Best of Baltimore


The best carpet cleaners, pool service and more

Appliance Repair: All-Star Repairs

If the belt on your dryer just spun off into the ionosphere or your fridge is sounding like your disposal, it’s time to call Eric Soloman and crew, who can straighten out anything from refrigerators, washers, dryers, and dishwashers to ovens, cooktops, freezers, and ice makers. And the feedback from his clients? We hope his mother isn’t stuffing the ballot box here, but he has seemingly endless lists of glowing comments on Google, Yahoo, Mojopages, Insider, Bing, Yelp, Superpages, and a five-star rating on Servicemagic. 30 Jones Falls Terrace, 443-744-6899, 410-500-1655.

Carpet Cleaners: Baltimore Steam Cleaners

Ten years of dirt being tracked in, the spilled beer and stale cigarette smells from your son’s college friends, and all those pet accidents: Frankly, Scarlett, your rugs stink. Time to call Tim McLaughlin and brother, Dan, at Baltimore Steam, which serves the city and surrounding counties. Tim had been in the business for years, but decided three years ago he could do a better job for folks if he started his own company. He’s on time, thorough, and, in just a couple of hours, will have your carpets or area rugs smelling less like wet dogs and more like what they’re supposed to smell like——absolutely nothing. 410-493-0866.

Concierge Service: My Girl Friday

In 2007, north Baltimore mothers Beth Adams and Susan English left the business world (health care and human resources, respectively) to start this personal-assistant service. Since then, these super-toadies to the super-busy have gotten top marks from some very demanding clients. What they do for $35 an hour-plus is a long list, from errands, waiting for the cable guy, home and office organization, and party planning to shopping, house-sitting, helping clients move, or pointing them to competent contractors (and then even managing the project). Think of them as personal organizers——for your whole life. 5408 Willowmere Way, 410-236-2097, 443-255-0252.

Design Center: Budeke’s Paints and Decorating

Check this place out for a wealth of great ideas on how to use fabric, wallpaper, rugs, and designer paints to jazz up your digs. Though known best for the past 144 years for specialty paints, the 10-year-old design center is now a destination for high-end brands like Dash and Albert rugs, as well as fabric and wallcovering brands including Thibaut, York, Ronald Redding, Seabrook, Candace Olsen, and Ralph Lauren. Need more help? Their designers will hold your hand for free in the store or come to your home for a reasonable $85 an hour. 9484 Deereco Road, Timonium, 410-560-1230.

Electrician: Winn Electric Contracting

When it comes to competent, fast, courteous service for things with voltage, get plugged into these guys. Now in their 50th year serving homes and businesses in a 30-mile radius of Towson, Winn also wires things like pools and generators (and even installs chargers for electric cars!). They’re smart with old houses and won’t push solutions you don’t need. And get this: They’ve gotten an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau even though they’re not members (pretty darn unusual). This is their fifth win in the Best-of issue in the last 15 years. Nothing shocking about that. 3 Spring House Road, Lutherville, 410-484-5544.

Firewood: Blue Moon Farms

You like to crank up the fireplace on crisp nights, but good luck finding dry wood at fair prices. Either it’s not seasoned (akin to burning a brick), some of it is rotten, the quantity is skimpy for the money, or the wood guy runs out in mid-winter. So warm the cockles of your hearth with Blue Moon, where owner Benjamin Cole makes sure every load is matchbox-dry, cut mostly uniform, and all at a smokin’ price. And he usually has plenty, since he supplies restaurants that cook with wood year-round. More Blue Moon trivia: Almost all the wood is split by a guy named Chad who’s confined to a wheelchair because of a hunting accident. 10814 Liberty Road, Randallstown, 410-922-4984.

Framing: Framers Gallery

There’s more than one good framer out there, but we like this 25-year-old, family-owned shop, which does everything from the custom framing you’d expect to conservation framing and corporate jobs, including work for Mercy Medical Center and The Classic Catering People. Owners Bill and Mindy Kline also maintain an art gallery, so while you’re waiting to have your bronzed baby shoes mounted in a shadow box, you can check out the range of art work, from posters to one-of-a-kind original oil paintings by local, national, and international artists. 10726 Reisterstown Road, Owings Mills, 410-356-5096.

Garden center: Radebaugh Florist & Greenhouses

For an endless variety of annual and perennial plants and flowers grown in their own Baltimore County greenhouses (as well as awesome arrangements in their florist shop), we like these green thumbs on Burke Avenue. They win hands down for house plants, too, and keep a greenhouse chock-full of them all year. In fact, many of those plants you see at other nurseries came from Radebaugh’s multiple greenhouses. And there’s one old-fashioned quirk we also like from this longtime family-owned operation: They give you a discount for cash or check. 120 E. Burke Avenue, Towson, 410-825-4300.

