening to a gripping NPR story on WYPR 88.1 FM—and the next thing you know, shock jock Howard Stern is oozing from your speakers, talking about something so dirty we can't even think of a euphemism for it. The culprit? Not Stern, believe it or not—it's a signal leak from someone's nearby in-car Sirius satellite radio FM converter.

Weather Duo WMAR-TV's Norm Lewis and Justin Berk are kind of like a Hollywood buddy picture: You've got the canny, cagey, experienced vet (Lewis) who trusts his guts as much as his data; and you've got the young weather geek (Berk) who seems to do nothing but study the skies—he's even got a weekend weather-talk radio show.

Weekend TV Anchors Weekend morning shows are the true test of a TV anchor; you've got to be able to handle any major breaking stories that may crop up during the two hours you're on the air—all the while bouncing from a meticulous cooking demonstration to a raucous kiddie fashion parade to a serious interview about eldercare. To us, no one in town does that better than WBAL-TV's Kate Amara and Lisa Robinson.

Indulge

AromatherapyWe weren't sure what a "bar" had to do with essential oils, but then we visited the aromatherapy bar at Life Smells Good, 935 S. Charles Street, 410-234-0333. There, we found bottle upon bottle of Jasmine (for optimism), Ginger (for warmth), Eucalyptus (for energy), and dozens of other beneficial extracts. The array allows you to mix at your leisure. And if you're not into inhaling the scents directly, Life Smells Good has unscented products for the body (like lotion, soaps, and exfoliants) that you can custom blend to fit your aromatic needs.

Bed-and-Breakfast Who says that all bed-and-breakfasts need to be heavy on the chintz? Tucked away in a Canton rowhouse, the Inn at 2920, 2920 Elliott Street, 877-774-2920, boasts five sleek rooms that are more boutique hotel than grandma's cozy attic. The food, however, is strictly the stuff of your country inn fantasies. Innkeeper David Schwartz, a Johnson & Wales grad, cooks up breakfast feasts that include blue corn waffles with caramelized bananas, beef sage sausage, locally roasted coffee, and fresh baked apple stuffed with cinnamon-toasted grape-nuts and walnut oil and topped with a heavy cream.

ColoristWhile it has long been said that "only your hairdresser knows for sure," unless color is expertly applied, everyone knows for sure. Enter Kevin Rock, DK Salon, 6080 Falls Road, 410-377-4300. Part scientist, part artist (and long the go-to guy for well-heeled Greenspring Valley types), Rock can highlight, lowlight, color correct or tint, but whatever he does, his work is to dye for.

Eyebrow WaxAfter countless brow waxes, we've come to know the routine: get waxed, hide at home until the red fades. But Spa Sante, 1429 Aliceanna Street, Suite 100, 410-534-0009, is different. We actually went out in public immediately following our wax. Jessica Meck—one of three estheticians on staff—explains the phenomenon: The spa uses a lukewarm cream wax so it doesn't burn or rip off the skin. It's great for all skin types, even the most sensitive. And the wax's Tea Tree Oil naturally reduces bacteria that may aggravate skin conditions.

Facial Time was, getting a facial was nothing more than an expensive way to wash your face. Not so with Robin Ferro, Zibazz Day Spa, 9199 Reisterstown Road, Owings Mills, 410-356-7321. Ferro—she of the famous silken touch—offers a range of cutting-edge, state-of-the-art facials with some rather, um, surprising ingredients. A Balancing Facial, which helps boost cellular activity, contains products with high purity DNA from wild salmon caviar. The Deluxe Facial, which rejuvenates and strengthens the skin, includes the infusion of bio-integral cells from lamb embryos. Hey, whatever works!

Hair 411 Not only do we love their lofty interior—featuring floor-to-ceiling windows and exposed brick—but we're intrigued by the informative take-home checklist we received at Studio 921, 921 E. Fort Avenue, 410-783-7727. Like a hair report card, our stylist let us know (in writing) what kind of shampoo, conditioner, foundation, structure, and oils were right for us. Yes, the categories are based on Bumble and Bumble products, which—shocker!—the salon just happens to carry. But we felt no hard sell at all. Quite the contrary, we felt like taking our glowing report card home to have Mom tape it to the refrigerator.

Hair Stylist (Men) Men of Baltimore, it's time to put down the cheap shears and invest in a real cut. Bethany Pontier, Crash Salon, 1622 Aliceanna Street, 410-675-1622, is your go-to gal. Pontier—stylist by day, Charm City Roller Girl referee by night—mastered her skills cutting the hair of a "very particular boyfriend" and is well versed in barbershop lingo. Ask for the "number three faded up," and Pontier delivers with ease. And this Fells Point biz offers man-tailored amenities like wireless Internet, satellite radio, and beer.

Hair Stylist (Women) If he's good enough for Nicole Kidman's world-famous tresses, you know he's good enough for yours. Of course, it's not like Kidman "discovered" Dean Krapf, Lluminaire Salon, 15 W. Allegheny Avenue, Towson, 410-583-1500. Baltimore women have been flocking to this mane man for years. So skilled with hair dye and a pair of clippers, so ready to tell it like it is about your hair and its possibilities, and such an all-around mensch—Krapf is like a therapist, best friend, and hair genie all in one.

Kid's SalonThe dull haircut has been transformed into a whimsical, creative, and colorful event at Salon 36 Kids, 1496 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville, 410-580-5437. Here, kids can dress up as favorite characters, indulge their imaginations in the play area, or play video games while they wait. They can even watch movies on monitors installed at the stylists' stations. It's a dream come true for kids and parents alike.

