Restaurant review

Elkridge Furnace Inn offers terrific ambience, uneven food

The Baltimore Sun

There’s a fabulous culinary destination waiting to emerge at the charming and richly historic Elkridge Furnace Inn. The ingredients are on hand, but, judging by our visit, a little more consistency and finessing is needed to fulfill the abundant potential.

This 13-acre property on the banks of the Patapsco River includes a main house dating to around 1800. That structure, rescued from neglect and renovated by French-trained chef Daniel Wecker and his brother (an undertaking that cannot be praised enough), has been home to a restaurant and catering business since the early 1990s. The verdant grounds include the riparian Ceremony Point, which would make any special occasion doubly memorable.

The room where we dined one rainy evening gave off a warm, cozy vibe from wood-beamed ceilings, classy recorded jazz, and one of life’s lovely pleasures that many a restaurant has summarily abandoned — good old-fashioned table cloths.

Our affable young server made us feel welcome (much more so than the gruff, smile-less manager who seated us). He soon had us supplied with ably constructed cocktails, including a wonderfully balanced martini made with Hendricks gin, and an amuse-bouche of spinach-wrapped cucumber and tomato that hit the spot.

From there, things turned uneven.

The soup of the day — tasso pork and white bean — derived some kick from peppers, but didn’t have much else in the way of character. And the bowl arrived several degrees below a properly hot temperature.

An appetizer of marinated seafood included tiny pieces of crab, along with samples of mahi mahi and shrimp, all delectably resonant of key lime. But the plate, which also contained a few slivers of avocado and mango, seemed to take the minimalist concept a step too far.

Tomatoes gathered from the inn’s extensive garden just before the rain fell that day provided an extra-fresh lift to a caprese-inspired appetizer with fine mozzarella.

There was a fresh taste, too, in the bibb lettuce that provided a foundation for the Polynesian salad. And there was a pleasant tang from the grilled pineapple, hearts of palm, passion fruit vinaigrette, and cashew butter wontons. Still, those various elements didn’t come together in a bold, distinctive way.

To turn that salad into an entree, we ordered some jumbo shrimp (their gray, translucent look was not enticing) and a crab cake that contained too much filling, too little flavor.

I know there are innumerable varieties of schnitzel preparations, but I imagine most folks encountering the term on a menu expect whatever meat involved to be breaded and fried. The chicken schnitzel entree here featured a breading-free and bland cutlet.

However, it rested on a very tasty bed of hearty pappardelle, roasted tomatoes and Swiss chard, lightly bathed in a sauce of brown butter, lemon and caper. With a traditional schnitzel on top, this would have become a terrific dish.

An eight-ounce Delmonico steak was tender, if almost mushy in texture, and gained personality from a buttery topping. Sides of French beans and superbly roasted fingerling potatoes offered sturdy support.

The expansive and exceptional wine list is full of enticements at every price point. We opted for an Australian cabernet (Robert Oatley) that yielded full-bodied pleasure.

Desserts included an elegant cherry tart and a dry, but still enjoyable, pineapple upside down cake.

With all the culinary competition at similar menu price levels these days, there isn’t room at the inn for a variable kitchen. Such an appealing ambiance calls out for evenness across the board, increased attention to details. Given the determination and talent that have already done so much to enrich this wonderful property, stepping up the restaurant’s game to a higher level should be very doable and should yield great dividends.

Elkridge Furnace Inn

2.5 stars

5745 Furnace Ave., Elkridge

410-379-9336, elkridgefurnaceinn.com

Cuisine: French and American

Prices: Appetizers $12 to $18; entrees $24 to $39

Ambience: An elegantly appointed historic property

Service: Exceptionally charming and attentive

Reservations: Accepted

Parking: Free lot

Special diets: They can be accommodated.

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

tim.smith@baltsun.com

twitter.com/clefnotes

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