There's no denying — craft beers are more popular than they've been in decades. To keep up with demand, restaurants and bars have upped their draft selections, hosted beer tastings and started pairing food with beers.
In the Baltimore region, few restaurants fill this niche as well as Frisco Taphouse and Brewery. This Columbia restaurant and bar serves a fantastic selection of beers, and backs it up with solid dishes.
Crowds have responded — on a recent Wednesday night, Frisco was packed. The raucous energy was infectious; it made us want to order a drink and join in.
Frisco Taphouse has simple, modern architecture featuring a multi-tiered ceiling, and walls that are decorated with giant beer posters which feel like WWII propaganda. The wall behind the bar was covered in eight large, horizontal TVs that played a gamut of sports, from baseball to MMA. The two vertical TVs in the middle looked as if they displayed arrival and departure times for planes, but actually listed the 52 beers on tap. It was this remarkable draft list that let us know we were in a serious beer joint.
My first beer of the night was a Blaugies Saison D'Epeautre ($10.95). Served in a giant goblet, this Belgian saison had a bright and floral flavor with a hint of mint at the end. A wake-up call for the taste buds, it was light enough to not overpower the Spicy Tequila Shrimp Tapas ($9.95) that started our meal. A pair of tortillas — merely vehicles to pick up the shrimp — were topped with spicy tomato sauce and four sauteed shrimp. A little salt and a squeeze of lime made the difference with the shrimp, but the accompanying mango salsa was too cold to taste in the beginning. Once warmed up by the shrimp, it gave the dish a tropical kick.
The bean and cheese empanada ($6.95), while good, was not a real empanada. It was more of a deep-fried mini burrito consisting of a cheese and black bean mixture wrapped in tortillas. It was not what we were expecting, but when mixed with salsa and sour cream, it became a good appetizer.
The pale ale corn dogs ($9.95) were made with Polish kielbasas dipped in a pale ale batter and served with a fantastic whole grain porter mustard. Chef Keith Curley is trying to tie in the food with the beer (the way it should be) and this dish, with beer mixed in the batter and mustard, is a good example. A veteran of Jack's Bistro, Chef Curley has only been at Frisco Taphouse for two months, but his influence is already apparent.
Frisco Taphouse doesn't have a paper beer list; they turn over their kegs so often that it doesn't make sense to bother printing them. Instead, they have a website that you can view on your phone (or at home) that keeps track of every beer they have in house. Bottles and drafts are listed along with their corresponding brewery, alcohol content, serving size and description. Why don't more bars in the city have this system?
Unibroue's Blanche de Chamblay ($5.95) was a fantastic companion to the mahi-mahi fillet ($14.95). The champagne-like Belgian witbier's citrus notes complemented the grilled fish. Like the shrimp, the mahi was better with the tomato and mango salsa. The chili infused risotto cake that came with the fillet was good after a bit of lime juice and a sprinkle of salt.
Best of all was the Spicy Steak Samich ($10.95). Flank steak is sous vide, vacuum sealed and cooked in a hot water bath for hours while staying medium rare. It's finished on a grill, tossed in a chipotle barbecue sauce and topped with avocado slices and goat cheese on a bun. This was the most tender steak sandwich I've ever had. It was easy to eat — cheesy and creamy with the kick from the chipotles holding everything together.
Frisco Taphouse makes its desserts in house and is lucky enough to have a pastry chef that formerly worked with star chef Norman Van Aken. The simple but delicious apple strudel ($7.95) and vanilla flan ($6.95) brought the meal to a slyly sophisticated end.
The gigantic strudel had thinly shaved and cinnamon scented apple slices layered in between flaky pastry. It was so good it didn't need the ice cream and caramel sauce that came with it — but they certainly didn't hurt. The flan was overcooked but also topped with superbly caramelized pineapple chunks, which made us forget about its imperfections.
It's a rare occurrence to find a restaurant that's does both food and drinks really well. With Curley looking to remake the menu and an already impressive beer selection, Frisco Taphouse is becoming one of the area's premiere craft beer bar and restaurants.
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Back-story: Frisco Taphouse and Brewery has been 15 years in the making. This craft beer bar and restaurant has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a burrito joint. Now with a new chef, Frisco are trying to have the food share the spotlight with the brews.
Parking: You're all set — they have their own parking lot.
Signature dish: The Spicy Steak Samich has flank steak cooked sous vide, grilled and tossed in a chipotle sauce, along with avocado slices and goat cheese. Served on a bun, it's incredibly tender.
Where: 6695 Dobbin Road, Columbia
Contact: 410-312-4907, friscogrille.com
Open: Kitchen hours: 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays; 11:30 a.m.-midnight Fridays-Saturdays
Credit Cards: All major