Wondering where to eat next? With new restaurants opening regularly and old favorites continuing to up their games, dining out in Harford County has never been better. Here, we take a look at what makes some of your favorite spots – from waterfront restaurants to brand new beer houses – so lovable.
Editor’s note: Winners and honorable mentions were determined by popular vote. Readers were invited to vote online in August and September.
Paul Friedenberg, who owns JD’s Smokehouse North with his wife, Ann Marie, keeps his barbecuing tricks close to the vest. He won’t share exactly what mix of wood is used to smoke JD’s beef, pork, chicken and turkey – though he admits that hickory plays a big role – or what’s special about the seasoning rubbed on the meat before it’s cooked. Whatever goes into those secret mixes, they work.
As for technique, Friedenberg is modest. “We keep it simple. Low and slow. We don’t try to reinvent the wheel,” he says. Slow, in this case, means 17 hours in the smoker, as fresh meat transforms into tender, smoke-ringed magic.
JD’s condiments have a fan club, too. Meats can be topped with one of the restaurant’s four sauce options: smoky, sweet, mustardy or spicy Vidalia onion.
While Paul does the smoking, Ann Marie handles the other important part of the barbecue equation: the beer. With the barbecue, they recommend something from their own “Brothers of the Beard” beer club – like the Brothers of the Beard marzen brewed specially for the restaurant by Heavy Seas Beer.
Alchemy Elements, a Bel Air hotspot since its opening in 2015, takes menu creativity and seasonality very seriously.
Because everything from the kitchen is made from scratch, the staff knows exactly what’s in each dish and can help vegetarians and vegans navigate the menu. Diners looking for meat-free dishes have several choices, including an eye-popping vegetable board and a seasonal entree of acorn squash stuffed with ancient grains and seasonal vegetables. The squash dish is “hearty and substantial,” says General Manager Lisa Patrick.
Choices abound on the cocktail menu, too. “We try to comprise our cocktail list seasonally, as well,” says Patrick. “Cocktails are staff-created and unique. They’re all about the freshest ingredients.”
One particular favorite, the Dorothy’s Revenge, is an explosion of citrus, mixing pink grapefruit vodka with crème de pamplemousse rosé, hopped grapefruit bitters and ruby red grapefruit juice.
Since opening in late June, Miller’s Ale House has quickly developed a big local following.
Guests come for the food – there are over a dozen wing sauces to choose from, a variety of burgers and more elaborate entrees, including osso bucco that “falls off the bone,” says manager Tracy Sechrest.
But the cuisine is just one part of the draw; the Bel Air restaurant also boasts a wide and ever-changing selection of beers. Miller’s bar has 46 beers on tap daily, with a mix of international and domestic options that include some local brews. The selection changes regularly, to “keep people wanting to try new things,” says Sechrest.
That approach has struck a chord with Harford County residents; they flock to the restaurant. “After 4:30 or 5 p.m., we’re usually on about a half-hour wait,” says Sechrest. Fortunately, those 46 draft beer selections offer up plenty of ways to pass the time.
Tidewater Grille owner Ralph Shapot celebrated his 11th year as owner of the Havre de Grace restaurant earlier this fall, but he’s been a fan of Havre de Grace restaurant for much longer.
Years ago, when traveling home to West Chester, Pa., from Washington, Shapot and friends stopped at Tidewater Grille.
“I’d never been here but loved the location and loved the view,” he said.
For the next seven or eight years, Shapot and his friends continued to make the drive from West Chester. He’d always liked the idea of owning a bar on the water, so when he retired from his consulting career and the Tidewater Grille was up for sale, he jumped at the chance to buy it.
Today, nearly a dozen years later, Shapot still hasn’t tired of enjoying that view from the restaurant’s large outdoor patio. “We’re located at the confluence of the Susquehanna River and the upper Chesapeake Bay, right on the water,” he says. “The view is unbelievable. People just gravitate outside.”
The Hickory Lodge Restaurant and Bar
Black Eyed Suzie’s
Pizza: Buontempo Bros Pizza
Fortunato Bros Pizza
Pat’s Pizza Family Restaurant
La Cucina Italian Restaurant
Place to take the kids: Broom’s Bloom Dairy
Red Robin Gourmet Burgers
Pat’s Pizza Family Restaurant
Place to take out-of-towners: MacGregor’s Restaurant
Entertaining out-of-town guests can be tricky. It’s important to choose a restaurant that showcases all the best attributes of the area, from the people to the flavors. At MacGregor’s Restaurant, all those bases are covered, thanks to friendly staff, a prime location in historic Havre de Grace, and a constantly evolving menu.
“We cater to all of our customers’ needs, we have a great view of the water, and we have a menu that’s eclectic but stays true to the roots of the area,” says General Manager Stephanie Golumbek.
The restaurant keeps the menu fresh with frequently updated specials, but both locals and out-of-towners often gravitate towards one specialty: the Harbor of Mercy rockfish.
The dish is named for Havre de Grace, which means “Harbor of Grace” or “Harbor of Mercy” when translated from French. In it, Dijon-crusted rockfish, dressed with a mustardy lemon-butter sauce, is paired with local favorites like asparagus, sweet corn and tomatoes, plus chive-flecked mashed potatoes.