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Free Range

The Grille at Peerce's

County favorite returns in fine form

Photo: Sam Holden, License: N/A

Sam Holden


The Grille at Peerce's

12460 Dulaney Valley Road, Phoenix, (410) 252-7111, thegrilleatpeerces.com

More at weekly.citypaper.com

You hear it the moment you enter The Grille at Peerce’s: “Omigod! Hi!” (Hug.)

This greeting doesn’t come from The Grille at Peerce’s staff, though the young men who take your keys for valet parking and the polite if harried women at the hostess stand welcome guests to this new/old Baltimore County outpost with appropriate courtesy. It’s from the customers, who can’t seem to turn around at the bar or in the vestibule or dining room without finding, and then embracing, a long-lost friend or neighbor. They pack the bar elbow to elbow in cashmere and corduroy, creating a fierce but happy din. Peerce’s, absent from northern Baltimore County since 2001, is back.

Under the ownership of Joe Bivona, who strides through the dining room greeting guests and keeping servers at their paces, Peerce’s looks little like the fussy restaurant of old. The main dining room certainly feels warmer and sleeker after the recent renovations, with one wall painted deep red and another piled high with wine bottles, replacing the white railings and dated décor that gave the room the perpetual look of a garden wedding reception. A smaller room, wood paneled and punctuated with flat-screen televisions, holds several long high-tops and feels almost cozy, despite being a passage between the bar and the main dining room. And rather than sporting white tablecloths, tables are dressed simply with black napkins folded into triangles as placemats.

But it’s not the décor, however updated, that brings folks to Peerce’s. I’m not sure the food itself is a draw either, though some of it is quite respectable. Rather, what Peerce’s offers is a combination of convenience, tradition, and nostalgia, a reliable place for a steak and a good drink, and frankly, what community doesn’t need that?

Just like its dining room, Peerce’s menu falls on the side of the traditional with a dash of modern thrown in, so you’ll find mostly old favorites like warm artichoke dip and fried zucchini sticks, sesame rare ahi tuna and firecracker shrimp in the snacks and appetizer section. But in two cases, the preparations of what appear to be straightforward dishes surprise. Though I expected crab imperial dip ($8.95) to be a version of the mayonnaise-based Maryland classic often found stuffed into rockfish or shrimp, this dip features spare, fresh lumps of crab tossed with a confetti of onion and green and red peppers with a small dab of lemon mayonnaise on top. Served with lavash crackers, the dish is more salad than dip, and while clean and brightly flavored, it lacks pizazz, or any one defining flavor that could hold the dish together. I wasn’t disappointed it wasn’t the creamy dip I was expecting, but I bet some diners would be. On the other hand, the upside-down wild mushroom tart ($7.25), a generous mound of brown-sauced wild mushrooms on a puff pastry disc, is a surprise of a different and wholly pleasant stripe, and proof that the kitchen can turn out simple, savory, and delicious.

Peerce’s also offers a limited number of entrées and sandwiches that cover the bases of meat (filet mignon, veal Parmesan, a burger), fish (grilled salmon, a crab cake sandwich), fowl (roasted chicken breast or chicken breast sandwich, natch), and pasta, with the filet mignon the only regular dish coming in at more than $20 (sea bass, a special, grazed the $30 mark at $29.95). Aside from Mr. Eddie’s brisket sandwich ($8.95), an unsuccessful amalgam of fatty beef under a gooey blanket of cheddar, the food here feels reliable if not necessarily scintillating, and portions will not overwhelm. Still, the sea bass, seared and accompanied by mashed potatoes and pencil-thin asparagus, arrives fresh and faultless, and the salmon ($17.95), which is “short smoked” in house, bears flesh nicely crisped from grilling and tasting only of a whisper of smoke. Short ribs ($18.95) might not be the most visually appealing entrée on the menu (they look sort of like a brown brick), but they taste better than they look, glazed in a slightly sweet sauce that tastes less of molasses than you would suppose by its color. Entrées come with a choice of two sides, including fresh sautéed spinach, addictive sweet potato fries, and a bland coleslaw.

Most of the public staff at Peerce’s looks young enough to make you think that working here is their first job. This might be true, but you’d never know it from their demeanor, which from valet attendant to hostess to server only aimed to please (including removing the offending brisket from the bill and bringing several forks for the excellent, pudding-like chocolate cake [$5.95]). Our server even apologized for having to shout to make herself heard over the noise in the dining room. A quiet spot for dinner on a Friday night, this is not.

It’s good at any time to see a community favorite return with favor to a community, and undoubtedly Peerce’s will draw most of its clientele from the surrounding area, saving county residents a drive into Towson or further for a meal. But this doesn’t mean city folks have to stay away. The next time you’re hiking or kayaking around Loch Raven, stop in for a beer and a bite. For by the time you get to Phoenix, you’ll be thirsty.

The Grille at Peerce’s is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday, with brunch and dinner on Sunday.

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