Manicure We thought all manicures were created equal. We were wrong. Pasqua Kramer, Giuseppe's, 2616 Taylor Avenue, 410-665-4490, tells us (and shows us, with her expert hand-and-nail beautification process) that everybody needs something different. From skin tone to cuticles, no two sets of hands are the same. In the business of nails since 1992, Kramer instructs her clients to exfoliate their hands at home and moisturize them at night. Yes, that might actually reduce our need for a manicure, but that just goes to show you how dedicated to proper nail care Kramer actually is!

Massage A former marathon runner (she's run more than 40, each in under three hours), Laura DeWald, Innerbridge Wellness, 2324 W. Joppa Road, Lutherville, 410-296-2745, knows what it means to get—and give—a good massage. Don't expect to get an appointment the day-of, but make a date with her hands a few weeks in advance, as her therapy blends techniques to include not only passive stretching that you'll find on most massage tables, but active stretching that helps muscle repair both during and after the massage.

New Spa The Pearl Spa, 8171 Maple Lawn Boulevard, Suite 100, Fulton, 301-776-6948, did not catch our eye simply because it's new—but because all 10,200 square feet of bliss is done to perfection. Owner Kassi Buscher relishes the details. The paint colors, dimmed lights, and waterfalls are there to soothe. The staff is highly qualified, polite, and genuine. The lounge boasts not just cozy robes, but to-die-for brownies. And the iPod docks in each treatment room means you can swap out zen muzak with, say, Gnarls Barkley.

Nirvana Spa in the Valley, 118 Shawan Road, Hunt Valley, 410-771-0200, an upscale cousin of Salon By Debbie, is known for going above and beyond. There are the alien pod-like European Vichy spa jets with color therapy, customized facials, and a Native American raindrop therapy. And then there's the Tuscan Room. To call it a waiting room would be an injustice. Stocked with Aveda products (for post-service touch-up), it includes a eucalyptus steam room, jet pool with waterfall, sauna, and a nine-jet shower. Women get the room Tuesday through Sunday; sorry guys, you only get it on Monday.

Pedicures If we weren't so blissed out by the massage chair, the warm cream, and the hot towels at the upscale Red Door Salon and Spa, 42 Village Square, The Village of Cross Keys, 410-323-3636, we might've felt a little bit judged by our sassy pedicure artist. "Do you use pumice?" she demanded. Er, no. "Do you moisturize your feet daily?" Huh, people actually do that? So she demonstrated what a little tender loving (foot) care will do. By the time our pedicure was over, our nails were ruby red, our once-callused feet were as smooth as a baby's bottom, and we felt like preaching the gospel of proper footcare to strangers on the street.

Place For A Guy To Get Relaxed Individual LCD screens, movie screens, plush chairs, internet access, and a cold beer—are we in a salon, or a man's fantasy den? A little bit of both, as it turns out. That's the key to FX Studios, 11270 Pepper Road, Hunt Valley, 410-771-1500, which, since opening in 2004 (a second location is due in Columbia in 2007), has encouraged many a formerly salon-phobic guy to get in touch with their secret metrosexual. Of course, women love these perks, too—they're FX's fastest-growing clientele. (But fear not, Die Another Day is still more likely to be playing on the big screen than Steel Magnolias.)

Salon It always feels like a party at Studio 1612, 1501 Sulgrave Avenue, 410-664-3800. Everyone is just so happy there—from receptionist Ona Adler (who sports her own killer head of hair), to all the talented stylists, to, of course, the customers. And why not? The salon may be large (indeed, it seems to expand in size by the week), but it never feels impersonal. And every service provided is completely top-notch. All credit to owners Karen Bialozynski and Judy Weidel, who clearly make Studio 1612 a fun place to work—and an even better place to be pampered.

Scalp Massage Tucked away on a Fells Point side street, petite Alpha Studio, 817 S. Bond Street, 410-327-1300, an Aveda concept salon, is harboring a dirty little secret: The pre-wash scalp massage is almost as good as the haircut. Using oils with active, calming, or beautifying benefits, stylists work the scalp—plus the neck, shoulders, and ears—to put the client in a happy place. The two-minute massage is for cuts only (oil and highlights don't mix) and will have you making your haircut appointments much more frequently.

Tan We know, we know: Tanning's bad for our skin. But we miss that summer tint! The solution? About Faces, 110 W. Timonium Road, Timonium, 410-560-6600, which offers air brush tanning to give you that just-returned-from-vacation-in-the-Bahamas boost (without the dreadful fake-and-bake glow). The best part? It's UV free. After a 30-minute appointment, you'll have 'em thinking you've been basking on the beach for hours.

Wax Haven't met Vesna Stojanovic, Mt. Washington Spa, 1600 Kelly Avenue, 410-664-3400? No wonder you think hair removal is a painful process. Her own recipe of beeswax and essential oils is handmade, making for a fast-on, fast-off product that is somehow not too hot, not too sticky, and not too painful. No wonder so many of Baltimore's most high-profile women already have her on speed dial.

Yoga StudioThere are many great yoga studios in Baltimore—Ojas, Susquehanna, and The Yoga Center of Columbia are particularly strong—but we've got to give our love toCharm City Yoga, 901 Fell Street, 410-276-YOGA. First of all, the two locations (the other is midtown) are seriously convenient. Secondly, they are not as rigidly indoctrinated as some of the other studios—in other words, they offer all different styles of yoga (including hot yoga) and are very accommodating to beginners. And finally, owner Kim Manfredi, who studied yoga in India, brings a peaceful, communal vibe to her centers that we find very conducive to our downward-facing dog.

Nest

Bath Accessories Water is the muse at Clement Fine Hardware, 2241 Greenspring Drive, Lutherville, 443-279-9992, which features high-end bathroom products by such lines as Baldwin, Toto, St. Thomas, and Hansgrohe. With its spacious new Timonium showroom, this family-owned store—in business for more than 30 years—is the place area designers and well-heeled customers alike turn to for superior service, unparalleled selection, and competitive prices.

