“It will be about an hour-and-a-half wait,” the hostess said, while reassuring us that this was typical for a Friday night. Our party of two had shown up—naively, it turned out—without reservations in the midst of Ellicott City’s Midnight Madness, the early December evening when the historic mill town’s many boutiques stay open late to accommodate holiday shoppers. The town was engulfed in a holly-jolly hubbub, and, apparently, we had the same idea as nearly everyone else: “Let’s grab a bite to eat at Manor Hill Tavern.”
The crush of patrons vying for tables that night illustrates just how quickly, since opening in early 2017, Manor Hill Tavern has ingrained itself into the town’s dining firmament. And once you get a look at the space—a warren of dining and bar areas inside a series of brightly colored barns—and its menu—designed by chef Chad Wells of Victoria Gastro Pub fame and full of microbrews and creative gastropub fare—it’s easy to see why.
This is a Goldilocks restaurant if ever there was one, a place designed to please everyone from finicky kids to fusty Aunt Edna. On our visit, we sat in the upstairs dining room and appreciated its rustic architectural details, including exposed beams, shiplap walls, and a working fireplace. We also listened as high-spirited chatter floated across the hall from the upstairs bar. (There’s another bar area downstairs.) The bar highlights microbrews from Manor Hill Brewing, the restaurant’s farm-brewery, which grows its own hops and other vegetables on 54 acres in Ellicott City. We could see how one could spend a Sunday in the bar with a couple of brews (maybe a Manor Hill Grisette or traditional IPA), some appetizers, and the game on the flatscreen.
But we were here for the full dinner experience, so we started with an appetizer of meatballs served over broccoli-cheddar mashed potatoes. A demi-glace of caramelized ketchup (essentially barbecue sauce) was a bit too sweet, but it did provide some nice moisture for the slightly dry meatballs. Manor Hill Tavern prides itself on its Neopolitan-style pizzas, which are made in a brick pizza oven. Several specialty pies are on offer, as well as a build-your-own menu offering everything from basil to wild boar. We opted for The Old Line pizza, an 8-inch red-sauce pie topped with a provolone-mozzarella blend, beer-braised sausage, shreds of Maryland crab, and a healthy dusting of Old Bay. The spicy Old Bay balanced the rich crab and savory sausage well, and the medium-thick crust managed to be both crisp and chewy.
Of our two entrees—a lemon-herb-marinated half chicken and a barley risotto with mushrooms, cauliflower, and Parmesan in a tomato gravy—the risotto was the standout. The barley was a clever substitute for rice, and the mix of flavors worked—earthy mushrooms, creamy Parmesan, and sweet tomato broth. The chicken, served over artichoke, tomato, and goat cheese orzo in arugula pesto sauce, was perfectly pleasant, if unremarkable. Dessert was tempting, but we demurred for another time—if we can get a table, that is.
MANOR HILL TAVERN 3733 Old Columbia Pike, Ellicott City, 410-465-8500. HOURS Mon.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-midnight, Fri. 11 a.m.-2 a.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-2 a.m., Sun. 10 a.m.-midnight. PRICES Appetizers: $6-13; Pizzas: $8 and up; Entrees: $9-22; Desserts: $8-9. CUISINE Creative gastropub. AMBIANCE Rustic colonial with modern touches.