What? Arugula salad, charcuterie with grilled rabbit sausage, grilled Duroc pork chop—on a menu in downtown Towson? Yep, it’s true. Towson Tavern has raised the bar for fine dining in the suburban county seat, where the beer-swillin’, wing-lovin’ appetites of the college crowd usually rule. The menu is seasonal, and we caught the summer offerings on the cusp of the autumnal equinox when tomatoes and fruits were bursting with flavor. We’re looking forward to seeing what executive chef Daniel Henry, formerly of The Capital Grille Baltimore, does for the cooler months.
On our first visit, we started with the aforementioned salad—a mix of zippy arugula, heirloom tomatoes, and sliced asparagus, tossed with an earthy white-and-black-truffle-oil vinaigrette, and finished with shaved grana. It was as lovely as a July garden.
The lamb rib chops were a fine beginning, too. The herbed sherry vinaigrette was a nice enhancement, though the four, meaty morsels could have stood on their own. We also liked that our server delivered hot, crusty bread before even bringing our appetizers, allowing us to take the edge off our hunger. We were duly impressed with the bread knife, whose heft alone seemed to shout, “This is an important place.”
General manager Michael Velleggia does his part in promoting that image with his genial presence as he greets guests and makes sure diners are happy with their meals, even stepping in to clear dishes and box leftovers when needed. The servers are also professional and knowledgeable. A waitress came to our assistance, unasked, while our waiter was dealing with another table. It’s that kind of service that brings repeat visitors.
Plus, Towson Tavern is simply a pleasant place to be. The dark woods, brick wall, and granite bar reflect an informal yet refined bistro. A divider separates the bar from the dining area, though you can still catch the flicker of the soundless flatscreens and hear amiable conversations. Bare tables, plush booths, and seats upholstered in a gold, brocade-like fabric complete the scene.
In a nod to the past, the restaurant’s walls are lined with historic photos of Towson, so one can time travel to an era when streetcars clanged down York Road and the mammoth Hutzler’s department store dominated the landscape.
Even the owners—brothers Brian and Scott Recher—have strong ties to the town. Their family operated the old Towson Theatre for decades before it closed and then was resuscitated by the siblings as Recher Theatre, a concert venue. They also run the casual Rec Room restaurant, which is next door to Towson Tavern. Their newest venture is named in tribute to an establishment run by Ezekiel Towson in the 1760s.
But there is nothing Colonial about the cuisine. The dry-rubbed, 20-ounce rib-eye, smothered in peppers and onions, with garlic mashed potatoes is a modern-day marvel of meat and spuds. Even the crab cakes transcend the ordinary with the addition of roasted portobellos, sliced peppers, and red potatoes, drizzled with Creole mustard sauce.
Maryland palates should take note that these aren’t your typical crab patties. While packed with lump crab and redolent with Old Bay, they take on the flavors of the other ingredients, which didn’t bother our Baltimore-born taste buds at all.
Desserts will eventually be made in house, we were told. For now, the restaurant serves the excellent products of local Yia Yia’s Bakery. It’s difficult not to succumb to the pretty creations our waiter presented on a white plate. Our choices—the delicate, individual lemon-mousse and caramel-mousse cakes—were satisfying endings for our hearty meal.
Towson Tavern is also a good place to nosh at the bar with snacks like the Tavern tots, a giant serving of golden potato nuggets with the bonus of three addictive, house-made dipping sauces: Cajun remoulade, horseradish-Dijon aioli, and black-truffle-bacon-Parmesan ranch. We liked them all.
At lunch, we had a chance to sample the restaurant’s cream-of-crab soup, a good test for any local kitchen. The portion was generous and got high marks for its rich, creamy base laced with lots of sweet crab. We also liked the black-truffle-and-aged-cheddar ciabatta panini. Served with an heirloom-tomato sauce, it’s a wonderful twist on grilled cheese and tomato soup.
But beef lovers will definitely want to partake of the Tavern burger. It comes with crisp sweet-potato frites and the “works.” And what “works” they are: aged white cheddar, prosciutto, heirloom-tomato slice, and arugula, piled high on the burger, and capped with a brioche bun lathered with an herb Boursin spread. Can we just say “Best of” contender?
Towson Tavern works well for all appetites, whether for bar snacks, appetizers, lunch, or a full-course dinner. Even the “kids” should approve.