It’s a testament to the expertise and effort of the new owners, brothers Keir and Binda Singh, and their staff that after just a few months in action — the restaurant began serving dinner in December — Peerce’s feels better than ever.
An ambitious renovation has transformed the building into an opulent and welcoming destination, with chocolate and gold accented dining rooms and enviable wood molding. Handsome fireplaces line one wall of the dining room, and flickering lanterns on each table create a feeling of romance — even when you’re dining solo. An eye catching mural by local artist John Brandon Sills depicts historic India; it’s inspired by artwork that hangs at the Imperial Hotel in New Delhi. In warmer months, doors will open outward for abundant alfresco dining.
I never ate at the old Peerce’s, which has undergone various rounds of ownership in the past few decades, but pictures in The Baltimore Sun archive reveal an office-like, brick interior. Perhaps the setting, in a picturesque stretch by the Loch Raven Reservoir, was the real draw. In any case, the new look feels like a huge improvement.
(In the menu and website the new restaurant seems to be known simply as ‘Peerce’s’ — and that’s a good thing. It’s 2020, past the sell by date for a name with ‘Plantation’ in it. The restaurant, in any case, started out as a chicken stand called Peerce’s Corner.)
The new Peerce’s is technically an Indian restaurant. But the menu, which overlaps significantly with Ananda, another Singh property in Columbia, seems eager to accommodate diners who prefer new American cuisine. The Kerala cakes are really a trio of crab cakes, albeit with onions, cumin and mustard seeds in place of Old Bay. It’s a bold substitution, and a slightly overpowering one. I’d lose the onions to let the natural crab sweetness shine through.
A pulled pork appetizer, though delectable, hearkens to Southern cuisine more than the subcontinent. We swooned over a duck entree — with fatty meat falling off the bone — that was apparently roasted Himalayan style, but would have been a welcome addition at just about any fine dining restaurant in the city.
One of the best items I tried was one of the more traditional Indian offerings, the black lentils, which were rich and spicy, and made me regret not sampling the lamb vindaloo or butter chicken. Instead, we took our server’s suggestion to get the sea bass, what he called the best dish on the menu. At $35, it’s also one of the most expensive. The lackluster presentation, with the fish apparently tossed on top of a mess of spinach, tomato and rice, detracted from an otherwise tasty plate. Perhaps the kitchen had other needs to attend to; during that visit, the restaurant was fully booked, and on top of that, a wedding reception was happening in an adjoining room. (Now that’s multi-tasking.) More eye-catching was a meat samosa plated with a balsamic reduction, which provided a nice tangy balance to the thick, pot pie-like crust and slightly dry interior.
For dessert, I was glad I took my server’s recommendation to order the honey graham ice cream. Made at the restaurant’s sister location in Columbia, it was so good — dense and creamy with swirls of buttery, honey goodness — that if it were sold in grocery stores, I’d be dead.
Service is warm, attentive and human. During one visit, our diligent bartender made us laugh by dancing along to a Backstreet Boys song. When a cup of chai arrived cold, he apologized profusely and brought a steaming one in its place. During a follow-up trip, our waiter let us know that he had worked at the Ambassador in Roland Park, now under new management. He pointed to a table of regulars that had come up from the city to dine at the new restaurant.
The restaurant website beckons “Visit us,” and its Facebook page recommends “Don’t wait to make your reservations!” On both visits, I was seated with no problem. Yet owner Keir Singh said in an email afterward that the restaurant is open only to family, friends and neighbors, as they are not yet fully staffed and haven’t opened all their dining spaces.
Reviews from The Sun archives indicate the food at the old Peerce’s was inconsistent through the decades, even as it remained the go-to spot for proms, engagements and weddings. In 1974, critic Elizabeth Large wrote that her meal at Peerce’s was “ridiculously expensive” considering the quality of the food. (She was even charged extra for salad dressing). By contrast, today’s prices feel extremely fair, particularly given the luxe location and atmosphere. You don’t leave Peerce’s feeling like you’ve just been pick pocketed, an experience that can sour an otherwise pleasant evening.
Instead, you leave Peerce’s sated, charmed and optimistic. The future of this storied old restaurant is in good hands.