China Patterns These ain't your grandma's china patterns. At Sunnyfields, 6305 Falls Road, 410-823-6666, they stock only the finest names in china—Fabergé, Wedgewood, A. Raynaud, Royal Worchester, Royal Copenhagen—in a variety of nouveau shades and patterns. Look for stars, stripes, coral, birds, toile, huge butterflies, and shades like "Tiffany blue" and "grass." We especially love the monogrammed tableware in assorted sorbet colors. Registry is fun again!

Dog WalkerHave to leave Fluffy behind? Jenny Trainor has you covered with her dog-walking and pet-sitting service, Gotta Go Pet Sitting and Dog Walking, 4707 Bayonne Avenue, 410-483-4853. Trainor, who leaves a detailed "doggy diary," offers personalized service for your pooch, including canine car service, insulin injections, and even common-sense obedience tips. With 20 years of experience as a veterinary technician at Towson Veterinary Hospital—not to mention a pack of five of her own pooches at home—her canine credentials are nothing to bark at.

ElectricianWe're wired about giving a nod to Winn Electric, 3 Spring House Road, Lutherville, 410-484-5544. Owned by master electricians Bill Winn and Arnold Friedlander, Winn Electric specializes in high-end work for a list of clients that reads like a who's who of Baltimore society. Winn and Friedlander guarantee their labor for a year, show up on time, return calls, and have an amazing work ethic. What speaks volumes: They've never had to advertise—all business comes from referrals.

Flooring Experts There are references, and then there are references. When we askedMaster Care Flooring, Inc., 4000 Coolidge Avenue, 410-242-6401, to give us theirs, they provided the following (abridged) list: The Baltimore Museum of Art turned to Master Care to restore the cherry PermaGrain floor in the Cone wing. The Pentagon and the CIA called upon them to redo their gymnasium floors, and Orioles' third base great Brooks Robinson even hired Master Care to lay floors in his home. Okay, now they're just showing off.

Floral Designer Don't expect to find a lot of chrysanthemums, carnations, or other floral staples used in creations by Carole Langrall's A Garden of Earthly Delights, 24 Ridge Road, Catonsville, 410-744-3810. Langrall has a fascination with exotic greenery and arranges flowers most floral designers wouldn't think of using. With her out-of-the-flower-pot thinking and exceedingly artistic eye, Langrall will keep you and your guests talking long after her creations have withered. By appointment only.

Furniture Maker Rick Rubin of Harris Rubin, 4603 Harford Road, 410-426-0062, is a true Baltimore artist who—despite selling furniture to chi-chi showrooms across the country and celebrity clients such as Tom Cruise, Ben Stiller, Glenn Close, and U2's Adam Clayton—is fiercely proud of his shop in historic Lauraville. Rubin fashions sensual and sculptural handmade pieces in an amalgam of brushed and patinated metals, velvety woods, and intricately patterned mosaics. But it's his flair for reinterpreting widely divergent periods of history (from Shaker and contemporary to Eastlake and 17th-century French) that excites the mind as well as the eyes.

Furniture Repair The historic Basilica of the Assumption recently entrusted Adajian and Nelson, 3302 Clipper Mill Road, 410-467-4407, with the restoration of two valuable altar angels for the commemoration of its 200 year anniversary. All too fitting, since Jim Adajian (who got his masters in sculpting at the Maryland Institute College of Art) and his wife, Ellen, have been Baltimore's guardian angels of fine furniture since 1975. Adajian and Nelson will be happy to refinish and restore your precious pieces, too.

Garden Center Plants have a habit of looking great at the store and lackluster by the time you get them home. At Garland's Garden Center and Florist, 1109 Ingleside Avenue, 410-747-5151, they sell only the healthiest climbing plants, hanging plants, small fruit trees, herbs, and vegetables, insuring that your plants will flourish long after you're rung up at the register. This Catonsville garden oasis also carries a massive selection of fountains, unusual pots, stylish garden shoes, shovels, birdfeeders, and garden gizmos.

Garden Statuary It's safe to say that landscaper Ben Stombler, 410-655-6099, goes the extra yard for his customers. Indeed, he may be the only person in Baltimore who travels to the tiny seacoast village of Ang Sila, Thailand to personally pick and ship back to Baltimore thousands of spectacular, intricately hand-carved pagodas, elephants, Fu dogs, water basins, Buddhas, and bridges. Ranging in price from $10 to thousands of dollars, they're sure to add beauty to any garden. By appointment.

Hardware Store Time was, every neighborhood had a hardware store where the guys behind the counter knew your name and could help you troubleshoot any problem from how to rid your basement of mold to how to rewire that heirloom lamp. In this day and age of the superstore, Schneider's Hardware, 700 Wyndhurst Avenue, 410-889-2117, is a throwback to simpler times, a place where generations of customers have come for silicone sealant, deer repellant, engine oil, cutting tools, converters, and sometimes nothing but good, old-fashioned casual conversation.

Home Accessories Offering a carefully selected assortment of comfortable, classic, English-style home accessories and furnishings (including handmade rugs, lamps, upholstery, handcrafted furniture, needlepoint pillows, artwork, and silver frames), The Kellogg Collection, 6241 Falls Road, 410-296-4378, has everything you need to elevate any home interior. And their well-regarded in-house design services are used by people in Baltimore's best neighborhoods to bring a fresh look to rooms.

Home CatererWant all your meals cooked, frozen, and delivered in advance so you never have to fuss over what to serve? That's the niche of Carol Allen of The Perfect Gourmet, 4216 Shannon Drive, 410-446-4417. She and her partner, gourmet chef Susan Ayres, offer a wide range of entrées—beef Wellington, tortilla-crusted tilapia, rosemary-burgundy lamb shank, et al.—that are as good as what you'd find in an upscale restaurant. Heat it up, uncork the wine, and look like you've spent all day home on the range.

