Best of Baltimore 2005

Celebrating 30 Years of Our Obsessive Hunt for Quality

Written and Edited by Max Weiss with Geoff Brown, Hannah Feldman, Ken Iglehart, Pascale Lemaire, John Lewis, Jane Marion, Bianca Sienra, and Stephanie Silver. Additional writing by Alex Ball, Christina Breda Antoniades, Dave Butcher, John Farlow, Lisa Harbin, Mary Medland, Bianca Posterli, Michael Snow, Eden Unger-Bowditch, and Joan Wisner-Carlson. -

Best of Baltimore 2005

Celebrating 30 Years of Our Obsessive Hunt for Quality

Written and Edited by Max Weiss with Geoff Brown, Hannah Feldman, Ken Iglehart, Pascale Lemaire, John Lewis, Jane Marion, Bianca Sienra, and Stephanie Silver. Additional writing by Alex Ball, Christina Breda Antoniades, Dave Butcher, John Farlow, Lisa Harbin, Mary Medland, Bianca Posterli, Michael Snow, Eden Unger-Bowditch, and Joan Wisner-Carlson. -


Yes, this is our 30th annual Best of Baltmore issue. But if you think that means 30 years of the same old thing—think again. Every year, new faces and venues march into town, shaking things up, energizing our community, and, in some cases, forcing the old guard to step up their game. And that's precisely what makes this issue so much fun to write (and read, we hope). We're darn proud of this town and we just love crowing about it. Which brings us to this year's special feature: Hidden Treasures. Along with the usual best bets in dining, arts, and lifestyle, we've also highlighted some of the town's less ballyhooed people and places. They're quirky, they're lovable, and we think they make Baltimore home.




ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Art as Activism Filmmaker Paul Santomenna's Megaphone Project produces low-cost documentaries on local economic and social justice issues. This year, Megaphone released a pair of powerful films: Hearts in the Darkness, about an ex-prostitute/drug addict, and Infected, which addressed healthcare issues at the Baltimore City Jail. Megaphone's documentaries humanize such issues in ways that are both informative and engaging.

Art Project as Magazine Each installment of Esopus, the brainchild of Carroll County native Tod Lippy, features a jaw-dropping mix of visual art, literature, found objects, and music (it comes with a CD). Past issues have included film stills, photography portfolios, an illustrated children's story, Department of Defense memos written in invisible ink (the words appear in daylight), pull-out posters, poetry, and more. It's like a gallery of wondrous objects, tucked inside a magazine.

Bachelorette-Party Spot With all the posters of Santorini on the wall and joyous Greek music wafting through the room, it's almost as if you're starting the honeymoon a little early at Ikaros, 4805 Eastern Ave., 410-633-3750. Bring the girls and ask for one of the side banquet rooms—you can have as much moussaka and merlot as your almost-married self can handle! Be warned, though: you break the plates, you buy 'em.

Band Over the past 17 years, they've been called punk, post-punk, grunge, alternative, and emo. Such rock subgenres may come and go, but Lungfish continues to thrive. Last year, the band played the All Tomorrow's Parties festival (at Modest Mouse's invitation) and toured Japan for the first time. A hypnotically powerful CD, Feral Hymns, has just been released on the seminal Dischord label.

Benefit It's a good thing the American Visionary Art Museum's Mondo Exotica is held biennially, because you need two full years to finish talking about it! This year's aquatic theme—based around the museum's year-long "Holy H20" exhibit—had guests dressed to the nines as loan sharks, sea anemones, sailors, and even sushi.

CD Fertile Ground's Black Is… is pure soul, the sort of disc that reaffirms one's belief in the power of music to inspire and heal. Songs such as "Spirit World" and "Live in the Light" are infused with the sort of positive vibe that make Stevie Wonder and Bob Marley so special. And like those iconic artists, Fertile Ground anchors its positivity in deep, infectious grooves.

Cigar Bar It's been around for years, but after undergoing an extensive renovation in 2003, the Havana Club, 600 Water St., 410-783-0033, truly remains a haven for the cigar aficionado. And for a cool $500 a year, you can join the "members only" club which buys you use of your own personalized humidor, complimentary valet parking, a discount on boxed cigar purchases, and the ability to walk past all the "hoi polloi" waiting in line outside.

Community Arts Group Highlandtown's Creative Alliance at The Patterson, 3134 Eastern Ave., 410-276-1651, continues to set the standard for what a community arts group can be. Both a neighborhood anchor and a beacon for artists of all types, the Creative Alliance consistently supports and presents diverse work, including the adventurous Transmodern Age Festival (co-sponsored with Area 405), a series of silent films with live music scores, cabaret nights, dance lessons, lectures, workshops, and much more. Every neighborhood should be blessed with its own Creative Alliance.

Contemporary Art Gallery UMBC's Center for Art and Visual Culture mounts cutting edge exhibitions infused with aesthetic bravado, intellectual heft, and cultural significance. CAVC's Tour de Clay exhibitions were one highlight, and recent shows such as "The HOME House Project" and "White: Whiteness and Race in Contemporary Art" have turned the center into a budding contemporary art powerhouse.

Dance Floor Federal Hill's nightlife scene is certainly not synonymous with "relaxed": pushy bouncers, long lines, impossibly crowded quarters. How's a gal supposed to get down with her bad self on the dance floor without any wiggle room? Sky Lounge, 1041 Marshall St., 410-625-1615, is the perfect antidote to her problem as its swanky Plexi-glassed upstairs dance floor is just wild enough to keep you moving, and just wide enough to keep you sane.

Dive Bar The mark of a good bar is when you see the employees hanging out even off the clock. Such is the case at Leadbetter's, 1639 Thames St., 410-675-4794. Grab a seat at the bar or go in the back for a quick game of pool, but keep your eyes peeled for the little quirks that make this bar so charmingly memorable (like the Tylenol and Advil on sale behind the counter and Guinness misspelled on the price list). Check your pretense at the door.

Downtown Rock Club We still have a hard time getting used to the fact that on any given night, big-name acts like The Roots, Steve Winwood, and Elvis Costello are taking the stage in downtown Baltimore thanks to Rams Head Live, 20 Market Pl.,

410-244-8854. The best thing about this relative newcomer is that it covers all bases—country (Dwight Yoakam), oldies (America), newbies (Brazilian Girls), and hotties (Jakob Dylan of The Wallflowers)—and we think that rocks!

DVD Commentary John Waters's hilarious and insightful audio commentary for A Dirty Shame is, in itself, worth the price of the DVD. Waters speaks candidly about his career, the film's stars, his Baltimore locations, and much, much more, including many of the sexual fetishes in the film. A discussion about sploshing may not be for everyone, but Waters's warmth and wit are hard to resist.

Faculty Concert Last October, as part of Peabody's Faculty Chamber Music Concert, a quartet comprised of cellist Michael Kannen, violist Jason Fisher, and violinists Jesse Irons and Courtney Orlando performed a moving version of Steve Reich's Different Trains. The group played Reich's piece, which includes tapes of pre-recorded voices, with the perfect mix of passion and precision.

Film Series This spring, MICA and the Maryland Film Festival co-sponsored Reality, a startlingly good documentary film series that included Don't Look Back, Imelda, Brother's Keeper, Capturing the Friedmans, Michael Moore Hates America, an evening of documentary shorts, and a double feature of faux documentaries (Curse of the Blair Witch and Forgotten Silver). Having most of the filmmakers on hand to introduce the films and answer audience questions made the series all the more memorable.

Home Away From Home With the opening of the Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Ln., N. Bethesda, 301-581-5100, the region has gained more than just a second home for the BSO. We also got a well-designed, acoustically superior venue to attract acts such as the Mingus Big Band, the Peking Acrobats, and Dan Zanes.

Jazz Venue Over the past year, the emergence of An die Musik Live, 409 N. Charles St., 410-385-2638, as a jazz venue has been a boon to the local music scene. Located upstairs from An die Musik's CD shop, the room is intimate and has great sound. Since last September, promoter Bernard Lyons and An die owner Henry Wong have presented a stunning variety of affordably priced concerts by the likes of David Murray (accompanied by Lafayette Gilchrist), Andrew Hill, Marilyn Crispell, Marshall Allen, Henry Grimes, William Parker, Fred Hersch, and Michael Formanek.

Karaoke Whether you're full of liquid courage or not, 1.7th Generation, 123-129 W. 27th St., 410-467-1717, gives you a chance to strut your lyrical stuff. Rather than exposing yourself on stage, here you can grab the phonebook-sized song list (which features much Korean music, with American hits as well) and belt out your pick from your seat, which, we remind you, is also conveniently where you have your drink.

Lightning In a Bottle (twice) Last year, the inaugural CityLit Festival at the Enoch Pratt Free Library booked novelist Edward P. Jones for an appearance. A few days before the festival, Jones won the Pulitzer Prize. This year, former Washington Post foreign correspondent Steve Coll was scheduled to appear, and sure enough, just days before the April 16th event, Coll won a Pulitzer for his book, Ghost Wars. Anyone with Pulitzer aspirations for 2006 may want to contact CityLit honcho Gregg Wilhelm.

Lounge From the street, Copra, 313 N. Charles St., 410-727-6080, looks like the Mt. Vernon haunt that it is: brushed ironwork, brick-oven pizzas, bottles of merlot. What you can't see from the street, though, is the sleek and very popular downstairs lounge. Plush couches and plasma TVs line the walls—making way for a pretty sizeable dance floor. And you'll need it, too: This hotspot gets hoppin' on the weekends.

Lounge Pianist Ray Jowziak isn't your typical lounge pianist. Jowziak, a self-billed "gonzo pianist," performs Wednesday nights at The Belvedere's 13th Floor Lounge. More fractured jazz than tuxedo schmaltz, he conjures the spirits of Thelonious Monk and a host of stride pianists with a strong left hand and a quirky instrumental approach.

Mix of Art and Music Talk about mixing pleasure with . . . pleasure. At Jazz in the Sculpture Garden, 10 Art Museum Dr., 410-396-6001, the tasty sandwiches and snacks from the outside bar sate guests until dessert—the concert! Last summer's lineup was impressive and this year will be no different: Acclaimed vocalist Paula West and nationally known jazz singer Andy Bey both perform this month.

