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Ryleigh's Oyster offers city experience in the county

A view of the outdoor patio at Ryleigh's Oyster Hunt Valley on a recent Saturday night.
A view of the outdoor patio at Ryleigh's Oyster Hunt Valley on a recent Saturday night. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Last fall, Timonium — home to the state fair and a head-spinning number of chain businesses — welcomed a city favorite, Ryleigh's Oyster. Since then, the Baltimore County version (it calls itself Ryleigh's Oyster Hunt Valley) of the Federal Hill staple has seen steady crowds regularly fill its tidy, well-designed space.

On a recent Friday evening, with the location's one-year anniversary weeks away, Ryleigh's hummed along at an appropriately brisk pace. It was the end of the workweek for many in the area, and both bar areas (one near the front entrance and another in the back) featured a steady stream of professional types looking to leave the office and its stresses behind.

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Ryleigh's provides the right setting to do so. The space is large, but not sprawling, and the design emphasizes a nautical blue against various wood colors. The effect is familiar, especially to anyone who has visited the original location on Cross Street, but it should also comfort the wide range of patrons a suburban bar naturally attracts. The relatively low volume throughout the bar promoted socializing and conversation, too. The buzz of a Friday evening was setting in, but the bar is sizable enough to stabilize it.

The most attractive aspect of Ryleigh's is also its most obvious. The large outdoor patio in the back hosted young families settling in for dinner as happy-hour attendees chatted and checked their phones. There were large dining tables with umbrellas, and also oversized lounge chairs for those looking to take a deep breath. Despite a tented-area with its own bar being sectioned off for an engagement party, it was nice to see no one on the patio ever seemed on top of each other. City folks in love with Boathouse Canton's patio should find much to like here, even without the waterfront views.

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Regulars of Ryleigh's in Federal Hill should not be surprised by the Timonium location's bar. That's not a bad thing, either, as Ryleigh's offers a solid, albeit standard, program of beer, wine and basic drinks.

The 24 drafts available on my visit were easy to recognize and seemed like an earnest attempt to please most types of beer drinkers. I bypassed the prerequisites (Blue Moon, Guinness, Bud Light) and city favorites (Heavy Seas' Loose Cannon, The Brewer's Art's Resurrection) for an Evolution Lot No. 3 IPA. (Beers range from $3 to $6.50.) A bar like Ryleigh's will get its share of adventurous beer drinkers, but also patrons more than happy to sip on plain domestics, so the range of options makes sense. But on a fall evening, it would have been nice to see summer beers such as Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy and Flying Dog's Dead Rise Summer Ale replaced with something heartier and seasonal.

Ryleigh's has also gained a loyal following for its fruit crushes. I tried a traditional Orange Crush ($8) made with Smirnoff orange vodka, triple sec, fresh orange juice and a splash of Sprite. I awarded Portside Tavern "Best Orange Crush" last year, and Baltimore Sun contributor Meekah Hopkins later bristled at the notion, writing Ryleigh's in Timonium served the "gold standard." Let's just say both are very good because of fresh juice and not too much triple sec. The crushed ice, small and perfectly cubed, had a surprisingly strong impact on the finished product as well. Every detail counts.

The staff was in constant motion on our visit, which is always a good sign. A bartender was quick to grab our drinks, and when we later found seats at the bar, our jovial new server quickly transferred the open tab to our seats. In front of us, an oyster shucker manned the raw bar, but took the time to say hi.

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Few city residents are likely to go out of their way to visit this Ryleigh's, especially given the first location's prominence in one of our most popular neighborhoods. But plenty of my friends work in the area, and all agree Ryleigh's is an ideal location for off-the-clock meet-ups. They also said that if they lived in Timonium, Ryleigh's would likely be their regular bar because it has the local connection and personality surrounding chain bars lack. It was easy to agree. Most importantly, through execution and smart design, Ryleigh's Oyster Hunt Valley proves the city experience can thrive in the county.

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