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Monocacy Crossing, Chef Ron Regan on Urbana Pike (Route 355) South Frederick


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As much as I love this city, last night confirmed for me that the Tasting Room is the only restaurant driving out of one's way for to come to Frederick.

What are your thoughts on Monocacy Crossing these days? I rather enjoyed it the first year or so it was open, but haven't been in a long time.

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What are your thoughts on Monocacy Crossing these days? I rather enjoyed it the first year or so it was open, but haven't been in a long time.

 
Can you believe that I've never been? Always forget it exists. It's off the forested stretch of 355 between Frederick and Urbana and I never head that way, though it must be only 15 minutes from me. No one ever mentions it these days, but when they did, they said good things. You've given me an idea...

Pax,
Brian

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Monocacy Crossing is located in an old frame house on the west side of 355, maybe 1/8 mile south of Monocacy Creek. Lots of warm, worn wood, and old, breezy windows. The crowd seems to be principally affluent folks from upper MoCo/lower Frederick. Chef/owner Ron Regan's CIA jacket is displayed on a wall near the entrance.

I haven't been in just over a year, so take these comments as being dated. Over time, it was getting progressively more crowded and my perception was that the cooking was still quite good, but not as sharp as that first time. Some of the peripheral details are gone - I really miss the vanilla ice cream he used to make. The moules are still terrific, as is the pork chop with apples. I thought the formerly-amazing tagliatelle had lost something though, the last time I had it, and my last steak was just okay. The one area that has always let me down has been dessert...the chocolate sauces have always been heavy and sugary. But clearly, it's time to visit again.

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I'm sorry to report that I grossly overestimated the distance of Monocacy Crossing from my house: Instead of 15 minutes it is all of 8. I'm sorry I haven't been earlier because it is a very good restaurant (Thanks for the prompt, Porcupine!)

I called Wednesday for a Saturday reservation for a party of 5 only to find the back dining room booked except for 5PM and 9PM. Under the advice of the manager, we took a risk by reserving a front bar table, which is smoking, because she thought the smokers normally don't come out until 8. When we arrived, however, four people promptly lit up and created an environment that my smoke sensitive friend couldn't stand. To the great credit of the manager, she came over to me without prompting, said she would try to find something in the back, and then took two small tables from the bar to the back and "made space" for our table so we didn't have to endure smoke. Knowing we were taking a risk with the reservation, I never expected such accomodations but we were very appreciative to the server and manager for proactively trying to make us comfortable and keep our business.

A pleasant surprise was the freshly baked bread that started the meal. Since it was an early meal I wanted to resist filling up on bread but I couldn't pass up the brown and crunchy crust. My wife got a grilled romaine lettuce salad that she absolutely loved and I got a scallop appetizer that was wonderfully sauteed in olive oil with carmelized onions. Though a little heavy on the oil, they were the best scallops I've had in a long time, and I managed room to sop up some of the onions and olive oil with the bread.

As for entrees, two of us (including me) got the Seafood Bouillabaisse with Saffron Fennel and Tomato Broth, my wife got the 8oz Filet Mignon Topped Gorgonzola and Caramelized Onions, and the rest of our company got an order of the special encrusted whole fish and the Garlic and Herb topped Beef Medallions wrapped with Applewood Smoked Bacon. The strength of the boullabaisse was how perfectly cooked all the seafood was, including a filet of white fish (trout?) on top. The mussels were a little small, but everything tasted fresh and the texture firm. The tomato broth was a little rich but was a nice antidote to the frigid weather. I tried my wife's filet, which she ordered cooked medium, and the gargonzola sauce dominated instead of complemented the flavor at first, but I guess you can expect that from such a lean piece of meat cooked past the medium rare I tend to order. The beef medallions were a big hit with my friend, who was sold at the mere mention of bacon. The major service snafu of the evening was the that the whole fish order never made it to the kitchen so my buddy had to wait another good 10-15 minutes without his food. I'm not sure it was worth the wait, though, because he said he wouldn't order it again. Surprisingly, the manager tried to make up for the service snafu by comping two beers, which was a nice gesture considering the lengths they went to seat us in the first place.

We splurged by sharing two desserts, including a banana bread pudding for my wife and me and a coconut pound cake for the other couple. The banana bread pudding was good but not great, but supposedly the pound cake was, according to my friend, "possibly the best cake I've ever had." But that was after a bottle of wine, so I would temper his enthusiasm.