Musical The Lion King may have been the season's most artful spectacle, but Center Stage's adaptation of Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona as the most audacious and, ultimately, enjoyable musical. Reinventing Shakespeare as a rock musical takes guts, and doing it convincingly takes real vision. Artistic director Irene Lewis, musical director Eric Svejcar, and choreographer Luis Perez all rose to the occasion.

Museum Expansion The American Visionary Art Museum's 28,000-square-foot Jim Rouse Visionary Center makes an excellent addition to an already excellent museum. A converted whiskey barrel warehouse, the Rouse Center houses oversized work, including art cars, a huge statue of drag performer Divine, and painted screens (by the likes of Johnny Eck and Dee Hegert) installed in replica rowhomes. The Center's whimsical, and appropriate, architectural details include a "Birds Nest" balcony and a "Divine Hand" to hold a giant movie screen for AVAM's outdoor film series.

New Art Acquisition Last year's Kerry James Marshall show at the BMA

("One True Thing: Meditations on Black Aesthetics") was one of the most compelling and provocative exhibitions in recent memory. So hats off to the BMA for adding Marshall's " The Ladder of Success" to its contemporary wing. Now, we can continue to appreciate Marshall's work and reflect on the original exhibition.

Novel Set lovingly in Baltimore, Michael Kun's Your Poor Monster is chock full of interesting characters (namely, Hamilton Ashe, a young lawyer, and Sam Shoogey, a gifted storyteller), wry and witty prose, and an intriguing premise: If you know that a wickedly good storyteller is spinning a fantastic yarn, is it still a lie? A Hopkins grad, Kun uses endnotes to craft a subplot that both enriches the narrative and underscores his premise.

Poetry Volume With a scalpel of empathy, Columbia's Lucille Clifton cuts though our clotted cultural landscape in Mercy. In poem after poem, she excises all personal and political jingoism, leaving only what is necessary and human and right.

Reason To Go Out On a Monday Night So you're a little rundown from the weekend. Wheatgrass shake? Gross! Cup o' joe? Been there, done that. What you need is a night atSwing!, Austin Grill, 2400 Boston St., 410-534-0606. From 7:30-8 p.m., beginner dancers are treated to swing lessons free of charge. At 8, $10 will buy you some more advanced moves, and at 9, be prepared to rock the restaurant during two hours of nonstop boogying. Bring a friend or go solo, but don't forget your dancing shoes.

Residency This year's Critics Residency at MAP was particularly strong. Organized by critic in residence Franklin Sirmans, it produced perceptive writing from Jenny O'Grady and Jiyun Park and an excellent exhibition that included memorable work from painter Jo Smail, photographer Sonya Lawyer, and installation artist Michele Kong.

Salsa Dancing With its supper club atmosphere alone, the Argentinian-inspiredGardel's, 29 S. Front St., 410-837-3737, is intriguing. Adding to that intrigue is the restaurant's historic Fava Building setting and its weekly dance events: Saturday is the big night—Salsa, Merengue, and Bachata begin at 9 p.m.—but Tuesday evenings host ballroom enthusiasts and Sundays welcome tea-time tango dancers.

Saturday Night Sing-A-Long Though "piano bar" might be the technical term forHowl at the Moon, 22 Market Pl., 410-783-5111, we think a better way to describe this Power Plant Live! venue is as one huge, synergistic sing-a-long to The Jackson Five, Bon Jovi, Rick Springfield, and the Piano Man himself, Billy Joel. On Fridays and Saturdays, stop by at 5:45 p.m. for free cover, half-price drinks, and a crowd drawn together solely by the nostalgia of a damn good song.

Show Posters Over the past few years, Hampden's Spur Design, 3504 Ash St., 410-235-7803, has produced some exceptional show posters for local theater venues, but the firm's recent designs for Theatre Project were especially noteworthy. Not just eye candy, the posters reflect the restless and relentless creative spirit of both theater group and design firm.

Singles Scene (over 40) If you'd rather meet someone who prefers a good beef carpaccio over a Jell-O shot, head to Liberatore's, 9515 Deereco Rd., Timonium, 410-561-3300, for a taste of the tasteful dating scene. Grab a glass of Italian wine and a seat at the bar—you'll be amazed at how many suburban singles count on the restaurant's Tuscan vibe to improve their love lives.

Singles Scene (under 40) While The Belvedere's 13th Floor can sometimes err on the side of pretentious, the downstairs Owl Bar, 1 E. Chase St., 410-347-0888, is a perfect spot to swig a frothy mug of local brew while making new friends. At 9 p.m. on Thursday through Saturday nights, the dark-wood-and-brick bar becomes the sexy backdrop that thirtysomethings sometimes need for that extra boost of confidence.

Sports Bar As any true fan will tell you, a few TVs does not a sports bar make. Although the potential for sensory overload is present at Padonia Station, 63 E. Padonia Rd., Timonium, 410-252-8181, it's the spirited atmosphere that will ultimately win you over. Hosting three separate areas to enjoy a meal or the game, and offering daily specials and events, Padonia Station is a haven for any sports nut. And oh, did we mention that you can enjoy a bison burger while you root on 'dem O's?

Television Writer When HBO announced it was renewing The Wire in March, the cable giant didn't cite the usual reasons: Ratings weren't high, and there wasn't a sexy star poised for media saturation. Instead, HBO president Carolyn Strauss cited the writing prowess of David Simon as the primary reason for the show's renewal. In a TV landscape dominated by plotless reality shows, it was a refreshing and well-deserved nod to a truly visionary writer.

Tour de Clay Moment Early one Sunday morning, we saw a young boy peering through the keyhole of the BMA's Latrobe Spring House, where Richard Cleaver's 100-piece, altar-like installation was housed as part of the citywide Tour de Clay festival. The boy turned around, wide-eyed and grinning, and exclaimed, "I didn't expect that to be in there!" It spoke volumes about the spirit of the ambitious festival and the creative use of space at the BMA.

Tribute Concert On September 23, 2004, local jazz luminaries—including pianist Lafayette Gilchrist and saxophonists Greg Thompkins and John Berndt—gathered to mark John Coltrane's birthday at Xando in Charles Village. The legendary saxophonist would have been proud, as Thompkins led a rousing session that leaned heavily on Coltrane's classic, A Love Supreme. An accompanying exhibition of Coltrane-inspired paintings and drawings, produced by the International Comzee artist collective, added yet another dimension to the tribute.

Uptown Rock Club Ottobar, 2549 N. Howard St., 410-662-0069, is the quintessential indie music club. It's small, gritty, sweaty, has a decent beer selection, and books a wide array of acts, from Aesop Rock and Prefuse 73 to local faves the Oxes and Bonnie Prince Billy.

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BUSINESS

Business Lunch Spot M&S Grill, 200 E. Pratt St., 410-547-9333, the McCormick and Schmick outpost which opened two years ago, caters to the business community with plenty of private booths in its dining room. Execs from Verizon, Bank of America, and Legg Mason are regulars, holding lunch meetings while chowing down on such popular pub fare as the triple-layer, lump-crab-and-shrimp-salad sandwich. Mayor Martin O'Malley is an occasional diner, as are many Orioles—Javy Lopez and Brian Roberts were recently spotted.

Casual Business Lunch Spot There's something about a steaming hot bowl of Ploughboy soup, freshly baked peasant wheat bread, and, well, the name Atwater, that makes you want to talk business. The Belvedere Square staple Atwater's, 529 E. Belvedere Ave., 410-323-2396, serves up lunchtime delicacies to business execs day after day. So if you're in the market to make a deal, put on your best suit and ask for the gumbo.

CEO Last year, Tony Caputo, the CEO of Harford County-based software protection firm Safenet Inc., made a bold move by purchasing Rainbow Technologies. It paid off—to the tune of $202 million. At the same time, Caputo has worked with Governor Ehrlich and played an active role in helping to revive the state's high-tech industry. To top it off, employees say he's a nice guy who leads his staff of 900 by example. At a recent off-site sales meeting in Washington, D.C., Caputo decreed that everyone needed to have a hotel roommate as a cost-savings measure—including himself.

Company to Watch Analysts are approvingly eyeing Micros Systems Inc., a provider of computer services and equipment for restaurants, retailers, and hotels, for its stock's steady growth (up 56 percent in the past year). Headed by chairman and CEO Tom Giannopoulos, Micros Systems had sales of $488 million in 2004, up over 20 percent from the previous year.

Corporate Turnaround Back in October 2002, when TESSCO Technologies Inc.'s Hunt Valley headquarters were flooded with four million gallons of water from a blown fire hydrant, the odds of it staying afloat—let alone flourishing—were slight. That didn't stop the company—which provides one-stop shopping for the wireless industry—from scrambling to reopen at a smaller facility nearby within 24 hours. After a $25 million settlement with insurers, a distribution center was rebuilt on the original site and reopened in December 2003. Since the disaster, sales have jumped 87 percent to a projected $513 million.

Job Training Program The Mayor's Office of Employment Development,

417 E. Fayette St., 410-396-3009, has four regional career centers and five youth centers, which served 18,000 jobseekers last year. The centers are equipped with "digital learning labs" providing self-paced training, and they offer G.E.D. classes as well. This summer, they expect to place 5,500 Baltimoreans aged 14-21 in about 400 job sites across the city.

Local Job Listings To land the right job, today's jobseeker must be as adept with the Internet as with the interview. The leading online source of local listings is The Sun'sCareerBuilder.com, a national job search site that sorts listings by job category, location, salary range, and an array of other variables. They can also e-mail you when there are new openings.

Local News Source When Rouse Co. officials were inking a deal to sell the company to out-of-state owners last summer, many read about it first in a special bulletin from the daily e-mail service of the Baltimore Business Journal. For the mere five minutes it takes to sign up at baltimore.bizjournals.com, the estimated 6,500 subscribers get an update on business news every workday at 3 p.m.—a deadline that publisher Jim Breiner says affords the BBJ the opportunity to beat the dailies at their own game.

Local Stock Sure, there were local penny stocks with impressive revenue jumps (1,000 percent gains!) in the past 12 months, but then again, 1,000 times a penny is still just 10 bucks. Thanks to the research gurus at Hardesty Capital Management, we know that the place to make real money in the past year was Towson-based power-tools giant Black & Decker, whose stock (BDK) jumped about 30 percent, to $85 a share, after increasing its sales to $5.4 billion.

