Monday, October 22, 2012

Manor Tavern

On a rainy night in early October, our 12th wedding anniversary to be exact, Mr Minx and I drove the long and winding road to the Manor Tavern, in Monkton. The restaurant, though not new, has been going through some changes recently, at least in management, and, from that, one might surmise that the kitchen has some new tricks up its sleeve. Or not. The tavern is currently owned by the partners of Au Poitin Stil and the Kooper's restaurant group, along with Jim Franzoni of nearby Verdant Valley Farm; however, Chef Travis Szerensits has been in the kitchen since before the current owners took over. The menu that results from this combination of old and new guard is a curious mix of favorites like crab cakes, a nice selection of burgers, very expensive steaks, and things that might appeal to a (somewhat) hipper crowd like truffle fries and pork belly sliders.

What passes for decor at the Manor Tavern is a mishmash of large saws, framed racing silks, old toasters, and assorted oddball flea market items that hovers somewhere between "granny" and "quaint." I had hoped for "old money horse country," but neither being from old money nor particularly horsey, I probably wouldn't know it if I saw it. Perhaps crosscut saws and antique toasters are indeed involved.

The restaurant was fairly quiet on the evening of our visit, with a few tables of retirees here and there, but the roaring fireplace was welcoming, as was the staff. Our waitress was particularly solicitous, keeping our glasses full and the plates coming in a timely fashion.

The temperatures had plummeted during the day, so Mr Minx thought a steaming hot bowl of gumbo would make a nice appetizer. It didn't have enough of that dark roux deliciousness for my taste, but Mr Minx liked it just fine. Because I had the cozy fireplace at my back, I didn't need to fill my belly with a bowl of warmth. Instead, I chose the eggplant napoleon. The eggplant was admirably crisp, and the goat cheese was a lovely creamy counterpoint, but both the eggplant and the tomato could have used some salt. The mixed greens on the side appeared to be elderly arugula with unpleasantly hard stems, but I liked the tart dressing. There was a miserly drizzle of pesto infused olive oil on the dish (and some balsamic syrup), which really perked up the flavor of the tomato; I wish there had been more.

I had checked out the menu in advance and once I saw scallops on offer, my mind was made up. I really need to stop craving the things, but I'm having a hard time finding satisfaction. My most recent experiences with scallops have led me to believe that they are the biggest rip-off on a restaurant's menu. At Pierpoint, four tiny specimen were a whopping $29. At Manor Tavern, four similarly-sized ones were $26. (So why were the three slightly-larger scallops at Earth, Wood, and Fire only $12? Perhaps scallops aren't as pricey as restaurants would like us to believe.)

Anyhoo...Manor Tavern's menu advertised their scallops as being accompanied by a grilled corn puree, basil pesto, crispy hazelnuts, and shaved chow chow. In theory, that sounds great. In practice - not so much. Yes, the scallops were perfectly cooked, seared on the outside, tender and lightly translucent on the inside, and fairly aggressively seasoned. The corn puree - which was so sweet I mistook it for a butternut squash preparation - was silky and buttery. The kitchen could have stopped right there and I would have been pretty happy. (Happier still if it were half the price or had twice as many scallops.) But the rest of the items on the plate just didn't need to be there. The "pesto" was dry and crumbly, as if the maker forgot to add the all-important olive oil, and the seven naked hazelnuts added nothing to the dish. The "chow chow" was just a tart cole slaw with a faux country name applied to it. It had neither the sweetness nor the variety of spices found in the green tomato and/or cauliflower relish with which I am familiar.

Plus, the symmetrical plating was borderline silly.

Mr Minx fared much better with his entree, the beer can chicken. A whole chicken, Natty Boh can still stuck up its keister, was brought to the table along with a carving knife and a separate plate bearing the side dish - horribly overcooked broccoli. Broccoli aside, the chicken was very good, the skin charred in spots, redolent of thyme and cumin, with juicy meat underneath. We put a real hurtin' on that bird before designating the few remaining parts to a doggie bag.

Finally, we tried dessert. Mr Minx had the brownie sundae, which came in a mason jar for no particular reason. The brownie was served warm, but it was too sweet and seemed more like a flourless cake sort of thing than a brownie. My flourless chocolate "pie" (it did have a strip of uninteresting crust along the top) was marginally less-sweet. It was served with a dollop of Prigel Creamery's cinnamon ice cream that, disappointingly, tasted more like red hot candies than the spice. I encountered pebbles of ice, which spoke of improper storage.

So.

A meal this uneven suggests the kitchen is still trying to find a balance. The simpler, more homey, dishes were more successful than the two that involved fancy plating; while they weren't bad, they were far from perfect. If I'm going to shell out good money, I expect perfect, or at least very close. However, the table of old timers behind us seemed to enjoy their crab cakes (which were so lightly broiled as to appear raw, and I have to wonder how close the accompanying "Tidewater slaw" was to my "chow chow") and the couple to the side were making yum-yum sounds over their steaks. Obviously there are people who think that the Manor Tavern does some things right. And they do. Just not everything.

Manor Tavern
15819 Old York Rd
Monkton, MD 21111
(410) 771-8155
themanortavern.com
Manor Tavern on Urbanspoon

Posted on Minxeats.com.
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