Country-club food ordinarily invokes flashbacks of a Cornish game hen glazed in apricot sauce or some such benign dish that doesn’t offend—or particularly please—the palate. But these days, as diners become more food savvy, country-club fare—once offered mainly for the convenience of members—reflects the increasing sophistication of patrons.
Case in point: The Turn House. Situated in a 2-year-old clubhouse in Columbia on the semiprivate Hobbits Glen Golf Course, this New American spot is way above par—and you don’t have to be a member to eat here (though you do get a discount if you are).
The Turn House marks the return of HoCo hometown boy Thomas Zippelli, who at just 27 is the restaurant’s executive chef and owner. Don’t let his youth fool you: Zippelli is fresh from working at such hallowed culinary grounds as the Michelin-starred The French Laundry in Yountville, California, and more recently Eleven Madison Park in New York (voted one of the 50 best restaurants in the world).
Zippelli’s pedigree is on full display here.
The dining room and carrot salad at Turn House. —Scott Suchman
The biweekly dinner menu highlights seasonal produce from local farms. Whatever the season, you can expect a nice selection of shareable starters, including meat and cheese slates and oysters on the half shell; generously portioned small plates that are more than enough to make a meal, especially when you add a protein; and six entrees (an assortment of steak, seafood, and pasta). Many trendy favorites are here: pimento cheese dip, burrata, or beef tartare, but Zippelli takes them to the next level—his artistry is impressive, the ingredients are high caliber, and his execution is flawless.
On our first outing, a warm wire basket of house-made sourdough and semolina bread arrived straight out of the oven. Self-control gave way to polishing off the better part of the basket, along with a ramekin of cultured Vermont butter. Once the damage was done, we also eagerly ate our way through the creamy crab dip—Maryland-sourced in early April—with a side of soft pretzel bites and spectacularly crisp house-made chips. The classic Caesar with grilled sourdough bread was also a satisfying starter.
The entrees were similarly sterling. A gorgeously charred piece of striped bass with creamed leeks, smoked potatoes, clams, and potato crumble suggested a deconstructed bowl of clam chowder and offered incredible umami flavor. The seasonal pasta dish, a bowl of house-made gnocchi stuffed with wild mushrooms and tossed with snap pea tendrils, pearl onions, and crumbles of feta, offered a delectable taste of spring and was unusually light for a dish that can be leaden. A side of charred broccoli with a kicky romesco sauce helped us get in our daily requirement of greens.
Beet and Goat Cheese Salad
The beet and goat cheese salad with prosciutto and pistachio gremolata is just the right combination of salty and sweet.
Several days later, on a midday visit, we joined a group of golfers in the cozy bar area and chose from a more casual menu of soups, salads, and sandwiches. Zippelli has his work cut out for him here as he tries to strike the balance between pleasing the links lunch set and fine-diners after dark, but he does so without missing a beat.
This time around, we shared a roasted carrot salad, a dream of a dish composed of heirloom carrots, chewy wheat berries, radishes, and a dollop of dill panna cotta. We also split a succulent sandwich of barbecued pulled pork with a fennel Brussels sprout slaw that cut the sweetness of the sandwich.
On both visits, servers were friendly and enthusiastic. During dinner, our waitress, Corinne, was so excited about the food that we wanted her to sit at our table. (“Eat for me,” she said as she delivered our entrees.) On a second visit, our server shared that he was the only one working the lunch shift in a dining room of 40 or so people. Despite the challenge, our drinks came out quickly and the meal was well-paced.
The surroundings are similarly inviting. The main dining room is modern and airy with two fireplaces, touches of teal, and an adjacent alfresco patio with sweeping views of the golf course, though with food this fine, white tablecloths would be fitting. My other issue in the décor department is the fake-plant wall, an odd choice given the farm-fresh mission of a menu touting “only the freshest, local ingredients.” Fresh flowers or plants—or nothing at all—would be preferable.
These are minor quibbles for a place that’s well worth your time—and dining dollars. Consider going even if you don’t know the difference between a birdie and a bogey.
THE TURN HOUSE 11130 Willow Bottom Dr., Columbia, 410-740-2096. HOURS Mon. 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Tue.-Thu. and Sat. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun. 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. PRICES Appetizers: $8-18; entrees: $13-40; desserts: $8. AMBIANCE Clubby.