New Company A dating service for companies? That's the big idea behind three-year-old BDMetrics Inc., which has created a networking software to help "hook up" (professionally speaking) the busy executives, sales managers, and even journalists who attend the 13,000 trade shows held in the U.S. each year. And it seems to be working. The company had 300-percent growth in sales last year, and CEO Rick Geritz just moved his 40 employees to swank new digs at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County's research park.

Place to Network Maybe high rollers like Constellation Energy's Mayo Shattuck don't need to network. But owners of small and medium-sized businesses sure do, and many have found the Greater Baltimore Technology Council's quarterly wine tastings, Emerging Technology Center, 2400 Boston St., 410-327-9148, to be the ideal venue to connect. Held mid-week after work, a mix of venture capitalists, head hunters, and university officials turn out to talk business and sip Chardonnay poured by executives from companies ranging in size from Verizon to upstart incubators.

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KIDS

Art Classes You and your fledgling Picasso will have an absolute art attack over the multitude of offerings available through the Young People's Studio, Maryland Institute College of Art, 1300 Mount Royal Ave, 410-669-9200. Choose from a range of classes in puppet- and mask-making, the Old Masters, animation, digital photography, print-making, and more. Unlike many extra-curriculars for kids, this is not a babysitting service—all classes are taught by serious art educators who are tops at their trades.

Bookstore With only a handful of independent children's bookstores remaining in the U.S., it's a testament to The Children's Bookstore, 737 Deepdene Rd., 410-532-2000, that it's still thriving after 27 years. And for good reason. Authors know that store owner JoAnn Fruchtman lovingly handpicks every book on the shelf (and has read most of them), and truly appreciates their work. In just the coming months, her store will host Caldecott-winning author Arthur Yorinks and noted writers Susan Meddaugh and T.A. Barron.

Comeback Kids Since the blizzard of 2003 damaged the historic Roundhouse roof and its preeminent collection of antique trains to the tune of $30 million, the B & O Railroad Museum has become the ultimate little engine that could. Renamed The New B & O Railroad Museum, 901 W. Pratt St., 410-752-2490, the space, set on the site of America's first railroad, is better than ever. In addition to the complete restoration of the Roundhouse, expanded exhibits include the Smithsonian's Railroad Model Collection, a new outdoor train garden, and an inside look at many of the museum's trains not open to the public before the collapse.

Clothing For runway-worthy kids' fashions, none can compare to the high-end European and American styles at The Pied Piper, Village of Cross Keys, 32 Village Sq., 410-435-2676. With a $500 hand-smocked silk christening gown, Burberry for babies, chi-chi dupioni silk dresses, Italian leather crib shoes, and Madonna's English Roses line, Pied Piper has everything your child needs to make the "Best Dressed" list in the bassinet—and beyond.

Class of '05 (Boy) Called the most talented student he has taught in 20 years by BSO percussionist John Locke, Baltimore School for the Arts senior Justin Thomas, who plays vibraphone, xylophone, steel drums, marimba, and piano, has an incredibly impressive resume. Along with numerous BSO appearances, a stint at Lincoln Center, and an appearance on Showtime at the Apollo, he even wowed Wynton Marsalis so much that the jazz legend invited Thomas to join him on stage.

Class of '05 (Girl) Ronke Olaleye, who emigrated with her family from Nigeria seven years ago, is definitely one to watch. The McDonogh School senior, who at 16 years is the youngest in her class, picked up the crown for Maryland's Junior Miss last March, earning a $5,000 scholarship. Ronke wowed the judges during the pageant with her soul stirring performance of Etta James's signature song "At Last" wearing a black gown that was nabbed at Goodwill for 50 cents. Olaleye will attend Troy State University in Alabama on a full scholarship.

Day Trip Ever wonder how a pretzel gets its brown color or what makes a great potato chip? A visit to the Herr's Snack Factory Tour, 20 Herr Dr., Nottingham, PA, 610-932-9330, in the heart of Amish country (and about an hour's drive from Baltimore) will make your child an instant snack food expert. On a guided tour, you'll see chips, pretzels, nachos, and other Herr's products as they make their way down the assembly line from their raw state to bags and boxes. Tours and tastes of hot potato chips straight out of the cooker are free, but reservations (and snack money for the gift shop) are required.

Entertainer Doug Sandler, a.k.a. DJ Doug, Fast Forward Entertainment, Inc., 5105 Crestfield Ct., Ellicott City, 410-461-5500, has been spinning records since he filled in for a friend at a local club in 1984. Sandler, the younger brother of WBAL-TV's "Detour" David Sandler, is an old-fashioned entertainer who has a reputation for honesty, warmth, and showmanship. From birthdays to bar mitzvahs, he makes every occasion special, but he is proudest of the "edu-train-ment" programs he conducts (often pro bono) to help kids deal with peer pressure.

Free Activity If your nascent naturalist wants to take a hike, Soldier's Delight Natural Environment Area, 5100 Deer Park Rd., Owings Mills, 410-922-3044, has flora and fauna you won't see anywhere else on the East Coast. This 1,900-acre area, which most closely resembles the open prairies of the Midwest, contains more than 39 species of rare, endangered, and threatened plants (including fringed gentian, fame flowers, and serpentine asters) as well as rare insects, rocks, and minerals.

Haircut Cartoon Cuts, several locations including 8200 Perry Hall Blvd., White Marsh, 410-931-1588, remains a cut above the competition by keeping kids so preoccupied they'll never know their tresses are being trimmed. In addition to a fun-filled waiting area with art supplies and toys, kids can choose from a large selection of cartoons. The salon also specializes in first-time haircuts and provides a lock of hair and a certificate to mark the occasion.

Kiddie Culture Most kids would rather floss their teeth than visit an art museum, but thanks to the Family Programs at The Baltimore Museum of Art, 10 Art Museum Dr., 410-396-7100, even your youngest child will learn to love strolling through the galleries of this celebrated space. The BMA's innovative hands-on programs (such as one on West African dancing and drumming as an entree to the museum's renowned African art collection and another on bridge-building tied into works by Whistler, Monet, and Derain) will make an ardent art lover out of even the most easily distracted.

Kid-Friendly Night Trip As the address implies, The Red Caboose Motel, 312 Paradise Ln., Strasburg, PA, 717-687-5000, is cloud nine for kids. Set amongst the farms of Pennsylvania Amish Country and adjacent to The National Toy Train Museum, this motel bills itself as one of the few places in the world where you can sleep in a caboose (unless you're a conductor, of course). All aboard!

Kids Meal In 1959, WWII Staff Sergeant Jack Wilhelm bought a 200-acre farm and opened the Friendly Farm Restaurant, 17434 Foreston Rd., Upperco, 410-239-7400, known for its homespun comfort food and pastoral setting. Though Jack passed away in 1976, not much else has changed in nearly three decades. His two sons are still running the restaurant; it still offers a great value for the family. Best of all, when the kids get squirmy in their seats, they can head to the adjacent Friendly Farm Country Store, stroll around the ponds, or feed leftover dinner rolls to the farm's Canadian geese and mallards.

Library Program Kids will learn that listening can be fun when they tune into Enoch Pratt Free Library's e-stories, www.epfl.net/kids/estories, a collection of live-action, multicultural performances displayed over the web. E-stories celebrates the art of storytelling from Appalachia to Africa with award-winning authors who include Robin Moore ("Silver Lake Trout") and Baba Jamal Koram ("Suunjata: The Lion King of Mali").

Local Festival "Let merriment abound" is the motto at the Maryland Renaissance Festival, Crownsville Rd., Crownsville, 800-296-7304. Lads and lasses will revel in jousting competitions, sword swallowing, juggling, and Celtic music. They can also mingle with a mime, lock up a loved one in the Village Stocks, or listen to a noble lady gossip. Late summer through early fall, this annual celebration turns back time to one of the more colorful times in history. Movie Theater Kids driving you crazy? For good "carma" head to Bengie's Drive-In Theatre, 3417 Eastern Blvd., 410-687-5627, for a meatball sub, a soda pop, and a double feature under the stars. In operation since 1956 and the only drive-in theater remaining in the area, Bengie's boasts the biggest screen (52 feet by 120 feet) on the East Coast, and children under 11 get in free.

Magic Shop The real magic of Ken-Zo's Yogi Magic Mart, 1025 S. Charles St., 410-727-5811, is the fact that owner and former Ringling Bros. clown Ken Horsman and his son, Spencer, a prodigal magician and ventriloquist, are so passionate about their work. By the time you leave, you'll have a hard time not sharing in their enthusiasm for fart spray, whoopee cushions, card and coin tricks, thought transmitters, and other assorted magic gizmos. Magic Mart, one of the largest remaining magic shops in the country, caters to both the fledgling illusionist and the master magician.

New Reason to Visit D.C. There are plenty of reasons to visit our sister city, but the Smithsonian's magnificent National Museum of the American Indian, 4th St. and Independence Ave., 202-633-1000, gives voice to a culture kids seem only to associate with tepees and headdresses. From Andean gold and textiles to intricately carved jade from the Olmec, kids can explore the diversity of Native-American civilization through a staggering 8,000-plus works of cultural, historic, and spiritual significance spanning 10,000 years of Native-American history.

Playground It's not just the five slides, scads of swings, rock wall, puppet theater, climbing crab, and fire pole that make Our Playground at Stadium Place, 900 E. 33rd St., 410-235-3334, the best play spot in Charm City. It's the spirit of the space—the largest community-built playground on the East Coast—that is equally worth celebrating. After seven years in the making (and over $300,000 in donor money), more than 6,000 volunteers gathered this past spring to build the 16,000-square-foot, kid-conceived playground from the ground up.

Snowy Day Activity Sure, it's hard to envision now, but soon your kids will be climbing the walls because of all that white stuff on the ground. Head to Earth Treks, 1930 Greenspring Dr., Timonium, 410-560-5665, so they can climb the state-of-the-art rock walls instead. With more than 150 climbs on 18,000-square-feet of varied terrain—slabs, overhangs, bouldering caves—Earth Treks is the largest indoor climbing facility on the East Coast. A Kids Klimb program, for kids ages 6 to 12, and a Youth Rox Climbing Series, for kids ages 10 to 14, teach tykes rock-climbing basics in a safe setting. A second location is in Columbia.

