I ended up at Stoney River's Annapolis location last night after discovering that the Austin Grill had closed. It is well and proper that Austin Grill closed, as their combination of wildly variable Tex-Mex offerings and haphazard service is no great loss. I was, however, looking forward to one of their Hangover Burgers as a reward for accompanying my wife to Crate and Barrel.
Stoney River's location next to C&B, combined with reports from friends of good eats there led us to give them a try. The space is attractive, and the outdoors/cabin theme is understated enough not to be annoying. There's a big stone fireplace, and a canoe suspended from the ceiling. Outdoorsy, got it.
On arrival at the hostess station, I was a little surprised to be asked for our name, as the restaurant was only about one fourth full, but I gave my name to the officious little girl who bruskly informed me that there would be a wait of about 5 minutes then proceeded to ignore us. The space around the hostess stand is adjacent to the bar, and there's really no logical place to wait without feeling rather awkward. Fortunatley the 5 minute wait only took about a minute and a half before another hostess escorted us to a table. We were asked if we wanted to sit in the center of the room on couches around a table in front of the fire. We agreed to this, but once seated in the overstuffed and cavernous couches realized we'd made a mistake. This arrangement would be great for drinks and appetizers, but probably not for a meal. Our server for the evening arrived quickly and on request seated us at a more traditional table nearby. Finally settled.
The menu seemed to me to be well thought out and offered a reasonable range of dishes to accomodate most tastes and tended toward comfort dishes. My wife ordered the Ahi Tuna Salad, and I went with the Tenderloin sandwhich. (They offer a burger, but I'd been set for a big sloppy Hangover Burger gut bomb, and an Upscale Casual Prime Burger wasn't going to fill that void). The Asian influenced salad was reportedly very good, and the tuna was in fact very good. The steak in my sandwich was exceptional, it had been cooked to order, and was very tender and flavorful. Each piece bit through effortlessly without having to deal with pulling away a bite trailing a wad of beef. I'm definitely looking forward to a return trip for a full-on steak dinner. We ordered a side of potatos au gratin to gratify my wifes potato fix. They were good, appropriately done and served with a conservative amount of cheese, but definitley lacked basic salt and pepper.
Toward the end of the meal, a gentleman I assume was the manager rushed up to our table inquiring as to how everything was (with both of us in mid chew). We grunted something generally positive, he complimented us on our good judgement in our meal choices then darted back out of our lives, as quickly as he'd entered. This is just the type of poorly executed, and forced interaction that I find annoying at "Upscale Casual" places that have pretensions to being in the realm of a fine dining experience. Then again I don't think the knuckleheads should be allowed into any restaurant loftier than McDonalds wearing their Tap Out gear and sweats so it's probably just the curmudgeon in me.
Overall, the service didn't live up to the food (Fridays caliber), but the food was surprisingly good for a mall meal, and we're looking forward to returning as long as their isn't a wait beyond five minutes.
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