Grocery Delivery: Safeway

In the past, we’ve saluted Giant’s Peapod home-delivery service, and they’re still good, but we think the online service offered by Safeway has an edge on them (although not nearly as cute a name). True, they can’t compete with Giant’s brick-and-mortar market share, but their delivery gig is alive and well and has some cool features, including shorter promised delivery time (and they call if they’re even five minutes late) and free delivery if you order some extra stuff on special that you’re going to need eventually anyway. 1-877-723-3929,

Home Health Care: WeCare Private Duty Service

For the older family member who wants to remain in their home but needs help with dressing, bathing, cooking, medications, or more, we’d call the home nurses and health aides at WeCare. For 17 years, the fully licensed, independent operation offers everything from aides providing simple companionship and helping with light chores to skilled nursing care. With their countless testimonials from clients and families, it’s no surprise they’re the home health-care service recommended by rehabilitation centers, social workers, hospital case managers, and physicians. 1852 Reisterstown Road, Ste. 209, Pikesville, 410-602-3993.

HVAC: Perry Hall Heating and Air Conditioning

It’s 98 degrees and your air-conditioning unit has chosen this special moment to have a seizure. But worry not: These guys and gals have a solution. Established in 1982 by Peter J. Pac and Steven M. Faulkner, the firm started serving eastern and northern Baltimore County, but their reputation quickly put them in demand in the city and surrounding counties. Customers tell us their 35-employee crew is professional, fast, responsive to emergencies, and very fairly priced, whether you need a new system or just a repair. They sell and service all the major brands, including Trane, Rheem, and Carrier, and also offer service contracts. 7619 Fitch Lane, 410-256-7285.

Lighting: Jones Lighting Specialists

Sure, you can go to the big-box stores and find all the modern light fixtures you may need, but this store is in another league. For everything that glows indoors and out, it’s the lighting center of choice for many interior designers, architects, and their clients from all over. But what we like the most about their 6,500-square-foot showroom is that it’s not just about manufacturers’ products——there are also antique and custom fixtures, plus some really weird stuff that we guarantee you won’t find at Home Depot. Need proof? How about giant, matching, funky monkeys in fezes who glower down from their wall mounts whilst holding electric candles——for the dark side in all of us. 1010 York Road, Towson, 410-828-1010.

Massage: Spa in the Valley

A massage, when properly administered, comes not only from the hands, but also from the heart. We can feel the love with the massage team at Spa in the Valley and are particularly touched by 30-year veteran Cindy Bloom-Turner. She has an impressive spa resume (training at the esteemed Aveda Institute and the London Center of Indian Champissage), the Midas touch when it comes to kneading out your knots (choose from hot stones, Reiki, or reflexology), and a mission of giving back with her pro-bono massage work at local hospices. 118 Shawan Road, Hunt Valley, 410-771-0200.

Nails: Le’s Nails

Having a bad day and need to vent to someone other than your mom? Jay Aenoi Bobrinev is a nail therapist of sorts and a favorite of the ladies who lunch. She’s all ears when you complain about your mother-in-law (and also senses when you want to sit in silence and just catch up on your favorite gossip magazines), remembers your favorite polish, and gives the best mani-pedi in town whether you want a hand-painted design, acrylics, silks, or gel polish. Bobrinev books fast, but the good news is that her sister, An Whetstone, who works next to her, is equally cuticle capable. 1809 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville, 410-580-9088.

Plumber: Saffer Plumbing & Heating

One of the many sources we use to track down the best of the best is the customer feedback on neighborhood listservs, especially for plumbing. Because, let’s face it, we all need a plumber at some point. Looking especially strong by that measure is David Saffer, son Chris, and their team at this eponymous firm, which was started by David Saffer’s grandfather in 1946. The firm’s eight trucks serve the city and five surrounding counties, and the company has a special strength in repairing the century-old faucets, fixtures, and hot-water and steam boilers in the thousands of early-20th-century Baltimore homes. Says Chris Saffer, “It’s kind of cool for me because I get to work on things that my great-grandfather installed.” 8925 Old Harford Road, Parkville, 410-665-4238.

Pool Service: Sweetwater Pool and Spa Center

For you landed gentry out there with in-ground pools, you know that the big blue, sparkly thing is just dreamy until it’s time for the heavy lifting: opening it in spring, closing it in fall, replacing a balky pump or filter, servicing the motor, or patching up the underground pipe crushed by the landscaper. That’s where Sweetwater comes to the rescue. They have a long history of friendly, efficient service at reasonable prices and their accommodating staff will squeeze you into the schedule when something goes wrong right before your next big pool party. 10216 S. Dolfield Road, Owings Mills, 410-363-9919.

Regrouting: Mr. Klean Grout

Nothing makes your bathroom or kitchen look dingier than stained, moldy grout, but it’s not always easy to find trustworthy professionals to address that problem. But that’s all that George Saunders and his crew do. They make floor and wall tiles in Baltimore and surrounding counties look new again by regrouting, recaulking, replacing broken tiles, and even rebuilding subfloors to restore floor tiles. Saunders and his four staffers are knowledgeable, fast, courteous, and always tidy up afterwards, all at a very fair price. 6907 Jones View Drive, No. 1B, 443-957-1077, 855-77-KLEAN.