Skateboard Park Serious rippers favor Charm City Skateboard Park, 4401 O'Donnell St., 410-327-7909, with its 16,000 indoor square feet of half pipes, quarter pipes, wedges, rails, ledges, hubbas, and fly boxes plus a nice mix of obstacles and ramps. Charm City also hosts demos by nationally known boarders such as Andrew Reynolds and boasts at least one famous alumnus: Tony Hawk's right-hand man, the Baltimore-born Bucky Lasek.

Stroller-Friendly Trail You'll find few bumps in the road on the family-friendly North Central Railroad Trail, 410-592-2897. Beginning in Hunt Valley and moving 20 miles across the Pennsylvania state line, this flat, gentle trail comprised of pulverized limestone features some of the states' most bucolic scenery, and you don't have to mangle your Maclaren to see the sights. You may want to include a visit to the Sparks Bank Nature Center, 1207 Sparks Rd, open on summer weekends from 10 to 4, or the Monkton Train Station, 1820 Monkton Rd., which serves as a museum and gift shop.

Theater Venue The Peggy and Yale Gordon Center for Performing Arts, 3506 Gwynnbrook Ave., Owings Mills, 410-356-7469, offers a wide variety of top-flight programming at prices that are way off-Broadway (usually $8 for adults, $6 for kids and early birds). The past season's shows included the crowd-pleasing magic of Arnie Kolodner and Alice Bergmann, the dazzling juggling antics of Lazer Vaudeville, and the music of Grammy Award-winning folk singers and storytellers, Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer.

Toy Store Looking for unusual offerings for the kid who owns miles of aisles at Toys R Us? Terry's Toys, Trains & Things, 3439 Sweet Air Rd., Phoenix, 410-666-7776, is your one-stop shop for the hard-to-buy-for boy or girl. Packed to the ceiling with more than 12,000 toys, Terry's features an inexhaustible inventory which includes Madame Alexander and Ginny dolls, Steiff Teddy Bears, toy president dolls, Young Einstein science kits, tin wind-up soldiers and boats, trendy marshmallow shooters, retro toy vehicles,and even NASA-improved gel ant farms.

Tween Fashion If your child has outgrown Gap Kids but isn't ready for Brooks Brothers, head to Cohen's Clothiers, 64 Cranbrook Rd., 410-666-8020, Cockeysville, for a nice mix of timeless classics, surfer togs, and preppy-chic threads. Cohen's has the feel of an old-fashioned store, but it also manages to be modern, stocking a wide variety of labels, including Lacoste, Polo, Tommy Bahama, Nautica, and Quiksilver. The staff is attentive and knowledgeable and alterations are exceptional, which helps explain why, after more than a century of business, Cohen's is still pleasing tweens—and their parents.

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FOOD & DRINK

Affordable Seafood Sure, there are those places where you can get ultra-fresh fish in delicate preparations . . . for $30 an entrée. Mama's on the Half Shell, 2901 O'Donnell St., 410-276-3160, understands that good seafood shouldn't be reserved for special occasions. This bustling place is great for massive plates of sparklingly fresh oysters, moist and mild (and mountainous!) fish and chips, and cream of crab soup that (season permitting) comes garnished with its own fried soft shell—all at prices that don't require a second mortgage.

Barbecue Don't get us wrong, we've been pretty impressed by some of the new barbecue joints that have opened in the area recently. But after extensive sampling, we have to say that Andy Nelson's Barbecue, 11007 York Rd., Cockeysville, 410-527-1226, is still the reigning champion. These guys know how to do 'cue right—smoke it till it's melt-in-your-mouth tender, gussy it up with just a little rub, and let folks doctor it with sauce to their own taste. But our advice would be to skimp on that sauce, because this meat needs no embellishment.

Beer (bottled) Brewpubs are great, but sometimes you just want to be able to savor your suds from the comfort of your couch. Clipper City Brewing Company's Small Craft Warning Über Pils is a light, straw-colored beer that packs a wallop and yet has some refinement. The brewers load this baby up with enough malt to give it great richness and substantial texture, but all that strength is balanced with a bouquet of bitter, spicy, flowery hops.

Brewpub When you're in the mood to put on pants before you drink, head over to theWharf Rat. Their Inner Harbor location, 206 W. Pratt St., 410-244-8900, has better food and a brighter atmosphere. The one in Fells Point, 801 S. Ann St., 410-276-9034, is the place to go if you prefer your bars a little divey. Either Rat, however, can serve you a wide selection of their house-made Oliver Ales, done in the English style with great care.

Brunch When was the last time you started brunch with an amuse-bouche? You can do so at Abacrombie Fine Food & Accommodations, 58 W. Biddle St., 410-837-3630, and your bouche will stay amused all through the course of your meal. The menu changes every Sunday, but you can't go wrong with smoked cheddar grits or items like brandied peach crêpes finished with maple-cured bacon. Make reservations, and if you order the three-course chef's menu, schedule time for a long nap afterward.

Burger While some may try to prop up their low-grade burgers with outré spices or toppings, Christopher-Daniel, 106 W. Padonia Rd., Timonium, 410-308-1800, sticks to high-quality ingredients and perfect grilling to achieve burger bliss. The buns and toppings are all fresh and top-notch, but it's the hand-formed patty of superb beef that makes this burger sing. Nicely charred on the outside and pink and juicy on the inside, this is a burger purist's dream.

Chinese We've always been fond of Jesse Wong's various Columbia enterprises, but his latest, Jesse Wong's Hong Kong, 10215 Wincopin Cir., Columbia, 410-964-9088, has definitely impressed us. The setting—right on the Lake Kittamaqundi—can't be beat, and the lengthy menu has something for both the adventurous and the timid eater. We recommend the casseroles, steaming hot pots full of rich, savory goodies.

Cosmopolitan Yes, we realize Sex and the City is all kinds of over, but its signature drink lives on. Unfortunately, too many bars mangle this pink, drinkable jewel—making it either too sweet or too sour. But at the Brass Elephant's Tusk Lounge, 924 N. Charles St., 410-547-8485, the bartenders make a perfect cosmo, with just the right proportions of cranberry, lime, vodka, and Cointreau. Plus, the décor is the perfect place for—okay, Manolo Blahnik references are passé, too, but you get the idea.

Crab Cake No, we haven't lost our minds. And yes, we realize that the Carlyle Club, 500 W. University Pkwy., 410-243-5454, is a Lebanese restaurant. All we can say is: Taste the crab cake. We've brought many a skeptic to this Hopkins-area gem and converted them into bona fide Carlyle groupies. Think big, flavorful lumps of sweet crab, perfectly grilled, perfectly seasoned. Is it traditional? No, the delicate spices are a little, okay, Middle Eastern, and the two cakes are served with basmati rice and mixed vegetables. There's even a Lebanese take on tartar sauce. But trust us, you'll be back for more.

Crab House Summer just isn't summer to us without a trip to Cantler's Riverside Inn, 458 Forest Beach Rd., Annapolis, 410-757-1467. There's something about eating crabs outdoors by the water that makes us feel like we're truly in the Land of Pleasant Living. And at Cantler's, we can be assured the crabs are fresh, since we can see them scampering around in tanks and tubs on the dock below.

Dessert We've had tartufo before—or at least, we thought we had, until we tried the version at Della Notte Ristorante, 801 Eastern Ave., 410-837-5500. Served in a martini glass, this semi-frozen concoction combines cream and chocolate and sweet crunchy hazelnuts—and did we mention the cream? Probably not enough. Suffice it to say that this leaves all other tartufos—and most every other dessert—in the dust.

Greek The Black Olive, 814 S. Bond St., 410-276-7141, may not strike everyone as a traditional Greek restaurant: No one's going to shout "Opa!" here, gyros aren't even on the menu, and it's not exactly inexpensive. But this place is a shining example of Greek cooking's central tenets: Perfect ingredients, simply and carefully prepared. This Fells Point rowhouse, lovingly restored by the Spiliadis family to look like a Greek taverna, offers a gorgeous selection of very fresh fish, usually simply grilled and dressed with olive oil and lemon; the best hummus in town; and a grilled octopus salad that makes us salivate as we're writing this.

Hot Dog Hot dog aficionados know that the best place to grab great local color along with their dogs is at Ann's Dari Creme, 7918 Ritchie Hwy., Glen Burnie, 410-761-1231. Since 1953, the tiny Glen Burnie institution has had crowds clamoring for Ann's foot-longs and double dogs packed with chili, onions, and mustard on a submarine roll. If you're lucky enough to grab one of the few worn blue stools inside this red-and-white shack, you'll have a ringside seat to the floor show—not just the grill prep action, but also the cadre of waitresses who pride themselves on never missing an order without writing a thing down.

Hot Sauce Carrots—that's what gives Little Willie's Grenade Sauce,www.littlewillieshotsauce.com, its distinctive sweetness and hazmat-orange color. The product of Lori La Combe and Gene and Ann Goodman—locals, all—Little Willie's comes in four flavors, including two sweet fruit-flavored ones. We prefer the mild original—the hot version is tongue-numbingly potent—for a nice slow burn.

Hotspot Buzz couldn't have been louder when restaurant phenoms Tony Foreman and Chef Cindy Wolf (Charleston, Petit Louis) opened their stunning bar/restaurant/dance venue Pazo, 1425 Aliceanna St., 410-534-7296, late last fall. Was Pazo worth the advance hype? You bet. The enormous but intimate spot, with its movie-set-worthy elegance, has not only become Baltimore's premier place to see and be seen, it also happens to offer some of the best Mediterranean cuisine around.

Latin Despite the recent plethora of great little storefront Latin restaurants in Baltimore, we keep coming back to Babalu Grill, 32 Market Place, 410-234-9898, where the ceviche sparkles and specials like the lechon asado (that's marinated rotisserie pork to you, gringo) are pure, authentic Cuban homestyle cooking. Owner Steve de Castro's expertise as a restaurateur shines through in the precision of the kitchen, the excellence of the service, and the party atmosphere of his Power Plant Live venue.

Liquor Store It should come as no surprise that the same eclectic minds who manage the comprehensive wine collection at The Wine Source, 3601 Elm Ave., 410-467-7777, also maintain the city's best collection of booze. You can find Venezuelan rum, absinthe substitutes galore, the best Bourbon value in the world (Old Heaven Hill 100 proof), more tequilas than anyone should try, and a stunning bunch of single malts (with reference guides conveniently chained to the shelf). Best of all, the staff is able and willing to tell you whether or not that new quintuple-distilled vodka is worth it.

