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Fun takes on classic American food at E.W. Beck's

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Some restaurants just feel comfortable.

E.W. Beck's Pub is one of those places. From the food to the service, dinner at the restaurant is easy, fun and enjoyable.

Scene A Sykesville staple since 1992, E.W. Beck's occupies a large building right on the town's charming Main Street. The restaurant includes a bar and tons of dining space — most of which was filled during our Thursday night visit.

E.W. Beck's is popular, and rightfully so. Between the friendly, prompt service and well-prepared takes on classic American food, it's no surprise that locals keep the restaurant busy.

Ambling in just before seven, we experienced a moment of confusion. The restaurant's Main Street entrance opens to the bustling dining room — but the hostess stand was nowhere in sight.

After an awkward minute, as we tried to figure out where to go, a waiter directed us around the bar to the hostess.

The confusing entrance wasn't a test to ferret out newcomers. As we walked away, the waiter realized the directional sign posted at the door was backward.

Service A bubbly hostess showed us to a table in E.W. Beck's second dining room, where fantastic windows look out to Main Street. Moments later, an equally friendly waitress introduced herself and took drink orders.

Drinks E.W. Beck's boasts an impressive and constantly evolving selection of craft beers and a fun, creative cocktail menu. Unfortunately, the bar was out of our first choice, the Rhubarb John Daley (organic rhubarb tea liquor mixed with lemonade). After a bit of back and forth with the waitress, we settled in with a gigantic glass of tart sangria ($6.50) and a faintly hoppy Mamas Little Yella Pils draught ($4.75 for 16 ounces).

Appetizers E.W. Beck's calls its appetizers "tapas," an affectation that feels silly when the apps in question include wings and nachos, served in a space that's more "Cheers" than Barcelona tapas bar.

That said, the appetizer we tried — a warm round of brie served with fried artichoke hearts, local blackberry jam and dried prosciutto "chips" ($9.59) — was high-end wine-bar worthy. The plate covered all the bases, from creamy cheese to sweet jam, tangy artichokes and salty prosciutto.

Using warm, crusty bread as a base, we had a good time mixing and matching the options. Brie plus jam, with a tiny sprinkle of prosciutto, was a favorite.

E.W. Beck's relies largely on local farms for ingredients and the menu changes seasonally, though staples like burgers and pastas remain year round.

Entrees The Beck burger (8-ounce for $8.79; 16-ounce for $13.79) was a traditional interpretation of the American classic.

The burger comes with three toppings; we chose cheddar cheese, bacon and sauteed mushrooms. Each element was cooked properly and the burger was a juicy medium rare. A side of fries was hot and crispy.

The season-specific part of the menu included a fun section devoted to "TV dinners."

Searching for a creative way to package small-portioned meals, the restaurant's owners had a retro moment. Each "TV dinner" entree comes arranged carefully on a small rectangular plate with a miniature dessert tucked on the side — just like TV dinners straight out of the freezer aisle. (The portion sizes are not actually that small, either.)

On the waitress's recommendation, we tried the grilled Washoku pork chops ($13.99).

"Washoku" refers to traditional Japanese cuisine. The chops' marinade — a mix of soy sauce, garlic, apple juice and brown sugar — drew from that heritage; a serving of jasmine rice also reflected the dish's Japanese roots. But a tart topping of blueberry relish and a side of grilled asparagus added an American spin to the entree.

Our waitress raved about the marinade; her enthusiasm for its salty-sweet flavor was warranted.

The dish wasn't perfect: In some spots, the pork was a touch overcooked and the rice was on the mushy side. But overall, it was an interesting twist on a pork chop dinner.

The accompanying dessert, though tiny, was a highlight. Blueberry crumb pie, served in a small square bowl, was warm and sweet.

Dessert Following the pie, we went for dessert round two. A favorite with the regulars, the chocolate "lovin' spoon" cake ($5.50) was a fudgy, rich chocolate cake layered with even richer chocolate frosting.

Weaving our way back toward the restaurant's front door, waitresses smiled and wished us a good night.

Those smiles felt genuine. In fact, everyone at E.W. Beck's — both patrons and staff — seemed truly happy. And why wouldn't they be?

Bottom line With good, interesting food and an easy, cheerful atmosphere, E.W. Beck's is the kind of place where happiness comes naturally.


E.W. Beck's

Back story: Brothers Scott and Brian Beck opened E.W. Beck's Pub on Main Street in Sykesville in 1992. Today, Scott owns the place in partnership with Chef Keith Watson. Together, they serve likable takes on classic American food in a lively, friendly atmosphere.

Parking: Street parking

Signature dish: Try the Washoku pork chops "TV dinner," a clever spin on the ubiquitous frozen dinners of years past. Soaked in a sweet-and-salty marinade then grilled, the chops are served with tart blueberry relish, rice and grilled asparagus. As with the original TV dinners, dessert comes with the meal: an excellent mini-blueberry crumb pie is tucked into the corner of the plate.

Where: 7565 Main Street, Sykesville

Contact: 410-795-1001; http://www.ewbecks.com

Open: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday (Bar is open 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily)

Credit Cards: All major

Rating: 2.5 stars

Reservations: Not accepted

[Key: Superlative: five stars; Excellent: four stars; Very Good: three stars; Good: two stars; Promising: one star]

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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