Home StoreIt's hard to say whether it's the inviting beds fitted with silk and velvet linens, the cushiony sofas covered in pink gingham and stripes, the delicate glass chandeliers, or the cinnamon-scented candles at The House Downtown, 524 E. Belvedere Avenue, 410-464-1440, that make us want to linger long after the Belvedere Square store locks its doors for the day. . . . Of course, we could buy some of this stuff and take it back to our houses. We really should stay in more.

Home Theater Experts Gramophone Ltd., 4 W. Aylesbury Road, Timonium, 410-821-5600, should be your first stop when you're shopping for home entertainment electronics, offering the best combination of selection, expertise, and service. Can you buy a specific Hitachi or Sony flat-screen cheaper at a big-box store? Maybe—if you want to make three trips, take two Tylenol, and then try to coordinate the installation. Gramophone has custom cabinetry and other high-end products and services that set it apart from the nationals and save on the headaches.

Kitchen Accessories We already know it's a great supermarket (see "Foodie Wonderland" in our Eat section). But wait, there's more! At Wegmans, 122 Shawan Road, Hunt Valley, 410-773-3900, you might feel a bit of sensory overload as you make your way past the aisles of festive napkin rings, hand-blown sake glasses, Global knives, Arthur Court oven-to-tableware, and Cuisinart blenders, but we can almost guarantee you won't come home empty-handed. Indeed, there's a lot to be said for a store in which it's possible to pick up a pound of veal and a food processor.

Landscape Design Having won 17 landscaping awards in the past two years alone, the last thing Outside Unlimited, 4195 St. Paul Road, Hampstead, 410-252-3027, needs is another award. Still, we have to give credit where credit is due. Whether it's perennial gardens, pergolas, patios, ponds, or paths, the 25-year-old company is renowned for its artistry, craftsmanship, and for putting its clients back in touch with nature. Says residential department and sales manager, Chuck Poehlman, "We are ambassadors into the natural world."

Linens Linens & Lingerie, 7625 Bellona Avenue, Ruxton, 410-825-1736, has no rivals when it comes to exquisite European luxe linens for the bedroom, bathroom, and beyond—from 1,100-thread-count sheets to crib linens and cashmere throws. A family-owned business since 1981—set inside a quaint storefront in the heart of "downtown" Ruxton—Linens & Lingerie carries the top names in textiles including Sferra, Home Treasures, and Matouk. And almost anything can be personalized with a monogram.

Modern Furniture Design purists will delight in the melding of form and function atHome on the Harbor, 1014 S. Charles Street, 410-234-1331, a Federal Hill staple which recently opened a second space in Mt. Washington Mill. The store offers an impressive array of furniture by mid-century modernists, including Mies Van der Rohe, Alessi, and Eero Saarinen. Look for sideboards, sleek sofas, Middle Kingdom pottery, graphic throw pillows, rugs, Knoll textiles, and Flos lighting.

Movers There are lots of horror stories out there about moving companies who are not only movers but shakers. But we've heard nothing but glowing recommendations for1st Class Moving, 1507 Dulany Road, Finksburg, 410-876-1115, a company that seems to come by its name honestly. Owned by Mark Webber and Christine Blugah, 1st Class serves all of Maryland and is insured and bonded. Customers say they're honest and fast, and they use full-time, trained staffers (not temps). Most important, they'll treat your heirlooms and your Fisher-Price toys with equal amounts of TLC.

Organizing Expert In this era of clutter, professional organizer Cindy Bernstein, owner of Aim 4 Order, aim4order.com, 410-484-8328, has a knack for restoring a sense of calm to your home—and, consequently, your life. Bernstein will gently help you give the heave-ho to all those maps, medical records, old phone books, and baskets of unread junk mail that have a way of taking over your house. And unlike other expert organizers, Bernstein will not only help you decide what to toss, she'll arrange appointments with local donation organizations and even personally haul stuff out of the house.

PainterMaybe you don't need a degree in engineering to be a great painter, but it can't hurt. Steve M. Dodge at ProPaint Systems, 18 Chestnut Hill Road, Forest Hill, 410-882-6288, worked for several years at the high-tech Applied Physics Lab of Johns Hopkins University before leaving that job to become a full-time painter. Things seem to be working well for him: He won the Painting and Decorating Contractors of America Image Award in 2004, and the client feedback we get about his ethics, high-quality work, and customer service is off the charts.

Place To Buy Pink Flamingos Where else to find Baltimore's unofficial city bird and ultimate status symbol but at Hometown Girl, 1001 W. 36th Street, 410-662-4438, in the neighborhood immortalized in John Water's camp classic Pecker? At Hometown, you'll find flamingo swizzle sticks, stemware, pens, platters, cookie cutters, and garden statuary to help put a little "hon" in your life.

Plumber After 15 years operating a Roto-Rooter franchise, William and Michele Pease bought 37-year-old Bush Plumbing, 410-366-7676, complete with its veteran staff, with a goal to build their residential business and expand their territory into the counties. Bush, which has held the city drain-cleaning contract for years and specializes in difficult jobs and old pipes, has been getting rave reviews from homeowners ever since.

Traditional Antiques Every year we go in search of a store that is a more complete antique experience than Gaines McHale, 700 S. Caroline Street, 410-625-1900. And every year we come back to Gaines McHale. While it's true you can get lucky finding a unique piece at a good price at the smaller shops, no one can rival the store's consistent selection of the finest in European 18th- and 19th-century country and formal antiques. Their new, 17,000-square-foot Fells Point showroom is a true furniture-lover's paradise.

Traditional Furniture What began as a modest storefront business in 1914 has become a 70,000-square-foot showroom 92 years later. With one of the largest furniture showrooms in the state, if you can't find it at Shofer's, 930 S. Charles Street, 410-752-4212, it doesn't exist. From Baker to Hickory Chair to Drexel Heritage, there are styles to suit every taste and budget.