Live Music with Dinner Although the days of the swank supper club have long since gone the way of Fred and Ginger, we still love the idea of dinner and drinks set to the strains of great live music on a weekend night. Enter Canton's Pearl's, 3301 Boston St., 410-276-8900, where you can savor Chef Michael Broglio's terrific menu of New American food along with a very fine roster of local jazz groups every Thursday through Sunday (for Sunday jazz brunch). What a perfect way to put sophistication back into the art of dining out.

Milkshake People know Chick & Ruth's Delly, 165 Main St., Annapolis, 410-269-6737, for its old-school delicatessen sandwiches and political people-watching (it's a favorite lunch spot for the Capitol crowd). But we love its classically perfect milkshake—thick, creamy, served with a long spoon and extra-wide straw in a frosty pint glass, the metal cup containing the overflow on the side. Try the black-and-white, a sublime blend of vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup. Or indulge in a taste combo only an expectant mother could love: a milkshake with a big bowl of Chick & Ruth's own special-recipe dill pickles.

Movie Food When Sofi's Crêpes, 1723 N. Charles St., 410-727-7732, first opened, we thought, "The only thing better than having a little stand making wonderful, fluffy, handheld crêpes right next to the Charles Theatre would be if the Charles would let us take them into the movie." And then the Charles went ahead and did just that, and we've been pretty much delirious with pleasure ever since.

Neighborhood Bistro Sometimes we think we want to move to Bolton Hill just so we can spend more time at b, 1501 Bolton St., 410-383-8600. To us, this is the perfect place for a relaxing Sunday brunch or a laid-back evening meal. The food is excellent (a recent special of venison over risotto was a show-stopper) and the atmosphere urban hip (we love sitting outside and taking in the neighborhood's glorious architecture). But b's true secret weapon? That would have to be the ever-hilarious—and ever-efficient—waiter Joe Conner. We can't get enough of this guy.

New Restaurant Our sorrow at the closing of Mahmood Karzai's Tampico Mexican Grill quickly turned to joy when we got a gander at what he'd engineered to take its place—the show-stopping Limoges Gourmet Bistro, 1200 N. Charles St., 410-837-9999. An elegant new look (complete with the eponymous china) and a French menu that features lovely renditions of bistro classics and a few Spanish Basque dishes have proved a winning combination. Don't wait for theater or symphony night to go; you'll want to linger long in Karzai's sparkling new boîte.

Onion Rings Fried food is good—there, we said it. And crispy, flaky, perfectly fried and moist slices of onion are very, very good. Add a just-right dusting of Old Bay, like they do at our longtime Fells Point favorite Duda's, 1600 Thames St., 410-276-9719, and our arteries are yours. Just don't tell our cardiologist.

Outdoor Dining Live music and cold beer have made the first-floor deck of Nick's Fish House, 2600 Insulator Dr., 410-347-4123, a major summertime party zone. For a quieter meal, either head up to the rooftop deck or go for lunch. Whatever your preference, Nick's offers a soothing view of the adjoining marina and the nearby Hanover Bridge, and a wide range of American fare, as well as steamed crabs.

Phoenix Act When famed local restaurateur Spike Gjerde closed all the restaurants in his Baltimore empire but Joy America Cafe, 800 Key Hwy., 410-244-6500, he resolved to put his all into making this last outpost work. Whatever he's doing (getting back into the kitchen was a start), it's working beautifully. After several up-and-down years, Joy is back in full force, with a newly energized Latin-inspired menu that sings with inventiveness, and service that shines more brightly than ever.

Pit Beef At a small outpost just off Route 1 called Smokey's-N-Uncle Grube's, 7300 Roosevelt Blvd., Elkridge, 410-796-0024, owner Stephen Gruber cooks, slices, and serves some of the world's most delectable meat. Smoky, tender and moist, Gruber's beef is sliced thick and piled high on a kaiser roll. All it really needs is good teeth (and cash, as Gruber doesn't take credit cards), but if you must have accompaniments, excellent coleslaw is available, as well as the traditional grated horseradish.

Pound Cake The key to good pound cake is texture, and Julie Salter's traditional Southern version is perfectly moist and dense without being oily or leaden. Her Towson-based Quite a Stir, www.quiteastirbakers.com, makes numerous Southern treats (including some killer pecan caramels) that are available in select local stores, but at present, her cakes are available only through her website. Trust us, you'll be bookmarking the site after your first bite.

Raw Bar A Belle Epoch French restaurant in Annapolis might not be the obvious choice for raw bar, we know. But there's no arguing with Les Folies Brasserie's, 2552 Riva Rd., Annapolis, 410-573-0970, dedication to the art—this place's offerings go way beyond the usual plate of six Blue Points. Diners have their pick from a variety of oyster species, along with a dazzling array of other fruits de mer, from scallops to periwinkles, all of it fresh.

Sake Selection Lovers of sake usually have two options when dining at their local Japanese joint: small or large. Not anymore, because Matsuri, 1105 S. Charles St., 410-752-8561, the Federal Hill cornerstone known for fresh sushi and sashimi, offers a handful of cold, by-the-bottle selections that will please every palate. From the Hananomai Ginjo—with its white peach and nectarine nuances—to the Katana Junmai Ginjo's clean and crystal finish, you'll easily find something to complement the gigantic spicy tuna-stuffed Orioles Roll.

Sushi Bar There's one thing we love about Kawasaki Japanese Restaurant, 413 N. Charles St., 410-659-7600 (that is, besides the hero's welcome we—and everyone else—get every time we walk in the door): They don't dumb down their sushi offerings for American tastes. Oh sure, they have all the fun, stuffed maki that we Americans love to chow on (backfin crabmeat and avocado, anyone?). But if you're into the hardcore stuff—giant clam, uni, live scallop (yes, we said live), delectable toro (that's belly tuna to you), theirs is the freshest, and most adventurous, around.

Summer Drink Oh, Frijolejito! Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more lovely, and more delicious. Like a mojito, but with the added bite of ginger beer, the Frijolejito combines cooling mint, refreshing lime, and, uh, numbing rum into one pint-glass concoction that makes even the most vicious humidity seem bearable. Available at the ever-hip Holy Frijoles, 908 W. 36th St., 410-235-2326.

Tortillas There's a certain music to the creaks and squeaks of the massive tortilla-making machine at La Tortilleria & Tacos, 1716 Eastern Ave., 410-276-3741. Or maybe we just get lyrical at the thought of bringing home a stack of these fluffy, aromatic, soft corn tortillas for dinner. Try them once, and you'll never be able to buy those rubbery things at the grocery store again (but use them right away—like a good baguette, they go stale quickly).

Tuna Salad "But I hate tuna salad!" complained a diner, fearfully eyeing the mound of fish at Sun Moon and Stars Cafe, 400 Red Brook Blvd., Owings Mills, 410-902-1910. Then she reluctantly took a bite off our plate. And then another. And that's when we told her to get her own darn order. The secret? This little cafe, located next to a gym in an office park, uses Sicilian, oil-packed tuna in its salad, and counterpoints it with a beautiful olive tapenade.

Vegetarian Great Sage, 5809 Clarksville Square Dr., Clarksville, 443-535-9400, gives us something the local dining scene was lacking: a vegetarian restaurant worth getting dressed up for. The upscale-casual establishment offers handsomely presented meat-free (and dairy-free, if you so desire) dishes that aren't afraid to indulge in a little decadence; for proof, try the creamy coconut spinach or the sinfully rich chocolate lava cake.

Wine Bar Truly delicious food and the option to accompany it with anything from the adjoining wine shop are two of the lures at Locust Point's The Wine Market, 921 E. Fort Ave., 410-244-6166. Chris Spann and staff keep the by-the-glass list fresh and interesting, particularly now that they've moved into more eclectic, small-production offerings. If the weather's nice, enjoy your Merlot (oops, we mean Pinot!) on the patio.

Wine List Maybe it's their focus on beer that compels The Brewer's Art, 1106 N. Charles St., 410-547-6925, to build a wine list for the every man. This isn't about the rarest, the most expensive, or highest score, but rather about an engaging collection of affordable wines from all over the world that truly works with food, rather than strutting around your palate.

MEDIA

Ad Campaign Yes, it turned out to be for nothing more than the darn Maryland Lottery. And no, we don't understand what the heck revolution-mad cows have to do with scratch-offs (cows don't have thumbs, people!) But Eisner Interactive's BovineUnite.com—which revealed itself to be merely a lottery campaign in May, after several weeks of building curiosity both on the streets and on the Internet—captured a lot of people's attention in an age when most advertising makes our eyes glaze over.

Feeding Frenzy Just when you thought this was going to be a boring governor's race, along came the Steffen/O'Malley Internet Chat Room Hubbub, in which Joseph F. Steffen Jr., an Ehrlich employee, may or may not have been snookered into chatting about the biggest rumor in town—you know, the one about Mayor O'Malley being unfaithful to his wife. The local media went into full-court press mode; the O'Malleys made their first public statement (a repudiation) on the matter; Steffen resigned; Gov. Ehrlich's politics seemed a little less lovable . . . and new rumors started that Steffen had fallen prey to either a Democratic chat-room mole or an overzealous reporter. Have we heard the last of this? We think not.

Feud Ehrlich to Sun: Drop Dead In November 2004, two Sun scribes (longtime columnist Michael Olesker and then-State House bureau chief David Nitkin) were accused by the Ehrlich administration of making up facts. Nothing unusual about that complaint. What was different was the decision of the Governor to ban contact with the two entirely, issuing an administration-wide gag order. Turns out, that made covering the government kind of difficult. The Sun launched a much-self-touted lawsuit against the Governor's office trying to get a court to order them to talk to the reporters; in February, a judge ruled that the Ehrlich administration could talk (or not) to whomever it liked. The legal wrangling continues this year, as The Sun tries to refile the suit.

Interview When local media learned about the now-legendary Stop Snitching DVD—which soon became a national story due to its shocking message and a brief appearance by local NBA star Carmelo Anthony—the movie's wider presentation of the subculture of the streets was generally overlooked. But it was Anthony McCarthy, guest hosting on WYPR's Marc Steiner Show, who revealed the complex angles to the story. In McCarthy's May interview with Rodney Bethea, the DVD's producer, listeners learned about underground "documentary" filmmaking and the streetwise entrepreneurship they don't teach at college—and Bethea's stunning admission that he agrees in part with the message of the disc's title.

