The handsome structure of The Grill at Harryman House on Reisterstown’s Main Street conjures up solid, 19th-century values, while inside the appealing spaces include restored rooms of the original log cabin built on the site by Samuel Harryman in the late 1700s.
This history-rich property has been home to a restaurant for more than 30 years — a successful one, at that, judging by how packed it was on a recent weeknight.
I wonder if that popularity has led some staffers to take patrons for granted. We first-time visitors felt as if we had entered an old club that wasn’t entirely keen about admitting new members. The manager on duty never gave us a look, let alone a welcome; he just told someone else where to seat us. The front desk displayed the same indifference when we departed.
Maybe everyone simply assumed that we would be satisfied. And you know what? For the most part, we were. The more food we sampled, the more our group could understand why people keep coming back. The kitchen showed off personality, as well as technical savvy.
You might need patience, though, before getting to sample the fare. My suspicion that the place could use more attentive supervision was reinforced by the slow service. We saw people at one table go off to get dessert forks themselves, rather than wait any longer.
We didn’t have that much trouble. And I hasten to add that our server was charming and professional. So delays between courses didn’t matter that much.
But here’s a curious thing: I’m so used to restaurant personnel asking if everything is fine shortly after each item is brought to the table that I didn’t realize until later that we never got such an inquiry from anyone.
We stuck with tried-and-true drinks to start things off. (The specialty cocktail list looked more like a specialty confection list, an unfortunately common practice these days.) The bar prepared a gin and tonic and an old-fashioned ably. We also sampled wines by the glass, finding a red blend from Washington State satisfying.
Once past unremarkable bread served with olive oil (odd for a restaurant that isn’t exactly Mediterranean), we were on to some cool appetizers. The cauliflower popcorn would alone be worth a trip. The crisply fried florets proved addictive, delivering a sneaky zing inside the rice flour coating. Even more of a kick came from the honey-sriracha dipping sauce.
The deviled eggs, finished with peppers and smoked paprika, clicked well. And the mildly spicy vegetable phyllo roll — packed with a smooth blend of roasted carrots, peppers, mushroom ragout and spinach — also impressed.
We sampled the Margherita brick-oven pizza and found that the bland, chewy dough and equally bland tomatoes made for a forgettable item.
But the entrees hit the mark, especially the salmon. A honey-ginger glaze, applied with a nuanced touch, made a dexterous complement to the perfectly cooked fish, while the accompanying coconut rice with stir-fired vegetables made the dish all the more savory.
The spaghetti squash provided a fetching vegetarian option in taste, texture and color. Pasta-like strands of squash and zucchini were fused with broccolini, peas, spinach and a vibrantly spiced tomato-basil sauce.
The rack of lamb was tender, if unremarkable in flavor, and perked up wonderfully with an assemblage of delectable sweet potato gnocchi, butternut squash, crunchy lacinato kale and Parmesan.
There were more than enough temptations on the dessert list. A melding of red velvet cake and cheesecake didn’t quite succeed — too much red velvet. But no complaints were heard at the table about the rich chocolate-cashew torte, the vivid apple crostata (with a sinful Maker’s Mark butter pecan ice cream) or the indulgent bananas foster.
A little hurry in Harryman House wouldn’t hurt, but it’s an attractive place to linger in, serving food worth lingering over.