Sunday, February 10, 2008

Exit 24: I-83 North (to Timonium, and York, PA)

I met up with all the folks for our blogger panel - to be held Saturday, February 23 at 3 PM at the Great Tastes Show in the Tremont on Charles, not St. Paul - at Starbucks today. Afterwards, I felt two things: 1) inspired to do my next Beltway Snackin' post, and 2) hungry. So I headed to Timonium, which wasn't that far. Of course, Timonium is off of the JFX, Exit 16A, which is (in turn) the first exit off of Exit 24. But drive five minutes down York Road and you wind up by Exit 16B. So they're really just kind of mushed together.

I pass this way all the time, much more than in the past. But usually I just go there when something's happening at the Fairgrounds, or on the way to the Cockeysville library. There are a few good places around to eat. I was surprised as I drove around that I had never really eaten at any of them - just An Poitín Stil and the occasional hot dog at the Market Pro computer show at the Fairgrounds. Since I've mentioned these before, I won't mention them again.

Sure, there are a few chains in this area, most notably Panera Bread (my GOD, they're springing up like Starbuckses), Starbucks (see previous reference) and the Baja Fresh (the California chain that seemed to just work its way over here). Among the many places I have driven by but just never went to:

  • Nautilus Diner (map), which looks kind of like the Towson Diner further down York Road. I have yet to go into Nautilus, but I liked Towson Diner and hopefully this one is pretty good too. Has to be better than the Double T, right? Elizabeth Large seemed to love their $13 crabcake back in 2001. Is it still that cheap?
  • Steak & Ale (map), which serves what else? Right - steak and ale. Of course, it serves much more. They have this lunch menu where they offer ten different, semi-appetizing-sounding dishes for $7. This is one of those places I have seen many times in passing. I've just never been in. Here's something that surprised me: it's a national chain, with dozens of locations from Colorado to Florida to Michigan. There's only one in Maryland, one in Delaware and two in Virginia.
  • Cheeburger Cheeburger (map) is another national chain - this one has several Maryland locations. It's near that Panera Bread and the Staples. I've heard people speak fondly of this place but I've never gotten around to visiting. My sister and I almost went into the one by Wegman's when we went Thanksgiving grocery shopping and wanted something to eat, but there were too many children and annoying teenagers around, so we went to Damon's Grill instead.
  • JJ's Everyday Café (map), across from Cheeburger Cheeburger. A few doors down is the Qdoba Mexican Grill (another chain) and a Natural Market with freezer-case bee pollen and those disgusting Morningstar Farms brand "meat" products (if I was vegetarian, why would I want to eat something that resembled meat, especially as poorly as this does). JJ's looks like a little hole-in-the-wall from the outside, but its description in the link above makes it sound a wee more pricey than a hole should be. The reviewers also liked the food. And this place has a gift shop. This and Cafe Hon - what is it with gift shops where they ought not be?
  • Pasta Blitz and Yamato Sushi (map - they're next to each other), next to the REI Camping Superstore and the Super Fresh on Aylesbury Road. They seem pretty self-explanatory. Always up for good sushi and pasta, but not all at the same time, and not today.
  • Michael's Cafe Raw Bar and Grill (map), which has been in Timonium for almost 25 years. It's a special occasion place. It's not cheap.
I passed by all these places for the Hightopps Backstage Grille (map), which is right next to the Fairgrounds. I was drawn to this place among all others because of the Asian Roast Beef Sandwich advertised on their marquee. That sounded intriguing. I had to try it.

When you walk in you are greeted with an ancient player piano to your right, which betrays the high-tech nature of the entertainment here. This place sports many HDTV's all over the place - SO MANY HDTV'S! There are also lots of autographed photos, guitars and other various things. Hightopps is a place for partying, commiserating and sports-bar-hopping. It was pretty empty on this Sunday afternoon, around 1 to 1:30. Perhaps the food would be pretty good with so few people around to cook for - no need to churn out bland food for lots of drunk revelers.

Along with the Asian Roast Beef - tender roast beef with dark greens, ginger and a wasabi aioli, as it was advertised (about $7) - I ordered a side of sweet potato fries (an extra $1.50; chips instead are complementary) and a diet soda (about $2). About fifteen minutes later my food came out. I bit into the sandwich, and my first thought was "Chewy" - very chewy. Except for one or two tender spots, this roast beef was pretty tough. Plus it was not easy to keep on the roll. It was much easier to just let it fall off the sandwich and eat it with my fingers than anything else. Add to that the pretty bland wasabi aioli. Isn't anything flavored with wasabi supposed to have a kick? This did not, and what little wasabi flavor it had was quite weak, and all on one side of the sandwich, along witgrh a slice of ginger that was interesting, but not enough of it was there for my liking. In short: it was a good idea, poorly executed. It wasn't bad, but I wouldn't get it again. The sweet potato fries, in contrast, were pretty good - I finished most of them. I skipped dessert, which would've been creme brulée, the cheapest I have ever seen at $3. With tax and tip the total came to about $15. It's probably better as a pub or a bar, though I have had better pub food (Little Havana, Lansdowne Inn, even the above-average Poitín). And I could've spent as much or less money at a diner getting a nice, juicy, not-so-chewy cheeseburger, but oh well. You lunch and learn.

Did I mention the Great Tastes blogger panel? $20 to get into the Great Tastes Show and see us all if you don't drink any alcohol ($50 if you do; all the different price options are here).