Overall, a very positive experience, especially since it's a Frederick hidden treasure so close to our house. I have to say I liked the Tasting Room last weekend better, but Monocacy Crossing' was easier on the wallet with prices $8-$10 cheaper per entree. My only negative observation was that everything tended to be on the rich/heavier side without a lot of (any?) real healthy options other than the salads.

I'd be interested to see what ol_ironstomach thinks about the quality consistency when he has a chance to return.

Pax,

Brian

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We had dinner here with friends last night and had a lovely meal.

For apps we ordered the polenta with wild mushrooms, calamari, shrimp toast and the spicy chicken. For entrees, two of us ordered the ravioli with lobster and crab, one salmon over rice and one vegetables in a puff pastry. All were very tasty!

As far as comparing this restaurant to others in the neighboorhood- I'd pick this restaurant every time over Comus Inn.

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We ventured out to Monocacy Crossing in the once rural Urbana, where neither of us had been since the 1970s when the Peter Pan Inn stood amidst the corn fields serving up fried chicken that made KFC's look like Michele Richard's Central. It was well worth the trip.

For starters, my wife and I shared the grilled Romaine and a Panko-crusted soft shell crab. The Romaine came with a light Caesar-like dressing and large shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano, and the soft shell was a lovely, large crunch of crustacean, deftly fried, and plated with a small amount of butter and lemon sauce beneath the crab that highlighted its sweetness. I ordered the bouillabaisse with fennel, saffron and tomato broth, which was both enormous and beautifully complex, the mussels, scallops, shrimp and, I think, trout each fresh and cooked to perfect texture. My beloved had the Open Ravioli filled with Lobster, Crab and topped with Asparagus, a lovely combination of flavors and textures, with bright, large chunks of lobster meat coupled with lump crabmeat, bound in a light cream sauce, topped with a homemade sheet of al dente pasta and beautifully poached spears of asparagus. It was ethereal. We shared a Grand Marnier crème brulee for dessert, which was far too rich an undertaking, but still very good, especially given that neither of us was able to finish our mains. Such are the rewards of misspent adulthood.

The service was efficient, friendly and extraordinarily polite, a rare combination these days, and most welcomed. With two drinks, a bottle of Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2004, tax and a 30% tip, the total was less than $200, and a bargain at that. We'll certainly return.

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I have never had a bad meal at Monocacy - lunch or dinner. The scallops in bacon vinaigrette are an excellent lunch entree and my tennis buddies love the steak salad.

Our only complaints about Monocacy have been

1. The dining room is downright COLD in the winter - even if you're sitting near the heater

2. You have to walk through the smoky bar to get to the dining room. Thankfully - this will no longer be the case since the smoking ban is finally (!) in effect!

Any of you remember the very cool martini glasses they used to have? The bowl and the stem were two separate pieces. You could settle the bowl of the glass in a mini-ice bucket between sips. Alas, as they broke, one by one, they were never replaced.

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Went to Monocacy Crossing last night, two couples. We called for a reservation and had to wait on hold for a few minutes while they checked availability, which was slightly odd since the place was mostly empty when we arrived. The building, while isolated, is an attractive old house. The side-door entrance takes you through the bar, which was full of Friday night regulars. Possibly because it was almost 9 PM, there were only three or four tables in the dining rooms. Service was friendly but did contain a few long gaps despite the presence of many servers.

The wine list of several pages offers decent variety and many options by the glass. Prices ran a bit high, as they did throughout the menu. We opted for a Napa pinot -- Carrefour Vineyards Carneros Pinot Noir, 2005 -- about $50 for the bottle.

The waitress highly recommended the fish special. I don't remember which fish because the prep did not appeal to any of us: wrapped in phyllo dough strips with a creamy tomato buerre blanc. We learned that white meatloaf is made with veal and turkey, but didn't bite on that one either.

We shared two appetizers: "Spicy Pork Springroll with Asian Slaw" and "Mussels steamed with Chardonnay, Garlic, and Red Pepper." The single spring roll was the size of a burrito. The batter was delicate enough but the filling and slaw tasted exactly like a pulled pork BBQ sandwich. Nothing Asian about it. Strange, but apparently intentional, as the waitress cheerfully agreed with our opinion. The mussels came in an enormous pile, clean and fairly plump, though the broth was thin and had little of the promised garlic or peppery flavor. We had a basket of dense fresh bread, but I wasn't compelled to take more than a dip or two into the broth.

