Restaurant review: Mount Airy Inn is a cozy, hearty respite

The Mount Airy Inn sounds like it should be a lodge nestled in a pine-tree-covered swath of land, tucked away from the hustle and bustle. A place to get a home-cooked meal and maybe a few really good beers to shake off the chill of a cold winter's day.

While it's not an actual working inn, the restaurant does deliver on the food and beer — in a comfortable albeit plain setting.

Opened in August 2010 by restaurateur Frank Illiano, the Mount Airy Inn was converted from a residential home built in the 1890s. Little of the gilded age architecture remains on the inside of the restaurant, and the new parts look a bit generic.

Despite its view of the kitchen and wood-fired oven, the bright dining room is pretty stale. The bar is cozy enough, but feels as if it's been crammed into a corner that spills into the vestibule. It all combines to make for a fairly bland room which should be more inviting.

Luckily, the beer selection helps make everything all warm and fuzzy. With 12 brews on tap and over 40 bottles on the menu, there is plenty to choose from. Also available on the menu are two beer flights and the option to make your own.

We opted for the "Playoffs?!" beer flight ($16) which consisted of five six-ounce beers. Delivered with a nifty iron beer carrier and presented on a mat with the beer names written on it, these beer flights are a great way to try new brews.

With the glowing oven in our line of sight, we were excited to order the wood-fired bruschetta ($6.99), and were not let down. The flatbread was more like a small pizza than a normal bruschetta, but was nonetheless tasty. Tomatoes, onions, herbs and cheese topped the properly charred crust and made for a light appetizer.

The cup of she-crab soup ($5.99) was surprisingly sweet and topped with a generous portion of crab meat. The dessert-like sweetness initially threw us off, but the addition of salt and pepper gave it a savory hint that played well with the sweet and creamy soup base. The crab balls ($11.99), meaty mini-crab cakes with a side of Dijon aioli, were also worth trying.

The Mount Airy knows comfort food, and a great example was the Maryland fried chicken ($9.99). Two leg quarters (breast meat is also available) were skillfully fried — tender and juicy inside, with a crust hinting of Old Bay. This was some seriously good fried chicken.

Grilling couldn't save a side of tasteless corn bread, but the coleslaw was cabbage-y and rich without being too sweet or creamy.

Though not as successful as the chicken, the meatloaf ($10.99) still recalled childhood memories, as all good comfort food should. A slice of the plain yet evocative meatloaf was covered in a bright-tasting tomato sauce and served with sides of well-seasoned broccolini and fluffy red-skin mashed potatoes.

The wood-fired oven makes the pizza crust brittle and crispy, which was the case with the Prospect ($11.99). Garlic, caramelized onions, sweet peppers, mozzarella and a mild chorizo made it a treat, though the chorizo could have been spicier. Overall, it was a good pizza.

Our server, who was fleet-footed in the beginning of the meal but almost non-existent after the entrees were ordered, resurfaced at dessert time.

The carrot cake ($3.50) was dry, dense and gummy with an extremely sweet cream cheese frosting. A big slice of Boston creme pie ($4.99) was equally heavy; the pastry cream between cake layers had the consistency of overcooked pudding. The desserts put a damper on what was, up until then, a fine meal.

The Mount Airy Inn might not have a room for you to stay in, but they will serve you a classic dinner, good pizza and great beer. If you find yourself in the area, it's worth stopping by.

Mount Airy Inn

Back story: Opened in 2010, the Mount Airy Inn serves comfort food and microbrews in a converted residence built in the 1890s.

Parking: The Mount Airy Inn has its own parking lot.

Signature dish: The Maryland fried chicken — comfort food at its finest — was tender, juicy and crunchy with an Old Bay kick.

Where: 401 S. Main St., Mount Airy

Contact: 301-829-1400, mountairyinn.com

Open: 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 6 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Credit Cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover

Food: ✭✭✭

Service: ✭✭1/2

Atmosphere: ✭✭1/2

[Key: Excellent: ✭✭✭✭; Good: ✭✭✭; Uneven: ✭✭; Poor: ✭]

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