Most of the appetizers at Silver Spring Mining Co., a boisterous new restaurant on York Road, are the usual suspects - nachos, chicken tenders and potato skins, plus a crab pretzel that's described on the menu as a "Silver Spring original."
But one item stood out among all the bar-food basics, and that one item was a fried pickle. It sounded so disgusting that I wondered if it was on the menu just so drunken patrons could dare their friends to eat it.
It turned out that the pickles were edible, but little more. The spears were so buried in that thick salty-crunchy food-service bar-food batter that they tasted pretty much like every other fried bar-food appetizer you've ever had, except the inside was a little more garlicky and slimy. A better quality of pickle wouldn't hurt, but maybe that's like asking for caviar on your hot dog.
The crab pretzel, on the other hand, was impressive, chewy yet soft, and dripping with rich crab dip and cheddar cheese. It was also about the size of Bill Clinton's thousand-page book, and would probably induce Clintonesque heart problems if consumed in a single sitting. The regional manager, Chris Isaac, says it was invented at Silver Spring, and other restaurants have since jumped on the bandwagon. They don't seem to be copying the fried pickle idea, though, and I can't say I wonder why.
Silver Spring does best when sticking to basics like ribs, barbecued chicken, crab cakes, steaks and fajitas. Besides the fried pickle, the oddest item on the menu had to be sour beef and dumplings, a sort of pot roast drowning in a vinegary brown sauce. According to Isaac, it's a top seller. I have no idea why. Though the large portion of meat was fork-tender, the potato dumpling was bland and gluey, and the overly thick sauce lacked any nuance at all. As with the fried pickle, though, I wasn't misled. I received exactly what the menu said I would receive.
Next time, though, I'll stick to the ribs, which were unusually meaty and come doused in either a mildly tangy original sauce or a thick honey bourbon sauce. Or I'll get the claim-jumper steak that one of my friends enjoyed. One of several low-carb options, it was cooked to order and topped with a blue cheese dressing. And I'll order the Caesar salad, crisp and topped with shavings of real parmesan, instead of the bland coleslaw.
As for desserts, we took our server Tracy's advice and tried the Butterfinger cake and the banana tortilla. Both were achingly sweet. The Butterfinger cake alternated layers of chocolate with the crushed candy and covered the whole thing in more candy and chocolate. The banana tortilla was slightly subtler, but not much. The deep-fried tortilla was filled with a banana-tinged cream, then topped with caramel, more bananas, pecans and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
The Silver Spring Mining Co. began hawking sour beef and ribs from its Perry Hall location in 1995. Three years later, it opened a Bel Air restaurant. The Hunt Valley location, which opened in March, is the third and newest for the company, and boasts plasma televisions in the bar and smaller televisions in the booths ringing the bar area.
Of course, the restaurants have nothing to do with real mining. The theme extends only as far as cute drawings on the menu, the mining-style lighting and the sepia-tinged photos on the walls.
Silver Spring doesn't take reservations, but you can call a half-hour before you arrive to get your name on the waiting list. Even so, I had to wait 20 minutes for a table on a Saturday night.
Seems like there's gold in them thar fried pickles.
Silver Spring Mining Co.
Where: 11100 York Road, Hunt Valley (locations also in Bel Air at 705 Belair Road and Perry Hall at 8634 Belair Road)
Open: Daily from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Prices: Appetizers $5.69-$9.99, entrees $8.99-$24.59
Credit cards: MC, V