There’s something extra energizing about encountering stellar food and service in an unlikely place.
Nothing about Maple Lawn, the rather faceless development in Fulton where Lib’s Grill opened in December, suggests that fine dining could beckon there. An initial look inside the restaurant doesn’t exactly set off instant expectations of culinary delight, either — it’s a rather utilitarian space with an industrial ceiling and tightly packed, nondescript tables.
But a hostess at the front door greets you with such enthusiasm that you think she must have confused you with someone else. This disarms you thoroughly, as does the attention from an ebullient, witty server and equally convivial support staff.
Like the first Lib’s Grill, which opened in Perry Hall five years ago, the Maple Lawn counterpart emphasizes raw bar, steaks and seafood. Both are part of the Liberatore’s group, which includes several popular Italian restaurants in Maryland.
Running the kitchen at the Perry Hall Lib’s Grill is chef Daniel Chaustit, who won fans over the years at Crush in Belvedere Square and Christopher Daniel in Timonium (both joined the long list of Baltimore-area restaurants now closed). Chaustit’s influence can be detected in the menu at the Maple Lawn Lib’s Grill, where executive chef Steven Agostini ensures abundant enticements.
As a prelude to those enticements, we enjoyed libations from the bar, including a silky martini and a tasty, budget-friendly Cocobon red wine blend from California.
I’m not sure Quebecois would approve of the short rib poutine — no curds in sight — but what an addictive appetizer Lib’s Grill fashions, boasting tender rib meat and moist truffle fries, finished off with cheese and gravy.
Crunchy fish tacos turned out to be an equally starry starter, partnered with a fine slaw and given a saucy little boost from the aioli.
We also admired the respectful treatment of an old favorite, the wedge salad — the lettuce very crisp and cold, the bacon well-cooked, the tomatoes fresh, and, around the edges, perky deviled eggs.
That we happened to stop by on a Tuesday meant it was lobster night, when the restaurant offers a three-course prix-fixe special. In addition to whole Maine lobster — the one we tried was meaty and flavorful — you get a side salad (big enough to feed a small army, but only enough dressing for the officers) and dessert. The lobster came with very respectable whipped potatoes and French green beans, items that also accompanied our other entrees.
A hefty pork chop was expertly grilled to preserve tenderness within an exquisitely crispy exterior. I haven’t often encountered such perfect pork.
And then there was the meat loaf. As someone who usually looks down on this staple, I readily admit this version was a revelation. Made of Roseda Farm beef, the loaf revealed a delectable crunch to rival that of the pork chop, as well as a zesty tomato jam coating. And a sunny-side-up egg provided the crowning touch for this inspired upgrade to comfort food.
Dessert time found us tempted by some of the made-in-house options — a rich bread pudding topped with Heath bar bits and whipped cream; a superb flourless, gluten-free cake, all warm and oozy; and a honey-coconut cake that tasted retro and lovely (the two cakes were well-partnered by vanilla ice cream).
With its blend of quality, imagination and amiability, Lib’s Grill makes a substantial addition to Howard County’s dining scene.
Rating: Four stars
Where: 8191 Maple Lawn Blvd, Fulton
Contact: 301-725-5427, libsgrill.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday
Prices: Appetizers $7 to $16, entrees $10 to $34
Noise/TVs: A steady buzz when crowded, but not deafening. TVs circle the bar.
Service: Sparkling and efficient.
Special diets: They can be accommodated.
Handicap accessible: Yes
[Key: Superlative: 5 stars; Excellent: 4 stars; Very good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star.]