Salon: salon laurie & company

Any salon goer knows that a happy employee is bound to give you a great cut. (What’s worse than a scissor-wielding stylist ready to take out their job frustration on your head?) Relax and sit back in the stylist’s chair at salon laurie, where consistently great color and cuts (classic to edgy) are dependably delivered by owner Laurie Kvech Schroeder and her talented team of stylists. And we’re not the only ones who love Laurie. For the past five years, salon laurie has been honored by Salon Today Magazine for its “Best Practices,” based on recruitment, compensation, and benefits. 5910 Falls Road, 410-464-1500.

Spa: Four Seasons Hotel Spa

We’re not sure what we did to deserve this piece of paradise, but Baltimore has been blessed with one of the toniest hotel spas imaginable. In all seasons, this spa beckons with black walnut woods, cool marble surfaces, glass-tile mosaics, and flavored teas on tap. But Four Seasons Spa is not just another pretty façade. From the Beyond Botox facial and a salt-and-oil scrub to age-defying facials and aromatherapy massage, one visit to this 11,000-square-foot Zen playground, and all will seem right with the world. Our favorite spa perk: with most services, access to the infinity-edge vitality pool, the “experience” shower, a walk-in whirlpool, and steam room are included. 200 International Drive, 410-223-1440.

Sprinkler Company: Chesapeake Irrigation and Lighting

Tired of dragging your little yellow plastic sprinkler to 23 different positions around your personal Ponderosa every time there’s a dry spell? A sprinkler system is the answer, of course, and Chesapeake will do a bang-up job installing it. But it doesn’t stop there: They’re also great at service, at holding your hand with the computer that runs the thing, and at opening and closing the system at the beginning and end of the season. All your neighbors with the brown lawns will hate you. 405 Headquarters Drive, Ste. 1, Millersville, 410-987-2969.

Tree service: A-AAA Tree Service

The giant dead walnut has to come down, but not on Mrs. McGillicuddy’s house on the left there. And not on the neighborhood’s power lines on the right. And not on the BMW parked over there. Time to call owners Tracy and John Sult, who, for 10 years, have earned a reputation for highly skilled crews, courteous and professional dealings with customers, and just about the fairest pricing in town. They also do tree trimming, crane work (they have a 26-ton machine that can pluck that giant maple off your crushed garage after the storm), and small demolition, such as removing sheds or barns. 4215 Ridge Road, 410-321-0921.

Upholsterer: Ibello Upholstery

Think of Alan Ibello’s third-generation operation in Remington as the upholsterer to the stars. Besides being the go-to guy for about 40 interior designers and doing lots of custom work for well-heeled private individuals, he and his crew have also been the upholsterer of choice for movie-production designers including those for the TV series House of Cards and for the Barry Levinson film Avalon. And doing great upholstery work isn’t just about the fabric: Ibello is also a master at restoring the structure, spring, cushions, and finish of furniture, from modern styles to 200-year-old antiques. 429 Fawcett Street, 410-243-1163.

Window Cleaning: Bayside Property Services

Mention window, gutter, or siding cleaning, and you automatically think of an unemployed wallpaper hanger wandering the neighborhood hat in hand. Give him the work or call 911? Now, imagine a professional company serving homes and businesses that does all that, plus deck sealing, holiday light-hanging, chandelier cleaning, and more. Bayside founder Patrick Tobin left the corporate world to do this thing right and gets rave reviews from his clients about his work, his fair pricing, and his trusted, full-time staff (longtime clients serve them lemonade, leave their jewelry laying out, and give them their house keys). 1400 Greenspring Valley Road, Owings Mills, 443-739-4991.

Water Gardens : Valley View Farms

You’ve always wanted waterfront property, so take the easy way out and build yourself a really cool, bubbly, back-lit, landscaped fish pond out of all the goodies available in Valley View’s water-garden shop. Whether you own a cattle ranch or a row house with a postage-stamp-sized backyard, they’ve got all the stuff you need, from plants and fish to hardware and statuary. Check out their multiple display ponds to get you thinking about the possibilities. Don’t want to break a nail? They also do delivery, installation, and maintenance. And lest you think this is a fish tale, a national trade magazine recently chose this place as one of the top three water-garden shops in the country. 11035 York Road, Cockeysville, 410-527-0700.

Windows: Pella Windows & Doors

In the window-installation industry, it’s a jungle of cheap, one-size-fits-all plastic products, sloppy work, itinerant laborers, and sales people who make you want to go wash your hands. Upending that stereotype is this company, which offers top-of-the-line windows (yes, real wood if you want it, for your historic house), has trusted, longtime employees, and uses sales people who know about customer satisfaction. This is not a bargain basement, but trust us on this: You don’t want that. Two locations, including 11309 York Road, Cockeysville, 410-560-1800.

Yoga: Charm City Yoga

When it comes to yoga in Baltimore, there’s not a mat we haven’t done downward dog on, so believe us when we say that this place is the gold standard of studios. With expert instruction (a shout out to Edith, Nancy, and Camille), mind-expanding workshops that help us think deep thoughts, and amazing studio spaces inspired by the colors of India, we breathe better just putting our name on the sign-in sheet at the front desk. Best of all, with Charm City Yoga now stretching across three counties (including a great new studio in Pikesville), there’s a class and location to suit every schedule. 107 E. Preston Street, 800-336-YOGA.