With the opening of Fallston Barrel House, a cursed corner may have finally found an occupant that will break the jinx.
Over the years, the building at the intersection of U.S. 1 and Route 152 has been the site of Mickey's Bar and Grill, Mallet Restaurant and Crabhouse, Tully's and Pecora's, among other places. It had become a forlorn property, so I was surprised when I drove by the spot in early January and saw a sign advertising an unfamiliar establishment. I was glad that someone was going to give it another go.
The new restaurant, which rolled out its vision with a soft opening in December, has come up with a plan that just may work for Harford County diners. It's offering a thoughtful contemporary American menu in a reconfigured space that appeals to all ages.
Owners Bill and Elle Grose and Bob and Ruth Diem are experienced restaurateurs. Bill Grose and Bob Diem operated Emerald Tavern in Parkville from 2000 to 2005. The Groses are involved in The Brewer's Cask in Baltimore's Federal Hill.
Barrel House's drinks list reflects an interest in beer with 16 drafts and several cans and bottles. Wines are available on tap in addition to interesting varieties by the glass and bottle, including a Cooper & Thief red blend that is a splurge at $20 a glass. Other pours range from $6 to $15.
The bartenders are also creating cocktails like a Jameson Black Barrel New York sour and a hot Klondike coffee.
The food pairs well with the beverages. You can eat in the bar area or in a separate dining room with a striking sepia-toned mural of vintage brewers. Be warned that the dining room gets blasted by sound-system music, and conversation can be difficult.
The sprawling structure also includes a downstairs room for an overflow crowd and a banquet space. A weekend farmers' market in the parking lot and a dog-friendly outdoor patio will be draws in the warm weather, according to the restaurant's Facebook page.
On a recent evening, we were ensconced in the upstairs dining room, which filled quickly on a weeknight. Reservations are in order here.
While waiting for our appetizers, our friendly, attentive waiter brought long pretzel rolls with a delicious cream-cheese spread that included honey and cinnamon. That got our attention. Maybe the food would be a step up from pub fare.
Our starters confirmed our hopes. The beer-battered and fried rockfish bites were fat, fresh nuggets served with a zesty Old Bay Sriracha aioli.
And our three meatballs, stuffed with mozzarella cheese, were outstanding nibbles. The addictive orbs, made with beef and chorizo, were draped with a flavorful tomatillo sauce.
The poached pear Gorgonzola salad would have been a hit, too, except it was missing the cheese. Still, the mixed field greens were a generous mound with applewood bacon and candied walnuts. The champagne vinaigrette was a subtle, complementary binder.
Meatloaf is no lowly entree at Barrel House. The kitchen elevates the mix with Angus ground sirloin and spicy chorizo. It then wraps jalapeno bacon around the mass before glazing it with barbecue sauce and scattering each slice with onion straws. It is a satisfying entree, especially served with mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts.
The menu includes several burgers and sandwiches. We immediately settled on the Full Monte. We can't remember the last time we went to a restaurant offering a Monte Cristo sandwich.
Barrel House prepared a mostly classic presentation with turkey, ham and cheddar cheese, griddled between bread. It was a great rendition. A sweet dusting of confectioners' sugar pulled the savory ingredients together, and don't be afraid to drizzle on the raspberry Melba sauce.
The plate came with fresh-cut, golden fries that were really good. We added a side of house-made coleslaw, another success.
Not as much attention seems to be paid to desserts. The chocolate molten lava cake was a room-temperature mold whose fudgy center had cooled and had no chance of erupting.
The crème brulee was a too-thin layer of chilled custard that got a boost from scattered strawberries and blueberries atop the crackly caramelized coating.
But diners will find a lot to like at the restaurant. Fallston Barrel House has the potential to change the site's previous doomed fate.