A roots revival at Timber Creek

The global influences give way to meatloaf

Eats: Dining Reviews, Hot Stuff

August 26, 2004|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A few years ago, Timber Creek Tavern tried to rise above its neighborhood-pub roots and become something more, perhaps a destination. The kitchen, helmed by a recent grad of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., churned out globally influenced fare such as lobster and asparagus hand rolls and rockfish with couscous.

Apparently, the ambitious haute fare didn't work out.

Now, under the new ownership of Tricia Burke and Cheryl Harbaugh, the Kingsville tavern has returned to its roots with a menu of burgers, subs, salads and a few homey entrees like spaghetti, chicken potpie and meatloaf. People might not come from far and wide, but they do come.

Even on a rainy midweek afternoon, the place was comfortably busy, with some people sitting at the bar and others eating at tables or playing pool.

Burke and Harbaugh took over the rustic decades-old structure in July 2003 and opened in October after installing a new kitchen and new bathrooms. However, for complicated environmental reasons, they were unable to install a fryer, making Timber Creek perhaps the only tavern in Maryland that doesn't serve french fries. Instead, sides include garlicky mashed red potatoes, a decent enough side salad, potato salad, coleslaw and the like.

The tavern, adjacent to Gunpowder Falls State Park, looks much as it did before. It still has wood floors, a tin roof and a large bar on one side of the room. A few video games, some television sets and a pool table complete the decor. Local bands play every night except Tuesday, which is karaoke night. There are a few picnic tables outside.

Needless to say, the white tablecloths and meticulous place settings are gone. Now, paper napkins with knives and forks rolled inside are plopped in the middle of the table. Our server didn't write down our order, then returned a few times to make sure she had it right.

Clearly, the focus at Timber Creek has moved away from the kitchen and back toward the beer. The food doesn't aspire to much, and it mostly clears the low bar that's been set, sometimes even by a few inches.

The chicken fingers were remarkably moist, with a sprightly and crisp coating, all the more impressive because they were baked, not fried. A portobello mushroom sandwich was a hearty mix of burger-sized mushroom caps and sauteed onions and red pepper, perhaps flavored with too much Worcestershire sauce but served on a good substantial bun.

The pizza was doughier than I would have liked, and the sauce was too mild, but the 12-inch pie tasted fresh, and it arrived piping hot.

Since this is a Maryland pub, crabs will inevitably find their way onto the menu. At Timber Creek, they appear in crab dip, naturally, and as part of a crab melt appetizer of five buttered bread slices topped with crab and then drowned in cheese. The result was something like a crab-flavored open-faced grilled cheese, which could have been good with about half the grease.

The chicken potpie, though, was supposed to have a flaky biscuit crust, but instead was topped with a heavy lump of buttermilk dough that was actually raw batter in places. Carrots, peas and chunks of white-meat chicken swam in a broth bearing a remarkable resemblance to cream of chicken soup.

Timber Creek recently started serving a Sunday brunch that includes the usual eggs, bacon and sausage, as well as eggs Florentine, stuffed French toast and other items, Burke said.

Desserts aren't listed on the menu, but they're usually available and might include a German chocolate cake or a hummingbird cake, a kind of spice cake with pecans added to banana-flavored icing. We sampled both. Thankfully, they were not overly sweet, but they weren't overly moist or delicious either.

Like everything at Timber Creek, they were fine as long as your expectations aren't too high.

Timber Creek Tavern

Where: 10092 Belair Road, Kingsville

Call: 410-529-7999

Open: 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day but Monday (and open Monday during football season)

Credit cards: All major

Prices: Appetizers $3.95-$4.95, entrees $5.95-$12.95

Food: ** 1/2

Service: **

Atmosphere: ** 1/2

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