We knew things were looking up when we strolled into O'Loughlin's and were welcomed by our charming server Jason who quickly assessed the situation and announced, "You girls look like you need a drink." He was right.
Sipping our respective perfect Manhattan ($6.50) and equally perfect Sapphire Martini ($6.50, we were happy his crystal ball had fed him the right info. And speaking of feeding? Come hungry, for O'Loughlin's feeds you generously and well. For openers, we opted for their famous Onion Straws ($5 for regular/ $7 for large) and their scrumptious version of Crab Dip ($10).
Jason admitted that it was not the first time he had heard our question when the onion straws arrived: "If this is the regular size, what on earth does the large portion look like?" It would probably cover the table. Wispy little treats, expertly flash-fried for maximum crunch, the onion straws are dusted with a special blend of seasonings. Everyone should order them.
Love it when crab dip is served in a bread bowl, and particularly if the crab dip is seasoned as skillfully as their rendition. Bubbling hot and cheesy, this indulgence was spot on. Both appetizers were so good that the leftovers survived the trip in their go-boxes, delighting the one who wasn't free to come with.
A wide array of seafood dishes, pastas, and items from the grill are attractive from several standpoints: excellent preparation, generous portions, and a very diner-friendly price point (main courses come with veggie of the day plus one additional side dish, while pasta dishes are served with garlic bread and your choice of house or Caesar salad. ) Chicken Chesapeake for $18 is one exa.m.ple of their crowd-pleasers. Having said that? We were more in the mood for sandwiches, with one member of our party choosing the Short Rib Burger ($10.50) and the other the Cubano Sandwich ($10).
If your taste buds are tuned for a good burger, let us recommend the Short Rib Burger at O'Loughlin's: buttered and toasted bun, delectable chopped beef short rib, and tender roast brisket on top. Majorly yummy. Lettuce and tomato were fresh and fries were on the positive side of average.
The Cubano was partly authentic, partly inauthentic, but wholly enjoyable. Slices of spicy pork roast, plenty of ha.m., Swiss cheese, and pickle were the real deal, but the bread? Nothing wrong with the ciabatta roll on which the sandwich was served, but they'd laugh you off Calle Ocho if you tried to serve a Cubano on ciabatta bread in Mia.m.i.
We didn't need Jason's prescience to tell us that we also needed dessert. We figured it out on our own. With a nod toward the season, we selected (from the list of New Desserts) the Pumpkin and Sweet Potato Tort ($6). Served warm with vanilla ice crea.m. melting atop it? The perfect end to another enjoyable meal at O'Loughlin's.
Currently in the works is a special gluten-free menu; but in the meantime, they thoughtfully include GF icons to denote those menu items that can be safely ordered by diners who must follow a gluten-free diet. Vegetarians have pasta options (better hope they have the Vegetable Lasagna on their list of specials when you go) and salads. The special O'Loughlin's house salad ($9) is popular with vegetarians and carnivores alike-------included are field greens, sliced apples, bleu cheese crumbles, and candied walnuts tossed in their special signature vinaigrette dressing.
O'Loughlin's and I go way back. They've been open for 15 years in the Bay Hills location, thirty years all together. I remember when they had not one thing remotely Irish on their menu despite the green paint and shamrocks defining their décor.
On our most recent visit, however, not only was there corned beef (albeit in a Reuben for $10), but there was homemade Irish stew served in a sourdough bread bowl ($10) and a delicious-sounding burger called Luck of the Irish ($10) featuring Guinness BBQ sauce and a topping of corned beef and cheddar. The fact is, though, that if you can turn out consistently good food with high customer appeal? Doesn't matter if it transports you to the Emerald Isle or leaves you happily munching away on the Broadneck Peninsula.
O'Loughlin's is a community hub, known for its involvement particularly in the areas of charitable support and youth sports activities. O'Loughlin's clearly loves its community. And you know what? Its community loves them back.
A Final Note: Remember back in the day when your leftovers were whisked away and returned to you in an adorable little foil packet twisted into the shape of a swan? Well, those days are over. What's likely to happen these days is that lovely question slipping from the lips of many local servers, "Wanna box for that?"
For those of us who make a point of leaving a generous gratuity (and many of us who do tip well —myself included — are former servers ourselves), we'd like an opportunity to return to those halcyon days of yore. At the very least, servers, give diners the opportunity to make a choice. What's wrong with replacing "Wanna box for that?" with "Would you like for me to pack that up for you?" If they'd rather do it themselves, they'll let you know.
Terra Walters is a freelance writer and editor based in Annapolis.
WHEN YOU GO
WHAT: O'Loughlin's Restaurant
WHERE: 1258 Bay Dale Drive Arnold MD 21012 (in the Bay Hills Shopping Center)
HOURS: Monday-Friday, 11 to 1 a.m.; Saturday, noon to 1 a.m.; Sunday, 10 to 12 a.m. (Brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
EXECUTIVE CHEF: Steven Wright
FIRST COURSES: $4.50 to $12.
MAIN COURSES: $19 to $25.
RESERVATIONS: Reservations are accepted, and are recommended for weekends and holidays.
CREDIT CARDS: All major cards accepted.