CIA Grads Share Their Dream With West County Residents
May 15, 2018 12:00AM ● Published by Brian Saucedo
Photography by Tony Lewis, Jr.
Rik and Pam Squillari were culinary school sweethearts, married soon after their graduation from the prestigious Culinary Arts Institute (CIA) in upstate New York. In the years since, Rik has held a variety of positions in the hospitality industry (chef and general manager at D.C. and Baltimore hotels), plus 16 years in the wine and spirits business that took him on travels around the world. The Crofton native became fascinated with the magic of winemaking and decided to incorporate his expanded knowledge in this area with a long-held dream of opening his own restaurant. His wife bought in to the dream and in October of last year they opened Harvest Thyme Modern Kitchen & Tavern in Davidsonville.
Good for them. And good for residents of this rapidly growing area of Anne Arundel County, who applaud the Squillaris for bringing a first-rate restaurant to their sparsely-served rural neighborhood. We went to their place for dinner on a Saturday night—and so did a lot of other patrons. Every one of the restaurant’s 85 seats was taken, the main bar was standing room only, and so was a smaller wine bar in a side room. It was easy to identify the gentleman circling the restaurant, menu in hand, as the proprietor. My guess was confirmed by our delightful young server, Alyssa, who offered to introduce us. Without mentioning I was “on assignment,” I graciously declined and changed the subject to the wine list.
Wine and spirits are definitely part of the formula at Harvest Thyme. Squillari, with the help of an architect, designed the space. An entire wall is sheathed in hand-crafted wine racks cradling hundreds of domestic and imported bottles, serving as a stunning feature of the studied simplicity of the décor. Because of the restaurant’s license as a “tavern” these bottles may be purchased at retail price for consumption on or off the premises. Ahoy—there is a $10 corkage fee if that bottle is part of your dinner and you have been given a separate full-bottle wine list. So that explains why the main menu has by-the-glass offerings on its flip side, with prices ranging from $6–12 per glass and three-pour sizes (2,4, and 6 ounces) in a category called Sommelier Selections.
Alyssa was happy to let me sample three by-the-glass whites (an Italian Pino Grigio, a grassy Sauvignon from New Zealand, and a just-right Bogle Chardonnay) to sip while scanning Harvest Thyme’s menu. Starters ($7–12) include three different share-able “boards”—a charcuterie selection of craft meats, a combination of chef’s-choice cheeses, and the Harvest Board, which featured both meats and cheeses. I ordered the Eggplant Oreganato because I remembered it fondly from a meal in a little restaurant in Tuscany. The assemblage of eggplant slices, smattering of red sauce, and a swirl of ricotta cheese warmed up our taste buds for what was to come
A rich oyster stew enriched with a bit of brandy and featuring three enormous bivalves was wonderfully restorative on a cold and windy night. The soups here come to the table in small steel sauce pans that keep the contents hot. Clever. We also shared a Bibb and Bleu salad. Some artist in the kitchen had put together a beautiful combination of bright green Boston lettuce leaves, scarlet tomato quarters, bacon with just enough rich blue cheese to moisten the vegetables, and just the right percentage of candied pecans to wrap it all up. We also tried the Meatball for Two, which kept us hopeful that our main courses would zing.
Harvest Thyme offers a choice from a list of seven affordably priced “mains,” priced from $16–24, except for a $38 splurge for a hefty 11-ounce certified Angus beef steak from Shenandoah Valley ranch. The owner’s Italian heritage gets a nod with Cioppino, Chicken Milanese, and Penne Bolognese. I appreciated the careful plating of the lemon-kissed and lightly-breaded Chicken Milanese, nicely partnered with perfectly cooked linguine and baked Roma tomatoes. My companion was happy with his thick-cut pork chop embellished with a fruity house-made cherry glaze that lifted the dish out of the ordinary. Other entrée choices include steak frites, the meat topped with a rustic chimichurri sauce and served with French fries and an arugula salad.
Harvest Thyme’s dessert menu is still being developed with the help of Mrs. Squillari, who comes from a family of European bakers. On our visit, there were four choices. A “Harvest Smash,” which appeared apple pie that had literally been “smashed” before plating. Interesting. A brandied bread pudding, which seems to be featured at most restaurants these days. Other choices were Tiramisu and crème brulee flavored with lemongrass and ginger.
Our evening at Harvest Thyme was energizing and educational. An open kitchen permits diners to feel like part of the action as a fleet of cooks move like a well-trained military team. Squillari’s training, experience, and personal tastes merge in an authentic translation of what a good restaurant should be. He even has pizza as a sidebar, and the toppings are tantalizing. We’ll be back for lunch.