Maybe the world doesn’t really need yet another purveyor of American cuisine, but the month-old Stanford Kitchen does it with style and snap, giving a welcome boost to the dining scene in Owings Mills.
Never mind that the restaurant has a blah location — just another of those cookie-cutter strip centers that dot and cheapen suburbia. But inside offers a not-too-big dining room well-appointed with booths and tables, enhanced by a soundtrack of cool jazz, which, enticingly, first greets you through speakers outside.
The look (and the jazz) will be familiar to patrons of the larger Stanford Grill in Columbia, part of the Blueridge Restaurant Group that developed Stanford Kitchen to have a neighborhood vibe. There are some carryovers from the Stanford Grill menu (I am particularly grateful that the key lime pie is among them), but there are enough other features to give the newcomer its own distinctive personality.
Aided by an extra-personable, helpful server (and support staff), we settled into a well-paced dinner packed with satisfying versions of standard fare, the kind that put the comfort in comfort food.
The meatloaf is a great case in point. It didn’t look like just another conventional meatloaf, and the texture certainly didn’t evoke conventional meat loaf. This super-tender melange of ground beef and wild mushroom burst with deep, rich flavor, enhanced by a portobello Madeira wine sauce. If the accompanying mashed potatoes and broccolini lacked the same level of imagination, they fulfilled their role ably.
There wasn’t a surprise factor with the pork ribs, except that they lived up to the fall-off-the-bone promise of the menu and revealed a good snap from the barbecue sauce. Just as satisfying were a coleslaw that tasted as if it were made seconds before, and perfect, thin French fries that would easily pass muster at the snootiest Parisian bistro.
Stanford Kitchen has a featured sandwich each day. A veggie burger is regularly offered. So is the cheeseburger, which we tried. Lots of places make a good burger, but it’s always fun discovering another; this one offered first-rate Angus beef, pickles and other traditional fixings. Straightforward and satisfying.
Entree specials the night we were there included grilled trout. It was cooked maybe half-a-minute longer than ideal, but the filet, subtly flavored with lemon, still impressed; the center had a wonderful flakiness. The sides of rice and broccoli were spot-on.
The kitchen is just as attentive to starters. A smooth spinach-artichoke dip, served with chips instead of pita, exuded robust flavor. Chicken meatballs had plenty of character, aided by a fine marinara sauce.
If, like me, you tend to avoid ordering calamari because it so often turns out to be a gummy disappointment, the tender, lightly fried version here, dusted with Parmesan, should restore your faith. It was so tasty on its own that I didn’t bother much with dipping into the accompanying marinara.
For pre-meal libations, the house cocktails are worth considering. The fleur de lis — vodka, St. Germain liqueur, tropical fruit flavors — has a seductive tang tailor-made for summer sipping. The bar turns out a potent martini, too. And the wine list includes such respectable, easy-on-the-wallet bottles as a Joel Gott 815 Cabernet.
There are only three desserts, and there needn’t be any more. These turned out to be gems of caloric delight. The key lime pie was on par with the peerless one I fondly recall from a roadside market years ago in Davie, Fla. The ice cream sundae hit the spot; the pretty and vibrant bread pudding hit it even harder.
There’s a lot to be said for a restaurant that treats good old American fare as if it were new and exciting. Stanford Kitchen does just that.
Stanford Kitchen 4 stars
10997 Owings Mills Blvd., Owings Mills
Prices: Appetizers $7 to $12; entrees $15 to $30
Ambience: The combination of classy design and casual vibe yields a bustling scene that can be noisy, but, somehow, in a good way.
Service: Extremely friendly and assured
Parking: Surface lot
Special diets: They can be accommodated.
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
[Key: Superlative: 5 stars; Excellent: 4 stars; Very good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star]