D is for the Diamondback Tavern

I agree heartily with the mission statement of the Diamondback Tavern:

“The Diamondback Tavern concept was built buy a group of local guys who were tired of there not being a place in Ellicott City, Columbia or Catonsville where you could sit back and drink, enjoy a good meal and watch the game without spending an arm and a leg.”

True dat, with the possible exception of G.L. Shack’s in Catonsville. I had high hopes for the Diamondback Tavern, located on Old Columbia Pike in Historic Ellicott City. It’s a charming space that seems to lure would-be bar owners away from the Main Street foot traffic, like sirens luring sailors to their deaths. There have been four incarnations of basically the same bar that I can remember, and none stick around for long. The Diamondback was competent but not spectacular, and history seems to indicate that’s not enough.

Entering the old stone building, I took a sharp right into the bar. It’s attractive and soothing, but the gestures towards sleek modernism fight with the rustic mill town feel of the structure and of Ellicott City itself. We hunkered down in one of the large booths and watched traffic and pedestrians go by on the sharp curve of road outside the big picture window. As our party trickled in, we perused the Maryland-inflected menu.

Lulu wanted fries with gravy; as a Lenten vegetarian, I nixed them in favor of edamame. It was the right choice. The steamed soybeans came with a healthy dusting of salt and pepper, while the fries that came with Genny’s Vegetarian Dream were lame. (Genny, a full-time vegetarian, can be tough to please with unimaginative veggie fare. But she assured me the open-faced portabella sandwich was, in fact, as dreamy as the name suggested.) The “crab dollop” was billed as “not your typical crab dip” but it is totally typical crab dip. Fortunately, typical crab dip is delicious. The crab and corn fritters were not. Too much fritter, not enough crab or tasty mustard sauce. Lulu’s vegetarian risotto was lovely and laced with an herb flavor none of us could name. I took a guess and asked the waiter if he knew what it was – lavender? – and he responded that it was butternut squash. Wha?

Despite the name and the “watch the game” part of the mission statement, there’s nothing particularly sporty about the Diamondback. Only two wooden turtles on the bar allude to the Maryland Terrapins. No turtle ice cream or Brenda Frisee Salad? Am I the only one who enjoys really hacky food puns? Yes? Oh.

Anyway, the name hints at a sports bar and the menu aspires to be a gastro pub. The Diamondback offer daily drink specials and live music that seem to encourage a young crowd, but the scene was really sedate. There’s a disconnect happening here, but things could fall into alignment if Diamondback endures and settles into a clearer identity.

Diamondback’s website doesn’t post its wine list, which is a huge oversight because that sucker is awesome. Or, perhaps more accurately, awesomely priced. I almost fainted out of my lovely window seat when I saw that a healthy handful of wines by the glass for $4 and $5, two bottles of wine priced at $16 and plenty more bottles in the $20-something range. It’s not something that will make your wine snob friends writhe with envy, but your wine snob friends are lame and far less fun than your cheap drunk friends. So call the cheap drunks, tell they to bring a $20, and you guys can go to town on some $16 wine and crab dip.

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4 responses to “D is for the Diamondback Tavern

  1. Hi,
    Thanks for the kind words about our restaurant/tavern. It should have been explained to you by the hostess and/or bartender, but our upstairs is a sports bar theme with plasmas, video games, and table games (soon to come). We’ve had it packed for Ravens games and Terps basketball games, so that would be your ideal spot to watch the game. I’m sorry you were not told about it.

    As for the food, I’m glad you can see the potential. We are still relatively young (opened the restaurant on Dec. 1, 2008) and working out some of the kinks, but most of our ingredients come in fresh from local purveyors (butchers, fisherman, farms, bakeries, etc…) and all of our sauces and gravies are made from scratch by our young but ambitious chef, Tom Williams. Our goal is to be economic-friendly and offer a quality product, and I sincerely hope that came through during your visit.

    The website (www.diamondbacktavern.com) is a work in progress as well. It’s been up for only a few weeks and we will soon be adding our wine list (thanks for the compliment), beer list, brunch menu and kids menu.

    Lee Biars
    Managing Partner
    The Diamondback Tavern

  2. pomme de terre

    Thanks, Lee! It’s so nice to hear from you. I’ll have to come back some time to check out the upstairs. In the restaurant’s previous incarnations, the upstairs was just a dining room, so it never occurred to me to look up there for a sports bar. Maybe a sign in the lobby is in order for absent-minded folks like me?

    Best of luck with the Diamondback! I’ve always really liked the space and I hope to see you guys thrive there.

  3. pomme de terre

    Also — what the heck is in the veggie risotto? It’s keeping me up at night.

  4. The risotto is actually sage scented, so that is probably the flavor that stood out to you. Our chef has a very good intuition when it comes to spices, so most of our dishes come out well balanced and interesting.

    Lee

    ps- I’m not sure how many awful Maryland sports food puns I could come up with. Right now all I have is “Eddie Murray-ngue Pie”.

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