You don't need to be a scratch golfer to enjoy Mountain Branch Grille & Pub.
Though the restaurant is located on the grounds of Mountain Branch Golf Club in Joppa, it is open to golfers and non-golfers alike (the course is open to the public, too, and golf memberships are also available).
It's no surprise that Mountain Branch is a popular spot for weddings: The space — with exposed rafters, stone accents and enormous windows overlooking the course — is jaw-dropping.
Fortunately, the food and service are just as impressive.
Scene On a recent Friday night around 6:30, a chipper hostess showed us to a table by the windows, making small talk about golf as we listened to guys in the bar cheer and groan as they watched Masters coverage on TV. It's a golf club — and a pretty one, at that — but Mountain Branch is not the least bit pretentious.
Drinks As we settled in with a well-balanced lime gimlet ($6.50) and a fruity, spicy glass of The Crusher Petit Syrah ($8), we felt lucky we arrived when we did. Fifteen minutes later, nearly all the tables were filled with couples, young families and chatty groups of friends.
The menu at Mountain Branch won't raise any eyebrows. It's stocked with go-to country club classics like steak sandwiches and seafood pasta. But the kitchen knows what it's doing — those traditional dishes are well-seasoned and cooked properly.
Appetizers Good crab dip is a must for any Maryland establishment billing itself as a "grille and pub."
Mountain Branch's version ($11.95), served with warm, crusty bread, was creamy and tangy with a hint of lemon. A crust of gooey melted cheddar cheese added a savory, salty element.
We kept eating the cream cheese-based dip long after we should've stopped — and we still had enough to take home. (When we got home, we discovered, happily, that our waitress added an extra loaf of bread to the doggie bag.)
Entrees The black and bleu steak sandwich ($14.95) was hearty and well-executed. Served on a toasted ciabatta roll, a piece of New York strip steak was cooked just to medium rare.
The slab of steak wasn't enormous, but it was surprisingly tender and well-seasoned with enough blackening spice to add interest, but not so much that the spice overwhelmed the beef's flavor.
Finding the right balance between meat and bleu cheese on a steak sandwich is tricky. Too much cheese and you can't taste anything but that intense flavor and you'll wince through each bite. But too little? What's the point?
Mountain Branch hit the right spot, with just enough bleu cheese to add its unique flavor, but not so much that the strong taste took over the rest of the sandwich. Fried onions added crunch and a drizzle of balsamic reduction provided acidity, rounding out the mix of flavors and textures.
French fries, on the side, were crispy, warm and salty — just as we like them.
The SSC pasta ($24.95) has been on the Mountain Branch menu since the restaurant opened in 2000. The letters stand for shrimp, scallops and crab, a sweet seafood trio that plays well together.
The seafood was sauteed in garlic, with tomatoes, and served over angel hair pasta dressed in rose sauce. It was positively lovely. The fish was plentiful, nicely seasoned and cooked properly, with just enough garlic to add bite, and the sauce was creamy with a hint of acidity.
Dessert at Mountain Branch is as traditional as the rest of the menu, so somehow ordering a chocolate lava cake ($6) — that staple of 1990s dessert menus — seemed fitting.
The warm, moist tower of chocolate surrounding a gooey liquid center, accessorized with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, reminded us why the cake became such a hit in the first place. It was rich, decadent and completely satisfying.
By the time we finished dessert, the sun had set and even the most intrepid golfers had come in from the course, joining friends in the pub.
Not wanting to leave, we lingered over coffee, happy that our waitress — an efficient young woman with an impossibly friendly smile — did nothing to hurry us out the door, even after we'd paid our bill.
Bottom line Membership might not be required to dine or play at Mountain Branch. But we felt as welcome as long-standing members. And as well-fed as honored guests.
Back story: Located on a peaceful stretch of Mountain Road in Harford County, Mountain Branch Grille & Pub is the restaurant and bar attached to the golf club of the same name. Though the menu is conservative, with few surprises, the kitchen's takes on classic "club" food are well-executed and service is prompt and friendly.
Parking: Lot in front
Signature dish: A favorite since Mountain Branch Grille & Pub opened, the SSC pasta is an appealing seafood pasta dish. Shrimp, scallops and lump crabmeat, sauteed in garlic with tomatoes, is dressed with creamy rose sauce and served over angel hair pasta.
Where: 1827 Mountain Road, Joppa, MD 21085
Contact: 410-836-9600; http://www.mountainbranch.com
Open: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday (Bar is open 9 a.m. daily, closes at 11 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 2 a.m Thursday-Saturday and 9 p.m. Sunday)
Credit Cards: All major
Rating: 3 stars
Nearby reviews: Dish Baltimore - Harford County