Monday, September 8, 2014

Leelyn's Makes The Unmanly Chef Sing About His Supper; His E.C. Spot For Soup, Salad, More

The "Seasonal Salad"
The Unmanly Chef cooks up a storm on his own blog -- including a great series of "Five Lunches, Five Days" where he recommends a recipe you can cook Sunday and then pack good food all week.

But the Chef is a Howard County local, and he graciously offered to write up a joint that we haven't visited in years.  Leelynn's is an Ellicott City spot just off Rte 108.  It's an American kitchen with a menu that changes and offers everything from drinks to small plates to big entrees.  As I remember, they have some nice outdoor seating, which will just get more cozy as we move into fall.

The Chef has lived in Howard County for 27 years, so he remembers Lee Stumpf back from the years at G.L. Shacks, a local hangout.  Once they parted ways, Stumpf opened Leelyn's, and the Chef said it quickly became of his family's "go to" spots:
There are so many things that I like about Leelynn’s, but I’ll rattle a few off before I get to my review.

The first -- and I think most important -- is the sense of community you feel when you go there.  I dare you to go and not recognize someone.  You feel at home or like the Cheers theme song said,”You wanna go where everybody knows your name.” 
The pork belly
Second, it lacks any sort of pretentious, over the top salesmanship which I can’t stand. Their staff knows the menu well enough to give recommendations but they’re not going to hit you over the head with the menu, which I like. Finally, Leelynn’s has an adventurous kitchen which has always been fearless to try new menu items.

A menu feature that I love about Leelynn’s is that they have a small plates menu.  For the crowd that doesn’t want a huge plate of food, this is a great feature.  This is the portion of the menu that changes often, so it’s hard to get sick of an item.  I am sad that they don’t do mac & cheese anymore, because it was unreal. Their chips are made in house and are stellar.

They have unreal cream of crab soup.  It’s one of my favorites in Maryland.  I’ve eaten this soup all over the state, and Leelynn's tastes just as good as the soup at the Inn at Perry Cabin, one of the highest rated restaurants in the state.  It has plenty of jumbo lump crab meat to go long with a great cream soup.

We tried one of their small plate specials, which was a very trendy pick of pork belly.  Everyone and their mom is making pork belly right now in the food world.  They had an interesting take on the pork belly.  Rather than braising the pork, they cooked it similar to a steak.  They added a nice touch of crisping the skin on top and topping it with a tomato jam.  It had a good garlic undertone in the meat.

For our main course, we both ordered their “seasonal” salad.  This used to be called their “summer” salad.  I don’t care if it’s winter, spring, or fall.  I am always getting this salad. It’s everything I want in a salad. You can top it with salmon, chicken, shrimp or crab cake (7 oz. or 3 oz.).  It’s a mixed green salad topped with dried cranberries, candied walnuts, goat cheese, and house made fried onions.  They have a honey mustard poppy seed vinaigrette.  (I always get my dressing on the side, but it doesn’t overpower it if you get the dressing on it.)  This has become a pretty standard salad in a lot of restaurants, but LeeLynn’s was one of the first in HoCo to do it and still does it the best in my opinion. It doesn’t muck it all up with mandarin oranges or too much cheese. It’s a perfect balance.

As a Leelynn’s regular, I’ve had many of their other items. Their crab cakes by themselves are award winning, including some "Best in Howard County" designations for four or five years running.  They’re jumbo lump crab cakes served with sweet potato fries and a seasonal veggie.  It’s a very light and delicious crab cake that has very little filler.  It’s really spectacular.  I used to love to pair this with the mac & cheese if I wanted to pig out.

The Leelynn’s burger is another favorite.  It’s pretty hard to find something on the menu that isn’t great though or at least solid.

The "Ice Cream Sandwich"
With the dinner coming to an end, we decided to wrap it all with a nice little bow and order dessert.  We typically get the apple crumble crisp, which is really awesome.  It’s a standard apple crisp served with a homemade crumble oat crisp and vanilla ice cream.  Since we always get that we elected to go with a homemade ice cream sandwich instead.  Wise decision.  It’s two chocolate ganache brownies with vanilla ice cream in the middle.  For some it might be too much, but get this if you are in a chocolatey mood.  They also have your standard dessert staples, cheesecake, creme brulee, etc. etc.  I’ve never tried them because we always go for the crisp.  Maybe next time.

It’s hard to say anything really negative about the place. The staff is very friendly and attentive to anything you need.  They will also work with you to make sure your food is prepared the way you want.  They have a very nice outdoor seating area that is perfect on a nice day.  We prefer to sit in the lounge, but we have sat in the dining area before.  Both are surprisingly comfortable for the restaurant itself not being that large.  They were smart to install sound absorbing acoustical paneling in the dining area to capture some of the sound.  If you are into live music they have a live act perform almost every night in the lounge area too.

Go to Leelynn’s if you just want to have a nice time out whether it’s by yourself, with your significant other, or..... even with your kids!!  It actually is kid friendly.
I do recommend checking out the Unmanly Chef blog for recipes.  There are a bunch of great voices from Howard County writers.  Check them all on the HocoBlogs food page.


Rob said...

I was impressed by the food at Leelyn's, the Calamari was fantastic and you are spot on about the Cream of Crab Soup! I was very sad to see they get their meats from Creeekstone Farms, a Halal Certified supplier though.

s. chou said...

@Rob - what's wrong with halal meats? Genuinely curious.

Rob said...

Hala is first off a very cruel way of killing any animal. They do not stun the animal in any way, they slit its throat and hang it upside down until it bleeds to death. NOT very pleasant. Second, Hala is a device of Sharia Law.
Sharia law is a terrible, no tolerence brutal thing in its own right.