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Oyster Bay Grille, piece of Towson's nightlife renaissance, opens

Getting head start on cineplex, other planned downtown development

By Jon Meoli, jmeoli@tribune.com

11:45 AM EDT, August 20, 2013

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The steel framing of a 15-screen Cinemark movie theater, the centerpiece of the Towson Square development in downtown Towson, is already rising above the downtown area ahead of its completion next year.

But the first piece of the area's nightlife renaissance, Oyster Bay Grille, opened Monday in the Towson Circle building — and is biding its time until the area is transformed.

"The thing that we're most looking forward to is really the paradigm shift," said Chris Vocci, the chef at Oyster Bay Grille. "If you're approaching our front door, we're more or less on the back side of the building coming from York Road. In a few months time, we'll be adjacent to a large shopping area."

Co-owner Nick Daskalakis said the restaurant's ownership team, which includes his brother, John, and lifelong friend, Spyros Stavrakas, didn't know the Towson Square development — which includes the cinema, a parking garage and six restaurants — was coming when they decided on their location last year.

The construction is creating minor inconveniences in the early going — Vocci said they have to clean the awnings every day, and wash the windows several times a day.

But the chef believes the relatively hidden location will allow the restaurant to get its footing before as Vocci said, another Hunt Valley Towne Centre is "airlifted and set down right there" and the big crowds arrive.

That transformation will mean Oyster Bay and the surrounding businesses will be "where a lot of the action is going to be," said Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce.

Despite opening before the construction is complete, Hafford cited the success of the nearby Towson Tavern on York Road as a blueprint for success for Oyster Bay.

"Even with the construction going on over there, (they do well) because of the quality of food they have and the atmosphere," Hafford said. "The people that are opening Oyster Bay have been in the restaurant business most of their life, and they've been extremely successful. I'm sure they know what they're doing."

At that point, it will be up to Oyster Bay's staff to distinguish itself from the chain restaurants going in across the street, Daskalakis said.

"The important thing is there'll be a lot of people looking for restaurants," he said. "You're only as good as yourself. You don't worry about the competition, you just do what you do and you'll be OK."

According to Vocci, Oyster Bay will be known for its local seafood, highlighted by a raw bar with at least three different types of oysters featured daily. Vocci, who came to Oyster Bay after five years at the Baltimore Country Club, also touted the Creekstone Farms Angus beef, which he described as the "upper echelon" of beef.

Bar manager Stephen Beck said the bar would feature specialty cocktails, craft spirit, and a Cruvinet wine system that dispenses 20 different wines by the glass — the largest of its kind in Maryland.

"We've always wanted to open a restaurant that we'd like to go to," Daskalakis said. "We like fine wines by the glass — not necessarily expensive wines, but reasonably priced — and we have a good selection. We have a great way to dispense them. We have a beautiful bar, we have a raw bar and we have a menu that's better than anything around here."

All that makes the owners of Oyster Bay "the luckiest people in the world," Daskalakis said.

"People ask us, 'Did you get somebody to design this for you?' " he said. "No, it's from our heart. It's a lifelong dream, it's something we've always wanted to do. We got the opportunity and we did it."