Newspaper Story They've probably been around since man first took up stones against his fellow man: tourniquets, simple braces, and ties to stanch a bleeding wound until better medical help can be received. They only cost the military $20 a piece—and they're proven to save lives. That's why The Sun's report on tourniquets for U.S. troops, by Robert Little on March 6 grabbed us: It revealed that only elite forces were equipped with the simple life-saving devices. The Pentagon took note, too, and by May, Uncle Sam had ordered 172,000 more to be shipped to our men and women in harm's way.

Radio Morning Show Radio in 2005 is a strange landscape: Despite the presence of some great local DJs (and the loss of a legend, WIYY/98Rock's Bob Lopez, in May), the programming and formats can seem so homogeneous and boring—if it wasn't for the names of the roads on the traffic reports, it would be hard to figure out where you were. That's why we still love our trusty WBAL AM, and Dave Durian, and his guests from both near (our own senior editor, a.k.a. "Media" Max Weiss) and far (Face the Nation's Bob Schieffer). By covering hometown news with just as much verve as the national scene, it's the one show that makes us feel most at home.

Radio Sports Talk Here's what we love about The Mark Viviano Show on WJFK AM: You get our two favorite kinds of sports fans at once. First, there's Viviano, who's like the VP from the next office over, who can handle erudite discussions about all the dorky minutae and overarching high-concepts of the world of sports. And then there's Damon Yaffe, a.k.a. "The Bulldog," who's like your over-the-fence neighbor who's never known or cared about anything but Baltimore teams. Yaffe loves to talk on and on about his theories and strategies and knowledge, sometimes to the exasperation of Viviano. They're a great Odd Couple because they . . . well, they complete each other.

Sun Columnist As the city takes some spectacular steps forward, and shiny new edifices, offices, and condos rise up along the waterfront, remembering the rest of Baltimore City and its hardships is a tough and sometimes thankless job. And that's why, with his Open Letter written to the city's drug dealers asking them to keep selling (if they must) as long as they stopped killing, Dan Rodricks proved why he's one of the city's unique voices. His followup columns describing the lives of former and current criminals in "the game" were just as riveting.

Sun Sports Columnist At first, we were kind of confused by Peter Schmuck: He seemed to come from a different newspaper, or city, or planet. What with his sometimes-lame zingers and quips, and personal . . . well, "vendettas" against a certain Oriole announcer's boosterism, we weren't sure what to make of him. But then we realized we kept turning to his column first thing almost every morning, and that we chuckled a little more each time. And when he revealed the advice he received from Boog Powell on post-game strategies at Orioles fantasy camp ("drink heavily and try not to throw up on yourself"), well, we knew we were hooked.

TV Anchor (Female) Turn on a television newscast in any city, and you'll see the same set-up: older man anchors the heavy stories, younger woman gets the light lifting. That may play in Peoria, but give us WJZ's Denise Koch any day of the week. Why should only the men get to play the experienced and wise hand? For nearly a quarter of a century, we've always found ourselves paying a little closer attention when Koch begins reading a story. Maybe it's her sonorous voice, or her intelligent, earnest delivery. Maybe it was the fact that WJZ weatherman Bob Turk trusted her to help him with the public revelation of his serious hearing loss. Or maybe it's just that she's the best in the business.

TV Anchor (Male) You know those calm feelings you get when you see someone who just has that thing that makes you trust them? That's what we get from WBAL's Stan Stovall. And we've been getting it for years, ever since he first appeared on WMAR back in 1988. Unflappable, charming, and authoritative, Stovall's voice and face always hit the right tone for the story. And outside the office, he's the exact same way—what you see every night is the real Stovall. And that makes us like him all the more.

TV Investigative Reporter We've said it before, and we're saying it again: WBAL's Jayne Miller and the I-Team continue to break actual news stories when most other stations' sleuths generally only turn up overblown hysteria. Miller's the alpha bloodhound of the team, and if you see her approaching you in the parking lot, you'd better hope she's looking for jumper cables.

TV Morning Show We're goofy in the mornings. And we want some goofy TV to go with our Cheerios and coffee. That's not to say that the hosts of WJZ's Morning Edition, Marty Bass and Don Scott, are always clowning around; they give us the same news, weather, and traffic as the other guys. They just serve it with a welcome side-order of silliness.

TV Sports They do a great job with the major league coverage and highlights, and omnipresent sports anchor Scott Garceau's been the voice of the Ravens for years, but here's why we we think WMAR's sports department scores the winning goal: local coverage. Sure, the other stations do a good job, but WMAR just seems to go the extra mile, covering prep and high school teams and local college football and lacrosse. We love that we can turn on our TV and catch sportscaster (and Brooklyn Park product) Keith Mills excitedly talking about the upcoming Johns Hopkins vs. Towson U. lax game.

TV Weatherman Yes, we know the weather here is nuts. One month, it's hot as Hades; the next, there's two feet of snow. A good weatherman lets us know what is probably coming without making promises. He gives us what we need to know in a calm, rational delivery. And he never cries wolf (despite the urgency of the stations' special weather alerts, rain is not a breaking weather crisis, folks—it's rain). So, while all of our town's weathermen are exemplary, we tune in to WBAL's Tom Tasselmyer.

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SERVICE

Bike Repair It doesn't have the huge stock of a big-box store and it's only beenin business three years, but Donald Rucker's Fleet Street Cycles, 2029 Fleet St., 410-276-2029, has already earned a reputation for great service and lightning-fast repairs. "Even during the peak season, we can get you back out and riding within 24 hours," says Rucker. Of course, he'll also happily sell you a new bike, whether it's for the casual rider or the professional (a few of his clients are very serious team cyclists).

Car Repair If your mechanic just handed you a laundry list of needed repairs but the estimate sounds too steep, head over to Comprehensive Car Care, 923 Cathedral St., 410-539-1068, for a second opinion. Robert Wagner and his cheerful staff do first-class work, often for much less than the going rate.

Car Wash There's no competition when it comes to WashWorks Car Wash, 2030 N. Howard St., 410-837-9274, for fast, reliable service. While sipping free coffee in the comfy waiting room, customers can watch a group of guys do a final wipe-down that rivals the pits at Indy. And after nine washes, you get a free Superwash!

Cobbler Dan Brothers Shoes, 1032 S. Charles St., 410-752-8175, is known among its loyal business clientele for giving a second life to well-worn oxfords and providing exceptional personal service. "They actually call me at my office and tell me my shoes are ready," reports one downtown attorney.

Color Consultant It's time to stop wearing all black! For $25, Paula Notarangelo, Color Me Beautiful, 410-296-4751, provides color swatches of the best hues to match your complexion and hair color. She also will weed out colors that don't work in a wardrobe and consult on makeup. One redheaded client said she had ruled out wearing red until Paula suggested a brick shade that was perfect.

Computer Repair (Mac) In certain circles, Mark Dent and George Brecht ofChesapeake Systems, 3000 Chestnut Ave., Suite 117, 410-337-2750, are considered miracle workers: One desperate customer, who was about to send her computer to Mac headquarters for treatment, had her problem solved over the phone—at no charge. "I was so happy that I sent them a $100 gift certificate to a local restaurant," she says.

Computer Repair (PC) For more than a decade, Paul Moscatt and his gang at theLittle Shop of Hardware, 3252 Keswick Rd., 410-467-4631, have been coming to the rescue when computers call in sick. As one satisfied customer put it, "They can usually get to you quickly and their rates are reasonable. Plus, they're honest—if they can't fix something, they'll tell you and not try to up-sell you on some expensive solution or product."

Desperate Housewives' Delivery Service Ever feel like one more trip to the grocery store will push you into the abyss? Eliminate the drudgery of food shopping with Giant Food's new online delivery service, Peapod, www.peapod.com. Peapod is a dream come true for multi-tasking parents—catch up on paperwork, weed your garden, and wait for your Gerber delivery all at the same time.

Dog Groomer For high-maintenance poodles and other persnickety breeds, Kathy Phillips, The Groomery of Mt. Washington, 1619 Sulgrave Ave., 410-367-3647, is praised by pooch owners for keeping their babies impeccably coiffed. Her shop may not look glamorous, but the lucky dogs leave brushed, washed, blow dried, and beaded—not to mention pampered by Kathy.

Dry Cleaner Lord Baltimore, 6 Central Ave., Glyndon, 410-833-5200, has a fleet of eight trucks for convenient pick-up and delivery. But it's their skilled service that has earned them the trust of local performing artists, who bring Lord Baltimore their most delicate costumes. And they're honest, too! One customer reported that an expensive brooch left on her suit was returned the next day.

Electrician Owners Bill Winn and Arnold Friedlander of Winn Electric, 3 Spring House Rd., Lutherville, 410-484-5544, still show up themselves to give estimates on all jobs—even with 10 trucks and about 150 jobs a week. A third partner, Eric Gelvar, is often at the work site. The company, which has been in business since 1985, specializes in older homes, and can do it all, from total rewiring to outdoor circuits and stand-by automatic generators.

Fabric Store Calico Corners, several locations including 2060 York Rd., Lutherville, 410-252-7900, has one of the largest selections of competitively priced fabrics—in all, about 1,000 prints and solids from which to choose. The store boasts exclusive color waves from Laura Ashley, Ralph Lauren, P. Kaufman, and Sunbrella.

Floor Refinishing It's a messy business. So it's not surprising that customers remark on the tidiness of Cletus G. Niesslein, owner of Baltimore Floor Works, 142 Railroad Ave., Westminster, 410-239-1912. Before sanding and refinishing old floors, he and his crew seal adjacent areas with plastic sheeting and tape. The end result? Beautiful floors without the need for a separate clean-up crew.

Flower Arrangements Looking for something that is tasteful and traditional, but not funereal? Try Radebaugh Florist and Greenhouses, 120 E. Burke Ave., Towson, 410-825-4300, a family-owned business that creates consistently beautiful bouquets. Topiaries, wreaths, and fresh cuttings are available seasonally in their gift shop.

Garden Center Okay, we know all about the weekend traffic jams at Valley ViewFarms, 11035 York Rd., Cockeysville, 410-527-0700, whether it be the pumpkin-and-cider crowds in the fall or the Christmas display groupies in the winter. But let us not forget that Valley View is, at its heart, a great retail garden center, particularly strong for novice gardeners looking for larger trees and shrubs and lots of sensible advice.

