Delicious and fun mix beautifully at Iron Bridge Wine Co. in Columbia, and the ongoing Howard County Restaurant Weeks is a great excuse to explore -- although not the only deal to choose.
Mrs. HowChow and I ate at Iron Bridge on a celebratory whim Monday night. For restaurant week, Iron Bridge is offering three courses for $30 -- an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert. Iron Bridge has specials every weeknight like a "burger and wine" special on Mondays. But we actually ate the regular appetizers -- four tapas-sized dishes that we split before having dessert. We paid a little less and still walked out satisfied and full.
Iron Bridge is a special kitchen. Dishes are small, simple and smart, which was my reason to try more little dishes than a full-plate entrees. Consider the "fries" served with a barbecued beef slider. They look like thick cut fries, but they're really slices of polenta, fried with such a light touch that the outside was crisp and the inside was almost creamy. It's surprising. It's funny. But most importantly, it's delicious and dipped beautifully into the barbecue sauce.
I started to write that the best items were the simplest -- house-smoked salmon with a spectacular cream on thin slices of toast. But the dishes are deceptively complex. Someone turned out that salmon with a mouth-filling flavor of fish and salt, but none of the oiliness that mars bad lox. Someone made a perfect cream and thin toasts with a slight crunch, but still the chewiness of bread. It's an intelligence that run through everything at Iron Bridge from the manager who moved us away from a happy, loud group to the waiter who let Mrs. HowChow order a half-pour when the menu only listed wines by the full glass.
This was one of my favorite dinners in a long time. The beef sliders and the shrimp were both cooked perfectly. The bread pudding was delicate -- although more like a cake than the moist puddings that Mrs. HowChow prefers. The wine was superb and fit Mrs. HowChow's description of "dry, but full flavored" exactly. This was the fun of eating at a favorite restaurant, made especially good because we didn't fall into our "favorite sushi roll" rut. Iron Bridge changes its menu all the time, so we make new picks confident that nothing with disappoint. I really wanted the cheese plate, but we relented because four tapas and dessert truly filled us both up.
My only complaint is the lighting. Sure, it's romantic and adult, which goes great with the way that Iron Bridge has little nooks where you can be together even in a crowded room. But some of us are snapping away with a camera phone, and there just isn't enough light to focus.
For more about Howard County's restaurant week in July-August 2009, check out a prior post that links to the full list of participating restaurants. The funny thing at Iron Bridge is that there wasn't a sign of restaurant week anywhere. Not even a mention of the "three for $30" special on the menu. I guess you get the deal if you know about it before you arrive.
Iron Bridge Wine Company
10435 Rte 108
Columbia, MD 21044
NEAR: This is on Rte 108 west of Rte 29 and Centennial Park. From Clarksville, you could just come north on Rte 108. From anywhere else, it's very convenient off Rte 29.