Restaurant review: Humdrum Irish fare at The Twisted Harp

The dining room walls of the Twisted Harp are emerald green. Gorgeous crystal chandeliers glisten. Dishes arrive flavored with sauces made with Irish whiskey. You could almost forget you were in a Nottingham shopping center.

Yet, if you look out the dining room window, you see, not more than a shillelagh's throw away, the neon glow of a Wendy's. But this is America — specifically, the 8700 block of Belair Road —where cultures meld.

On the pub side of the Twisted Harp, which bills itself as a gastro pub, there is a bar with big-screen televisions, ample libations ($4 drafts) and live music several nights a week.

The quieter side is the dining room, home to polished wood, soft lights and the "gastro" part of the equation. Here is where you find appetizers such as rockfish bites ($10.99), morsels of rockfish covered with a little too much tempura batter, fried and served with an aioli so spicy it raises your eyebrows.

Here, too, are "lollipops" made with bangers and mash ($7.97). These are small sausages that have been rolled with mashed potatoes and covered with panko crumbs. The lollipops are fried, skewered with sticks and served with an Irish whiskey and mustard sauce. The fried ovals did indeed resemble brown lollipops, even if the sticks couldn't support them. I ended up eating them with a fork. They tasted like potato pancakes.

The menu takes the big-tent approach to Irish sandwiches — offering items like a corned beef panini, a banger sandwich made with sausages sauteed in Guinness and a burger that becomes "Irish" when it's topped with Irish cheddar cheese.

We chose more substantial fare — just how much more substantial was a surprise. I had the Gaelic steak ($18.99), broiled sirloin topped with a sauce of mushrooms, onions, cream and Irish whiskey. The meat was cooked just as I requested, medium rare. So often, kitchens seem afraid of rare meat. Not this one. The sauce was more creamy than pungent. The portion was massive and came with an acre of crisp, sauteed green beans and a mountain of colcannon.

The sirloin did not thrill me, but the colcannon did. It was a winning mixture of potatoes, milk, cabbage and bacon. The combination of steak, green beans and colcannon seemed like too much food. But somehow I polished off the excellent colcannon.

The chicken Jennifer entree ($17.97) that my wife ordered married two grilled chicken breasts with lump crab meat, served over mashed potatoes and dotted with more crab. Again, the portion was gigantic — enough food to feed Dublin. The flavors, however, were somewhat shy.

For dessert, we split a pleasing, house-made bread pudding ($2.99).

Service was spotty, though. Our waitress seemed to forget about us from time to time. A glass of cabernet ($7) that I wanted to sip with my steak did not arrive until the steak was almost gone, some 15 minutes after I had ordered it. So, too, with a request for a glass of water. It eventually appeared, but long after my thirst had slackened.

The pub part of the Twisted Harp seems solid; the gastro component less so. The portions were very large, but with the exception of the colcannon, the dishes were not distinctive.


Twisted Harp

Where: 8706 Belair Road, Perry Hall

Phone: 410-529 4277

Appetizers: $7.97- $10.99

Entrees: $10.99- $19.95

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

Credit Cards: American Express, Discover, Master Card, Visa

Food: ✭✭1/2

Service: ✭✭

Atmosphere: ✭✭✭

[Outstanding: ✭✭✭✭ Good: ✭✭✭ Fair or uneven: ✭✭ Poor:✭]

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