Towson is more than a college town. Towson Tavern gets that.
The restaurant opened on New Year's Eve 2011 on York Road, near the Towson Circle. The area is well-known for bars and pubs, but Towson Tavern stands out from the pack: Instead of catering to college students, it's geared toward adults.
At Towson Tavern, that maturity manifests in an interesting selection of cocktails, a sophisticated menu and sharp service.
Executive Chef Tyson Spangler was at The Capital Grille prior to running the kitchen at Towson Tavern; General Manager Michael Velleggia was part of the Capital Grille team, as well.
Towson Tavern is not a replica of the popular downtown steakhouse, but with a meat-friendly menu and a focus on extreme professionalism on the floor, Spangler and Velleggia's roots are on display.
SCENE On a recent Thursday night both the restaurant and its long, polished wood bar were comfortably full. Though the crowd varied in age from early twenties to much older, nearly everyone looked like they'd just walked in from the office. The mood was upbeat, but never out of control, college kid-style.
Surrounded by men in suits and women in heels, it seemed fitting to start with a cocktail. Towson Tavern's drinks effectively combine an old-fashioned vibe with flavors that feel fresh.
COCKTAILS The Root of All Evil ($9) mixed bourbon, mint and Art in the Age Root, a liquor based on a traditional Native American blend of medicinal herbs, to create something that tasted pleasantly like refined, adults-only root beer.
The Revival ($9), a combination of Death's Door Gin and lemon, served in a glass rinsed with Cointreau, was light, citrusy and surprisingly nuanced, given its short list of ingredients.
APPETIZERS Based on our waitress's recommendation, we started with the seared spicy scallops with butternut squash puree and candied ginger($14).
While the scallops themselves weren't especially spicy, they were nicely cooked, with a light brown crust outside and tender center.
The dish's heat came from the puree, which was sweet and smooth, but with a kick amplified by the tiny twists of ginger. Garnished with thin slices of green onion, the appetizer was an appealing combination of sweet and hot, with an interesting texture thanks to the interplay between the smooth puree and chewy ginger.
ENTREE Also recommended by our waitress, an entree of grilled Atlantic salmon with tarragon vinaigrette ($19) was flavorful, though cooked just a tinge longer than necessary.
The fish retained a smoky char from the grill, which worked well with sweet caramelized red onions. A lovely, bright tarragon vinaigrette complemented the fish and worked as a dipping sauce for thin slices of fingerling potatoes.
A dry-rubbed ribeye ($28) showed off Spangler's considerable skill with meat. The steak — all twenty ounces of it — dominated the plate, hiding a small mound mashed potatoes and leaving only a little room for sauteed peppers, shallots and bacon.
Those extras — the potatoes and vegetables – were nicely cooked and added extra oomph to the plate. But the steak — well-marbled and cooked carefully and evenly to a true medium rare — was the star of the show.
A word of warning: a 20-ounce steak can be intimidating, even for a meat-lover with a healthy appetite. Our leftovers made a fine lunch the next day.
WINE Towson Tavern's wine list is reasonably priced, with many bottles under $35, and approachable, though it offers few surprises. Don Miguel Gascon Malbec ($8 per glass, $27 per bottle), a jammy, smooth wine from Argentina, proved a good fit for both entrees.
SERVICE With the exception of one empty water glass, waiting for a refill that never came, service throughout the meal was well-timed, efficient and above all, professional.
We were especially impressed with our waitress's smooth moves with the dessert tray. As our plates were swept away, she descended on our table, casually carrying a tray laden with desserts provided by Towson Tavern's neighbor, La Cakerie.
Desserts Every one of the desserts was gorgeous. It was the sort of tray that only the very strong-willed would be able to resist.
We opted for a vanilla Napolean ($7). With layers of pastry and cream topped with sweet, crisp caramel, the Napolean was an elegant end to a satisfying meal.
As we headed back into the night, steak-filled doggie bag in hand, downtown Towson was gearing up for another wild Thursday night. Inside Towson Tavern, the scene was more mature, but just as vibrant, with diners eating, drinking and laughing.
Filled with adults who were pleased, no doubt, to have a place in Towson to call their own.
BACK STORY: Towson Tavern opened on York Road, near the Towson Circle, on New Year's Eve 2011. With a polished interior and thoughtful menu, the restaurant adds welcome sophistication to a block best known for its party atmosphere.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
PARKING: Street parking and multiple garages and pay lots nearby
SIGNATURE DISH: Towson Tavern's 20-ounce ribeye, served with garlic mashed potatoes, shows off the kitchen's skill with steak. Cooked just to medium rare (as requested), the meat is tender, with flavor amped up by bacon, sweet sauteed peppers and shallots.
WHERE: 516 York Road, Towson, MD 21204
CONTACT: 410-337-7210; http://www.towsontavern.com
OPEN: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday; 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday; 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday
CREDIT CARDS: All major
RATING: 3 stars