Too often, restaurants in historic districts see their mission as getting tourists in and out quickly. Not so in Ellicott City, where between good shopping and sightseeing visitors can enjoy everything from a great sandwich to elegant French fare.
The city was founded in 1772 by the three Ellicott brothers, who opened a flour mill, making it Maryland’s first mill town. Fifty-eight years later it was the site of the first railroad terminus in the country, the end of the nation’s first 13 miles of track that stretched from Baltimore. The original station is now a railroad museum, well worth a visit to see the waiting rooms, ticket office, turntable, and exhibits.
The city had its ups and downs. It survived the Civil War—although its citizens were divided—and the catastrophic flood of 1868. Its bicentennial coincided with Hurricane Agnes, another destructive storm, which led to a decision to restore the town to its 18th-century charm.
Today, it’s a pleasure to stroll Main Street and see not only telegraph poles but antiques shops, stores, and restaurants in buildings 100 or more years old.
Sooner or later it will be time to eat.
Tersiguel’s (8293 Main St.; 410-465-4004; tersiguels.com), set in a 19th-century Victorian, has served excellent country French food for15 years. A recent lunch, one of several meals tried, was flawless. Oysters were cold and briny, while a tomato tart with sautÃ©ed onions and goat cheese was perfectly seasoned. The main courses were also superb and included a bouillabaisse and sautÃ©ed veal medallions with shiitake mushrooms and shallots in a demi-glace. Other good choices: pan-roasted pumpkinseed-dusted sturgeon (a special) and rack of lamb. The wine list is terrific.
While Tersiguel’s is on the pricey side, a three-course prix-fixe lunch menu is a bargain at $19.95.
Tersiguel’s is one of two standouts in town. The other is Jordan’s (8085 Main St.; 410-461-9776; jordanssteakhouse.com), intimate for a steakhouse, with small rooms and old photos on the walls. Tuna tartare, grilled Caesar salad, and mussels in white wine are good openers; the Cowboy Steak (a rib eye) and the USDA Prime porterhouse are great meat choices. For many of its entrÃ©es, Jordan’s offers both USDA Choice and Prime—diner’s call. Rack of lamb with foie gras (a special), broiled tuna steak, and steamed salmon are fine alternatives. Jordan’s is open only for dinner and Sunday brunch.
American fare also can be had at Cacao Lane (8066 Main St.; 410-461-1378; cacaolane.net) and Tiber River Tavern (3733 Old Columbia Pike; 410-750-2002; tiberrivertavern.com). Cacao Lane features crab, shrimp, and filet mignon in ambitious preparations as well as favorites of yesteryear such as veal Oscar. At both of these restaurants, main courses typically range from $20 to $29. Tiber River Tavern, a short block off Main, is cozy and romantic with stone walls and low ceilings and a choice of dining-room or bar seating. Try the portobello mushroom stuffed with Atlantic salmon, spinach, and goat cheese or the bacon-wrapped pork loin with bourbon-pecan reduction.
Ellicott Mills Brewing Company (8308 Main St.; 410-313-8141; ellicottmillsbrewing.com) is a microbrewery that offers more than a pub menu. While the hamburgers, buffalo burgers, and steaks are very good, consider the mixed grilled sausage platter and the wild boar with beer sauce (a special).
La Palapa (8307 Main St.; 410-465-0070; lapalapagrill.com) is a colorful restaurant that serves asado de puerco and camarones along with such Tex-Mex favorites as soft tacos, quesadillas, and burritos.
Looking for a simple meal? Try Phoenix Emporium (8049 Main St.; 410-465-5665) or the Trolley Stop (6 Oella Ave.; 410-465-8546; thetrolleystop.com), which both serve straightforward American cuisine in old-fashioned settings.
Quicker bites are well represented, too. Sarah and Desmond’s Gourmet Bakery and Vegetarian Cafe (8198 Main St.; 410-465-9700) offers very good sandwiches, salads, pita pizzas, and coffee. Many ingredients lean toward the Middle East. And Fisher’s Bakery (8143 Main St.; 410-461-9275; fishersbakery.com) offers light lunch fare along with elaborate cakes and French pastries.
Feel like a spot of tea? Charming Tea on the Tiber (8081 Main St.; 410-480-8000; teaonthetiber.com) is a Victorian tearoom. Cream tea is served from 11 to 3:30 for $11, while an elaborate afternoon tea is a reservation-only treat offered at noon and 3 for $25. The clotted cream and scones are terrific.