Iron Bridge Wine Co.

American, Italian
$$$$ ($15-$24)

Editorial Review

The view out the windows captures telephone poles and rolling hills. Ahhhh. Inside, happy-looking couples chat against a background of bouncy jazz, muted lighting and racks of wine. Sexy! The scene is right out of Napa Valley, except that it unfolds only 50 minutes from downtown Washington, at the family-run Iron Bridge Wine Company in Howard County.

"Why can't we have something like this in the city?" a friend wonders aloud as he sips from three half-glasses of verdicchio, albarino and sauvignon blanc, amusingly billed as "Anything but Chardonnay" and one of four "flights" of wine to choose from. The list of nearly 40 wines by the glass offers something for every taste and budget, be it a malbec from Argentina for $7 or a sprightly Schramsberg blanc de blancs brut for double that.

The menu follows suit. Iron Bridge allows one of you to be in the mood for chili and cornbread, the other to indulge a hankering for mushroom-Gruyere pizza -- then sit together under one roof to eat them. That chili, by the way, is hearty with venison; the pizza uses pita bread as a platform. Both are satisfying. Even better are "small plate entrees": precisely cooked wild rockfish with bright-colored carrots and a delicate lemon-butter sauce, and Cornish game hen glazed with pomegranate and bulked up with sausage-apple stuffing. Lemon tiramisu sounds like heresy and tastes like heaven.

Warning, long-distance drivers: The two-room hot spot doesn't take reservations, and it fills up fast (doors open for dinner at 4 p.m. Sunday, 5 p.m. the rest of the week). And the tables are set so close, you'll have to beg multiple pardons to get in and out of your seat. So don't feel bad if you have to sit at the bar, where you get a few inches more room and the chance to get up close and personal with the friendly faces behind the counter. "Wine should be fun," says co-owner Steve Wecker, whose shop is just that.

--Tom Sietsema (Feb. 4, 2007)