There is not much my friends and I didn't like about the new Ram's Head Tavern in Savage Mill. This is the sister restaurant to the Ram's Head in Annapolis, which is known as much for the top musical acts that it books as for its food and microbrews.
There is less of an emphasis on music at the new Ram's Head. But both taverns share the same polished menu, which ranges from casual pub fare to serious new American. Bill Muehlhauser bought the Ram's Head in Annapolis in 1989 and started brewing beers under the Fordham name in 1995. His son, Kyle, opened the Savage Mill Ram's Head in July.
The location, in one of the oldest buildings of the 19th-century mill, offers high ceilings and two levels of open space. There are plenty of booths and tables in the downstairs bar, where antique Fourth of July postcards add to the understated patriotic decor. Upstairs, an oversized mural of a feast scene presides over the large, smoke-free dining room.
If you head to the bar, keep in mind that there are $1.95 pints of Fordham's four fine microbrews during happy hour and live music after 8 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. While there, you might want to start off with the spicy clam dip, a house special. A twist on traditional crab and cream-cheese dips, this one has bits of chopped clam and a lot of punch.
For a light meal, there are a dozen sandwiches on the menu, from a bratwurst hoagie with sauerkraut to a grilled rib eye steak served on toasted garlic bread. The spicy shrimp salad is first-rate, made with whole shrimp in a mayonnaise dressing with a lot of kick.
If you're interested in a more substantial meal, the Ram's Head has plenty of options. Begin with greaseless and light beer-battered shrimp dangling from a cup of cocktail sauce. Perfectly cooked, they're an example of how something simple can dazzle. Or you might try the soup of the day. Ours was tomato cream with basil, a chunky vegetable soup with lots of vibrant flavors and just enough cream for balance.
The kitchen impressed us again and again. There were the roasted kernels of corn that added a smoky grilled flavor to a bow-tie pasta dish with tender chicken, prosciutto and a wonderful Asiago cheese sauce. There was the herb butter melting on the impeccable cut of aged beef tenderloin. And there were the perfect jumbo lumps of crab in the crab cake, held together with just the right amount of breading and seasoning.
People often ask me where to go for the best crab cake. The Ram's Head now has moved into my upper rankings. The same superb lump crabmeat goes into the $10.95 crab cake sandwich as the crab cake platter, market priced at about $26.
If I had friends visiting who wanted crab cakes, this is where I'd take them. That's partly because of all the other things the Ram's Head offers -- a unique atmosphere with a bit of Maryland history, finely crafted microbrews and excellent service. Our waiter managed to be both funny and fully informed on all the intricacies of the menu.
The Ram's Head leaves desserts to outside vendors but chooses wisely. The peanut butter pie was lighter than we expected, almost like nut mousse. But we decided creamy pineapple sorbet took the prize for presentation. It was served in half of a hollowed-out pineapple, the fruit that's been a symbol of hospitality in this country for centuries.
Due to incomplete information supplied to The Sun, last's week's review omitted the name of the co-owner of the Garden Spot Cafe. Keshav Ratwani is co-owner of the restaurant and president of the Garden Spot Cafe's corporation.
Ram's Head Tavern
8600 Foundry St., Savage
Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner
Credit cards: All major cards
Prices: Appetizers, $4.50-8.95; entrees, $6.75-$26.95
Ratings system: Outstanding: ****; Good ***; Fair or uneven **; Poor *