Restaurant review: It's good to have options at Garry's Grill

Restaurant review: It's good to have options at Garry's Grill
The St. Croix salad at Garry's Grill has sweet maple vinaigrette over greens with mango, strawberry, slivered almonds and curried coconut crusted chicken. (John Lindner, Baltimore Sun)

Tucked behind a stretch of shopping centers along Route 2, the restaurant bills itself as a place where locals eat. No doubt. After 20 years, they can find it: Garry's Grill & Catering inSeverna Park.

Actually, Garry's isn't that hard to find. They give good directions on their website. But the last turn, into the parking lot of another strip mall, can be confusing. There are no signs until you round another corner and see the lettering on the storefront window. Garry's location manages to be out of the way in the midst of a busy shopping district. That sense is complemented inside, where you discover that Garry's is far easier to find than define.

11:55 Garry's has the feel of a "locals" establishment — what a lot of taverns aim for and sometimes hit. And Garry's feels like a tavern, while offering distinct variations on that theme, with overtones of milder family dining spots.

Seating here is almost entirely booths, which contribute to a nice illusion. The tall seat backs form a visual barrier between tables. Pop music plays just loud enough to overwhelm others' chat while remaining easy enough to tune out during your own. The effect is to sequester diners, lending a sense of privacy that can give rise to the impression you're the only party in the place.

The servers, young men and women in black shirts and short black pants, were cordial and competent during this visit. The counter that divides the dining room and grill is low enough to allow a view of the cooks' heads and shoulders. Acoustics smother the kitchen noise you'd expect in a setup like this.

So Garry's is a quieter, more intimate setting than a typical tavern — certainly more so than any images conjured by the term "grill."

12:05 The menu, while more inventive than you'd expect in many pubs, works pretty close to type. Long lists of burgers, sandwiches, wraps and paninis, with more than a dozen appetizers thrown in, cover most tavern standards and trendy dishes. The term "something for everyone" comes to mind. But two full pages of salads? On a grill menu?

One page presents the kitchen's inventions, a gamut of popular salads, including taco, chopped, sesame, steak and cheese — 14 in all. The other page offers a build-your-own deal with a list of five bases, like Caesar, berry and chopped, to which you add one of more than a dozen topping options, mostly chicken or seafood.

We ordered the crab fondue ($9.99) and a boursin bacon burger ($8.99), as well as the St. Croix salad, which comes topped with coconut-encrusted chicken and maple vinaigrette ($12.99). The spiced tea rates a mention, too: imagine apple crisp, a touch of cinnamon and sweet balanced with citrus from an orange slice.

12:14 The crab fondue is really a thick crab dip, delivered in big, bar-food proportions. Apply it to the cocktail rounds of white bread with a spoon. Two could make a meal of it.

12:22 The salad is a picture. Greens glisten with maple dressing. Hefty slices of mango and bright strawberries offer deliverance from the sweet vinaigrette, with slivered almonds and a tiny spiced muffin lending more texture. The curried, coconut-encrusted chicken isn't bad either.

The boursin, melting over the patty, imparted a nice tang and elevated an otherwise humble burger. The boursin mix is done in-house. It's a pleasant change from standard toppings.

The pasta salad — one of a number of optional sides served with the burgers — was the one item that didn't show off an obvious touch of inventiveness.

12:40 We finish, pay and, as we stand, we're surprised at how many tables were filled. Our booth screened us from our fellow diners. A quick scan suggested the clientele's age range spanned at least three generations and made the place look more like a nice family restaurant.

Garry's Grill has a full liquor license, but it's missing one element that's foundational to the neighborhood tavern: a bar. If there were just six or seven stools and a big old flat-screen TV stuck on ESPN … well, there you'd be: anywhere.

Instead, Garry's presents an amalgam of types and a character that's hard to pin down. But after 20 years of feeding locals breakfast, lunch and dinner, whatever it is, it seems to be working.

Garry's Grill

Where: 553A Baltimore-Annapolis Blvd., Severna Park

Contact: 410-544-0499,

Lunch hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. daily

Lunch entrees: $7.99-$15.99

Food: ***


Atmosphere: ***

[Key: Outstanding: **** Good: *** Fair or Uneven: ** Poor: *]

Dining time: 45 minutes