Ivy League Eats in Columbia

Ryan Rom

            Occupying the former Lone Star Steakhouse building in Columbia is Stanford Grill.  After pumping over $1 million into the structure, you won’t even notice that this upscale casual restaurant offering fresh American cuisine was once a tacky ‘Texas’ steakhouse.  When I say fresh, I mean it.  In addition to adding an open-air kitchen, two outdoor patios and indoor and outdoor fireplaces, the contractor managed to unplug the walk-in freezer, creating a storage closet.  That’s right; nothing is kept in the freezer at Stanford Grill.

            This past Friday, Baltimore Eats along with some local bloggers were invited to preview the freshly opened restaurant.  We were offered an amazing look into what is now offered at this Columbia location.  Those of you who remember the old Lone Star will definitely be impressed with the new look and feel of Stanford Grill. 

            Walking in you will immediately notice that the bar area is very spacious.  The front end of the bar houses a baby grand piano that is used to play live jazz nightly.  The floor plan is much more open than it used to be and there is much more natural light being let in.  The new patio is great, but might be overshadowed by the sound and view of 175. 

           Stanford Grill specializes in wine, but also has an extensive cocktail list including the ‘Flirt-ini’, ‘D.C. Tea’, and the Grill’s own ‘Perfect Margarita’.    One of the more interesting aspects of this new location is that it is being used as a ‘guinea pig’ restaurant. They’ll be testing new ideas for the Blue Ridge Restaurant Group’s Copper Canyon Grill locations in Maryland, Virginia and Florida.  I personally thought that this was really great.  If you’re like me and enjoy new and interesting ideas on menus, then this might just be your new favorite Howard County hotspot.

         As we were being seated at the press tables, we saw a good number of the staff's friends and family seated for training purposes.  We learned quickly that a good amount of staff had been brought in from other sister restaurants; some as far away as the International Drive location in Orlando, FL.  Our main server and guide for the night was Ryan who came from the Copper Canyon Grill in Gaithersburg.  He suggested I try the King Estate’s Pinot Gris.  I enjoyed the wine, but I won’t waste time critiquing the wine for you and embarrassing myself.  Give me some tequila or vodka, and then we can talk. 


            Our tour began with appetizers.  As camera phones began clicking away I reached for the spinach and artichoke dip.  This over-used starter actually shined.  While raving to a friend of mine over the weekend about Stanford Grill’s dip, she told me how much she loved Friday’s spinach and artichoke dip.  I admitted that Friday’s really DOES know how to unfreeze and nuke their appetizers.  The best part for them is if they under-order, they can run to Costco and pick some up in the freezer section. 


            The Millionaire Shrimp was very tasty.  The shrimp were huge and the house-made whole-grain mustard or ‘millionaire’ sauce was a unique way to dress up shrimp hors d’oeuvres.  For a second I thought I felt my wallet get fatter but I realized it was just rich sauce weighing me down a bit. 


            As a lover of breads, I was extremely excited to dig into the Iron Skillet Cornbread.  Four huge wedges cooked in its own serving dish.  The batter was infused with both Serrano and Jalapeño peppers.  The general comment around the table was that though it had amazing flavor, it was a bit dry. 


            The cornbread made another appearance when we were served our soup and salad course.  Both the Caesar and House Salads were served with a giant wedge of their signature iron skillet bread.  I moved in to taste the Caesar which was hiding the final chapter of Stanford Grill’s cornbread trilogy, Return of the Crouton.  I was not impressed.  The cornbread made for soft croutons and the Serrano flavor didn’t mesh with the anchovy-laced Caesar dressing. 

            I loved the soup of the day, tortilla.  That’s good news for anyone looking to make their first visit to Stanford this Friday.  Freshly made tortilla strips sit atop an expertly spiced bowl. 


           Starting off the entrées was their amazing Wood Fired Rotisserie Chicken.  Stanford has their chickens spinning right out in the dining room.  Like the Sirens song, the way the birds dance on their skewers is sure to enthrall someone at your table.  Be careful though, because if you stare at those breasts too long, Stanford will start charging you $15 per live piano jazz song. 


            The staff really pushed their Eastern Shore Crab Cakes.  Three people made sure to tell me that there was no breading or filler.  This is definitely a plus, although any smart restaurant knows that they can’t get away with filler in this city.  That being said, the cakes were good.  I personally like my crab cakes with a bit more old bay, but then again, I am in the upper limits of spice tolerance. 

            The last entrée we were served was their Hickory Grilled Tenderloin Filet.  The steak was cooked perfectly and topped with Gorgonzola Bleu Cheese Butter and Chilean Cabernet Sauce.  Everything worked amazingly well together and I would definitely recommend this dish. 

           The table really enjoyed the sweet glazed carrots that came with the crab cakes.  While the other sides were good, I suggest that you carrot lovers sub out your veggie to make sure you get to taste them. 

          Last but not least was dessert.  The selections we were served were all delicious.   The Pineapple Upside-down cake was served warm and topped with Jim Beam Bourbon Sauce.  The Chocolate Uprising was ice cream sandwiched between two huge cinnamon brownies, topped with dark chocolate walnut fudge and smothered in caramel sauce.  As amazing as both of those were, I personally enjoyed the Key Lime Pie the most.  Made from scratch, the pie features fresh lime zest and real key lime juice.  The custard is set the night before and is poured into a delicious graham cracker nut crust.  It is almost as thick and creamy as a cheesecake.  This very well might be the best key lime pie in Maryland. 

          Altogether I enjoyed my preview of Stanford Grill.  The ambiance, staff as well as the food were great, and there were only a few things that I didn’t love about the new Columbia Restaurant.  I give it 4 out of 5 forks. 


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