Home Inspector We recommend looking to 25-year veteran Stephen R. Dallmus, 410-323-7600, before committing yourself to a hefty mortgage. He recently identified synthetic stucco (or EIFS) in one half-million-dollar Baltimore County home (EIFS is notorious for having problems with water retention and mold). After consulting with an EIFS expert, the buyers found $35,000 in damage. Needless to say, they didn't sign on the dotted line. Real estate agents must hate this guy!

House Painter Keith Slater prides himself on not taking shortcuts and, in his line of work, that means a lot of scraping and sanding. Slater Painting, 410-371-4210, specializes in historic restoration and is particularly known for his "painted ladies" in Charles Village, many of which feature three or more vibrant, complementary colors.

Landscape Architect Mahan Rykiel Associates Inc., 800 Wyman Park Dr., 410-235-6001, took home two merit awards this year from the Maryland-Potomac chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects competition. Headed by Catherine Mahan, who holds a master's degree in landscape architecture from the University of Virginia, the on-the-rise firm has projects underway from Roland Park to Portugal.

Neighborhood Grocer It's those Southern niceties—such as greeting you at the door, unloading your grocery cart, and helping you to the car—that keep customers coming back to Eddie's of Roland Park, 5113 Roland Ave., 410-323-3656. A great location in the heart of the neighborhood and ready-made comfort food (like crab cakes and Caesar salad), plus a top-notch catering service, also contribute to its faithful following among yuppies and seniors alike. Did we mention they sell wine and liquor, too? Bonus!

Old-Fashioned Mechanic Bobby Babcock, Babcock Service Center, 237 Cockeysville Rd., Cockeysville, 410-785-2770, is a self-described "motor head," who will fix cars, boats, motorcycles, tractors, and pretty much anything else you put gas in. A weekend motorcycle racer at Timonium Fairgrounds, he has customers from as far away as Columbia, who give him high marks on both his character and mechanical ability. His wife Cathy and son Ryan also work at the shop, which opened in August 1989.

Paint Store When paint shopping, take a tip from designers: Budeke's Paints Inc., several locations including 2103 Greenspring Dr., Timonium, 410-560-1230, offers one of the best palettes around, and their color-matching technology is top-notch. An entire store wall is devoted to the slew of hues and sheens available from Benjamin Moore and Fine Paints of Europe. Decorating consultants are on hand to help and the sales staff will lug those heavy paint cans to the car.

Personal Chef No time to cook, but hungry for herb- and garlic-crusted pork tenderloin, blackened chicken, pasta alfredo, or pecan crunch salmon? A graduate of the Baltimore International College, Kelly Kern, Gourmet Anyday, 410-532-7610, will shop for you in the morning and prepare dinner in your own kitchen. She has set meal plans, but will customize for special diets.

Personal Trainer When he's not coaching professional boxers, Alexander Gutman, Bare Hills Sportsplex, 1422 Clarkview Rd., Pikesville, 410-823-2500, is ready to show the rest of us how to throw a punch and use the techniques of pros to gain cardiovascular fitness and muscle tone. A Russian-born and titled boxer, he moved to Baltimore eight years ago armed with a degree in physical training and, apparently, a burning desire to get Baltimoreans in shape.

Picture Framer The well-trained eyes of MICA graduates make Framin' Place, several locations including 1350 Smith Ave., 410-433-3434, a favorite for those looking for anything from a period frame to a hand-gilded model. The business specializes in museum-quality framing and conservation work, and counts Peabody Institute among its clients.

Plumber Pay them per visit or, for a flat monthly rate, BGE Home plumbers, 888-243-4663, will make an unlimited number of calls to your home to unclog drains, fix leaky faucets, and tackle other would-be plumbing nightmares. The new Smart Service contract also covers parts for exposed pipes. Their plumbers are efficient, show up on time, and guarantee their work—and you can make installment payments on your BGE bill.

Rug Cleaner It may look like a throwback to the 1950s, but Kleenize Rug Cleaners, 6300 Falls Rd., 410-825-4144, still gets the dirty job done. Family-owned-and-operated since 1947, the cleaner specializes in Oriental rugs, but will tackle the formidable job of deodorizing and disinfecting nearly any floor covering.

Salon When you are in the limelight, there's no room for a bad hair day. Just ask WJZ 13 anchor Sally Thorner. Since she started going to Uno Tuluoglu of Uno the Salon, 10751 Falls Rd., Green Spring Station, 410-821-9080, she's been getting daily calls and emails from approving fans. The secret? Extra layers and highlights for a more flattering look.

Screen and Glass Repair Tired of that cracked glass in the storm door? Of swatting at the flies and mosquitoes that waltz into your house through the torn screen window?Stebbins Anderson, 802 Kenilworth Dr., Towson, 410-823-6600, doesn't make house calls, but if you can get that aluminum door or torn screen to Joe Szaller and his crew, they'll do their darndest to turn things around as quickly as possible.

Tent Rental Loane Bros., 1302 E. Joppa Rd., Towson, 410-823-6050, started out as a sail-maker in 1815, but when steam-powered ships took the wind out of their sails, they turned to awnings and then tents. Today, the family-owned firm will customize a tent of nearly any size for any occasion—whether for a small backyard wedding or a corporate event on a football field.

Tailor Looking for something novel for the next soiree? Not a perfect size 6? Custom dressmaker Rae Cumbie, 410-377-0706, works with clients to design the frock of their dreams. She specializes in wedding and bridesmaid dresses, as well as stylish evening gowns. She also has a knack for fitting vintage details into a new garment.

Tree Service Homeowners in the region's leafiest neighborhoods know that Mother Nature sometimes needs a little help. That's where the arborists at The Davey Tree Expert Co., 6101 Falls Rd., 410-377-4002, come in. They care for healthy trees, clean up fallen limbs after storms, and safely topple those giant trees that have become dangerous.

Upholsterer Maurice McCray from Maurice's House of Art, 908 S. Charles St., 410-685-4239, certainly does not come cheap—but his clients say he is worth it. He is known for his attention to detail in transforming turn-of-the-century chairs into contemporary showpieces with the finest velvets, brocades, and tapestries.

Veterinarian Dubbed the "Village Vet" among locals, Dr. Robert Berry, Animal Medical Center of Mt. Washington, 1620 Sulgrave Ave., 410-367-8111, has been caring for local felines and canines since 1997. The center has the latest ultrasound and laser equipment for surgery. With a staff of 15, the small facility prides itself on lavishing plenty of TLC on both patients and boarders, and at fair prices.

Windshield Repair Driving down the beltway, your windshield is transformed into a crystalline spiderweb by rocks that have flown off a dump truck. Who ya gonna call?Smith Auto Glass, 939 York Rd., Towson, 410-296-4777, pioneered the mobile business in Baltimore back in 1961. This family company, which provided the glass for the main engine in Ladder 49, also specializes in convertible tops and car upholstery.

SHOPPING

Accessories It looks like a Vogue magazine spread exploded at Treasure House, 9163 Reisterstown Rd., Pikesville, 410-363-4110, where a mother-daughter team have turned their small boutique into a chic replica of the accessories department at a high-end store. Designer handbag brands like Botkier, Gustau, Kooba, Lambertson Truex, and Longchamp line the shelves. Look also for expansive jewelry offerings—like the delicate 14k gold necklaces by Adina, whimsical enamels by Michal Negrin, and flawless Cartier copies—at unbeatable prices.

Classic Chic Tucked away in a quaint brick rowhouse with lemon-yellow trim, Sitting Pretty, 35 Maryland Ave., Annapolis, 410-267-1722, is one of Annapolis's best kept secrets. Owners Emily Giebel and Wendy Pierce have perfected the art of personalized service, offering a smartly edited collection of designer sportswear arranged by color palette in built-in wall cabinets. In one cabinet, a pair of pink Christopher Blue seersucker pants are matched with a comfy yellow James Perse T-shirt, which then can pair with a yellow-and-pink harlequin cotton skirt by Milly. "It's kind of like Garanimals," cracks Giebel.

Crafting Headquarters Scrapbookers, we have found your slice of heaven:Recollections, several locations including 55 W. Aylesbury Rd., Timonium, 410-560-0367, offers an extensive assortment of mats, art supplies, paper, and albums, plus you can go right next door to sister store Aaron Brothers for top-of-the-line custom framing services. Novices can sign up for free beginner classes. Looking to organize a scrapbooking party? (Yes, they exist.) Recollections now organizes private parties, where you can cut and paste to your heart's content.

Costume Jewelry A gem of a store just across from Cross Street Market, Zelda Zen, 46 E. Cross St., 410-625-2424, stocks an excellent selection of stylish earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and small gifts. The chunky coral and turquoise necklace laced with rhinestones—with its ethnic vibe and matching earrings—was a steal for $65.

Discount Clothing Think discounted clothing means last season's styles? Wrong! Divided by size as well as designer, Loehmann's, 160 W. Ridgely Rd., Timonium, 410-252-7177, is on the cutting edge of the latest trends. We found a Ben Sherman white trench, originally $165, marked down to $59.99, and a rack devoted entirely to Michael Kors. Head into "The Back Room" to find dressier designer labels such as Anne Klein, Donna Karan, DKNY, and Helmut Lang.

Discount Shoes Can't afford your shoe addiction? Then sneak over to DSW, several locations including 118 Shawan Rd., Hunt Valley, 410-584-9790, where you'll be blown away by the slew of retail labels (BCBG, Nine West, and Steve Madden) at extremely reasonable prices (and that's before you peruse the sales rack, where you get an additional 20-60 percent off).

Doggie Couture We wonder if Paris Hilton and Tinkerbell stopped by the Yuppy Puppy Pet Boutique, 8120 Main St., Ellicott City, 410-750-9663, when they were in town. At this posh pooch palace, you can dress your canine in the latest T-shirt styles (with expressions like "Spoiled Rotten" or "I Have Issues"), cart them around town in a swanky pet stroller by Midnight Pass (for a cool $189), or tote them in the Kwigy-Bo pet carrier favored by none other than Britney Spears! We're thinking of nicknaming this place "Neiman Bark-us."

Eveningwear When the Miss USA pageant came to town this spring, all the contestants flocked to Vasarri, 1636 Reisterstown Rd., Pikesville, 410-415-6333, for their evening gowns. No surprise there. Vasarri offers an amazing selection of gowns, from Melinda Eng, Carol Peretz, Skinz, Kevin Hall, Frivole, Jovani, Stephen Yearick, San Carlin, Gail Garrison, and more. While you're there, you might as well snag a pair of Jimmy Choo sandals or Stuart Weitzman slingbacks to match your dress. Just don't trip down the runway!

