Like most big cities and their suburbs, Baltimore’s restaurant scene has been graced with staunchly traditional places that have resisted trends over the years. There’s Tio Pepe and The Prime Rib in the city, and The Oregon Grille in leafy Baltimore County.
Recently, we made our way to Hunt Valley to check in on this war horse of country dining. Upon arriving, we were swiftly shown to our table, greeted by our cheery server, and sat down just as the piano player settled into his bench. While waiting for our menus, we took in our surroundings, imbued with Maryland’s rich equestrian history. The leather tack, saddles, and prints of famous horses of yore combine with wood accents to lend an air of gentrified, traditional comfort. (We challenge you to find a trendy touch here.) A quick perusal of the cocktail menu revealed a program heavy on sugary drinks, few of which appealed as aperitifs. Oddly, a full wine list wasn’t initially provided, so our server politely granted our request for one.
Our meal got off to a promising start with oysters on the half shell. We appreciated the creative flourish of the yuzu cucumber mignonette. It lacked acid, but the flavors popped, and we happily polished them off, seaweed salad garnish and all. Next arrived foie gras that was perfectly seared, and here the pickled blackberries did have enough acid to balance the fat.
While waiting for our mains, we patrolled the wine list. Good thing we had something to do, because that wait lasted nearly 30 minutes. Europhiles are not likely to swoon, as the USA sections of the list are the most dominant, if pricey. Our server came over to apologize for the wait and assured us our mains were on the way. Was it worth the wait? A Berkshire Pork Porterhouse was just right. It was lustily salted and coated in a heady bourbon pan gravy. The chop was paired with sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts, a safe combination. The Cut of the Day, a boneless Prime Rib Eye, was rubbed with whiskey barrel-aged Shozu, another spark of creativity that we enjoyed. But at $65, it was overpriced. We should have stuck with something off the regular selection of prime cuts.
Moving to dessert, the Key Lime pie was classic—it balanced sweet and tang, with a firm crust and house-made whipped cream. The night’s dessert special was less successful: a moon pie of Chambord-infused mascarpone that had no detectable Chambord and was entombed in a faintly flavored chocolate shell so hard we were unable to crack it initially. We wished for a second slice of that succulent pie!
Familiar flavors, traditional surroundings, and deferential service define The Oregon Grille, and “comfort food for carnivores” best sums up our experience. It’s the perfect upscale, date-night destination for anyone averse to global cuisine, intimidating ingredients, or fly-by-night trends.
THE OREGON GRILLE 1201 Shawan Rd., Hunt Valley, 410-771-0505. HOURS: Sun. 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Mon.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-midnight. PRICES: Appetizers: $11-22; steaks, chops, lobsters: $38-market prices: entrees: $30-market price. AMBIANCE: Horse-country chic.