For many years, Harford County was an unexciting place to dine out. You could find the usual assortment of national chains and fast-food franchises, but other options were limited.
In the past couple of years, though, more adventurous concepts have opened, like Alchemy Elements, Birroteca and One Eleven Main in Bel Air.
Now we can add Stone's Cove KitBar in the Bel Air Town Center to the mix of interesting places to visit. The new restaurant is hoping you'll feel like you're part of their party.
The "KitBar," a combination of the words "kitchen" and "bar," has a communal approach to dining. The bar is encircled by connected tables so diners can watch food being prepared and drinks being poured. Because the staff members perform both functions, they are called "cheftenders."
If diners don't want to be close to the action, they can sit at separate tables and booths in the dining area, where we saw families eating their meals.
The open space is sophisticated but casual, with crimson walls, wood details and giant paintings by John Gable, a Norman Rockwell-like artist who captured subjects related to Bel Air, like a beloved cow that used to live on the property before it became a shopping center.
The restaurant is also committed to giving back to the community through its "do-good-things Sundays," when 10 percent of the sales are donated to local nonprofits.
The Bel Air location, which opened in April, is the third restaurant for Stone's Cove, which started in Herndon, Va., in 2011, and followed up with an Owings Mills restaurant in 2013.
Once you're seated at the bar, a flock of cheftenders will share the duties of taking your order and delivering your food and drinks.
Your mind whirls at the various words the restaurant uses on its menu, like "appetapas" (appetizer and tapas) and "edibations" (edible and libations). It wasn't clever after a while.
But the food was, from the starters to desserts.
The upside-down meatloaf cupcakes with a tomato brown sugar glaze, were delicious balls of the familiar comfort food sitting atop puffs of horseradish mashed potatoes.
We really liked the four miniature lobster cones. They were bulging with minced chipotle lobster salad with a surprise dollop of fresh guacamole at the base.
The ahi tuna sashimi was an admirable dish. Slices of ruby fish, fanned out like a deck of cards, were drizzled with a creamy sauce freckled with black sesame seeds.
Even though we thought "edibations" was a weird word, we did enjoy the caramelized beef offering. Cubes of tender meat were divided among four white ceramic spoons in a pretty presentation. Each spoon was then filled with a pinch of Gorgonzola cheese, smoked bacon, scallions and pecan whiskey for a bite and a slurp, like a shooter, which one of our waiters shared when we ordered.
In the middle of the bar is a red-tile oven for cooking items such as the restaurant's flatbreads. The portobello flatbread was subtly singed and spilled over with mushrooms, arugula, tomatoes, Gruyere, Parmesan and a splash of truffle oil and lemon. We added big hunks of chicken to the mix for an extra charge. Steak and shrimp are other available additions.
The Raging River salmon was good, too. A huge fish fillet, glistening with bourbon maple glaze and topped with pineapple avocado salsa, was placed atop horseradish mashed potatoes.
Shrimp and grits seems to be on numerous menus these days, and the interpretation at Stone's Cove was spot-on, with four plump, seared shrimp perched around a mound of decent cheese grits with slivers of roasted red peppers.
Meat eaters will appreciate the marinated, seared flat-iron steak, sliced and cooked to order. We liked the accompanying roasted vegetable medley of carrots, potatoes and zucchini.
By this time, we were feeling the onset of a food coma, but listening to a recitation of desserts kept us going.
Small ice cream cones with meringue and Key lime pie filling were delicate and tropical-tasting.
The drunken strawberry sliders were a beautiful summer offering, showcasing the seasonal fruit macerated with Grand Marnier and cane sugar. The alcohol-infused berries were piled onto two flaky biscuits and crowned with whipped cream and a strawberry slice. It doesn't get much better than this dessert.
We tried a flavorful s'mores flatbread, which re-created the campfire treat with Nutella, miniature marshmallows and chocolate chips on top.
We liked the unhurried pace of the kitchen, though everything came in due time. The camaraderie of the staff and the inclusion of guests into the preparation create a bond that makes you want to return.
Harford County scores a win with this restaurant arrival.