Peerce’s Plantation, a Baltimore County tradition going back more than 80 years, is reopening as an Indian restaurant operated by the same two brothers who run Baltimore’s Ambassador Dining Room and Ananda in Columbia. The new Peerce’s incarnation, still at 12460 Dulaney Valley Road in Phoenix, just north of the Loch Raven Reservoir, has been open for lunch since early August. Owners Keir and Binda Singh say they hope to have a grand opening, with extended hours, in late October.
“We’ve always believed in preserving the past,” said Keir Singh. “We don’t just tear things down and put brand new buildings up. ... We’ve been working with the neighborhood, and the neighbors didn’t want the building torn down. I think in the end, it’s been a win-win.”
The new Peerce’s lunch offerings include a range of Indian staples, from naan and vegetable samosa (pastry stuffed with spicy potatoes and peas) to chicken tikka masala (boneless chicken marinated, grilled and sauteed in masala sauce) and lamb vindaloo (lamb poached in a curry sauce with potatoes). It also includes such crab dishes as crab malabar (lump backfin crab “prepared in the manner of coastal India”) and crab kochi (jumbo lump local crab with avocado, vidalia onion, edamame, cilantro, lime and chilies, topped with puffed lentils).
The original Peerce’s dates to 1937, when William Peerce opened Peerce’s Corner, a dry goods store that also sold beer and wine and had gasoline pumps out front, in what was then a decidedly rural setting. Four years later, when home-cooked fried chicken was offered for sale during a farm-equipment expo on the site, the restaurant was born. Although at first it offered only outdoor dining, an inside dining room was added in the 1950s, and the name was changed to Peerce’s Plantation.
William Peerce’s nephew, Peerce Lake, took over the restaurant in 1963; in the 1970s, he took the restaurant upscale, focusing on continental cuisine.
Peerce’s Plantation thrived, and for years was the go-to spot for pretty much any formal occasion. Weddings, retirement banquets and other celebrations were often held there. And chances were, if your event itself wasn’t held at Peerce’s, you went there for a fancy dinner beforehand, enjoying such dishes as house-smoked salmon and Chesapeake fillet. Many a young couple on the way to their high school prom started the evening with a romantic dinner there, gazing out over Loch Raven.
“It was an icon in Baltimore,” Brian Boston, chef and operating partner of the Milton Inn and a former employee of Peerce’s, told the Baltimore Sun in 1999. “People had their first dates, proms and weddings there. Almost any cook or servicing personnel who is any good worked there.”
Peerce’s expanded twice, opening Peerce’s Downtown in 1980 and Peerce’s Gourmet in Timonium in 1993. But the magic seemed restricted to the original location, as neither expansion lasted. The downtown location closed in 1988, the Timonium space in 1998.
By the late 1990s, the original Peerce’s, too, was facing challenges, with business dropping off as new generations of diners found other places to celebrate. The restaurant filed for bankruptcy protection in October 1999, just hours before it was to be auctioned off to recover about $1 million in debt. Peerce Lake made the decision to shut its doors in March 2001. The restaurant reopened under new ownership in October 2003, and in 2008, another new owner took over, using it as the home base for his catering business.
In 2010, a more casual version of the old Peerce’s, called The Grille at Peerce’s, opened. But by October 2014, the building was headed for auction.
Keir Singh said he and his brother have had the building under contract for about three years, but have spent much of that time working to buy some property in front of the building from Baltimore City. Those negotiations concluded, and they’ve been serving lunch to customers since August; the new Peerce’s is currently open 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday.
The new owner said he appreciates the Peerce’s legacy. Although renovations are continuing, he promises customers from back in the day will still see vestiges of what they remember.