Food & Drink

The Grandstand Grille at Maryland State Fairgrounds is worth betting on

You don't have to bet on horses to visit the Grandstand Grille at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium. But you should wager on a good meal.

We were surprised by the caliber of the food in the cavernous dining room that seems to be searching for an identity. The impressive crab cake could easily make a top-five list in the Baltimore area.


The restaurant serves an array of well-prepared, casual dishes to hungry patrons at the new year-round, off-track betting center on the second floor of the fairgrounds' grandstand building. The dining room is in a separate, adjoining space.

On a recent evening, my husband and I approached the building with trepidation. There's not much signage. (Note: Use the fairgrounds' Timonium Road entrance to get to the grandstand.)


We finally found the door and elevator to take us to the second floor. We went through the off-track betting room and weren't sure what to make of the bettors shouting at the myriad screens that were running races from around the country. But everyone is so friendly, it doesn't matter.

The restaurant serves an array of well-prepared, casual dishes to hungry patrons at the new year-round, off-track betting center on the second floor of the fairgrounds' grandstand building.

We later learned the restaurant has its own entrance. Our waitress, who also tended bar, couldn't have been more charming as she told us about the restaurant and the menu.

Previously, the Grandstand Grille was open for only 10 days during the summer horse racing season. In March, the restaurant — run by Jimmy Bell and Marianne Maclellan of Hightopps Backstage Grille in Timonium — expanded to year-round service.

Dish Baltimore


Get the scoop on that new restaurant, learn about chef changes and discover your favorite new recipe. All your Baltimore food news is here.

At The Grandstand, a kitchen manager oversees the food prep and cooking in the style of Hightopps, known entity in the area.

Scene & Decor The vast main dining room (it seats 252) with polished wood floors was nearly empty on our visit. Our waitress told us it's much busier at lunchtime. We hope so. The space is marked for a crowd with numerous attractive wood tables and several sleek black couches. If you're an off-track bettor, you can keep an eye on the racing action on silent screens that line the perimeter of the ceiling. They're hung so high that they're not intrusive if racetracks aren't your interest. Food is also served in the adjoining off-track betting parlor (with 249 seats).

Appetizers The fries at the Grandstand are unlike any you've probably seen or ingested. And they're really good. Called Jenga fries ($9) — after the block-stacking game — the hand-cut potato wedges are steeped in duck fat and then deep-fried. They are delivered to the table arranged in a geometric pile and drizzled with roasted red-pepper ketchup, aioli and Sriracha coulis for a colorful presentation. The she-crab bisque ($7 a cup; $11 a bowl) was an indulgence you must try. The soup's velvety cream-based seafood broth surrounds a mini crab cake and a poached shrimp, with a crunchy baguette slice tucked along the bowl's edge.

Entrees The crab cakes ($14 single; $26 double) at the Grandstand Grille may be Baltimore's best-kept secret. It's time to let the world know. These 8-ounce beauties are on par with the best crab cakes in town. We ordered a single, and it was fat and delicious, with lots of crab lumps and little filler. But it was served with plain jasmine rice and wan asparagus (the vegetable of the day). A crab cake this good deserves better sides. You can also enjoy a thick New York-style Reuben sandwich ($10) with corned beef, house-made sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing and melted cheese on marble rye.

Drinks There's a full bar with cocktails like a black-eyed Susan and mint julep, craft beers, and wines from Boordy Vineyards in Hydes.


Service Our waitress was efficient and pleasantly chatty.

Dessert We didn't care that there was only one dessert, because ice cream from Prigel Family Creamery in Glen Arm is always a treat. We delved into two scoops of vanilla ($5). We could have dressed it up with chocolate sauce, but we were fine savoring the ice cream's rich flavor on its own.