Friday, February 1, 2008

Victoria Gastro Pub in Columbia

It turns out that you can eat too many french fries -- but only if they're extra delicious.

Victoria Gastro Pub is a new restaurant with an unfortunate name and really fun food.

Start with the name because everyone else does. As we walked in the last visit, my friends couldn't stop talking about "gastro pub" and why anyone would chose a name that made them think of Immodium and that cruise ship diarreha. Stop it. It's a British term for quality not intestine, at least according to the Victoria and Wikipedia.

Five steps inside the former Bennigans and you'll stop thinking about the name. Goodbye chain space. Hello, small dining rooms, a few private booths, and a bar with space to spread out. It's a classy pub that -- celebration music -- like every other restaurant, will be smoke-free thanks to Annapolis starting today.

(Update: I posted again about Columbia's Victoria Gastro Pub in 2010.)

And the food is better than the decor. I return again and again to the burger. The best burger that I have had in years, and it comes in two varieties -- $9 in angus beef and a $12 in kobe beef. This is exactly the burger that I want. Small, but perfect. Perfect roll. Good cheese and bacon options. Home-made pickles that are so crisp and flavorful that I ate them alone. And served in a real restaurant with a span of beers and the subtle noise of conversations, not the chaos of Red Robin. The kobe did taste different, although I ordered angus on my second visit because I wasn't sure kobe was better.

Victoria gives every reason to go back again and again because most things are as smart as the burgers. Bisquits that beat anything I can remember. Onion soup that my friend loved. Beers and wines for any taste, including a "tasting special" where you can get five five-ounce beers for about $12. (My friends loved seeing Hoegaarden Witte beer, and I could tell it was a treat even if it wasn't my taste. Our waiter let us sample several, and the Chimay is absolutely worth $9. That is the "can't make this at home" flavor that makes me want to drive somewhere on a cold night.) And a menu that run from $9 sandwiches to $22 fish with everything done with a nice detail -- a homemade cocktail sauce on the oysters, duck confit on the spinach salad.

The menu is one of those unusual ones that is short enough to fit on a single page, but interesting enough that I could order more than half the items. Mrs. ChowHow and I split a Lobster Grilled Cheese, an interesting idea with cheese and panini that would have been perfect on their own. I didn't taste enough lobster to bring me back, but that is really because the cheese and charcuterie plates, the BBQ rib sandwich and the "DLT" (duck, lettuce and tomato) are calling my name. On every visit, the waiters have extolled the fish & chips, which are sea bass stuffed with shrimp and crab. I'll be getting that as well.

This truly lives up to the British meaning of its name. Casual enough that you're comfortable in jeans and can eat sandwiches for $10 a head, but serving food so well-thought that I'd order a $9 beer and $22 fish and chips because they'll be worth every dime. They're even serving late at the bar (1 am according to the menu, 2 am according to one waiter).

But be warned about the fries. Duck is everywhere on the menu, and they promote a "duck fat frites" appetizer and even a "poutine" variation -- potatoes, fried in duck fat, then covered with duck confit, cheese and gravy. I ate the frites (more than my share, according to Mrs. ChowHow). Then I ate the fries with my burger. Happily, but probably too much of a good thing.

[Update: My friend sat at the bar for dinner and couldn't say enough good things. He just made happy sounds while trying to describe the poutine, and he enjoyed the lobster grilled cheese. Like us, he really liked the employees. A bartender enticed him with samples of some unusual beers and really encouraged him to get what he liked and enjoy himself. In contrast, reviewers for the WPost and the Baltimore City Paper both sort of panned the place -- saying some nice things, but damning with faint praise to say, in the end, that Victoria wasn't worth driving all the way to Columbia.]

[Update: Victoria now offers a really nice outdoor patio -- with the Columbia special of being able to watch your car while you eat.]

If you like Victoria, check out Eggspectations across the road for breakfast or Bangkok Delight a little farther up Rte 108 for Thai. For a step up the expense scale, also check out Iron Bridge Wine Company for imaginative American food.

Victoria Gastro Pub
8201 Snowden River Parkway
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR: Rte 100 , Rte 108 and Snowden River Parkway. Down from Eggspectation and next to the McDonalds.

Victoria Gastro Pub on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I started out loving this place but haven't returned since November. Service used to be phenomenal. The last straw was having a server who just disappeared and we had to go look for. It didn't help that the owners were fawning over a table behind us. If you're a VIP the sky's the limit, I guess, but if you're a regular diner, you just don't matter.