Imagine the perfect food-lovers’ expedition: A ride through the rolling hills of Maryland horse country, and, at the end of the road, a quaint, pre-Colonial stone house turned restaurant. It’s a place that grows its own vegetables in expansive gardens on the property and sources its meats and dairy products from local farmers. Imagine that there’s a creative young chef in the kitchen, who, guided by that farm-to-table ethos, turns out dishes that highlight pure flavors and proper cooking rather than fussy preparations and heavy sauces.
This is the vision at Manor Tavern that cemented a partnership among a group of successful restaurateurs and entrepreneurs: An Poitin Stil owners Drs. William and John Mitcherling, Patrick Russell and Bill Irvin of Kooper’s Tavern and Sláinte, and Baltimore businessman Jim Franzoni. In a short four months (as of this writing), the new team has managed to transform the once-fading Maryland stalwart into a promising venue that may well become a genuine destination restaurant.
The transformation is calculated to please both Tavern regulars and newbies. Renovations are in progress, but there’s nothing slick about the place to turn off customers who have fond memories of the restaurant. Similarly, the new owners have retained many of the familiar standards on the menu: the requisite crab concoctions—appetizers, soups, cakes—along with Caesar salad, rockfish, and big, juicy steaks.
The difference is that everything—old and new, décor and food—is infused with energy and ambition. The wait staff, which the partners retained from the previous owner, seems more than eager to please and will happily and knowledgeably tout the new items on a menu that has been revitalized by the owners’ and head chef Travis Szerensits’s commitment to high-quality ingredients and careful preparation.
Freshness is key here, which points toward Manor Tavern’s most notable renovation so far: the expansive gardens. The difference is especially telling in the fabulous salads the kitchen puts out and the vegetables that grace entrees. Likewise, local Berkshire pork from Franzoni’s own Verdant Valley Farms in Monkton is the magic ingredient in a hearty ragù that tops a tangle of homemade pappardelle. And the Albright Farms free-range chicken . . . yum. The Tavern’s roast chicken, surrounded by a light but creamy lemon sauce and fresh wilted greens, is a marvel of juicy perfection.
Despite the elegant new menu, this is still a place where you can dine casually on burgers and fries. It’s just that now the burgers are composed of Black Angus from Creekstone Farms and the fries, served as an appetizer, are hand-cut and doused with truffle oil and fresh parsley. And the Tavern is a lively local hangout for watching the game or sampling boutique bourbons in the bar.
On a Friday evening, both the bar and the restaurant were hopping with customers. And why not? This fine old tavern, with its lovely setting and storied past, has always deserved to boast a restaurant that’s worth the drive. And now it may well be.