Uh-oh. We had an uneasy feeling as we stood anxiously in the crowded vestibule of The Grille at Peerce’s like students who had forgotten their homework. The host couldn’t find a record of our reservation in the computer system. And the restaurant was filling up fast.
Since this latest incarnation of the former Peerce’s Plantation opened, diners have been showing up like hungry relatives during the holidays to reminisce about the good ol’ days when Baltimoreans celebrated prom dates, birthdays, and all manner of special occasions at this pastoral setting overlooking Loch Raven Reservoir. We wanted to check it out, too.
To the staff’s credit, they quickly conferred about our situation, and we were soon graciously led to a table in the main dining room. (For the record, we did have a cell-phone history of our call for reservations and the restaurant’s follow-up call.)
The surroundings have been spruced up with a classy wine rack separating the bar area, new carpet, and bare wood tables. But the space still reminds us of the old Peerce’s with its off-white brick walls (red brick on the working fireplace wall) and windows showcasing the outdoors. The room seems old-fashioned—in a comfortable way.
This Friday night, every table was occupied, and the decibel level was off the charts. You had to shout just so the person next to you could hear what you were saying.
The servers try very hard to keep everyone accommodated. They immediately bring bread and butter to the table, fill water glasses, and get your drink orders. Appetizers and entrees arrive at appropriate intervals.
General manager Mark Hofmann makes the rounds, too, chatting congenially with guests. Hofmann, who is also responsible for the menu offerings, most recently was at Tark’s Grill in Lutherville. You see his influence on the menu with casual offerings like entree salads and sandwiches and only one entree (filet mignon) over $20. His signature crab cake is also available.
On this visit, we fell completely in love with the olives two ways: green olives plugged with tangy blue cheese, breaded, and deep fried, and a pleasantly briny tapenade with several crostini for scooping. We also liked the salt-and-pepper calamari with little cups of melted garlic butter and fire-roasted tomato sauce.
The BLT salad fell short on a couple of counts. The advertised marinated tomatoes were tasteless, out-of-season wedges and the avocado dressing likely had never met the tropical fruit. The flavor was thin and watery.
A word of advice to diners: Hang on to your silverware. A word of counsel to the busboys removing dishes: You might not want to tell customers to take their utensils from their used plates. Just bring fresh cutlery, please!
After we retrieved our knives and forks from our appetizer plates, our main courses arrived. The short rib (there was only one, even though the menu says “ribs”) was everything you want this mahogany-glazed braised meat to be—moist, soft as a cloud, and intensely sweet and spicy, singing with ingredients like hoisin and soy sauces and honey.
The crab cake was a tennis-sized ball of sweet lump with a whisper of Old Bay. Its only flaw was that it wasn’t hot enough.
By this time, our waiter—a really sweet guy—was clearly in the weeds, and the kitchen probably was, too. Our baked fruit cobbler was frankly a disaster. The bottom of the concoction was burnt, yet the fruit and crumb topping were as cool and gummy as day-old pasta.
We’re sure it was an unfortunate oversight. Our carrot cake, a special that night, was grandma good with pillowy layers and a wondrous sheen of cream-cheese frosting.
On another visit, the desserts also delivered as promised. We had a perfectly warmed apple-pie ice cream sundae with all the intensity of fall and a slice of Smith Island cake that made us proud of our heritage. You don’t usually see our state dessert on restaurant menus—and this wedge was a beauty with nine thin yellow-cake layers slathered with thick chocolate icing.
Even on a midweek, Peerce’s was packed. For those naysayers who said people wouldn’t drive to this slightly out-of-the-way north Baltimore County destination, we beg to differ. Preppy suburbanites—look for plenty of Lacoste, J.Crew, and, yes, boat shoes without socks—are flocking here faster than honking geese seeking sustenance in the nearby watershed.
On this evening, we started with firecracker shrimp comingled with deep-fried slices of banana peppers in a small mesh basket. Thai dipping sauce kicked it up an extra notch with more banana peppers in the mix. Our other appetizer—an upside down wild mushroom tart—featured a cascade of sliced, wild mushrooms in a musky, thyme-infused gravy that we’d love to duplicate at home.
We succumbed to the filet mignon ($28.95) this time. Even though it’s the priciest dish on the menu, its tariff isn’t even close to what upscale steakhouses charge. You can get it prepared several ways, including blue-cheese crusted. We opted for a classic béarnaise that suited the opulent round of beef just fine.
Entrees (except pasta dishes) come with a choice of two sides, including mashed potatoes, two kinds of fries, sautéed spinach, and steamed broccoli. The restaurant’s sweet potato fries look hand cut, and their salty/sweet crunch paired well with the short-smoked grilled salmon we ordered. The fish, topped with an herb, garlic, and marinated tomato relish, was seared just enough to crisp the exterior and leave the interior meltingly moist.
Even though our meals had some flaws, we’ll go back. The affordable food holds as much promise as a guaranteed trip down memory lane.