Play

Art BookEllen Lupton's D.I.Y.: Design It Yourself isn't a coffee-table book dedicated to the work of a particular artist or artistic movement. Rather, it's an inspirational book geared towards your work. That's right, your work. Lupton, the director of MICA's Graphic Design master's program, views artistic design as something that should be accessible to everyone, not just art school grads. Her book offers tips for making your own T-shirts, books, stickers, websites, 'zines, invitations, note cards, press kits, business cards, and more. It will, at the very least, pique the curiosity of your inner artist/designer.

Band On disc and in concert, Lafayette Gilchrist and The New Volcanoes play hard-hitting jazz that affects listeners above the neck and below the waist. With Gilchrist's left hand pulsing forebodingly and his right hand spider-walking across the keys, the group's nimble rhythm section (drummer Nate Reynolds and bassist Anthony "Blue" Jenkins) and muscular horns (comprised of trumpeter Mike Cerri and saxophonists John Dierker, Greg Thompkins, and Gabriel Ware) anchor his heady compositions to the dance floor. As a result, the band appeals to anyone who appreciates a good groove, well played.

Beer-Dork Bar It doesn't have the slick feel of some of the other Canton watering holes, nor does it have the essence of Berlin that powers the city's other beer-dork bar, The Brewer's Art. That's probably why we like Mahaffey's Pub, 2706 Dillon Street, 410-276-9899, so much. Owner Wayne Mahaffey crafts a beer list as creative and diverse as any this side of London, rotating his on-draft offerings weekly and always making sure there are a good 80-plus beers to be had. The real dork-out begins when you catch Wayne himself and start debating the merits of Flanders red ales or the variations in stouts and porters. You can even try getting him to pair a beer with the surprisingly good bar food.

CD Most observers agree that Yuri Temirkanov improved the BSO during his tenure as music director, but sadly, there are no commercial recordings to document this important period of the orchestra's history. Luckily, a limited-edition CD of Temirkanov conducting a stirring BSO performance of Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2 can be had for a $100 contribution to the symphony's Great Artists Fund. Get it while you can.

Children's Book Baltimore native Munro Leaf wrote The Story of Ferdinand, the children's classic illustrated by Robert Lawson. Leaf and Lawson collaborated on another book, Wee Gillis, which received a Caldecott Honor for children's literature in 1939. Long out of print, it's been lovingly reissued by the New York Review of Books' Children's Collection.

Classic BarThis will come as a surprise to absolutely nobody, but The Prime Rib, 1101 N. Calvert Street, 410-539-1804, is still the swankest bar in town. Gin and vodka flow like water, the peanuts are the best in Baltimore, and jackets are mandatory. It's easy to pretend you're Frank Sinatra circa 1963 here, and the bartenders do their best to maintain that illusion—just don't go trying to add impromptu vocals to that classy piano music drifting from the baby grand.

Community Arts Group Art On Purpose, founded last year by artist/director Peter Bruun, gets high marks for curatorial bravado and community spirit. Its innovative exhibitions and programs, held at venues ranging from Park School to the Creative Alliance, are often multimedia, multi-generational forums for civic discourse. As such, they function on a variety of levels, all of them engaging.

Concert Series Shriver Hall Concert Series was reinvigorated in its 40th anniversary season, thanks to more diverse programming in 2005-06. Besides the usual chamber music fare, the series included an ambitious Piano Celebration weekend in April that had Krystian Zimerman, Leon Fleisher, Fazil Say, and McCoy Tyner on the bill. It was a welcome addition to a series that is, traditionally, top-notch.

DocumentaryProduced and directed by a pair of one-time Baltimoreans, Crossing Arizona (crossingaz.com) is not only a timely work, but an incisive piece of filmmaking. By focusing on one part of the U.S.-Mexican border in Arizona, co-directors Dan DeVivo and Joseph Mathew get inside one of the hottest political issues of the day. In May, it played to an enthusiastic crowd at the Maryland Film Festival, and it caught the eyes of many at Sundance this year, including Roger Ebert, who called it one of the films he "especially admired."

Hike (With Beer At End) Some people—okay, us—need some incentive to get out and get some fresh air. That's why we like to hike along Patapsco River, from the Hollofield entrance, 8020 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City, into old Ellicott City. If the water level's low enough, you can traipse along in the river itself. Or stick to the flat gravel bed next to the railroad tracks. An hour's hiking should carry you to picturesque Main Street with its quirky shops and, most importantly, eating and drinking establishments, including the Phoenix Emporium and Ellicott Mills Brewing Company.

House As ArtOver the past few years, Loring Cornish (né Van Freeman)
transformed his Druid Hill rowhome into a jaw-dropping work of art. Not only are the walls adorned with giant, colorful paintings and sculptures (many limned with words such as Love and Faith), the floors and ceilings are mosaics of broken tile, glass, metal, and other found objects. This fall, Cornish will similarly transform a gallery at AVAM, as part of its Home and Beast exhibition.

Neighborhood Bar We tried and tried to come up with a hidden gem of a neighborhood watering hole that no one beyond shouting distance of the place had heard of. But we gave up when we realized that there's no more quintessential neighborhood spot than McCabe's, 3845 Falls Road, 410-467-1000. Yes, people drive out of their way to sit in the cozy wood bar and munch on McCabe's famous burger, but that's the point. When you're here, everyone's a regular.

Non-Fiction Book At Canaan's Edge powerfully caps Taylor Branch's three-volume history of America during the MLK era. The trilogy as a whole—and the final installment, in particular—uses the arc of King's meteoric life to illuminate even the darkest corners of American democracy. Both stirring and scholarly, At Canaan's Edge is worthy of both King and the country he challenged and transformed.

