If you've ever thought of using solar power, Howard County offers one of the best deals in the U.S., and tax breaks make early 2009 a great time to do it. I'm doing several posts about it. First, let me tell you about my experience.
About a year ago I started checking into the possibilities of solar power for our home. I had heard about various tax breaks and incentives, but didn't know what they would mean for me. I started reading various web sites and contacted two of the most active solar installers in the area, Standard Solar (Gaithersburg, MD) and Chesapeake Solar (Jessup, MD). Both of them seemed very good, and I got site visits and quotes from both. Though their prices and offerings were similar, the Standard Solar representatives were a little more responsive, so I ended up working with them.
Both vendors started by recommending fairly large 3-5 kilowatt systems that ranged from $35-50K. As each of them started explaining the tax breaks and incentives, the prices came down almost in half, but the payback was still many years on the investment. The federal and state incentives were capped, at that point, at $2,000 and $3,000, respectively. I began to wonder if a smaller system that made more efficient use of the caps would come closer to paying for itself immediately.
Sure enough, I found that by installing a 1-2 kilowatt system with an initial outlay of around $15K I would recoup the cost of virtually the entire system through the various tax incentives. Those incentives are a little complicated and I'll go through them in a separate post. And they've become even more generous for 2009 which is why you really should start investigating solar yourself.
We ended up installing a small system in May 2008. The system was rated to offset less than 10% of our average monthly usage, but it was a start and, except for a battery backup option I added, it paid for itself in tax incentives.
Now -- here's the kicker. Since we installed the system, our whole family has become much more aware of our energy usage. We are much more proactive about turning off lights, keeping thermostats under control, and we've switched a few (but not nearly all) lights to flourescent bulbs. The result: our energy usage has declined by 35% since we installed the solar system. We've dropped from averaging over 1,800 KwH per month to less than 1,200 KwH.
So check out solar power in Howard County. It's something that's good for the country and good for you!
I've been using Dr. Gary Milles (infrequently, knock on wood) as my local doctor for nearly 15 years. He came well recommended and also was featured in magazines as one of the county's best. He has proven to be that -- a kind, caring and reassuring doctor. Clearly, though, he's also been wrestling with the business side of running a practice, first with partners and lately on his own.
I recently learned he's changing his practice to join the MDVIP model. MDVIP is a national network (and marketing organization) for physicians focusing on preventive and personalized healthcare. Under this model, Dr. Milles will charge an annual $1,500 "subscription" that gives guaranteed access to a smaller roster of patients. In fact, he's cutting his patient roster from around 1,800 down closer to 500. For those 500 or so, Dr. Milles will offer expanded care and services. For the 1,300 that opt out, Dr. Milles says he will provide referrals to other reliable local doctors. We'll see.
I expect I'll be one of the 1,300. I don't begrudge Dr. Milles an opportunity to make a healthier income or run a less stressful practice. He's a very good doctor and has earned the right to charge a premium. He blames the insurance companies for forcing an ever-increasing workload on general practitioners everywhere. Maybe he's right. I'm sure from his perspective he sees little choice.
I think it's a shame our nation's healthcare industry is forcing this choice upon doctors and patients. It's symptomatic of a broken system. Both the presidential candidates talk about addressing our nation's healthcare problems, but I doubt it's something that can be fixed quickly or easily. I hold out hope that one will be better at it than the other, but I also hope I don't get sick in the meantime.
A newcomer in 2008, Bistro Blanc is a wine bar, shop, and dining establishment a little along the lines of Iron Bridge Wine Company. In fact, Chef Marc Dixon was the original chef at Iron Bridge. We've been impressed with the menus and preparation at Bistro Blanc. The starters work nicely as appetizers or a small plates meal. The entrees are mouth watering. The Enomatic dispenser in the wine bar lets you sample wines at the click of a button, but it's a bit of a gimmick. I tend to prefer ordering a bottle or a glass, and the selection at Bistro Blanc is outstanding. It's great to have a quality restaurant in Western Howard County. It's worth the drive.
