The Manor Tavern
15819 Old York Road
Spring is here for seven hours. You want to be outside enjoying nature. Take the leash off of your gimp, harness up your pooch, and head to the trails along 83. No matter which trail head you choose, you are a quick and scenic drive from the Manor Tavern.
Nestled in the hills of Monkton is a true culinary gem where old favorites and new twists emerge on a menu that is almost as pornographic as the food itself. The first experience was so good, we ventured back a few days later to try more. The Manor Tavern used to be known as an upscale dining place with a waspy feel. While it still retains its upscale look, it caters to a range of pleasures with its oyster festivals, bourbon tasting events, and live music during the week.
The first trip was to their annual oyster festival. We sucked down a variety of plump oysters from the Mid-Atlantic region with Bloody Mary’s and cold beer. Fresh, salty, briny. No grit or pearls. A good start before trying their Monkton Cream of Crab, loaded with jumbo lump crab meat. They were happy to oblige us with a little extra sherry for our bowls. The Bourbon Street Gumbo was hearty with rich, bold flavor, swimming with crab, shrimp and crayfish. The bread pudding that followed was a large slice of moist love worth ruining any diet.
I wasn’t expecting much on the second visit. I just knew I had to try some other items I had been anxious to try for days. I was first greeted by Jamie Rutkin-Carter, the manager. She and the rest of the staff set an inviting tone that made you feel like an old friend returning after a long trip. She was quick to offer my dog Roxie a bowl of water in the large outdoor dining area. Roxie had her eye on other things though. Specifically, George Batlas, executive chef of the Manor Tavern. We watched George scrutinize the gardens where most of his produce is grown. We then realized Roxie was eyeing the chickens further away. This farm-to-table visual was foreplay for what was to come.
We started with grilled, bacon-wrapped shrimp in a tangy glaze. Every bite of this was cooked perfectly, tender inside with an outer, crisp edge, delivering both salty and sweet. The Seafood Club was a large sandwich with their special crab cake and shrimp salad. The aioli tossed inside married the bacon and shellfish together perfectly. The Ultimate Grilled Cheese was a very different spin. Same style of crab cake with a different blend of fixins to take an old comfort food favorite to a whole new level.
We were lucky enough to catch Chef Batlas making the rounds. He suggested we try the Reuben. The corned beef was lean with a homemade taste. The kraut was crunchy and firm without being too soggy for the bread. The fries and chips are all housemade, fried in peanut oil, and coated in a layer of sea salt, reminiscent of the better quality potatoes we hunt for on the boardwalk. Even Roxie was dancing back and forth for a few fries.
The final surprise to come was the chef’s personal favorites: Crispy Brussel Sprouts with a white BBQ dipping sauce and also the Fried Green Tomato “Oscar.” The sprouts were huge, tender, almost meaty in quality. If you have a vegetarian in your party, you can score points for suggesting this. The Oscar was an even bigger surprise. Growing up, someone in the family was always trying to shove bitter green tomatoes in my mouth. I hated them. I have to thank Chef Batlas for giving me my first reason ever to love these little baby martian heads. Instead of being inundated with acidic mush, he delivered firm, steak-like tomatoes with an enormous amount of jumbo crabmeat and asparagus in a light mustard sauce.
No matter what the reason, this is the place to bring your friends, a fun date, or simply that obnoxious relative who is impossibly hard-to-please. If you bring the latter, the bartender will set you up with a Gentleman’s Fig or American Mule. So smooth, you won’t taste the alcohol. You may slap the obnoxious relative after the third round though.