January 24, 2021

danranrestaurant

All Things Delicious

Harford County’s best restaurants of 2020

7 min read

Ambience: Hopkins Farm Brewery

General Tso’s chicken and scallop & shrimp with vegetable from Chopstrix Gourmet Sushi Bar in Forest Hill. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

First-time patrons may raise their eyebrows here. First, there’s the 16-foot waterfall inside the entrance to the restaurant. Then there’s the standout fare, which keeps the regulars coming back for more.

“People vote with their pocketbooks,” says Danny Cheung, co-owner of Chopstix Gourmet and its sibling in Rosedale. Despite no indoor seating at present, business is brisk: carryout has doubled during the pandemic.

What’s good to go? General Tso’s chicken is a favorite (fried chunks of chicken breast, broccoli and garlic in chili sauce) and gets high marks for its fresh taste.

“People like it that we make each entree to order, one at a time, not in batches like some other places may do,” Cheung says.

Other standouts include the pearl river roll sushi, a mélange of fried shrimp, cream cheese, crab and white seaweed, smothered in eel sauce; and, for the health-conscious, steamed shrimp with mixed vegetables, a low-sodium option with a spritz of wine sauce.

Does Cheung himself man the stoves?

“I don’t cook,” he says. “That’s why the food is so popular.”

Shelley Standard, owner of Flavor Cupcakery Bakery and Cafe, with a sampling of boutique cupcakes.

Shelley Standard, owner of Flavor Cupcakery Bakery and Cafe, with a sampling of boutique cupcakes. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

Bakery: Flavor Cupcakery & Bake Shop

Enter the sweets shop, take a deep breath, and be thankful a face mask can’t block out the rich scent of desserts in this 10-year-old bakery, a favorite in these parts.

Yummy cupcakes are the pick, classic made-from-scratch goodies like salted caramel, black bottom and chocolate peanut butter, pumpkin, Snickerdoodle and raspberry amaretto. Add vegan and gluten-free cupcakes, among others, and there are 200 flavors in all, 17 of which daily greet customers whose eyes may glaze over at the sights and smells.

“People walk in the door and get a little overwhelmed, a little giddy,” says owner Shelley Stannard, of Bel Air, whose pastries have satisfied many a sweet tooth. Cheap, the cupcakes are not — $3 for a muffin-sized morsel — but consider what they bring to the table.

“Though we do thousands of cupcakes, my standard of quality is that each one be made as if were to be part of a [marriage] proposal, or to cheer up someone who’s been ill,” Stannard says.

Woodlea Bakery of Bel Air

Bar food: Sean Bolan’s Irish Pub

MaGerks Pub & Grill Bel Air

Barbecue: JD’s Smokehouse North

Wargo’s Restaurant & Tavern

Bartender: Tiffany Paterniti, Naughty Dogs

Shelby Stange, Independent Brewing Co.

Nick Franchetti, Sean Bolan’s Irish Pub

Mitchell Hopkins, Hopkins Farm Brewery

Beer list: Independent Brewing Co.

Breakfast/brunch: Sunny Day Cafe

Burger: Vagabond Sandwich Co.

Chef: Bryan Boessel, One Eleven Main

Steve Braun, Sean Bolan’s Irish pub

Kaimana Chee, Uncle’s Hawaiian Grindz

Ron Milburn, The Vineyard Wine Bar

Cocktail: One Eleven Main

Newberry Café & Bakery (tie)

Crab cake: Box Hill Crab Cakes

Conrad’s Seafood Restaurant, Abingdon

Wargo’s Restaurant & Tavern

Deli: Savona – Fine Italian Foods and Wine

Jarrettsville Creamery and Deli

Savory Deli & Market Inc.

Delivery: Black Eyed Suzie’s

Dessert: Broom’s Bloom Dairy

Flavor Cupcakery & Bake Shop

Wargo’s Restaurant & Tavern

Fine dining: One Eleven Main

Liberatore’s Ristorante & Catering

Frozen treats: Broom’s Bloom Dairy

Jarrettsville Creamery and Deli

Arctic Circle, Churchville

Happy hour: Hopkins Farm Brewery

Healthful menu: Saladworks, Bel Air

Italian: Bacco Italian + Wine Bar

Liberatore’s Ristorante & Catering

Enotria Restaurant & Grill

Late-night dining: Sean Bolan’s Irish Pub

Live entertainment: Independent Brewing Co.

Ben Meyer, owner of the Vagabond Sandwich Company on Thomas Street in downtown Bel Air.

Ben Meyer, owner of the Vagabond Sandwich Company on Thomas Street in downtown Bel Air. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Lunch menu: Vagabond Sandwich Co.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Vagabond Sandwich Co. has reduced indoor seating from 60 to 20. But the restaurant that prides itself in fast service continues to be busy. “It’s full, but it’s a quick turnover,” said owner Ben Meyer, who grew up in Bel Air.

The restaurant’s most popular lunch offering is a baja chicken wrap with bacon and avocado. The menu also offers Dr Pepper BBQ Beef, a sandwich drizzled with soda-infused BBQ sauce; Takin’ Care of Business, an Elvis Presley-inspired peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich with bacon and bananas; and Captain Chesapeake, a four-ounce lump crab cake topped by an egg and Old Bay rémoulade.

“We’ve got a lot of stuff that has some funny names and some different stuff that is off the beaten path,” Meyer said.

