Tap into a winning microbrewery

October 09, 1997|By Kathryn Higham | Kathryn Higham,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It took almost two years for the Ellicott Mills Brewing Company to open, and a few months longer for the beer to finish brewing.

Four German-style varieties are ready now, and the easiest way to try them all is to order a beer sampler. Our waiter, full of fermentation facts, delivered four very small beer mugs holding a few ounces each of the black Alpenhof Dunkel, the amber Alpenhof Maerzen, the golden Alpenhof Pils and the pale Alpenhof Hell.

The dark lager Dunkel was our favorite, but all were remarkably good for such an early showing. Braumeister Martin Virga, who learned the art of brewing beer in Munich, isn't content with these early "test batches," though. He wants to perfect a full-bodied, complex beer that "makes your tongue come alive."

Virga and chef Rick Winter opened Ellicott Mills in May and started serving their Alpenhof lagers in July. To complement the beers, they've come up with an interesting menu that serves the casual nature of the microbrewery well. Burgers share space with wild boar and buffalo steak.

We started on an adventurous note, with venison sausage, dark and bursting with flavor, paired with more mellow veal bratwurst and red cabbage. Meaty fried turkey wings, cooked golden and greaseless, put chicken wings to shame. But what really made them work was the spicy Thai peanut sauce on the side -- a great combination.

Our favorite starter was the most elegant of all: slivers of juicy smoked duck breast on raspberry sauce with green peppercorns.

Dinners came with large house salads made with crisp romaine, cucumbers, tomatoes and sprouts. Ginger-sesame and creamy-pink cabernet vinaigrette dressings were knockouts.

From the lighter side of the menu, we tried a grilled salmon sandwich, which featured a lovely fillet and lots of long, crisp, coated fries. Seafood fettuccine was on the other side of the dining spectrum, with salmon, shrimp and a few pieces of lobster tossed in a delicate cream sauce.

We liked the wild boar in beer sauce, which had sweet and sour flavor with a hint of cumin. The meat looked like pork, but was milder. Still, stew is stew. It's hard to rhapsodize over one, even if it's served, as this was, with a scoop of creamy, butter-soaked mashed potatoes.

One disappointment was the grilled buffalo steak. It was too thin and marbled with gristle, although it had nice beefy flavor.

Overall, we loved this place, with its folk-art accents carved into honey-pine wood, its roomy upstairs dining room and its stone-walled smoking bar in the basement. Be warned, though: It's very loud. A few discreetly placed sound baffles wouldn't hurt.

Neither would a truly distinctive dessert. With such a deft hand in the kitchen, it was surprising that none of the desserts was made in-house. Not that the almond-crusted Linzer torte, sweet chocolate oblivion or dark chocolate silk cake were bad. But historic Ellicott City is a one-of-a-kind place, and Ellicott Mills Brewing Company deserves a one-of-a-kind signature dessert.

Ellicott Mills Brewing Company

Address: 8308 Main St., Ellicott City


Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner

Credit cards: All major credit cards

Prices: Appetizers, $3-$8.95; entrees, $6.95-$19.95.

Pub Date: 10/09/97

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