The first 18 years of my life were spent in Baltimore County before continuing my education in Wilmington, North Carolina for college; then Coral Gables, Florida for graduate school; and for the past six years I’ve lived in New York City. I’ve been fortunate to live in cities where chain restaurants and shops are not the norm.

I visit my family fairly regularly and my time home is spent traversing up and down the York Road corridor (here’s a handy Google Map if you need help navigating!) With the holidays approaching, I wanted to share my favorite businesses and independently-owned restaurants I love to go to when I’m back in Baltimore.

Butler Gallery

11121 York Rd. #2006, Cockeysville

Butler Gallery is not just an art store or framing shop. It has the most fascinating jewelry selection — all pieces are created by artisans sourced by the Butler Gallery owners. Compliments flow whenever I wear a Butler Gallery jewelry piece — and that’s in New York City! Butler Gallery sells custom art of all shapes and sizes plus offers fun, unique gifts with flair. My other most complimented purchase is my Monet “Water Lilies” winter gloves; I originally purchased these gloves for my mother and then kept them for myself.

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Insider tip: The owners of Butler Gallery will give a discount if you’re not in a rush to have something framed. Beautiful quality, workmanship, and professionalism. Their framing services are more affordable than any box store.

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Valley View Farms

11035 York Rd., Cockeysville

Valley View Farms reminds me of Carole King’s song “You’ve Got A Friend.”

“Winter, spring, summer or fall

All you have to do is call

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And I’ll be there

You’ve got a friend.”

I have wonderful memories of my own childhood at Valley View and now new memories with my young niece and nephew. The fall festivities include the largest assortment of pumpkins I’ve ever seen, a small corn maze, picture opportunities next to the largest pumpkin in the patch, and an extensive Halloween shop.

For spring and summer, Valley View Farms has all your gardening and nursery needs with expert advice, ranging from gardening workshops, to outdoor furniture, pottery, fountains — and, if you’re like many of my friends who became avid bird watchers during the pandemic, wild bird supplies.

People come from all over the region for Valley View Farms’ Christmas Shop. Besides the standard lights, wreaths, trees and garlands, you’ll also find international items, such as imported Christmas ornaments and specialty nutcrackers. You’ll find every ornament you’ve ever thought possible and every interest represented on a themed Christmas tree. Walking inside Valley View truly feels like the holidays on steroids — prepare to be delighted!

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Janda Florist

10265B York Rd., Scott’s Corner Shopping Center, Cockeysville

My “go-to” florist for birthdays, pick-me-ups, get well flowers, etc., Janda Florist is dependable and their quality is top-notch. They also do weddings and events. In the past few years, they’ve moved to the Scott’s Corner Shopping Center, where the shop is now larger and offers lovely home decor and ideal gifts. Their changing window displays give a peek into the creativity and originality inside. They also have a popular infant and children section, specialty candles, and Maryland-themed gifts.

My own personal story: My mom has bought some sort of festive decor item from Janda Florist and, on several occasions, I’ve asked, “Can I have that?”

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Vito Ristorante Italiano

10249 York Rd., Cockeysville

In the same shopping center as Janda Florist, you’ll find my favorite authentic Italian restaurant, Vito’s. One of the many reasons I love Vito’s is because Signore Vito and his fratello, Tony, are from Puglia, Italy. They are molto simpatico when I attempt to speak my basic Italian.

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There’s a stylish bar area, tasteful decor, and in the spring and summer months there’s lovely outdoor seating. Vito’s is expanding and the addition should be completed in 2023. On rainy days, my family typically orders pickup. My personal favorites are the original margherita pizza or the chicken parmigiana (by the way, the parmigiana portion is so humongous you can easily share). *Chef’s kiss!*

Über Bagels

49 E. Padonia Rd., Timonium

What was life like before Über Bagels in Timonium? Their website states, “Simply the best bagels this side of New York,” which is a REALLY bold statement, but owner John Nocher (a New Yorker) delivers on it. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have fresh bagels when I’m missing my New York bacon, egg and cheese (BEC).

Whenever I’m at my parents for more than a week, I order a dozen and freeze a few to have some readily available. I typically order ahead (bless, I love order ahead) and I pick up my lunchtime favorite, “Kelly’s California Veggie” (hummus, havarti dill cheese, avocado, cucumber, sprouts, tomato, red onion, and balsamic dressing).

My go-to breakfast is either an everything bagel with regular cream cheese or a lightly toasted sea salt rosemary bagel with butter — both may sound basic, but whoa, the flavors are savory. Paired with a cup of dark roasted coffee and I’m set to tackle the aggressive drivers on York Road.