Meyer, who bought Dillweeds in 2013 before changing it to Vagabond the following year, said he and his staff appreciate the honor bestowed by the readers.

“We all come to work, and we all work our [tails] off so that we can create something that’s good,” he said.

Wargo’s Restaurant & Tavern

Barrett's on the Pike in Bel Air has been voted by readers as the best new restaurant in Harford County. The restaurant features a diverse menu like this Braised Short Ribs in Mongolian BBQ sauce.

Barrett’s on the Pike in Bel Air has been voted by readers as the best new restaurant in Harford County. The restaurant features a diverse menu like this Braised Short Ribs in Mongolian BBQ sauce. (Kenneth K. Lam)

New restaurant: Barrett’s on the Pike

Paul Silberman put his money where his mouth is. Nearly three years ago, he discussed with John Barrett, owner of Barrett’s Grill in Hunt Valley, an opportunity to expand to Bel Air. “I was very bullish on the idea,” said Silberman, a managing partner of Barrett’s on the Pike. “I thought, ‘Yeah, this is going to go very well,’ and I put my money up as an investor to prove that I believed in it.”

Training staff to take care of patrons is a point of emphasis, he said. “Things like immediate greets and asking the right questions the first time so that the guests don’t have to wait for anything and just being present and knowledgeable about our food is all part of the training process,” Silberman said.

Some of the restaurant’s more popular dishes include braised short ribs in Mongolian BBQ sauce, scallop risotto and a berries Napoleon dessert with cookies stacked high with homemade whipped cream made of vanilla pudding and topped with fresh blueberries, strawberries, and a raspberry-and-mango sauce. “It’s fresh, craveable food,” Silberman said.

Just a Bit of Soul Carryout (tie)

Ray’s Caribbean American Food (tie)

Outdoor dining: Black Eyed Suzie’s

Overall: Hopkins Farm Brewery

Patrons relax outside the tap room at Hopkins Farm Brewery, which opened in July.

Patrons relax outside the tap room at Hopkins Farm Brewery, which opened in July. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Pandemic MVP: Hopkins Farm Brewery

How can a restaurant that doesn’t serve meals draw the crowds who come here for dinner?

“We’re slightly embarrassed by that,” says Dan Hopkins, an owner of Hopkins Farm Brewery. Yet the setup works. What the 200-acre farm provides are rural views, home-crafted brews and picnic tables set far apart; food trucks bring the rest. Where else can one eat, drink and be merry these days without real concern?

Since July, when it first opened to the public, this fourth-generation family farm brimming with wheat, hops and barley — the stuff of beer batter — has drawn the curious, hungry and thirsty. Here, a family’s night out really is a night out, with live music playing onstage and crickets chirping out yonder.

“It’s a festival atmosphere, with people spread out to their own comfort level,” Hopkins says. Even the food trucks, which rotate daily, are socially distanced. The brews, all made on-site from local grains, range from lagers to hard seltzers to stouts. Favorites are Autumn Gold (a Marzen), Legend of the Fog (an IPA) and a blueberry sour; seasonal choices include cider beer, a chocolate stout and an amber ale made of sweet potatoes, maple syrup and cinnamon called Yam Right!

Come winter, the owners plan to raise a tent, with heaters, over the patio beside the Amish-built taproom (with a wraparound porch). The interior is done up with wood and stone found right on the farm.

“It’ll have a different feel from summertime, so we’ll see how it goes,” Hopkins says.

Pizza: Buontempo Brothers Pizza

Earth, Wood & Fire, Fallston

Place to take out-of-towners: Hopkins Farm Brewery

Place to take the kids: Arctic Circle, Churchville

Seafood: Richard’s Fish & Crabs

Crab Truck and Seafood Stop

Conrad’s Seafood Restaurant, Abingdon

Madonna Seafood Restaurant

Miranda Sanders, 22, a server at Sean Bolan's Irish Pub.

Miranda Sanders, 22, a server at Sean Bolan’s Irish Pub. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Server: Miranda Sanders, Sean Bolan’s Irish Pub

Miranda Sanders, 22, began serving at Sean Bolan’s Irish Pub four years ago after her mother, Jennifer Sanders, recommended her to owner Dan Brown. The position was an adjustment for the Patterson Mill High School graduate, who had previously worked at a convenience store.

“I wouldn’t say that I was shy, but I wasn’t the most outgoing person,” she said. “If someone came up and talked to me, I could carry a conversation, but I wouldn’t be the first to approach someone.”

Sanders, who said one key to being a well-liked server is a cheery attitude, said she could earn up to $1,000 in tips a week before the coronavirus pandemic began. “My shift is the time for me, honestly, because I love working there and I love serving,” she said. “It’s one of those jobs where I feel like it’s the easiest job in the world.”

Benjamin Stoner, Sunny Day Cafe

Angie Milburn, The Vineyard Wine Bar

Service: Hopkins Farm Brewery

Sports bar: Looney’s Pub

Steamed crabs: Richard’s Fish & Crabs

Crab Truck and Seafood Stop

Conrad’s Crabs and Seafood Market, Bel Air

Takeout: Vagabond Sandwich Co.

Tamberino’s Pizza & Subs

Value: Vagabond Sandwich Co.

Wargo’s Restaurant & Tavern

Vegetarian options: Saladworks

View: Hopkins Farm Brewery

MacGregor’s at the Seaplane Base

Wine list: Pairings Bistro

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

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