Christopher's in Crofton has grown up with the community around it. Open almost 10 years, the restaurant and its cooking have grown more refined as it has aged. Owner/executive chef Chris Bowers is at the top of his game at his little restaurant that could at the edge of Anne Arundel County.
The sleek interior is a contrast with the Route Three Center where the restaurant is located. When Christopher's opened in 1998, it was one of the few eating places in the area, and the location offered affordable space, Bowers explained. That space has been carved into a handsome bar, a separate main dining area and a private dining room at the rear.
A glass vestibule greets diners and provides a smoke-free entry. The door straight ahead leads to the bar, where smoking is allowed. Two flat-screen televisions don't overwhelm the bar, where regulars gather to dine and watch games. To the right, up a couple of steps and through another door is Christopher's main dining room, with cozy booths and white clothed tables, a stone-covered wall and shiny chandeliers that create mood lighting for dinner.
The menu is a catchall of New American fare -- many longtime favorites with a bit of flare -- but the food is well cooked and elegantly presented. There is an extensive, moderately priced wine list, with more than a dozen selections available by the glass.
Fried calamari is a staple these days for most kitchens, but Christopher's version offers crisply fried rings of tender squid, paired with a refreshing apple horseradish creme fraiche that is reminiscent of tartar sauce but more interesting. The ample appetizer serving is enough to share or eat as a meal.
The cream of crab soup, another local staple, is light, rather than the usual cloyingly rich, and filled with jumbo lumps of crabmeat. And it's a large bowl, not a cup-size serving.
A surprising appetizer is the dish of crispy artichoke hearts. The hearts, with the slightest taste of marinade, are lightly battered and fried; every leaf is tender and the basil aioli drizzled over the plate provides just the right counterpoint. The serving is large enough for a table of four to sample.
All of the servings at Christopher's are large, but these aren't simply piles of food. They're carefully conceived dishes.
The pistachio-crusted chicken salad features a flattened chicken breast encased in the pistachio batter, quickly cooked just to brown the crust, leaving the chicken tender and juicy. The sliced breast is laid upon a mound of fresh greens, accented with crumbles of blue cheese and slices of strawberry, and dressed with a strawberry-balsamic vinaigrette that doesn't overwhelm the delicate greens.
The luncheon menu offers sandwiches, burgers, a different quiche each day, a pulled pork barbecue sandwich and a souped-up version of macaroni and cheese with chicken, ham and baby spinach.
Dinner entrees include maple-glazed veal tenderloin, the most popular item on the menu; pasta dishes; steaks; and select seafood, including a seared rockfish fillet with shrimp and accompanied by sweet pea hash, a lobster shallot sauce and curried walnuts.
And there's comfort food, in the form of a veal meatloaf topped with artichoke hearts, bacon and leeks and served on a pool of mashed potatoes, surrounded by a moat of peppercorn sauce. It's not meatloaf like your mother made but a sophisticated version of it.
A seared duck breast arrived perfectly medium-rare, juicy and flavorful, arrayed on sauteed spinach and cubes of sweet potatoes. The Bing cherry sauce that accompanied it was fruity enough to cut the richness of the duck without smothering it.
Although entrees at Christopher's are generous, and come with a small dinner salad, take some home so you won't skip dessert. Although Bowers is largely self-taught in most areas of cooking -- his longtime sous chef Tony Gentile is a graduate of L'Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg -- he was trained in pastry. The desserts are hearty but manageable portions.
The chocolate Bing cherry bread pudding is served as an individual cake with a scoop of pistachio brittle ice cream on the side. It's a perfect successor to the ubiquitous molten chocolate cake. The apple cheesecake, served in a bowl, is bright with the taste of apples and crowned with bourbon maple pecans. Pecans couldn't have it any better than this.
--Nancy Lewis (Nov. 22, 2007)