Salads were nothing special.

Vegetable of the day came with all entrees: Snow peas, nicely crisp. Someone was making free with black pepper, which worked OK with the peas but was too much for other sides.

The "Lobster & Shrimp Pot Pie" landed on the table like a brick, or a Jared Diamond hardback. It was seriously the size of a small birthday cake, with lots of crust and shrimp in evidence. I didn't taste it but the diner didn't finish.

"Carrot and Ginger Ravioli with Sautéed Greens and Sage-Brown Butter Vinaigrette": One of two vegetarian options. Good fresh pasta but far too much ginger, dominating rather than accenting the sweet carrots and mild sauce.

"Low country BBQ Shrimp with Lobster Infused Cheese Grits": Again, the shrimp were plentiful, plump, and fresh, and not overcooked. The sauce was sweet but uninteresting, with no BBQ tang. Grits appeared successful.

The rack of lamb special was the highlight. A generous plateful -- all eight lollipops -- came nicely pink and tender at the chef's recommend medium rare. A mound of risotto was creamy with just enough bite. Mushrooms had obviously participated in the cooking liquid as well as being mixed in, giving a rich, thorough flavor. The puddle of lamb jus was meaty and not too salty.

By the time we got well into our he-man portions we were one of only two tables and started to get plenty of attention. They did not rush us in the slightest even though it was well past closing for the dining rooms. A manager type checked in and went through his wine recommendations for us. Three of us each got another glass.

The five desserts on offer did not inspire, but we got one blueberry crisp parfait and one crème brulée. We considered but passed on a cheese plate: they had an English cheddar, a gorgonzola, and an Irish porter available. The men each had a glass of ruby port: a near-double pour, but it should have been decanted. Considerable sediment gathered in the glass, although it was not listed as "crusty."

Everything was adequate and a few things were good. Portions, including pours, were huge. Ingredients were sufficiently fresh and treated with respect, especially seafood. Flavors tended to the bland and sugary, except for a lot of black pepper on the greens and the oddly excessive ginger in the ravioli. In sum, I think the restaurant aims for a conservative dining taste and probably hits the mark with most of its customers: plenty of food, well-cooked, and nothing too aggressive.

The evening wasn't cheap, at $85 a person with only one bottle of wine and five individual drinks. I suspect you pay for the large portions, and perhaps for the dearth of similarly ambitious cooking nearby. Next time we go up that way we'll go to Volt, and pay a lot more for less food, and probably be happier. But you could do a lot worse than Monocacy Crossing, especially if you have less adventurous eaters along.

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I would say Tasting Room in a heartbeat, had some of the best meals in Frederick there. I went to Monocacy Crossing a few times when it was new, and thought it just okay but never returned after having a disgusting paella--nothing unsanitary just tasted bad in a way that I could not articulate, since I'm hardly an expert in paella (though the paella at Isabella's is okay). Maybe I should give them another chance, I don't know.  

Nah. It's "pleasant" and not much more - I've been several times because I keep thinking the same thing you do ... sort of charming, out of the way, decent chef-driven mom-n-pop ... it just doesn't thrill me, and you get the occasional clunker - the last time I went was a few years back, and it missed; that said, I've had a couple really nice dinners here. On the eastern side of I-270, south of Frederick, it's one of your best options, but that isn't saying much.

The longtime chef-owner, btw, is named Ron Regan. :) He knows how to cook, and both he and his wife have always been very nice when I've gone in, so if you want to support this type of operation, give it another shot - I would, if I were nearby.

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I've never had an experience as bad as ArlFred's at Monocacy Crossing, but it never really bowled me over enough to induce me to go out of my way for it for the last few years.

One trip, a juicy and perfectly cooked pork tenderloin (still ever-so-slightly pink in the center) with (iirc) a pear cider reduction, the next, some greasy and otherwise flavorless duck nachos as an appetizer.  In the middle, you have things like an appetizer of cold smoked salmon, cream cheese and capers which threw me back to the 80s (and made me wish for a bagel) but was otherwise fine.  That pretty much sums up my experience.

I will absolutely go back someday though.  It's hard, though, since options in Frederick/DC/Baltimore are expanding faster than I can keep up.

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