As I've been putting together this blog, I've looked at a lot of other Howard County bloggers and web sites. I want to give special recognition to HowChow and the work he's doing. I'm very impressed by the quality, depth and volume of his posts and his commitment to better dining in Howard County.
I especially applaud his interest and promotion of diverse ethnic cuisines. We have a growing range of choices in the county and I am certainly eager to see more. HowChow has already led me to a few I hadn't known about, and tempted me to visit more.
I hope in time my blog can prove to be a worthwhile companion to HowChow's, and I encourage you to read them both!
MiCasa is not the largest, busiest or most innovative Mexican restaurant in town, but we still have a soft spot for it. It does the Mexican basics consistently well, and the service is usually quick and friendly. It's a comfortable spot for a casual weekday meal.
The original link in Gilberto Cortez's family of Mexican restaurants (also La Palapa and La Palapa Too in Laurel). Like the others, El Azteca offers a full slate of Mexican standards as well as an encouraging selection of "Gilberto's Specialities" for variety. El Azteca is smaller than its cousins and doesn't take reservations, but somehow the food always seems a little better. It's fun if you don't mind a possible wait.
A large, friendly Mexican fixture on Main Street in Ellicott City, La Palapa is the largest of Gilberto Cortez's family of Mexican restaurants (also El Azteca and La Palapa Too in Laurel). La Palapa offers a full slate of Mexican standards as well as an encouraging selection of "Gilberto's Specialities" for variety. La Palapa is great for groups, lunches, dinner or brunch.
The King's Contrivance, Columbia Columbia's most venerable fine dining establishment seems to just keep rolling along producing surprisingly good fare. Extensively renovated over the past few years, the stately mansion is a pleasant step back in time. The menus also reflect a traditional take on good food, prepared and served well.
Elkridge Furnace Inn, Elkridge This historic inn makes it worth the drive to the eastern corner of Howard County. Chef and owner Daniel Wecker and his family bring a personal touch to the restaurant's operations, and the results show their pride and care. Ambitious prix fixe and a la carte menus offer fine French fare. And now there's the option of a very good menu of small plates in the Tavern. The Inn also runs an extensive series of special events including afternoon teas, wine tastings, cooking classes and even murder mystery evenings.
Victoria Gastro Pub, Columbia Victoria's brings upscale food and drink choices to a former Bennigan's location. It's a big improvement. The menu has interesting variants on the typical burger, fries and salad staples, and the beer and wine choices are impressive. The bar is big and can get busy, but the dining room has different areas that break up the space and can afford some peace to enjoy a good meal.
Aida Bistro and Wine Bar, Columbia The Barbera family runs this Italian and Mediterranean outpost in an unlikely office park setting. Once you're inside, the pleasant atmosphere and seasonal menus of small plates and entrees make for a very enjoyable experience. Knowledgeable servers help navigate the extensive selection of wines by the bottle or glass. And there's an option of fixed price menus with wines or beers matched to each course.
Cafe de Paris, Columbia Owner Erik Rochard is one of the friendliest hosts you'll find, and he offers a range of choices at the cafe. It's become two restaurants in one, with a Crepe Cafe adding a low cost alternative to the main dining room for lunch or dinner. In the dining room there's a three-course "Formule" menu or extensive a la carte list of French specialties. The weekend brunch is a nice treat, too.
Iron Bridge Wine Company, Columbia One of the most inventive and original establishments in the county (and now expanded to Virginia), Iron Bridge melds wine shop, bar, gourmet small plates and coffee lounge into one. It's a great place to relax and spend some time, but it can get crowded and busy, too. The wide selection of small plates and the few entrees are fun and usually very good. The staff knows their wine, too, and help with the appealing atmosphere.
oZ Chophouse is now closed. Below is our capsule review and links, for old times' sake.
oZ Chophouse, Maple Lawn More great steaks! oZ helped inaugurate the Maple Lawn town center several years ago. It has a modern, comfortable dining room (though I still haven't figured out why the tree's in the middle) and an extensive menu of steaks and other favorites. You can choose styles and sauces to match your taste. oZ has a cool bar and specialty drink menu, too.
