Helping to put the picturesque in Sykesville is the former B&O Railroad depot, designed in vibrant Queen Anne style by E. Francis Baldwin. Opened in 1884, it fell into disrepair after the suspension of rail passenger service in the 1950s. But, rechristened Baldwin’s Station and substantially renovated, the building has enjoyed a second life as a restaurant since 1991.
Overlooking the Patapsco River and nestled alongside tracks that carry freight trains daily on the historic Old Main Line, Baldwin’s Station continues to provide diners with thoughtfully prepared food in an environment brimming with Victorian-era charm.
On either side of the cozy bar is an attractive dining room, each fashioned out of spaces once filled with waiting passengers or goods. There’s also a deck, my own favorite dining area because that’s where you’re nearest the very closely passing trains. (During cold weather, heaters keep the deck at a decent temperature.)
If you love trains — who possibly couldn’t? — this proximity provides a cool bonus, right down to the thunderous rumbles and piercing squeals of the wheels. On our visit, we lucked out with two trains in less than an hour. But there isn’t a set schedule, so you never know when the whistle will blow. What you can count on is a pleasant meal.
You may encounter a few quirks along the way. We did.
The host didn’t exactly exude an enthusiastic welcome (the person taking our phone reservation the day before sounded curiously grudging, too). Finding Christmas decorations still on the tables looked a wee bit odd. And for all of their friendliness, the young servers seemed rusty on some of the basics, such as removing empty plates and glasses or replacing silverware after it was used.
In the end, though, the positives easily carried the day.
To go with cocktails, including a suavely concocted martini with a twist and a decent old-fashioned, we could have made a full dinner out of our initial bites — savory bread and sweet butter; nicely fried calamari with Thai chili sauce; a tasty dish of thick-chopped and pan-seared shrimp cakes (the accompanying herb butter gnocchi could have been lighter).
Even more impressive were the tender, pan-seared sea scallops, served atop an exquisite caponata of chopped, autumn-evoking vegetables.
For a main course, we included a burger, which turned out to be quite a star. The kitchen demonstrated great finesse in cooking the ground chuck and brisket. The beef and the rest of the goodies between the bun — bacon, lettuce, tomato jam, Muenster cheese, pickled shallots — gained from the astute application of a garlic truffle aioli. Excellent fries, too.
An entree called “old fashioned chicken” calls to mind a vintage preparation, but it might be better dubbed “chicken old fashioned” — this cocktail-inspired dish features a cherry bourbon marinade. The resulting sweetness, which also comes from candied carrots and a bit of orange flavoring, proved pleasant. Too bad the chicken was tough. But the bed of herb butter couscous satisfied fully.
Top honors went to the seafood gnocchi, an imaginative melange of scallops, shrimp and crab with a crunchy chiffonade of Brussels sprouts in a rich, sun-dried tomato cream sauce. The accompanying gnocchi had a lovely airiness.
For dessert, we enjoyed a classic bread pudding and the first-rate vanilla ice cream sharing the plate. We kept returning to that ice cream as a substitute for the whipped cream partnering our other choice — a flourless chocolate cake with a very tempting, brownie-like texture and flavor.
The dinner reconfirmed how commendably Baldwin’s Station preserves a part of Sykesville history, while providing a worthy destination for locals and visitors alike.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Where: 7618 Main St., Sykesville
Contact: 410-795-1041, baldwinsstation.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (lunch), 4 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. (dinner) Tuesday to Saturday; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (brunch), 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. (dinner) Sunday. Closed Monday.
Prices: Appetizers $7 to $18, entrees $22 to $38
Noise/TVs: Noise varies by location, but tends to be moderate (except when trains pass). There’s a TV in the bar.
Service: Amiable and responsive
Special diets: They can be accommodated.
Handicap accessible: Yes
[Key: Superlative: 5 stars; Excellent: 4 stars; Very good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star.]