Like a book, a restaurant shouldn’t be judged by its exterior.
Consider the case of Food Plenty, a very good Victoria Restaurant Group venture that serves comfort food sourced from local farms and food suppliers.
Food Plenty is housed in Clarksville Commons, a retail-business center that looks rather like an upscale version of a self-storage facility. And that’s from the street. From the parking lot out back, the faceless, industrial image is even more pronounced.
But forget all that. The worthy principles behind the construction of the Commons, and the businesses located within, are environmental consciousness and sustainability. So you won’t hear another negative word from me. (Well, maybe one more. The inside of Food Plenty — with lots of high, mostly bare walls — is nearly as impersonal as the outside. It took me a while to warm up to the surroundings.)
Food Plenty shares its name with a Baltimore County farm that figured in the lives of the Marriner family, who also own Victoria Gastro Pub in Columbia and Manor Hill Tavern in Ellicott City. The restaurant makes cool use of wood salvaged from local barns and features rustic-style tables (some folks may find the wooden chairs uncomfortable for a long sit). Sliding barn doors add character to the room divisions.
The most attractive spot is the bar area, which has “floating” tables along the wall and a 20-tap beer dispenser behind the counter. Those beers, very much part of Food Plenty’s local flavor, feature several from the Marriners’ Manor Hill brewery, as well as Baltimore’s Charm City Meadworks, Frederick’s Flying Dog and several more.
The localizing act also extends to the spirits stocked at the bar. The cocktails we sampled using Green Hat gin and Rock Creek bourbon from Washington, D.C., proved worthy, if not so memorable that we’ll now part with our favorite classic brands.
Maryland wines may not be on everyone’s must-drink list, but it’s still nice to see a half-dozen bottles from state wineries included here. (Speaking of wine, nearly all of the by-the-glass offerings are priced under $10, a bargain worth touting.)
On the night we visited for dinner, service proved pleasantly efficient. A fairly heavy rock music soundtrack grew less distracting as more tables filled, providing a competitive hum of conversation.
The comforts from the comfort food started with an excellent castiron corn bread, accompanied by honey butter. The two principal ingredients in a chicken-and-dumplings starter were tender and flavorful; assorted veggies that also inhabited the creamy soup base had just the right crunch. More old-fashioned comfort came from a hearty, traditional wedge salad, which rested on a thin spread of smoked tomato coulis.
It was fun finding pierogies among the appetizers. These were lightly seared, which gave them extra texture. The broccoli/cheddar filling might have been a bit shy of personality, but tiny crispy onions sprinkled on the dish perked everything up, as did a rather elegant creme fraiche on the side.
An entree dubbed “meat and potatoes” (how much more comforting can you get?) consisted of a fine-quality New York strip, supported by scalloped potatoes that needed a little more flavor. The accompanying green beans were cooked maybe a minute too long, but still satisfied.
A turkey pot pie hit the comfort-food zone neatly. If the pastry crust was somewhat soggy, it still did the job, while the tender smoked turkey clicked deftly with the veggies, particularly the crispy peas.
A pan-roasted rockfish impressed with its moistness and terrific partnering from a carrot-top gremolata, Hubbard squash puree and sauteed winter vegetables.
Dessert included a memorable apple crisp with butter oat crumbles and subtle graham cracker ice cream from Scoop & Paddle, which got its start in Clarksville. A caramel drizzle was a one-sweet-step-too-far adornment. Less impressive was a mini-tart version of banana cream pie, also with that caramel drizzle.
Food Plenty, which opened over the holidays, already seems to have settled into a sturdy groove that should keep the restaurant on course for a nice long run.