Places I visited:

Hightopps Backstage Grille (pub / sports bar)
- 2306 York Road, Timonium, MD 21093; Phone: (410) 560-7101
  • Would I eat there again? I might drink there again, but I wouldn't eat there again.
  • Would I go out of my way to eat there again? Um, no.
Places to look up later:

Cheeburger Cheeburger (large chain - burgers) - 2135 York Road, Timonium, MD 21093; Phone: (410) 252-4466

JJ's Everyday Café (American / café) - 2141 York Road, Timonium, MD 21093; Phone: (410) 308-2700

Michael's Café Raw Bar and Grill (American / seafood) - 2119 York Road, Timonium, MD 21093; Phone: (410) 252-2022

Nautilus Diner (diner) - 2047 York Road, Timonium, MD 21093; Phone: (410) 561-9236

Pasta Blitz (pasta / Mediterranean) - 49 W. Aylesbury Road, Timonium 21093; Phone: (410) 453-6603

Steak and Ale (large chain - steak house) -
60 W. Timonium Road, Timonium, MD 21093; Phone: (410) 252-6800

Yamato Sushi (Japanese / sushi) - 51 W. Aylesbury Road, Timonium, MD 21093; Phone: (410) 560-0024


dining dish said...

And you said you weren't hungry. I ended up getting a slice at a Pizza Joint on Reisterstown Road.

Here is a place that opened this summer you might have missed on your York Road adventure:

The Grapevine Cafe (good Greek and seafood)
20 Church Lane
Cockeysville, MD 21030

See you next week at blogger panel.

Pigtown-Design said...

Great to meet you!

The Constant Skeptic said...

everything sounds freaking delicious, I am definitely going to the tastes at the tremont, thanks for the info

John said...

Food Blogger Panelists: Great to meet y'all as well.

Kit: Driving around enough got me hungry. But I did have a cupcake at the meeting so I must have been a little hungry. Wish I had done the Nautilus though. A burger would've been more filling than what I had.

TCS: You're welcome, it should be groovy 8-)

Dan said...

Nice meeting you Sunday, John. Always fun to a face with the blog. You're talking my neck of the woods here (we live just off York Rd. in Lutherville/Timonium) so I'll weigh in on a couple places...

The Nautilus is strictly okay. Average diner fare, nothing spectacular. You didn't miss anything by skipping it. I've never had anything great there, though my buddy Pat says they have a fish special (flounder, perhaps?) that's good. I went and had the open face hot turkey sandwich once and it was the very definition of dull.

I've been to The Stil three or four times over the years. Best time I had was when a group of out-of-town pals and I went there this past summer and had a fun afternoon of eating and drinking. Be forewarned, though. The food is uniformly pretty heavy and can be pretty greasy. I had a greasy but tasty Reuben last time I was there. Unfortunately, I don't eat greasy very often and I was *not* feeling well that night. Coincidence? You decide.

Cheeburger Squared is another disappointment. They tout their humungous burgers and you even get your picture taken if you finish one of the big ones. If you've finished a burger at Alonso's you're up for the task. And you'll have already had a much better burger. Worst part of CheeChee? They won't cook your burger any less than medium for fear of you suing their corporate behinds. The food police win again!

Both Pasta Blitz and Yamato are supposed to be decent but I've never tried either place despite living a stone's throw away for 6 years and shopping in that center about once a week.

If you get up this way again (and it's not on a Sunday) swing by Andy Nelson's. I'm a fan.

John said...

Dan: First off, good to meet you, too!

Second: On your recommendation, I may think twice about heading to Nautilus. I have done the mammoth Alonso burger, but that was a while ago. Now that it's smoke-free, I absolutely have every excuse to go back!

I'll have to try out Yamato and Pasta Blitz, and certainly will seek out Andy Nelson's.

Rooie said...

This is my neighborhood! Like the previous poster, I live right in this area.

First of all...Yamato? It's my favorite restaurant at the moment...great sushi, the tastiest miso I've had (generally I don't care for miso soup...I get cravings for theirs)...good udon soups and main dishes. (My daughter loves the Mango Chicken, I usually go for the Deep Sea Treasure Noodles...if I'm not choosing the Rice Noodles or the Honey Sesame Chicken.) And the people there are wonderful! DOn't miss this place.

JJ's is probably the place we eat at the next-most-often. Just a casual neighborhood place...usually a lot of older people, but then that's about where my husband and I are now. They have the best salads...fresh, crisp and cold and I love their Dijon vinaigrette dressing. They have dinner type dishes and also good sandwiches. Nice place.

We ate at the diner once. Once was more than enough. We ate at The Still once too. I wasn't too impressed.

You didn't mention Bluestone, which may be a chain? But the food is really good there, too, though it's pricier than some of the places close by.

Cheeburger Cheeburger does have good milk shakes. The burgers are pretty tasteless, though.

Anonymous said...

Nichi Bei Kai..closed..Dormans Lighthouse is moving in.
Nautilus? Dont know about the bad comments, eaten there a lot, and I take my 4 year old for pancakes on Sundays. Great breakfasts and service.
Didnt see Corner Stable mentioned, you must try the Crab Cake and Ribs
Andy Nelsons is fantastic, also try the Charcoal Deli.
Pasta Blitz (now called Il Basilico is also excellent!!