Finding Fun in the Maryland Suburbs

maryland suburbs
The Pop Shop – a great little place to visit in Frederick, Maryland.

During a recent post, I dropped a reference to visiting the Maryland suburbs. I’ve counted up all the time I’ve spent in that area for work and family visits -- the total stands right around seven months. That’s a good chunk, and I still find little to love about it. I can never find a decent espresso drink out there, and good breweries or restaurants are also way too scarce. It seems like everything is a Starbucks or a Chili’s. Good news, though – I actually found a few cool things in the Maryland suburbs this time. I’m going to focus on two new towns I hadn’t visited before -- and actually liked.

Ellicott City

I’ve spent very little time near Baltimore. Most of the in-laws seemed clustered around Rockville, until the sister-in-law and her husband got a place closer to Baltimore. About 10 minutes down the road from it, we found a cool little town called Ellicott City.

It has a river, a railroad and a bunch of nicely kept brick buildings. One of these fine buildings is home to the Ellicott Mills Brewing Company. Unfortunately, it specializes more in German-style beers, and they didn’t have an IPA or a stout. They still served a fine plate of fries and a nice late-night chocolatey dessert, along with some great advice about other local pubs and breweries that are worth a visit.

English: David J. Brantley Maryland Suburbs
A view of the main drag of Ellicott City. English: David J. Brantley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We visited the next day for breakfast, where we had some nice egg sandwiches at Bean Hollow. If you know the difference between a dry cappuccino and a wet cappuccino or know what a macchiato really is, Bean Hollow’s coffee won’t impress you. This is a frequent problem in Maryland. We took some time to wander the streets – Ellicott City is full of antique shops and other kitschy stores. It’s definitely a fun place to spend the better part of a day. Just beware all the paid parking.


After a few days, Sarah and I just wanted to get OUT of the sterile, endless tract of laboratories and chain restaurants that define Rockville and Gaithersburg. So we took a 30-mile drive to Frederick. Before we arrived, the terrain actually started to roll and have a countryside flavor to it.

maryland suburbs
The Community Bridge mural in Frederick. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We found a place to park, and started to wander the downtown Frederick district. It’s full of cafes and shops, much like Ellicott City. But it’s a lot bigger, and a bit less rustic. The North Market Pop Shop was one of my favorite finds – think of it as a microbrew store for high-end sodas; I drink a soda only every few months, usually because I find a place that offers something with real sweeteners instead of high-fructose corn syrup.

There’s also a cool knife shop called Edgeworks, which offered a better selection than anything in my home city of 4 million people. We also struck out coffee-wise in Frederick, though. Again on the plus side, I found a very fun record store (yes, real vinyl) called The Record Exchange. I picked up some coasters made from old Iron Maiden albums!

If you need to kill a day, Frederick is definitely a good place to do it. It’s a pleasant change from the typical Maryland suburbs.

One last thing: I have to imagine that some of the less-business focused areas in the Maryland suburbs have to be awesome on Halloween. That area just as a great Ichabod Crane colonial feel to it. I could see kids having a great time hitting the streets and scaring each other out there.



Craft Beer in Maryland – meet Growler’s

The taps at Growler’s of Gaithersburg have something for craft beer fans of every inclination.

When you’re in sleepy suburbia, a craft beer right from the tap can be hard to find. I thought I was out of luck – the clock had ticked past 11 p.m. And that meant Dogfish Head AleHouse was closed. We were already in the car and headed in its direction.

I worked the smart phone and came up with a likely suspect: Growler’s. I had a good feeling from the name, so we headed into downtown Gaithersburg in pursuit of some craft beer.

We found a two-story brick building in the otherwise shut-for-the-night street. Upstairs is where we the actions is.

And the row of taps convinced us we’d have some quality craft beer.

The Roof Razer IPA was first to catch my attention. Then a porter … and then, Quint Eastwood. I asked the bartender what it was. She answered by pouring me a sample. It tasted somewhat Belgian, but heavier in body and malt than a typical tripel. I could taste lots of ripe fruit, along with a hint of oak and leather. I had to have one.

Sarah went for the porter, which improved as it warmed up. I also had a strong cherry amber ale – sour beer fans will love it. But even non-sour fans (like me) will like the in-your-face flavor.

And there were several other selections that we had to leave untried … at least until next time.

One local said Dogfish Head AleHouse staff visit Growler’s regularly. I can see why. The Dogfish Head motto is “Off-Center Ales for Off-Center People.” Well, Growler’s is a match for Dogfish Head. (The friendly local was also raised in Ireland and loved to put on his best brogue when speaking to the bartender …”Give me friend a point, love!”)

Next time you’re north of Washington D.C., remember that Dogfish Head doesn’t have the only craft beer in town. And find time for a visit to Growler’s.

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