French-Country Antiques Bastille, 3620 Falls Rd., 410-338-0506, is long on French style, not on French attitude. Owner Marie-Noelle Walsh travels to her grandparents' farm in France several times a year at which time she shops for the best authentic furniture and furnishings. She buys full estates from repossession sales, finding all sorts of treasures like the gorgeous Louis XV oak sideboard or the 18th-century mahogany armoire from Macon.

Handbags Whether you're into python, metallics, grommets, or silks, The Purse Store, 25 Hooks Ln., Pikesville, 410-653-5002, can fulfill your every handbag fantasy. The hardest part will be picking between Lambertson Truex's sleek leather shoulder bags or Un Après-Midi De Chien's nylon totes. If you've been eyeing that Isabella Fiore caramel distressed leather hobo bag with whipstitching (worn by Katie Holmes!), it will be in the store just in time for the fall.

Hand-Crafted Jewelry The fashion forecast says color is in. You'd certainly know it atAmaryllis, 200 E. Pratt St., Gallery at Harbor Place, 410-576-7622, where the trend-o-meter is always spot on. Our favorites were Mary Louise's 22k gold-filled necklace with topaz, turquoise, and peridot and Molly Velte's stunning two-stranded, hand-knotted silk necklace with crystals and a large green square pendant with an etched Asian scene. Going forward, expect to find lots of wooden beads mixed with carnelian, smoky topaz, and coral.

Hippie Headquarters We want to live at Anthropologie, 825 Dulaney Valley Rd., Towson Town Center, 410-828-5521. We can bedeck ourselves in the store's ever-changing rotation of romantic hippie-chic clothing and jewelry. We can light its wonderfully fragrant candles for serenity and warmth. We can lounge on their fabulous shabby chic furniture, eat off the funky pottery, read the handsome coffee table books, and bathe with the store's collection of soaps and lotions. As for nourishment? We'll send up a flare to the Food Court.

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Home Accessories

The Kellogg Collection, 6241 Falls Rd., 410-296-4378, has a fine selection of exclusive wall coverings, frames, baskets, lamps, rugs, antique prints, end tables, and other whimsical items for the English country home. For a fee, store designers will accessorize everything from the coffee table to the mantle.

Hostess Gifts True to its name, things are a bit on the fluffy side at Maribou Home & Gift, 6083 Falls Rd., 410-377-4881, where you can get everything from slippers to beverage cozies with a fur trim. But we're equally drawn to the store's great selection of pre-wrapped hostess gift baskets, nestled in cellophane and wrapped up with a pretty ribbon. Or, pick your price range and your favorite theme (say, spa or gourmet) and—with a day's notice—you can customize your own basket and name your budget.

Jeans (Men) Only a few years ago, most guys couldn't think beyond their Levi's, but today's savvy fellas have come to embrace the concept of designer jeans. No one does it better than Box of Rain, 1496 Reisterstown Rd., Club Centre, Pikesville, 410-415-6100. Hip owner Joe Uddeme gets what young men like and has handpicked (and test-driven) his fair share of dungarees. Favorites include Juicy Couture's relaxed fit, Jean Paul Da'mage's whisker-washed dark denim (with a higher rise and fuller leg), Paige's premium dark denim, or the now ubiquitous Seven For All Mankind.

Jeans (Women) According to Women's Wear Daily, the denim market is a $12.7-billion industry. While not all of that is spent at Classic Serendipity, 1809 Reisterstown Rd., Pikesville, 410-486-2277, they certainly add to the total. One of the hottest brands at the store is Antik, an edgy L.A. import priced at $200 (and up), recognized by its multi-color stitching and hand-finished antique washes. Other front runners include Stitch's, aged in redwood barrels with buttons inspired by old Buffalo Indian coins; True Religion's Big "T" jean, which is totally broken-in and pre-distressed; and Chip & Pepper's micro-mini skirts and shredded denim.

Kitchen Store Are you a novice in the kitchen? A culinary wizard? Either way, Le Gourmet Chef, 10300 Little Patuxent Pkwy., Columbia, 410-992-0930, will fulfill all of your gourmet needs. From garlic peelers to Silpat silicone mats, from cookbooks to menu organizers, this store is jam-packed with all things gastronomic. We found an entire aisle of sauces and dips as well as yummy samples throughout the store. A perfect place to stock up for parties, they even carry bucket-sized margarita mix.

Local Chain We think of Cloud 9, several locations including 2400 Boston St., 410-534-4200, as a youngish Anthropologie, just a little funkier and more reasonably priced. We can't get enough of Free People's cute embellished cardigans and peasant skirts or BCBG Girls sleek jersey separates. Cloud 9 also carries loads of adorable handbags, great shoes by Seychelles and Funky People, and tons of totally affordable costume jewelry and accessories.

Men's Suits Want to look like Donald Trump? (Uh, his suits, not his hair.) Head over toJ.S. Edwards, 1809 Reisterstown Rd., Pikesville, 410-653-2266, and check out the selection of power suits by Canali, Hickey-Freeman, Boss, and Biella of Italy. Splurge on made-to-measure shirts by Individualized Custom Shirts, or choose one of the handsome dress shirts from Joseph Abboud, Fabio Inghirami, and Eton of Sweden. You're hired!

Men's Classic Clothing The always nattily attired Kenneth Himmelstein is like a walking billboard for his store, Samuel Parker Clothier, 1340 Smith Ave., Mt. Washington Mill, 410-464-6180. His well-appointed collection embraces dapper suits by Ralph Lauren, made-to-measure trousers by Samuelsohn of Canada, and fine-gauge cashmeres by Alan Paine. Neat stacks of crisp dress shirts stand at attention in an antique cabinet, while a color wheel of brightly hued silk ties tells a fashion story atop an oak table.

Mid-Century Modern Furniture Home Anthology, 91-95 Mellor Ave., Catonsville, 410-744-0042, is back in business! After a brief hiatus, owners Rob Degenhard and Nini Sarmiento have opened a vast new 5,000-square-foot space with an airy SoHo vibe. The showroom still offers the best mid-century modern pieces, like teak cube chairs covered in an orange Knoll-style fabric, signature Eames wire chairs with Eiffel tower bases, and Vladimir Kagan-style side tables. Our favorite additions are the Modular Arts wall installations, made from 32-inch square panels of sculptural gypsum.

Modern Furniture Welcome to the Mod Squad. If it's über-modern, sleek, and chic, it must have come from Nouveau Contemporary Goods, two locations including 2400 Boston St., The Can Company, 410-342-7666. Where else can you get a candy-pink terry swivel chair by Globus or funky hand-painted furniture by Decorize? If you're ready to pimp your crib, you'll dig the playpen sofa (53 inches deep in black leather that feels like "buttah"). All you'll need to complete the look is your remote control, a silk robe, and a cocktail.

New York-Style Boutique With its winking blend of West Village boho and SoHo sass, we always wondered if Shine Collective, 1007 A W. 36th St., 410-366-6100, was simply too hip for the room (namely, Hampden). Apparently not. They've just moved and expanded, and their new location features more clothing, more home goods (National Lust silk throw pillows), and the addition of Christian Sturgis's 1960's retro antiques. We found trippy T-shirts with cool screen prints from 2K by Gingham, Squidfire, Monsieur T, and Evil Genius. Loved the cutecanvas bags, luggage tags, and key chains with mirrors by Parcel by Loop.

Saturday Night Threads The next time you become paralyzed in front of your closet on date night, just defer to Katwalk, 243 W. Read St., 410-669-7100. Paint the town in Betsey Johnson's sexy crochet party dresses or Grail's embroidered denim. Feel like a celebrity in Rachel Roy's sultry tops embellished with Swarovski crystals and glittery chains. Go funky in edgy T-shirts by Catch A Fire (designed by Bob Marley's daughter) and Indian-inspired peasant skirts by Angie.

Shoes A girl can never have enough shoes! That's the motto at Joanna Gray, 23 Village Sq., Village of Cross Keys, 410-435-2233—and we couldn't agree more. The shop's "who's who" list of designers includes bejeweled flats from Beverly Feldman, whimsical modified clogs by Mere, raffia slides by Claudio Merazzi, and a small group of private label shoes made from Italian leather.

Sporting Goods We're almost embarrassed to admit that we buy outdoor gear for style as well as performance at REI, 63 W. Aylesbury Rd., Timonium, 410-252-5920. Not to suggest the store doesn't have stylish stuff. It's just that the staff is so well-informed about things like wicking moisture on tents, Gore-Tex linings on gloves, and sidecut depth on snowboards, we hate to admit that we sometimes pick a raincoat because, well, the color matches our eyes.

Stationery An e-mail party invitation? We think not! Turn to The Pleasure of Your Company, 2360 W. Joppa Rd., Green Spring Station, Lutherville, 410-821-6369, for all your (non-cyber) stationery needs. Select the card you want—from Peter Pauper Press's preppy bow-tied options to more upscale works from Anna Griffin and Crane—and the experienced staff will advise you every step of the way. They even offer an in-house calligraphy, stamp, and mailing service.

Trendy Sportswear If you've seen it in Lucky magazine, odds are you'll see it atL'Apparenza, 6080 Falls Rd., Lake Falls Village, 410-372-0350. This tiny boutique packs a powerful fashion punch, selling hip lines like Tibi, Milly, Cynthia Steffe, Shoshanna, and (Baltimore native) Derek Green.

Upscale Clothing Let's face it, Ruth Shaw, 68 Village Sq., Village of Cross Keys, 410-532-7886, still has the couture scene on lock down. Designer divas can get their fix of Jimmy Choo stilettos, Sergio Rossi boots, Kooba handbags, Paul Smith shirts, and Etro suits without having to jet to New York or London.

Urban Home Furnishings To the sound of Ibiza acid jazz, you can browse the riotous selection of urban-friendly home furnishings at the Whats In Store, 8307 Main St., Ellicott City, 410-750-2468. Having just settled into new, larger digs, the store's eclectic style fuses a little ethnic bohemian (mirrored Buddha statues) with modern chic (a round tangerine ultra- suede ottoman by Gus), laced with a touch of French Country (an oversized painted pine armoire).

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