When you open up a seafood restaurant in Maryland and boast that you have the best of a certain seafood item, you’d better live up to the claim.
I must admit I was skeptical entering The Walrus Oyster & Ale House, a cavernous and brightly lit industrial-meets-nautical restaurant with circus-like signage amid a slew of chain restaurants at The Mall in Columbia. The restaurant advertises its lobster rolls as the best in the state.
But once we were warmly greeted, seated and consuming cocktails that were equal parts beautiful and well-balanced, we knew that this culinary experience was going to be special. The frozen lychee colada, a not overly sweet rum-based drink, was bursting with flavor and topped with a whole lychee. The spring fling, a vodka, watermelon, honey and Cava concoction, was the kind of creation you would expect at a posh beach resort.
The complimentary warm cornbread, served with whipped butter, was cake-like sweet and had a moist, light crumb.
The oysters — there were 15 varieties — were broken down into sweet, briny and salty categories.
Our friendly, knowledgeable server recommended several of her favorites, including the Sweet Jesus, a sweet, smaller oyster with a buttery texture and smooth finish, and the larger 38 degree North, a flavorful, semi-salty oyster that paired well with the cocktail sauce and horseradish that accompanied the dish.
The oysters Rockefeller were delicious. The large shells were stuffed with tender meat and topped with bubbling hot spinach, creamy cheeses and crispy breadcrumbs. That starter was served with a delightful charred lemon and a slice of grilled French bread.
The clam chowder was a particular standout. The rich, creamy broth was packed with tender clam strips that essentially melted in my mouth. The hint of sweet bacon, tender chunks of potato and house-made oyster crackers completed the classic, hearty soup.
The lobster roll lived up to the hype. It’s one of the best I’ve had in this region (and I’ve had almost all of them). Packed with huge chunks of sweet lobster meat topped with a butter sauce and encased in a soft flavorful roll, it’s a must-have. The hand-cut fries served with the roll (and a number of other items) aren’t anything to write home about, though.
The baked macaroni and cheese is a little better. The comfort food could have used the addition of a sharper cheese to give it that needed punch. We got the pasta as the side for the crab cake, which has a good amount of lump meat, but also contained a lot of filler. It was topped with a wine butter sauce that wasn’t that special.
The Chesapeake kettle, a gluten- and dairy-free dish, comes in a hulking, wide bowl and is packed with crab claws, tender Virginia clams, mussels, gulf shrimp, red potatoes, an entire ear of roasted corn in a J.O. spice broth. The dish gets an added kick from numerous chunks of andouille sausage.
The half-pound walrus burger is also worth a look. It was piled down with beefsteak tomato, Tillamook cheddar and iceberg lettuce. But the patty lacked seasoning throughout.
We finished the evening with the vanilla bean cheesecake at our server’s suggestion. The small, circular dessert with a graham cracker crust was placed on a subtle orange marmalade and was topped with a mountain of homemade whipped cream.
All of the dishes at the restaurant were made daily from scratch, according to our server. That’s remarkable when you look at the extensive menu, and you take into account how many exceptional things the restaurant does.
The Walrus Oyster & Ale House
The Mall in Columbia, 10300 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 3030, Columbia
Ambience: The cavernous dining area has a welcoming, modern-rustic feel with oversized farm tools decorating the walls and a chalkboard map — above the raw bar — of the waterways where the restaurant receives its oysters.
Service: Knowledgeable and professional while welcoming and friendly.
Parking: Lot near AMC Theatres
Special diets: Gluten- and dairy-free dishes are noted on the menu.
Handicap accessible: Yes
Prices: $9 to $18.; entrees $14 to $34.