A drive up Falls Road can prompt reflection on the area’s past. The route that stretches from Baltimore north to near the Pennsylvania border began as an Indian trail; later, horse-drawn carts traveled it to and from Baltimore’s markets. Nearby, picturesque Oregon Ridge Park was a bustling quarry; the origin of the marble for the city’s famous white steps.
The John Brown General & Butchery, a restaurant and butcher shop on Falls Road in Cockeysville, draws on the area’s history and its agricultural richness. It also serves one of the best chicken sandwiches for miles.
Owner Robert Voss, a Monkton native who worked in New York for several years, built the shop inside a former general store. The place fills up at lunchtime with a unique mix of artist types, families and men in trucks. Food, Voss points out, has a way of bringing people together.
First impressions: The front of the building, formerly John Brown’s country store, today holds a captivating selection of freshly butchered meats, perhaps with some local rabbits and quail. This isn’t the place to take your favorite vegetarian; at any given moment, the hip-looking crew may be breaking down a cow. The rear dining room, in Brown’s former living quarters, is Architectural Digest pretty, with hardwood floors and antique furnishings. On the shelf, a thoughtfully curated wine selection is available for off-premise consumption.
Must-tries: The menu rotates weekly, offering one cold cut sandwich, one burger and another special based on what’s available at the shop. If Nashville hot chicken is being served, order it. Comprised of three big pieces of spicy, juicy chicken ($14) on a homemade biscuit with a side of sweet butter and homemade pickles, it gives Music City’s signature dish a run for its money.
If the sandwich isn’t available, or has sold out, as happened during one recent visit, you can’t go wrong with a burger. A freshly ground double cheeseburger ($12) on fluffy bun served during a recent visit called to mind the world’s greatest Big Mac. In fact, the homemade sauce was inspired by the McDonald’s sandwich. The store also sells an excellent selection of breads made by Cunningham’s in Towson, including loaves of rosemary sourdough and a wonderful, chewy baguette that you can eat there or take home with you. Perfectly cut french fries ($4) were lamentably over-salted.
Pro tip: There’s no tip jar inside the cafe, and aside from the chef bringing the plates to your table, there’s no table service. Bus your own, and don’t expect much attention from staff. “We’re closer to a Five Guys-style service" than a full service restaurant, Voss said. "It just didn’t seem right to leave a tip jar.”
Which is not to say full service is out of the question; Voss recently began hosting monthly multi-course suppers at the restaurant, and has plans for another dining establishment in the future. Stay tuned.
Special touches: The general store’s complex includes a coffee shop next door that serves cold brew and tea and an elegant gift shop that’s exactly the place to buy your next hostess gift. Or pick up a pumpkin at the farmer’s stand across Falls Road.
Bottom line: Voss aims to offer unusual cuts of meat and wines that will enrich people’s at-home dining experience. But the John Brown General & Butchery also makes a compelling argument to leave the house for lunch. Whether you’re in the area or miles down the road, it’s well worth the trip.