Though its gourmet pizzas pile on eclectic toppings from feta and hot peppers to buffalo chicken, that’s not the only variety available at Venice Pizza. A menu longer than Popeye's list of felony-assault charges spans from hot sandwiches to quesadillas and jumbo buffalo wings. Platters pile fries, fish, and other meats onto one plate, and strombolis, gyros, and pasta also accommodate eaters not in the mood for a slice.
In 1744, a brick tavern began pouring brews on the edge of the Patapsco River. James and Andrew Ellicott bought the establishment in 1810 and added a stately home for their family. More than a century later, when Daniel and Steve Wecker discovered the former Ellicott property in 1988, it had fallen into disrepair. But, seeing the promise in the neglected building and its surrounding 16 acres of flourishing linden, holly, and magnolia trees, the brothers convinced the state of Maryland to lease them the property. Together, they restored the rooms and much of the original 18th- and 19th-century craftsmanship, transforming it into what is now The Elkridge Furnace Inn. Today, guests walk over original longleaf-pine flooring and admire the stairway’s tiger-maple spindles and the molding’s Colonial-style dogwood motifs on their way to the historic dining room, whose atmosphere helped earn the restaurant a spot among OpenTable's 100 Most Romantic Restaurants in the country.
The restaurant’s lavish French cuisine plays no small part in its success, garnering laudations and media attention from the likes of the Washington Post. Daniel Wecker takes the helm in the kitchen as executive chef, burying game meats—such as rabbit and quail—and fresh seafood beneath rich glazes and beurre blanc sauces. When faced with too many choices from an encyclopedic wine list, diners can consult the menu for recommended vintages to pair with their dish.
Hunan Taste packs empty stomach suitcases with authentic Chinese cuisine distinguished by sour, spicy tastes and slow-cooked, tender textures. Skip the cumbersome rental of a tabletop cement mixer and lay an appetizing foundation with steamed or pan-fried dumplings ($4.95) or crispy shrimp egg rolls ($2.75). Chopstick skeptics can play to strengths by spooning hot mouthfuls of braised baby cabbage in superior soup ($10.95) and getting paws sauced with sweet-and-sour spare ribs ($13.95). Otherwise, mouths can make a deliciously daring choice by ushering in a steamed fish head with diced hot red peppers ($23.95).
To get a sense of The Greene Turtle's commitment to the neighborhood, one need only sit at the bar and look up. Dozens of mugs hang above the counter, emblazoned with the pub's logo and a unique number—each one belongs to a recurring patron. The Mug Club awards its members with draft-beer discounts and other specials, but more importantly, it allows loyal patrons to feel as though they own small slices of the venue without tattooing their names on the bartender's arm. This sense of shared familiarity is what fuels the entire franchise, which refrains from calling its locations "restaurants" in favor of friendlier terms: gathering places, communities, havens.
Many of the locations contribute more than mugs to their districts. Staff members who participate in the annual Tips for Tots program donate the entirety of one day's tips to a nearby Toys for Tots initiative, and Tuesday Funds for Friends events benefit local organizations. These efforts have been chronicled by press sources such as Food and Drink magazine, with features that liken The Greene Turtles' philanthropic generosity to the generous portions of comfort food that leave the kitchens.
From cheeseburger sliders and flatbread pizzas to handmade lump-crab cakes, the offerings on the menu embrace barroom traditions along with ingenuity. The steak and chicken entrees arrive with classic sides of green beans and yukon gold mashed potatoes, whereas the eastern shore mac ‘n’ cheese updates a comfort staple with chopped bacon, lump crab, scallions, and Old Bay seasoning. Diners can enjoy their meals by the glow of private flat-screen TVs—there's one in every booth—or beneath one of many larger televisions broadcasting sports games throughout the venue.
The dough masters at Waterloo Pizza & Subs sling traditional pizzas adorned with various meat and veggie toppings next to sodas. Bedeck two 14-inch tomato and cheese pizzas with edible sprinklings of meat such as ground beef, ham, or pepperoni. Patrons seeking greener repast can graze alongside their pet brontosauruses on spicy bites of onion, savory mushrooms, or crisp hot peppers. While slices fill empty stomach caverns, diners send a flood of soda from a 2-liter bottle in after them.
The epicurean engineers at Parsa Kabob grill lamb, beef, and seafood with Persian spices and then skewer them with colorful veggies, creating artfully arranged plates of authentic Middle Eastern cuisine. Lamb koobideh ($10.95 for dinner), seasoned ground lamb and the Sultani combination ($16.95) proffers a protein-packed mix of marinated filet mignon and beef that halts hunger more easily than a meat-stuffed piñata. Fresh pita bread and hummus ($4.95) make for lemon and tahini-infused main course intermissions. An array of de-lanced entrees such as falafel sandwiches ($5.95) and jerk-chicken gyros ($6.99) keeps forks, knives, and hands from feeling undervalued.
Squisito Pizza & Pasta dishes out an immense, palate-pleasing menu of Italian favorites and innovative originals. Starters, such as the shrimp gondola paddling with parmesan-cream sauce in a toasted italian-bread canoe ($8.99), pacify peckish gullets. Seasoned chefs dress pasta in a variety of disguises, from the penne Popeye cloaked in grilled chicken, sautéed spinach, roasted red peppers ($12.99) to the fettuccine bolognese shrouded in creamy rosé meat ragu ($10.99). Piping-hot pizza pies come in Chicago, New York, and flatbread styles, crowned with both classic and gourmet ingredients. Bite into a healthy skyline with the New York–style roasted veggie pie, a foldable dough disk topped with zucchini, red peppers, roasted eggplant, goat cheese, and balsamic ($16.99), or dive into a flavorful Great Lake with the Chicago-style Squisito ($17.99), a deep dish dotted with pepperoni, mushrooms, sausage, extra cheese, onions, green peppers, and optional anchovies ($17.99). Wee visitors to Squisito Pizza & Pasta receive a free ball of dough, a welcome alternative to children's typical dining distractions, such as flopping around on the floor and drawing leg mustaches on fellow diners.