Not-Quite-A-Dive Bar It's tough to get a handle on Dizzy Issie's, 300 W. 30th Street, 410-235-0171. Is it a dive bar? Nope, look at those suits over there—they wouldn't be caught in a dive bar. So is it a yuppie bar? No again. Those hipsters lounging around the pool table upstairs seem to think otherwise. Frankly, we don't know what to call it. But we do know that neighborhood folks of all stripes mix peacefully here, and the quirky décor and surprisingly good food don't hurt a bit.

Old-Timer's Bar Yes, we're calling Valley Inn, 10501 Falls Road, 410-828-8080, the best old-timer's bar, and we have no compunctions about it—and it's not just because the building itself is 174 years old. You won't get any limetinis here, like in the trendy places. But you won't get any of their pretension either. In fact, what you might get is an interrogation. "What are you two doing in here?" the bartender asked our two late-20s researchers while pouring their scotch on the rocks. "You're way too young to be in this place." You'll also get to converse with your drinking partners without having to shout over thumping breakbeats or Sportscenter blaring at top volume.

Performance Series Started by Laura Wexler and Jessica Henkin, the Stoop Storytelling series at the Creative Alliance has been a smash success. Its premise is beautifully simple: Over the course of an evening, a handful of local celebs (such as author Laura Lippman, Walters Director Gary Vikan, and our own Max Weiss) and regular folk (like a dog walker and a manicurist) tell stories relating to a single theme. Be it life's most embarrassing moments or tales from the road, the resulting stories prove that oral history is alive and well.

PlaygroundJungle gyms and swing sets are all well and good, but they suffer from one fatal flaw: they're no use on rainy days. That's why Port Discovery's KidWorks, 35 Market Place, 410-547-7328, is the premier playground around. For lack of a better term, it's usually called a "tree house," although we don't know of any other tree houses that are three stories high, with ropes and tunnels and tubes and bridges and special effects. And unlike the neighborhood park, Port Discovery offers enough other diversions to keep the kids busy for hours. Sure beats watching TV.

Scene Pazo, 1425 Aliceanna Street, 410-534-7296, found the hole in Charm City's nightlife and plugged it with a piece of glamazon nirvana. The place is beautiful, the people are beautiful (by Crabtown standards at least)—heck, even the food is beautiful. And when the DJs start spinning and the hips begin swaying, you'll almost forget that you're from Middle River, not SoHo.

Sledding Site There are plenty of great sledding sites in Baltimore, but we can't formally endorse all of them (you see, they have these things called No Trespassing laws). Fortunately, one of the best is located not on private property but in the middle of Leakin Park, 1900 Eagle Drive. The dip behind Crimea Mansion may not be Suicide Hill, but it's still long enough and steep enough for most to get more than a few thrills out of it on a snowy day. Recommended parking is in the lot next to the tennis courts off Windsor Mill Road.

Sports-Watching Bar If you're not looking for the all-out multimedia sports assault that ESPN Zone offers, but you still want to catch the game, your best bet is JD's Smokehouse Bar & Grill, 3000 O'Donnell Street, 410-675-4029. They've got plenty of TVs—a bunch of them hi-def—to cover every game being played. And just as importantly, they've got seriously excellent sports-watching food—especially the wings and the brisket.

Swimming Hole Picture that tranquil lake of your childhood summers, with paddleboats and a wooden dock floating way out in the middle. Then drop three waterslides—including a 150-foot one—into the lake. Now you've got yourself the rural summertime wonderland that is Cascade Lake, 3000 Snydersburg Road, Hampstead, 410-374-9111. Fishing and picnic pavilion rental round out the offerings.

Tequila Bar That whole "martini" craze appears to be slowing—finally!—and in its place comes tequila. Lime, 801 E. Fort Avenue, 410-685-5463, is prepared for the onslaught of hipsters and yuppies and New York wannabes with its slick, handsome bar, and bottles upon bottles of the evil, wormy liquid—90 types in all, plus 15 different Mexican beers. And believe it when they boast about having one of Baltimore's best margaritas.

Theater A theater that mounts successful productions of The Murder of Isaac, King Lear, and Radio Golf in the same season, as Center Stage did in 2005-06, deserves credit not only for its execution, but also its range and overall vision. Artistic Director Irene Lewis continues to challenge and please audiences with work that's both intellectually engaging and immensely entertaining.

Theater Troupe Magical Experiences Arts Companyperforms for a select audience comprised of severely handicapped individuals and their caregivers. Founded by Joanne Lewis-Margolius in 1994, it uses Dickensian story lines, touch therapy, Kabuki-like minimalism, and classical music to break down physical and emotional barriers. Margolius and company perform regularly at The Maryland School for the Blind and various institutions around the state.

Venue Even if you're not partial to Broadway musicals, the Hippodrome, 12 N. Eutaw Street, 410-481-SEAT, thanks to its sheer beauty, warrants a visit. As local venues go, it's without peer, and shows there feel like events. With that in mind, it would be great to see more concerts booked at the Hippodrome. Bringing the likes of Al Green or Bob Dylan to this classy venue would be a welcome addition to the local concert scene.

Shop

Accessories For Her Leda Reis (co-owner Fern Elliott's mom) is a big part of Lilac Bijoux, 145 Main Street, Annapolis, 410-263-3309. The Rio de Janeiro native mans the bead bar in back—usually hard at work on bridesmaid bracelets—but don't miss her more exclusive pieces up front including a beautiful vermeil gold leaf and pearl necklace. Other shop favorites include works by Alexis Bittar, Baltimore jeweler Jackie Powers-Smith, Pagliei, Lee Angel, We Dream in Color, Bohn, Marcia Moran, and Gara Danielle's big gold anchor necklace.

