The scene was set at Mountain Branch Grille & Pub, the country-club restaurant in Joppa.
A roaring fireplace greeted me as I entered from a bitter winter evening. A steady bustle of attentive servers bringing out platters topped with well-plated foods had my eyes darting from dish to dish. The smell of cooked, seasoned meats wafted through the air. And a number of customers sitting among the wood-accented dining room made for a picturesque moment.
The restaurant certainly looked the part. I was prepared to be wowed. And while I wasn’t completely blown away, there were many things that the restaurant does well.
It starts with the artisanal cocktails.
The maple Old Fashioned was well-balanced and lived up to the namesake. The rich maple cut through the bourbon for a sweet and strong concoction.
I was doubtful when the pear martini was placed in front of me. It was a clear white liquid with a simple slice of lime. But it was absolutely delightful. The distinct pear flavor shined. It wasn’t overly sweet. And I could taste the alcohol — without feeling like I was in for a hangover the next day.
The appetizers are also well-thought out and delicious.
The tuna tartare is very good.
The flavorful, buttery cubed tuna paired well with the creamy slices of avocado for a dazzling tower presentation. The buttery toasted notes completed each scrumptious bite.
The Brussels sprouts were surprisingly savory and served with a creamy blue cheese dip. Many restaurants have a tendency to serve the vegetable fried in a sweet heat sauce. This was a nice departure from that trend.
The house bread was also very good. The small loaves of bread were warm and came with a seasoned olive oil.
The restaurant also excels with its meats and seafood.
The description for the sautéed garlic shrimp promised a creamy white wine garlic-spinach sauce, over linguine. The sauce was not creamy. It was actually very light. But it was packed with flavor. I’m actually glad the sauce wasn’t a thicker consistency. It was perfect with the lighter coating.
The N.Y. strip steak came slathered in a zesty, sweet bourbon steak sauce. It was cooked to the requested temperature and was as buttery as its menu description promised.
My favorite meat entrée was the rack of lamb, which was served frenched with a house demi-glace. Each lamb portion was topped with a sliver of cooked carrots. It made for a lovely presentation. And it was wonderfully tasty.
The twin crab cake was seasoned well. But it didn’t taste like it was fully cooked. Whatever binding ingredient that was used in the preparation was still wet when it came to the table. The french fries that came with the dish were an unexpected treat. They were well-seasoned and crispy.
The Chicken Baltimore, seared breasts topped with lump crab meat, with a wine garlic-lemon sauce was pleasant. But I thought the chicken could have used a better sear as the breasts looked bland and a step up from boiled.
The restaurant falls flat with its sides, which tasted like afterthoughts.
The mashed potatoes, which came with the pork chop, steak, and rack of lamb entrees, were lukewarm and lacked flavor and imagination. Quite frankly, I have had better from a box. The green beans, which also accompanied the pork chop and steak, were properly cooked. But they also lacked pizzazz. The rice pilaf that came with the Chicken Baltimore also wasn’t remarkable.
If the kitchen paid a fraction of the attention that they put into the main dishes into the sides, I would be more enthusiastic about encouraging people to go to the restaurant.
Ambience: The large, but cozy restaurant resembles a rustic hunting lodge. The warm wood accents create a homey, welcoming feel.
Service: Eager, friendly staff goes out of their way to make sure that customers are a priority.
Parking: Lot surrounding the property.
Special diets: Items can be adjusted to fit special requests.
Handicap accessible: Yes
Prices: $10 to $15 for appetizers; $21 to $36 for entrees.
Mountain Branch Grille & Pub
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1827 Mountain Road, Joppa | 410-836-9600 | mountainbranch.com