Tag Archives: Wine

I is for Iron Bridge Wine Company

A while ago I promised that I’d make Columbia’s Iron Bridge Wine Company my I spot because I felt the restaurant had been dealt an unfair hand by animal rights vandals. My sense of righteous indignation, which usually leads me into trouble, led me to a nice wine spot.

 IBWC, located in what I remember from childhood as a biker bar, is perched along Route 108 facing one of the few pastoral scenes left in Howard County. Inside, the décor is all dark wood and rich red draperies that stop just this side of the Moulin Rouge or a R&B slow jam video. The bar is beautiful, and I wish we’d spent our happy hour there, especially since they have a $20 bottle special on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Instead we went for a wine tasting class in the adjacent dining room from what the restaurant calls “Iron Bridge University.”

IBU was a deal for $25 – samplings of two whites, two reds and a port from Spain and Portugal. The students were arranged around a tall center table set up with five different wine glasses and the teacher (Waiter? Bartender? Sommelier?) talked for 45 uninterrupted minutes about older versus newer vines, appellations, and Portuguese geography. It was like drinking from a fire hose hooked up to a hydrant full of wine. The grapes were good, and the price was right (especially since it got us 10% off our total bill), but I didn’t learn one single thing. Maybe my cohorts and I aren’t ready for Iron Bridge University. We’re more Iron Bridge Community College, or Iron Bridge Reform School for Naughty Girls who Sit in the Back of Class and Giggle.

 My favorite selection was a not-quite-sparkling white that we ordered a bottle of after class . I’m a sucker for anything carbonated (soda, beer, seltzer, champagne, prosecco, etc), and it was a decent match for Annie’s roasted veggie pizza as well as the complimentary tuna tartare appetizer that came with the class. My two fellow “students” were offput by the super-sweet port, but personally I think tastings are for sampling the more outlandish stuff that you wouldn’t necessarily buy a whole bottle of on spec. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I generally like port (albeit more in winter), but it was still too sweet for me.

 We also ordered “grilled cheese” off the menu, which was a grilled round of brie served with crostini and macerated strawberries. Grilled brie sounds weird, but was quite tasty and I’d love to try it on the grill at home. Lulu, as she did at the Diamondback Tavern, housed a plate of risotto quite happily. In honor of the original foie gras protesting that inspired my trip, I order the chicken liver and foie gras pate, oddly presented in two Chinese soupspoons with crostini (a bit bready for the task at hand) and truffle butter (to die for). I enjoyed all the richness, but I still don’t quite understand why people throw down over this stuff. Doesn’t seem worth the fuss to me, from either the gourmet or animal rights angle.

The service wasn’t as silky smooth as I’ve seen in some high-end spots, but it was still quite good. They were generous with the extra crostini, and when our server didn’t know the answer to a question, she admitted that she didn’t, looked into it and relayed an answer back to us. I asked for a wine to go with my pate, since I have no idea what the traditional pairing would be, and the bartender offered up a crazy-rich white that was a terrific match. It was the only drink I tried that wasn’t from the tasting menu, but it was great. The wine list at IWBC has some great bargains for down-and-outers like me, and some pricier choices for the fat cats. Definitely worth the trip to HoCo.

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.