Accessories For Him Each season at Gentei, 1010 Morton Street, 410-244-8961, owner Oliver Jones bases his merchandise on a different theme. This summer it's bicycles, with undeniably cool messenger bags from Japanese brand Calee, alongside a collection of rebellious, hip-hop/punk accessories. The cleverly high-concept shop carries hats, sunglasses, jewelry, and shoes from both big labels like Stussy and unknown Tokyo-based designers. Check out the hyper-stylish collection of sneakers including the rarely seen Nike Air-Force Ones, Marvel Comic-inspired kicks, and Marc Jacobs-designed Vans for the style conscious DJ/skater/graffiti artist in us all.

Beauty Boutique Less pretentious than Sephora, more helpful than Rite-Aid, ULTA,Hunt Valley Town Centre, 118 Shawan Road, Hunt Valley, 410-527-9960, is the ultimate beauty destination. There's makeup, tons of skin stuff, all sorts of lotions and potions, hair doohickeys, sunscreen, rows and rows of shampoo and conditioner, razors, curling irons, perfumes, sundry bags, candles, and even a salon for a quick cut or blow-dry.

Book Store Want to join a book club but don't have the time? The next best thing is a trip to Ivy Bookshop, 6080 Falls Road, 410-377-2966. Not only do they have all the latest must-read novels and books—The Jane Austen Book Club, anyone?—but the bibliophilic staff will be happy to give you their thoughts on any work. After all, the only thing better than reading a great book is discussing it with friends.

ElectronicsA Best Buy is a Best Buy. But the new Inner Harbor Best Buy, 600 E Pratt Street, 410-234-3020, still makes us city folk super happy. No longer do we need to trek out to the 'burbs to buy our camcorders, Frigidaires, printers, plasmas, TiVos, and special DVD editions of Valley of the Dolls. We happily wait in line behind the tourists buying film and extra batteries. There's also on-site electronics and appliance installation. But, we think the store looks a little lonely. Nothing a Target couldn't fix.

Fashionista Headquarters The new Maple Lawn outpost of Lindsay Buscher's popularUrban Chic, 8180 Maple Lawn Boulevard, Fulton, 301-490-9952, is one-stop designer shopping. Our heads are spinning with visions of Rebecca Taylor, Theory, Vince, Diane von Furstenberg, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Twelfth Street by Cynthia

Vincent, Nanette Lapore, Free People, Cynthia Steffe, Mint, Three Dots, Ella Moss, Juicy Couture, Trina Turk, and Susanna Monaco. Buscher also hires a terrific sales team that manages to be on-the-ball but not pushy—a rare combination, indeed.

Funky Gift Shop While browsing the Corradetti Glass Gallery, 2010 Clipper Park Road, Suite 119, 410-243-2010, you might happen to notice Anthony Corradetti working across the room with a bunch of apprentices in his open glassblowing studio. Work and play fuse together in this huge former foundry building across from the new Clipper Mill pool (into which you might be tempted to jump—between the sun and the furnace, the studio gets almost unbearably hot). Pieces ranging from vases to bowls to museum-quality objets d'art will cost you anywhere from $25 to about $10,000. As for meeting the artist? That's free.

Handbags We skipped the obvious (Handbags and the City, The Purse Store) and the small but good (Sitting Pretty, Cloud Nine) to award for consistency. South Moon Under, multiple locations including The Shops at Kenilworth, 822 Kenilworth Drive, Towson 410-337-7484, carries a fashion-friendly array of handbags that are both trendy and timeless. The buyers—we're told—are really conscious of the various styles that the Baltimore gal is looking for to complement her wardrobe. So, there are tons of shapes, prices, and sizes. We gravitate toward Bulga, Tano, Hobo, Deux Lux, Lullabella, and Lauren Merkin in great colors like teal, purple, red, and Fall's new neutral, olive.

Handmade Jewelry The best perk of our job? Surfing the web for funky local designers and calling it "work." Designer Jessee Maloney's quirky, kitschy, and crafty jewelry can be found at artschooldropout.net. She uses new and vintage parts to create bright, conversation-starting pieces. Maloney captures all things retro-funk in her Juxtapose necklace collection, made from enamel flower pendants, vintage buttons, and beads. If grade-school chic is your thing, the owl bobby pin set is adorable. The prices are on an art-student budget, ranging from $2-40. Website bonus: Her LiveJournal is just as idiosyncratic as her jewelry designs.

Jeans This is not a denim super store. There are not walls or even bins overflowing with jeans. In fact, Holly G's, 1018 S. Charles Street, 410-962-1506, Federal Hill's newest boutique, is about the size of a studio apartment—in New York City. Owner Gwendolen Long carefully edits down the now-massive selection of denim labels to a few sure-fire hits. Frankie B, Rosner, Denim for Immortality, and Red Engine not only fit an assortment of figures, but they're not the same brands you see everywhere else.

Maternity Wear Where is it written that being pregnant must make you look like a tent? At H&M, Arundel Mills, 7000 Arundel Mills Circle, Hanover, 410-799-0824, the collection is playful, inexpensive, and trendy, just the way your ever-expanding belly likes it! In recent months we've spotted seersucker dresses, terry cloth sweaters, and funky cargos that'll have your non-preggers friends swooning with jealousy.

Merge No one quite knew what to expect when Shine Collective and Sturgis Antiques, 1007a W. 36th Street, 410-366-6100, joined forces to bring us new clothes and old furniture under one roof. We're happy to report the marriage has been a success. The racks of clothes and accessories complement the Formica table and crate of old records. We love that you can buy the 1950s bureau and the Wranglers for sale on top of it.

Ode To The City You name it and the folks at Natty Boh Gear, 1624 Thames Street, 410-296-8633, have probably emblazoned it with the winking guy. Carrying everything from hats, tees, and shorts, to neon bar signs, glassware, and cigars, this Fells Point store knows how to pay homage to Baltimore's favorite beer icon. There's even a dog collar, which makes us wonder: Just how many dogs are named Natty or Boh?

