Josef's draws loyal diners

October 22, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,Special to The Sun

Customers tend to stay loyal to Josef's Country Inn, the kind of restaurant that serves as a destination for a nice night out and a neighborhood place to eat.

Tom and Andrea Simons have been eating there for so many years -- at least 15, according to Andrea -- that they have a dish named for them -- Salmon Tom and Andrea, grilled salmon served with potato cakes, shrimp and asparagus.

"We have a long history of going to Josef's," said Andrea Simons. "I think it's because it's a very comfortable place to go, the food is very good, the selection is nice, the people are very friendly and the owner is usually on site, which is important to us."

She said owner Josef Gohring suggested naming a dish for her and her husband at least five years ago. "I guess he just decided we were more than just customers and good friends and decided to name one of the dishes for us."

The staff is just as loyal. Dave McGreevy, the bartender, has been with the restaurant since the beginning, said Gohring, and has a pork chop dish named for him. Office manager Jerry Adams started 21 years ago and can boast about a burger in his name.

"Josef's been kind of like a surrogate father," Adams said.

Yvonne Mueller, who worked at Josef's as a hostess 17 years before retiring Jan. 1, returned to fill in recently. "Most of the people stay here for quite a while," she said. "There's not much of a turnover. I think it's because it feels like a family, a lot of good people working together to make it really work well, with Josef as the leader."

The restaurant has been a Fallston landmark since Gohring took over in 1985. Over the years, he and his wife, Mary, whom he calls "the boss," doubled the kitchen size and added a second dining area, a patio and a garden.

Gohring cares about the details. Fresh flowers are always on the tables, which are covered with white tablecloths. He also works to keep the atmosphere from becoming too rowdy. "If you have two drinks, OK; for a third drink, you have to wait," he said. "My philosophy is, you want to get drunk, you go somewhere else."

Gohring, 59, was born in the Black Forest area of Germany and met his wife, who is English, when they worked at a Geneva hotel.

After traveling to England and Bermuda, they wound up in Maryland in 1978. Gohring became a chef at Peerce's Plantation in Baltimore County and opened Josef's while he was still working there.

"I worked seven days a week, morning to midnight," he recalled. He left Peerce's in 1996 to concentrate on running Josef's, but he still works long hours.

"Usually I get here just after 9," said Gohring, who underwent four operations to treat cancer in the past few years, and recently broke three ribs after falling out of bed. "I usually go home between 9 and 12. The restaurant business is always your first marriage."

The food, at first strongly influenced by Gohring's German heritage, has shifted to more classic continental fare. There are still German dishes such as sauerbraten and spaetzle, but crab cakes, filet mignon, shrimp and other non-German dishes make up the bulk of the menu. "We serve a lot of fish," Gorhing said.

The restaurant also does catering and holds private parties. One recent morning, chef Michael Pescrille, who has been with Josef's for 13 years, was in the kitchen preparing "close to 300" crab balls for a rehearsal dinner that would feature filet mignon, pasta primavera, shrimp bisque, salad and desserts.

He described the food at Josef's as a mix of German, European and Maryland dishes, some created by Gohring, some created by Pescrille, and some by previous chefs.

Gorhing said he prides himself on quality. He never uses frozen meat, he said. "The people we have, they know the difference." He also works to ensure that the meals are consistent. "If you come here and have a cowboy steak today and then come back two weeks later, you want to have the same cowboy steak," he said.

That attention to detail has made Josef's the kind of place that people return to again and again.

Said Adams: "It's kind of really a mix. It's the only restaurant that I would consider fine dining in Harford County, but it also has a local flair. We've had the same happy- hour crowd since I started."

Josef's is at 2410 Pleasantville Road, Fallston. The phone number is 410- 879-5298.

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