For many Glenelg locals, that place seems to be Ten Oaks Tavern, in the Ten Oaks Shopping Center — and it's easy to understand why. Despite somewhat uneven food and a few service lags, the atmosphere at Ten Oaks is cheery, with the vibe of a family-friendly house party.
Scene & Decor On a recent Thursday night, just before seven, Ten Oaks Tavern was packed. Both the bar and dining room are on the small side, warm and outfitted with comfortably familiar Irish-themed artwork.
We lucked into a corner table for two (a couple larger groups ahead of us had longer waits). At the tables around us, spirits seemed high, with a mix of families and friends obviously enjoying their meals.
Drinks We weren't given a drinks menu when we sat, and we noticed that most people were drinking single glasses of wine or pints of beer. We took our cue from our neighbors, playing it safe with a pint of Guinness Stout ($6.50) and a glass of Alamos, the house malbec ($6.99).
While we enjoyed the drinks — they're both familiar and consistent brands — a short list of recommended cocktails and beer and wine choices would be a welcome addition to the menu.
Appetizer The Buffalo shrimp appetizer ($12.99) doubled down on the spice in an appealing way. Several plump shrimp were sprinkled with Cajun-style blackening seasoning and doused in Buffalo sauce.
Both seasonings delivered spicy heat (the dish was steamy hot, as well) and we were thankful for the accompanying celery and blue cheese. Despite the heat, the nuances of both the Cajun and Buffalo flavors were apparent.
Small salads, ordered as sides for the entrees ($2 extra), arrived at the same time as the shrimp. Both the Caesar and house salad were bright and fresh. The house dressing, a thick balsamic vinaigrette, was well-balanced between sweet and acidic; the Caesar dressing was creamy and nicely seasoned.
Entrees Thursday night is prime-rib night at Ten Oaks Tavern; we took advantage of the weekly special, ordering the queen cut ($15.99), which proved satisfying enough even for a big appetite.
The meat was juicy and tender, cooked just to medium rare, and properly seasoned. Our only quibble with the dish was the side: Instead of the promised green beans, we received broccolini. The vegetable itself was cooked nicely, but we missed the green beans.
The Crisfield chicken ($18.99) was less of a home run. The chicken itself was tasty. Pounded thin, breaded and friend, it was tender and juicy. The topping, however, needed some tweaks. A scoop of crabmeat was slightly dry and hidden under a thick, creamy sauce that was both under seasoned and too heavy for the delicate crab. The building blocks were there for a great dish; they just needed a few adjustments.
On the plus side, thick-cut French fries were crunchy and just salty enough.
Service During our visit, we spied three servers handling the dining room, which was small, but completely full. Unfortunately, our waiter seemed to be somewhat overwhelmed by the crowd.
He was friendly but disappeared for long gaps of time, which dragged out the pace of the meal overall. After delivering our food, he didn't come back to check on us (we had to flag him down for drink refills).
By the meal's end, we were wishing we'd been assigned the waitress at the next table, who was extremely on the ball. The rest of the staff members we interacted with — from busboys to the hostess — were both efficient and pleasant.
Dessert After we finished our entrees, we snagged a busboy and asked for a dessert menu; he speedily obliged.
Dessert arrived quickly and turned out to be one of the highlights of the whole meal. The concept of individual strips of fried dough, dusted with powdered sugar and served with sweet, white dipping sauce was simple, well-executed and tasty. It reminded us of childhood, when chowing down on fried dough at carnivals and the beach was a summertime must. We loved it.
We were happy to end dinner on a sweet, cheery note. Everyone sitting around us was having a great time. Despite a few snags, the positive energy emanating from those neighboring tables was contagious.
Ten Oaks Tavern
Back story: Ten Oaks occupies the corner spot in Glenelg's Ten Oaks Shopping Center, a space that originally housed M.D.'s Country Pub. The pub was purchased in 2008 by the Best family and today, 27-year old owner Matthew Best runs the popular restaurant and bar, which manages to be a fun Irish pub and a family-friendly restaurant simultaneously.
Parking: Lot in front
Signature dish: The Buffalo shrimp appetizer — large shrimp, served with the tails still on — is spicy, steaming hot and very appealing. With celery and blue cheese on the side, the dish easily replaces wings as a messy, beer-friendly way to start a meal.
Where: 3900 Ten Oaks Road, Glenelg
Contact: 410-988-9816; tenoakstavern.com
Open: Kitchen open 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Monday-Saturday; 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday Sunday (bar stays open later; closing time depends on crowd)
Credit Cards: All major
Reservations: Accepted Sunday-Thursday
Bottom line: Part Irish pub, part family-friendly restaurant, Ten Oaks Tavern's welcoming atmosphere makes up for sometimes uneven food and service.