Maryland Food, fresh caught food, recipes, farm to table food in Maryland
- Published on Friday, 01 June 2012 13:41
- Written by Doug Miller
The Greene Turtle Sports Bar and Grille uses a familiar formula: burgers, wings, nachos, draft beer, video golf, and as many televisions as you can squeeze into a place, all tuned to any number of football/baseball/basketball/hockey/auto racing/beach volleyball contests.
Greene Turtle Trivia Night
It wasn't their night; at least as far as the trivia contest was concerned. The five friends unwinding at the Greene Turtle in Pasadena, Maryland, didn't know the name of the John Hughes film that starred "Married With Children" lead Ed O'Neill ("Dutch"), or how many of the films written or directed by Hughes had John Candy in the cast (seven).
Still, Tuesday night regulars Katie and Andrew Schweigman, Sean Murphy, Patrick Cummings, and Matt Pettie had cold ones in their mug-club ceramic mugs and would soon be tucking into spicy shrimp, veggie wraps, and turkey burgers.
"And we always get the Ahi app. It comes with a nice horseradish dipping sauce," Cummings said.
Where national casual-dining franchises approximate the atmosphere of a friendly neighborhood watering hole, the Greene Turtle—born and based in Maryland but quickly spreading through the mid-Atlantic—seems to have achieved that goal more naturally.
"It's not like a chain," Cummings said. "It's more like a hometown kind of bar. You know the people here."
The Pasadena Turtle has only been open since October 2011, but it has firmly established itself as a gathering place for sports fans. "Ravens games are awesome here," Murphy gushed, noting the 24-foot screen employed for big games, such as the American Football Conference championship back in January, in which Baltimore's team fell to the New England Patriots. Kickoff wasn't until late afternoon, but the virtual tailgaters wouldn't wait. "They opened the doors at 10:15, and there wasn't a seat left in the house by 11," Murphy said.
Where sports nuts and families mingle
However, you're just as likely to find families and office parties as sports nuts at the Turtle. On the other side of the partition from the trivia team were Dan and Stephanie Ridgway and their children: Lexe, 12; Ava, 6; and Preston, 3.
Little ones enjoyed chicken fingers and sliders, Dad and first-born savored cheesesteaks and Mom nibbled on a pattie melt. Stephanie Ridgway said the family comes to the place about once a month. "It's either here or Friendly's."
And while nobody is mistaking the pub grub for fine dining, it sure beats McDonald's, she says. Young Ava disagrees.
"McDonalds has a playground."
The Greene Turtle—which also has locations in Edgewater, Arundel Mills, and Annapolis—hatched in 1976 as an Ocean City hangout, inspired by a Caribbean cantina of the same name. Current vice president of franchise business, Tom Finn, grew up in New Jersey and remembers college kids coming home from seaside sojourns wearing T-shirts from the Greene Turtle, then just a mom-and-pop.
Finn notes that since the 70s, the Greene Turtle has grown to 33 stores, with more in development throughout the region. Its corporate owner, JPB Partners, aims to bring the figure to 150 across the East Coast within the next five years.
Healthy options, sports-bar fare
Like any other franchise restaurant, the Greene Turtle protects its brand with a standardized menu and operational rules. Nonetheless, Finn said, its outlets "are like snowflakes. No two are exactly the same." The Pasadena store, for example, has a private room for team banquets and the like.
The Greene Turtle changes its menu annually, and will do so twice a year starting in 2013, according to Jeremy Larkin, whose job as director of business systems includes menu development. New wrinkles in the latest revision include a pork-chop entree and dips served in a brioche bread bowl. Larkin is especially taken with a new dish that sounds like the ultimate comfort food for a Marylander: lump-crab mac-and-cheese.
Larkin said the company is also broadening its horizons beyond the sports-bar guy food ("hero food," Finn calls it) to include more healthy options. The new menu has expanded its salad offerings to include a Caprese salad with slow-roasted tomatoes, fresh basil, and mozzarella.
But don't worry about the Turtle getting all frou-frou. The new menu also introduces a 16-ounce T-bone.
You might consider the latter two additions "kind of the his-and-hers meal," Larkin said, a bit sheepishly.
Another permanent menu addition was announced on Facebook March 26: the Bacon and Cheddar Burger. It was one of four stuffed burgers offered on a limited-time basis earlier this year; it prevailed over the other three in online voting to secure its place in the lexicon.
As college basketball ramped up for its annual championship tournaments in March, the Greene Turtle had its own brackets going, pitting the Ham and Swiss Burger against the Bacon and Cheddar Burger, and the Spicy Jack Burger against the Pep(peroni) and Cheese Burger.
The Ham and Swiss had the smoked meat and holey cheese in the center of the hamburger, which was topped with crispy fried pickle chips and Dijon mayonnaise. The Bacon and Cheddar sat beneath crispy onion straws, sautéed mushrooms, A1 sauce, and a creamy horseradish condiment.
Eating the Pep and Cheese was like having a pizza in convenient burger form. Within the meat were pepperoni, provolone and fresh basil. On top were marinara sauce, roasted red pepper, and crispy onion straws.
The Spicy Jack, which I sampled at the Columbia location while the contest was still underway, had a lot going on. The burger's insides consisted of cheddar and pepper jack cheeses along with jalapenos, which gave the sandwich a nice zing but weren't overpowering. Condiments included a corn salsa (tasty but eclipsed by the pepper jack and jalapeno) and sliced avocado, which moderated the heat.
The Spicy Jack also came with a cilantro ranch dressing, but I couldn't taste it, and cilantro's not a flavor one can easily conceal.
The default option for sandwich sides at the Greene Turtle is kettle chips, but this trip I opted for French fries, which cost an extra buck. It's a small thing, but you really can tell a lot about the quality of a casual dining establishment by its fries. The ones I tasted were excellent: crisp outside, fluffy and potatoey inside, and with just the right amount of salt. No ketchup required, and that's the best test.
The draft beer offerings at first seem pretty pedestrian: Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, a Samuel Adams seasonal brew. But then I spotted the taps at the opposite side of the circular bar.
Included there were Newcastle Brown Ale and two of the mid-Atlantic's finest contributions to the world of beer: 60-Minute India Pale Ale from the Dogfish Head Brewery in Lewes, Del., and a Belgian-style IPA from Frederick's Flying Dog Brewery called Raging Bitch. We went with the latter, which has a note of clove and ingeniously marries the mellow malty flavor of wheat beer with the hops-driven edge of an IPA.
I enjoyed my burger and brew while chatting up two regulars, who were sipping from the ceramic mugs that marked them as members of the Greene Turtle Mug Club. The Turtle keeps the mug for you at the bar, and you get a discount on your draft whenever they fill it.
Predictably, we talked about sports.
Learn about Doug Miller on our Contributors page.