Party Dresses The atmosphere at Fresh! Boutique, 10749 Falls Road, 443-901-0097, makes you feel like you're getting ready for a party at an uber-stylish friend's apartment—dance music included. The boutique carries party-perfect frocks by fashion heavyweights like Betsey Johnson, Foley, and BCBG, but owner Heidi Slacum prides herself in avoiding "over-saturated" brands. Under the radar designers like Lure, Phoebe by Kay Unger, Hype, and Fiori di Zucca will help you avoid those she's-wearing-the-same-dress panics.

Place To Read All About It Like a New York newsstand but prettier (and cleaner)Harbor News, 1010 Aliceanna Street, 410-244-5140, boasts over 3,000 magazines and newspapers under one striking chandelier. Split into categories like Art & Design, Sea & Air, Craft & Hobby, and Film & Television, owner Christina Cieri finds the obvious (Redbook, Rolling Stone) and obscure (Pro Bull Rider and Daruma, a magazine dedicated to Japanese arts and antiques). Into something really ambiguous? Cieri thrives on hunting down even more titles.

Reason To Shop In Baltimore We're smitten with doubledutch, 3616 Falls Road, 410-554-0055. Maybe it's the crazy affordable prices. Maybe it's the indie brands like Dear Birthday, Red Delicious, Blissen, and Kismet. Maybe it's the feel of the store itself—part girlie-girl, part art-school hip. Whatever the reason, owners Lesley Jennings and Megan Luther are onto something good.

Reason To Shop In DC The Collection at Chevy Chase, 5471 Wisconsin Avenue,Chevy Chase, 301-654-2690, has us trading in Amtrak for the MARC train. More than 100,000 square feet of luxe retail means no more trudging up to NYC. Now we can shop CO-OP Barney's New York, Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo, Cartier, Gucci, Christian Dior, Ralph Lauren and Max Mara and still make it home in time for an O's game.

Record ShopWe've given lots of love to The Sound Garden in the past, so it's time we give a big fat Best of Baltimore smooch to Record and Tape Traders, 806 Frederick Road, Catonsville, 410-788-6767. Although they have numerous locations (all good), this particular locale is known for its extensive metal, hip-hop, and rock selection. The staff knows what the heck they're talking about, too, and love to suggest obscure new bands they've stumbled on. (Store etiquette: It's always nice to ask how their obscure band is doing.)

Shoes (Adults) Size does matter when you're a women's 13. Karen Williamson takes the stigma out of big feet with her Barefoot Tess, Towson Town Center, 825 Dulaney Valley Road, Towson, 410-337-7722. With sizes ranging from 5 to 14, women of all hooves can find heels, flats, flops, and boots from (among others), Jeffrey Campbell, Loeffler Randall, Dolce Vita, Delman, Via Spiga, and Kate Spade. Glory Chen does an exclusive size-10-and-up line for the shop. Eat your heart out, Size Seven!

Shoes (Kids)OLLY Shoes, Hunt Valley Town Center, 118 Shawan Road, Hunt Valley, 410-329-1180, works on two levels. For parents, there are more than 40 brands—including Ecco, Columbia, Morgan & Milo, Keen, Robeez, and Puma—to squeeze your tot's feet into. Plus, knowledgeable staffers (who won't be put off by a mini tantrum) use the magical OLLYFIT technology to make sure the shoe really does fit. For kids, all the for-sale games, balls, and toys mean you can usually finagle something from Mom and Dad besides the shoes.

Sunglasses Snag the "in" aviators by Gucci or trendy oversized frames by Dior or Juicy Couture at Handbags and the City, 612 S. Exeter Street, 410-528-1443. Or go for more classic styles by Yves St. Laurent and Lulu Guinness. Owner George Sakellaris knows what works best on that pretty face of yours, and will help save you from UV rays (and the paparazzi).

Unfussy Men's Clothing Usually when a boutique carries duds for guys and gals, the shop tends to be pink and girlie with the men's clothes stashed as an afterthought in the back. We're happy to report that Box of Rain, Hunt Valley Town Centre, 118 Shawan Road, Hunt Valley, 410-329-1505, is so not that store. The dude stuff is just as prevalent as the gal stuff. The color palette is neutral. And they carry real guy brands like Theory, Hugo Boss, 4 You, Modern Amusement, Ben Sherman, and jeans from Joe's, True Religion, 7 for All Mankind, and Union.

Unique Wedding Gifts Artist Steve Baker is the reason you shouldn't buy off the registry. The Hampden resident (you can usually find him working at Falkenhan's Hardware) makes the most innovative pieces at his itty bitty studio Whollyterra, 3406 Chestnut Avenue, 410-446-1093. Find sushi sets, mixed-media bird feeders, stained glass frames, window hangings, recycled glass snowflakes, the occasional painting—not to mention an all around engaging guy.

Use Of Recycled Material There are two good reasons to love blueHouse, 1407 Fleet Street, 410-276-1180. First, all products meet at least one criterion for well living and environmental responsiveness. And second, the stuff is all really, really cool. Think Sea Bags made from recycled sails, glassware crafted from old wine bottles by Green Glass, and vintage apothecary jars. Plus, if you're just browsing, you can still settle for a cup of organic joe.

Weekend Wear Big weekend plans, little wardrobe? Fells Point boutique Cupcake, 813-15 S. Broadway, 410-522-0941, has got you covered. For low-key options, they stock Chip and Pepper, Hudson, and Genetic jeans; comfy tees and tanks from LA Made; and easy jersey dresses and skirts from Enza Costa. If you're in need of something dressier, check out silk tops by Nu Collection and Matty M, and a selection of heels from Michael Kors, Cynthia Rowley, and Laundry. Affordable jewelry from Brazilian designer Mgold, and a huge collection of sandals from Havaianas, Jack Rogers, Mystique, and Dolce Vita will take you from a backyard barbecue to date night with ease.




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