Ranazul, Maple Lawn This upscale tapas and wine bar is a welcome addition to the Maple Lawn area. The small plates menu offers plenty of choices for the timid and adventurous. The wine list is extensive and the ambiance and service are usually quite good. Ranazul is a nice place to bring friends to experiment with a variety of flavors and options.
Jordan's Steakhouse is now closed. Below is our capsule review, for old times' sake.
Great steaks are alive and well in Howard County. Jordan's lets you choose between prime and choice cuts of beef (the choice tastes great to me) along with terrific sides and appetizers. Located at the lower end of Main Street in the heart of historic Ellicott City, Jordan's has a private club ambiance with several different rooms and a cozy downstairs bar. With steaks as the headliners, an array of tempting appetizers and sides, and a heavy duty wine list, you can have a seriously good meal at Jordan's.
OpenTable diners give Jordan's Steakhouse 4.2/5 stars based on 225 votes and 100 reviews as of 5/11/09. OpenTable ranks Jordan's #8 among all Baltimore Suburbs restaurants, #1 as a Special Occasion destination, #6 for Ambiance, #10 for Service, #6 for its Wine List, and #5 for Romantic restaurants.
Urbanspoon readers give Jordan's Steakhouse 79/100 based on 92 votes, ranking it the #1 restaurant in Ellicott City as of 5/11/09.
Citysearch users give Jordan's Steakhouse 4/5 stars based on 27 reviews as of 5/11/09.
Rewards Network users give Jordan's Steakhouse 4.5/5 stars based on 143 responses as of 5/11/09.
TripAdvisor users give Jordan's Steakhouse 3/5 stars based on 25 ratings and 17 reviews, ranking it #17 in Ellicott City as of 5/11/09.
Yahoo! Local users give Jordan's Steakhouse 4/5 stars based on 20 ratings and 14 reviews as of 5/11/09.
Yelp users give Jordan's Steakhouse 4.5/5 stars based on 10 reviews, ranking it the #1 restaurant in Ellicott City as of 5/11/09.
BooRah users rate Jordan's Steakhouse 85/100 based on 82 votes, and ranks it the #1 restaurant in Ellicott City as of 5/11/09.
Zagat has 45 member reviews of Jordan's Steakhouse as of 5/11/09.
Examiner.com's Tamar Fleishman posted a lengthy review of Jordan's Steakhouse on 3/7/09.
Our consistent choice for Mother's Day and other special occasions, it's a delight to have this gem on Main Street. Fernand and Odette Tersiguel have a history as restaurateurs in Ellicott City going back more than 30 years. They've given way to their son and chef Michel, but this classic hasn't missed a beat. Fine French country cooking with fresh ingredients, many from their own farm, and always save room for dessert.
Here's my personal list of best restaurants in Howard County. They're listed by location, in no particular order, but all 10 are very good. If we're in the mood for a nice meal or taking out guests, we're likely heading to one of these. If you haven't tried them all, you should!
The purpose of this blog is to review and comment on the best of Howard County, Maryland for residents and newcomers. We aim to track a variety of topics, from restaurants and entertainment to shopping, schools, recreation and conservation. We hope readers will find it a useful resource for information and opinions on our community.
Howard County is consistently ranked one of the wealthiest counties in country, and Columbia/Ellicott City are ranked in the top ten "Best Places to Live" by Money. We hope we can help you find some of the best of what Howard County has to offer, and perhaps be a platform to make our home even better.
I've been a resident of Howard County, Maryland for more than 15 years. In that time, I've lived in Columbia, Ellicott City, and now West Friendship in western Howard County. I hope this blog can help you find some of the best of what Howard County has to offer, and perhaps be a platform to make our home even better. To contact me, write billzinhoco at gmail.com.