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Cake by Jason Hisley

47 E. Padonia Rd., Timonium

Cake by Jason Hisley is my favorite treat shop ever. And that’s coming from someone who lives three blocks away from the famous Magnolia Bakery in NYC. I have seriously never had better cupcakes and whenever I’m home for my birthday, I order a custom birthday cake from Cake by Jason. I haven’t even told you how Jason Hisley is an award-winning Food Network chef!

Cake by Jason offers vegan and gluten-free versions of the cupcakes and cake jars, the specialty pies are available to order year round and there are dog-friendly treats. The cupcakes flavors are classics (vanilla/chocolate), Jason’s favorites (like my favorites, black bottom and red velvet), and weekly seasonal flavors (one example from Thanksgiving week: bourbon maple pecan: a vanilla cake with a bourbon caramel pecan filling topped with maple bourbon buttercream). If you ever want to feel in awe of someone’s creative genius, check out @cakebyjason on Instagram.

If Jason sees this, I hope he will consider bringing back cupcake decorating birthday parties for kids and adults.

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Bluestone Restaurant

11 W. Aylesbury Rd., Timonium

Bluestone Restaurant describes itself as a “New American seafood specialist, offering light fare to full dinners in a hip setting with a bar,” and I would have to agree. I was last there in September and enjoyed outstanding fried green tomatoes with lump crab and a delicious “firecracker” salmon entree with Vietnamese Brussels sprouts.

The spacious bar is extremely popular and, because of Bluestone’s convenient location and cocktails to go, you can have the peace of mind to imbibe and use an Uber or Lyft home. I recommend always making a reservation, though their carryout is always an option!

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Meritage Jewelers

1620 York Rd., Timonium

There’s a bar! I repeat, there is a bar! In the past year I’ve needed some rings resized and Meritage Jewelers’ owner, Brian McCullough, impressed me with his warmth and friendliness. While I did not frequent the bar area, I do want readers to know about it. I can see it now:


Her: “Hey babe, why don’t you and your friend check out this bar I’m reading about in The Baltimore Banner.”

Him: “Oh yeah, we’re hanging out to watch the big game!”

*Guys show up to Meritage Jewelers*

*Hours later: Guys leave Meritage Jewelers happy, high-fiving, and holiday shopping complete*

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Gundalow Gourmet

820 Kenilworth Dr., Towson

Gundalow Gourmet is one of the newest additions to Kenilworth Mall and a culinary delight. Created by Dana Poist, a former nutritionist-turned-chef and entrepreneur, Gundalow Gourmet creates healthy, delicious pre-made meals to give customers the gift of time. Not only does Gundalow Gourmet offer personal chef services and catering, it also offers kitchen organization and kitchen design (which I desperately want for my parent’s chaotic and cluttered kitchen!).

So when you go to Kenilworth for the holiday train gardens, stop by Gundalow Gourmet and enjoy their to-die-for sea salt chocolate chip cookies, pick up your savory and nutritious meals for the week, an almost too-pretty-to-eat cheese tray, a mini gingerbread house activity kit for the kids, and beautiful decor items.

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Wockenfuss Candies

825 Dulaney Valley Rd., Towson Town Center, Towson

Wockenfuss Candies has been part of Baltimore’s candy-making history for over 100 years. The shop has a wide array of fresh candy and chocolate selections and a heavenly aroma when walking into the store. Perfect for business gifts, hostess gifts, and the best kind of gift: the “from me to me” gift!

But here’s a sweet surprise: Wockenfuss Candies might be your one-stop shopping this holiday season. You’ll find the neatest gifts for the sports lover, the pet lover, kids, Maryland-themed items, and my favorite: stylish holiday jewelry (seriously, their earrings are amazing — I’m currently wearing my leopard-print stocking earrings).

Wockenfuss Candies has an online store so you can ship their confections anywhere in the country. There are several Baltimore locations but the Towson location is the one I frequent.

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P.S. Before I leave Maryland I alway pick up packages of Berger Cookies. My doormen love them, they’re crowd pleasers at parties, and I freeze a package so I can enjoy whenever I crave that divine, fudgy chocolate goodness! You can send a “Taste of Baltimore” to your favorite Marylander who will be away for the holidays.

MC Curran is a creative consultant, publicist and producer. She is a proud graduate of the Baltimore County school system, an alumna of UNC Wilmington and The University of Miami, and Harvard Business School Online. She currently resides on the Upper West Side with her Tibetan terrier puppy, Maher of New York, who has her own Instagram: @maher_of_newyork.

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