With restaurants, as with so many businesses, location is key. Sure, great restaurants can be found in even the least attractive strip malls. But restaurants with a water view, or ones that are located in lovingly restored country taverns, carry a special charm. The beauty of the location can turn even an everyday meal into a special occasion.
Baltimore County is blessed with many such restaurants, which is not surprising since the county has a wealth of historic buildings, vast stretches of bucolic countryside and beautiful parks. Here are a few favorite restaurants that are known for their locations.
Wild Duck Cafe, 3408 Red Rose Farm Road, Bowleys Quarters, 410-335-2121
From the outdoor wooden deck of the Wild Duck Cafe, patrons can watch the sun set over Frog Mortar Creek while they listen to live music on the manmade sandy beach below. The restaurant has been at the Maryland Marina for about a dozen years, though it is not affiliated with the marina.
It's closed in January and February, then opens when the weather starts to improve. Every spring, the manmade beach is replenished with sand, and about 300 plants, including palm trees, are added to create a tropical feel.
In the summer, bands play on weekends nights, and a tiki bar and cook shed are set up on the beach. When the weather's less than spectacular, indoor seating is available in a dining room.
The menu has about 100 items, ranging from the cheap and simple, like hamburgers and grilled cheese sandwiches, to extravaganzas like the "Chesapeake special," filet mignon topped with crab imperial that costs $27.50.
Oregon Grille, 1201 Shawan Road, Hunt Valley Cockeysville, 410-771-0505
This fine-dining restaurant is located next to the Oregon Ridge State Park, in a renovated 19th century stone farmhouse. Oregon Grille is known for its lavish food and high-end wine list. Bottles of wines can cost hundreds of dollars, and beluga caviar, at $65, is probably the most expensive appetizer on any menu in the region.
Waiters describe each dish in loving detail, from the signature soft-shell crabs to the dry-aged steaks, then serve it with impeccable style. Patrons are well-dressed, in part because gents are required to wear jackets after 5 p.m., and partly because it's just fun to dress up and go someplace nice.
Though there's not much of a view from the elegant wood-paneled dining room, the restaurant plays up its horse-country location with real bridles on the walls, along with pictures of jockeys. A piano player serenades the diners, creating a feeling of subdued romance.
The Milton Inn, 14833 York Road, Sparks, 410-771-4366.
This inn, built in 1740, still feels like a rural retreat, even though it's right off busy York Road. Once you step inside and find your table at one of many small, intimate dining rooms, you'll forget about the modern world outside. Working fireplaces and a garden terrace create a romantic atmosphere at all times of the year.
The menu, rustic but with dashes of elegance, is a nice match for the dM-icor. The focus is on seafood and red meat. Pan-seared tuna might be paired with a red-pepper risotto, for example, and drizzled with green aioli, and a seafood martini features shrimp and large lumps of crab and lobster, beautifully arranged in a martini glass.
Timber Creek Tavern, 10092 Belair Road, Kingsville, 410-529-7999
This rustic restaurant enjoys direct access to Gunpowder Falls State Park. Sometimes, customers will ride up on horseback and stay for lunch. Other times, a game of horseshoes will be played on the lawn.
New owners Tricia Burke and Sheryl Harbaugh closed the place for three months for renovations, then opened in October last year. The changes include new hardwood floors and bathrooms. The bar that dominates one side of the room is now straight instead of curved, and the menu now focuses on Maryland favorites like crab cakes, steaks and sandwiches.
When the weather is nice, meals are served on the outdoor deck, which provides views of the Gunpowder Falls.
Manor Tavern, 15819 Old York Road, Monkton
With a building that dates to the late 1800s and a location in the heart of Baltimore County's horse country, the Manor Tavern has been a dining destination since the 1940s. The building, originally a stable, became a country store and then a bar and restaurant.
Diners can choose from bar fare like club sandwiches and crab cakes to more upscale choices like filet mignon or veal.
In the summer, a patio is open for outdoor dining. The restaurant is about two miles from the spectacular Ladew Topiary Gardens, just over the line in Harford County.
Peerce's Plantation, 12460 Dulaney Valley Road, Phoenix, 410-252-3100
When Peerce's Plantation reopened its doors in the fall of 2003 after a two-year hiatus, it had new owners and lots of new paint, but the beautiful views of the Loch Raven Reservoir remained one of the restaurant's highlights.
In the spiffed-up dining room, patrons can still enjoy classic high-end fare like Oysters Rockefeller, Veal Oscar, prime rib, crab cakes, or Chicken Baltimore, which is stuffed with lumps of crab, of course. But there are new items, too, like pecan-crusted halibut.
The restaurant, which dates to the early 1940s, hosts weddings, rehearsal dinners, anniversary parties and other events.