In a market filled with steakhouses, Tbonz is well-done

Price and service contribute to a family feel

Eats: dining reviews, Table Talk

November 27, 2003|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Steakhouses in the Baltimore area are about as plentiful as conservative rants on AM radio. So, whether you like your beef in the form of argument on the airwaves or food on the plate, there's something for everyone around here.

For steak lovers, the choices range from the super-fancy, such as Ruth's Chris, with prices to match, to less-expensive, family-friendly chains such as Outback.

Into this crowded market comes Tbonz, a steakhouse that opened in Ellicott City about six months ago. The restaurant manages to find its own place in the crowded lineup by combining good food, reasonable prices and excellent service, all in a restaurant and bar that's casual enough for the whole family.

The menu itself is not very exciting, as is often the case with steakhouses. This is not the place for an innovative new dish, and I suspect that's part of the appeal of steakhouses in general. The focus at Tbonz is on T-bones, of course, as well as filets, sirloins, prime rib and New York strips. Other choices include sandwiches, burgers and a few chicken and seafood dishes. A children's menu has the usual hot dogs, chicken fingers and the like.

Appetizer choices don't stray far beyond standards like mozzarella sticks and potato skins. The best one we tried was the blackened steak. Blackened food is often too salty, but these cubes of tender medium-rare beef burst with real beef flavor, enhanced by a topping of crumbled blue cheese. Other appetizers were not as successful. Maryland crab soup tasted like canned vegetable soup with a few sprinkles of hot sauce and some crab bits, and the coconut shrimp was unforgivably dry.

The appetizers seemed to indicate that Tbonz could do only red meat right, so I was prepared to hate my fried catfish, a special that night. However, it was delicious - tender and flaky on the inside, with a crispy, spicy crust. Like other main courses, it was served with a baked potato and the vegetable of the day, a mix of zucchini and onions that was tender-firm and tasty.

Attention to details like the side dishes made our dining experience a pleasure. The rolls were fresh and warm, and the butter arrived in a nice ceramic crock, not in tin-foiled pats, as in many restaurants. Water glasses were frequently refilled. And best of all, the servers actually wrap the leftovers, instead of tossing some plastic containers on the table so diners have to do it themselves.

Red meat, though, is definitely the highlight of the Tbonz experience. Both the filet mignon and the T-bone arrived medium-rare, as requested, and were juicy and flavorful. A crab cake, while acceptable, had small pieces of meat and was nothing special.

Desserts, not made in-house, included a light-textured cheesecake attractively drizzled with raspberry sauce and a dense carrot cake with a luscious cream-cheese frosting. Owner Derek Reese said he's finding a new vendor that will supply more elaborate concoctions. Reese owns the restaurant with Ali Namakshenassan, the owner of Bella Mia's, a casual Italian eatery in the same shopping center.

Tbonz is longer than it is wide but makes the most of it with booths lining one wall and a larger table in the middle of the room. The best thing about the space is the wall that separates the bar and the restaurant, keeping the smoke and noise of the bar area away from diners. It's just another detail that makes Tbonz a standout among steakhouses.

Tbonz

Where: 4910 Waterloo Road, Ellicott City

Call: 410-461-4748

Open: Lunch and dinner daily

Credit cards: All major cards

Prices: Appetizers $5.99-$8.99, entrees $6.99-$23.99

Food: ***

Service: *** 1/2

Atmosphere: ** 1/2

Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *

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