We’re talking about Howard County again this week, and it’s no wonder.

The past few years have seen new emphasis on the dining scene of the suburbs as customers look for an innovative meal close to home. Restaurateurs who open up in underserved markets often find their efforts extra appreciated.

Just ask Chad Wells, whose career has taken him from downtown Baltimore to Glenwood, where he has been head chef at Walker’s Tap & Table since 2019. Business is booming, and Wells is just getting started, with a new deli in the works. I’ll also give you a peek inside the much-anticipated restaurant taking Clyde’s spot on Lake Kittamaqundi, which is just about ready to welcome in customers.

The Dish: You don’t have to leave Howard County to eat well

Chad Wells to launch Rosie’s Delicatessen

It’s 2 p.m. on a Tuesday, a time when many restaurants would be about as rowdy as the local library. But Walker’s Tap & Table, a restaurant in a way-out strip mall in Howard County, is swamped. Outside, smiling servers carry plates of food to tables of customers, who include babies with bibs around their necks. Inside, a friendly hostess greets patrons while a bartender pours drinks by the blazing flames of the pizza oven.

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In less than four years in operation, the restaurant has become a Maryland meeting spot — halfway between Frederick and Baltimore, between Montgomery County and Westminster. “We like to say we’re in the middle of nowhere but the middle of everywhere,” said co-owner Anthony DiGangi, who left a career in finance to follow his passion for restaurants.

Stepping out of the kitchen is Wells, a chef whose cooking caught the attention of Guy Fieri and the Food Network back when he worked at Baltimore’s Alewife. Now he’s wowing Glenwood with Nashville hot deviled eggs and smoked chicken wings made from locally sourced birds.

DiGangi and his business partners sought out Wells before opening Walker’s in 2019. “We wanted a top chef,” DiGangi said. “We met, he made some food for us and we loved it, and here we are.”

But Wells’ performance has surpassed what they could have imagined. Under the chef’s leadership, Walker’s “turned into a machine,” DiGangi said, known not only for its tasty and imaginative fare but for solid customer service, all at a time of massive upheaval in the restaurant industry and world at large. Sales at Walker’s are quadruple what DiGangi and business partners had predicted.

Wells and DiGangi’s new collaboration — a Brooklyn-style deli, located in the same shopping center that Walker’s calls home — will expand their footprint in Howard County. When it opens sometime this summer, Rosie’s Delicatessen will serve Italian sandwiches, coffee, breakfast and some grocery items — a DiPasquale’s for Glenwood.

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The idea for the new project was something the duo came up with while chatting over the fire pits installed in the Walker’s parking lot during the pandemic. DiGangi, who grew up on Long Island, wanted a way to honor his late mother, Rose, who kept his family fed and also kept her brother’s New York pizzeria running while he was in the military.

Rosie’s, located in the former Wheelhouse Farm Market, will be a carryout-only operation, with black-and-white tiled floors and vintage-style deli cases that are a throwback to his childhood and his family’s business. A photo of Rose, who died in 2007, will be prominently displayed on the wall.

“I hate to say it seems like a slam dunk,” DiGangi said of the new concept. But if the hungry lunch crowd at Walker’s is any indication, it’s a good bet.

Located in the former Clyde's of Columbia, seafood restaurant Offshore features a nautical theme. (Christina Tkacik)

Offshore and Encore launch in Columbia

What is it about restaurant renovations? Much like home projects, they always take longer than expected.

It’s been almost three years since Clyde’s, a fixture of Columbia’s “Lake Kit” going back 45 years, shut its doors during the pandemic. Offshore, the restaurant that replaced it, finally welcomed its first guests Monday at an invite-only event featuring passed apps and a cash bar. (The rest of the public is welcome starting May 3.)

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Offshore, an upscale seafood restaurant inside the former Clyde’s in Columbia, is ready to open May 3. (Christina Tkacik)

Attendees I spoke to praised the bright new layout and tasteful nautical theme from new owners and married couples Staci Samaras and Randy Smith plus Josh and Joyce Butts. The Buttses, as I reported in the fall, also co-own Ellicott City’s HoCo Brew Hive.

Where Clyde’s had a dark interior and felt like a ship’s hull, Offshore offers big windows overlooking the lake. “This welcomes a younger crowd,” said Christine Ingari, who stood at the wooden bar kept from the Clyde’s era.

Longtime Columbia resident Yvonne West said she was “very happy to have a restaurant on the lake again.” Based on the appetizers — which included a crab arancini, steak crostini and raw oysters — West anticipated the menu at Offshore will be more upscale than Clyde’s, which was an easy place to grab a bite on a weekend. (The owners previously told me they anticipate most guests will spend around $70 per person.)

Music venue Encore will entertain customers in the former Soundry. (Christina Tkacik)

West is also looking forward to checking out neighboring Encore — the attached music venue opening in the former Soundry space — which together with Offshore will be known as The Collective. Co-owners Samaras and Smith, founding members of the ‘70s tribute band Foreplay, will take the stage at Encore for a private show Saturday before welcoming the public on May 3.

Among the songs they cover? “Roll with the Changes” by REO Speedwagon.

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This article has been updated to say that Walker’s Tap & Table is in Glenwood.

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