Restaurant Review: Houlihan's in West County
Jan 31, 2016 04:37PM
● By Cate Reynolds
A Stand Out in West County
410-721-4468 // houlihans.com
By Mary Lou Baker // Photography by Tony Lewis, Jr.
Arriving at the Waugh Chapel Towne Center, a huge constellation of shops and restaurants as well as an enormous IMAX movie theatre, is an eye-opening experience for first-time visitors. When did this enormous citadel of consumerism spring up in West County on former farmlands in Gambrills between Crofton and Odenton? Residents of this area tell me they were delighted when Target arrived in 2012 as a flagship tenant, followed within two years by more than 100 businesses who liked the statistics and the opportunities for growth.
Wegman’s food market is just one of the “celebrity” stores in a mind-boggling mix that now includes a roster of about a dozen restaurants, among them Houlihan’s—one of nearly 100 bar restaurants in a chain headquartered in Kansas City, with offshoots in the mid-west and the eastern U.S. Before your automatic turn-off button activates at this information, come along with me to find out more about how Houlihan’s philosophy has evolved from a standard formula to a “from scratch” kitchen with a “farm-to-table” commitment to buy local at each of their locations.
We arrived sixish on a Saturday night, joining a crowd in the vestibule who were willing to wait 30–35 minutes for seating in the main dining room. We opted for “self-seating” and got lucky with the last available table in a spacious TV-lined room centered with a four-sided bar surrounded by comfortable booths. Our luck held up with the arrival of a server named Amy, who answered our questions about the drink menu: “$10 wine flights” = selecting any three wines by the glass; “Sailor Jerry Long Island Iced Teas” = 92-proof spiced rum named after a tattoo artist known for his artwork on sailors. My designated driver opted for a freshly-brewed non-alcoholic iced tea and I settled for “bubbles” = a $9 flute of Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut from Washington State.
From an appealing array of appetizers, we shared Firecracker Shrimp—eight good-sized specimens lightly fried, bathed in a sensational Thai chili sauce, and served on a bed of shredded napa cabbage flecked with slivered scallions and carrots in a vibrant ginger dressing—and an oblong platter containing a halved head of iceberg lettuce, a mound of sweet and hot sesame-glazed chicken, a pile of crispy wontons, and a wee dish of assertive peanut-ginger sauce. The idea was to separate the lettuce leaves and use them as wraps for the other ingredients—a delicious and creative invitation that allows the diner to customize each bite.
For entrées, I went straight to the seafood section for the seared Georges Bank scallops, wild-caught in an area stretching from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia. These top of the line specimens, noted for their naturally sweet taste and firm texture, were treated with the respect they deserve and arrived at our table caramelized on the surface and complemented with a lovely lemon-asparagus risotto and a bouquet of baby arugula misted with a basil-scented olive oil.
While I raved about my elegant entrée, my companion grew silent as he tucked into a massive entrée of two generous slices of meatloaf described on the menu as “Creekstone Farms Black Angus beef.” They were crowned with real “honest gold mashers,” fried onions, and a red wine mushroom gravy that left him happy and speechless. This is definitely a guy-dish. He also ordered two sliders ($4 each)—one an odd-textured and tasting veggie burger (is there any other kind?) and the other filled with mini-slices of beef pot roast in red wine gravy and a few fried onion rings. The knotted slider rolls, tasting as good as they looked, are house-made—as is most everything at Houlihan’s, according to kitchen manager Forris Pittman.
Pittman says he personally trains the restaurant’s team of cooks, setting a high bar for their performance and for the quality of the ingredients he orders. He uses only antibiotic-free chicken, premium Creekstone Farms Black Angus beef, takes twice-weekly deliveries of locally-grown vegetables, offers gluten-free products, and changes the menu with the seasons. Additional evidence of Houlihan’s culinary awareness is its online listing of the calories, fat, carbs, dietary fiber, protein, and sodium within each item on the menu. Another appealing feature of Houlihan’s menu is the option of ordering smaller versions of their entrees.
Open since 2014, Houlihan’s stands tall in the broad category of casual bar-restaurants. We found the food and the service on a par with classy establishments and look forward to a return visit next time we’re in their neighborhood.
Mary Lou Baker is a frequent contributor to What’s Up? Media publications and self-professed gourmand. She has authored numerous culinary articles and recently penned the book Seafood Lover’s Chesapeake Bay: Restaurants, Markets, Recipes & Traditions.