Friends, a game-changer has arrived on the Howard County dining scene. The Turn House took over the former Coho Grill on the Hobbits Glen golf course in Columbia, and it’s just about the best thing that’s happened to area restaurants in a long, long time (sorry, Coho enthusiasts).
I’ve visited The Turn House three times now. First, as a participant in the latest HoCoBlogs/TotallyHoCo party—Chef/Owner Thomas Zippelli (a River Hill High graduate, by the way) prepared a delectable assortment of both savory and sweet delights. Cured meat sliced so thinly you could see the flickering candle flames through it. A pumpkin mini-cake topped with maple whipped cream and candied bacon positively screamed Fall flavor.
And the pimiento cheese dip. I don’t even know what’s in that stuff, but people, this ain’t your mama’s pimiento out of a can. It was creamy, tangy, and spicy. And the soft pretzels will always have an even softer spot in Joe’s heart, so those were an automatic winner.
A few minutes into that party, we knew we’d be back soon. And indeed, we were back within a few days. We decided to give the bar scene a try. It was a predictable group at first; mainly middle-aged men coming in for a quick drink after a round of golf. One even threw decorum to the wind and placed his putter on the bartop. That’s not a euphemism—there was literally a golf club on top of the bar. I was instantly incensed (so rude!!) until Joe informed me how expensive putters can be, and I likened it to deciding where to put your new designer handbag. Still though—handbags don’t push dirty balls around the ground. Anyway, that party departed rather quickly, as the golf crowd slowly morphed into the later evening group of locals (still mostly middle-aged—perhaps Coho hangers-on?) and a few younger folk—a couple of twentysomething girls, a couple about Joe’s and my age.
Ty, the head bartender, took very good care of us. Joe ordered the signature Manhattan, and I ordered a Negroni, simply because, as I told Ty, I’d recently dined at another local restaurant, and received a Negroni with—what the?—Chambord in it. I don’t know what that chick thought she was making, but I didn’t order raspberry iced tea with a kick. Ty obliterated that unfortunate memory by crafting me a perfectly executed Negroni. And the Manhattan was kick-ass, too.
We started off with the steak tartare (sorry, cow enthusiasts), which was beautifully presented with shallots, garlic aioli, watermelon radish, and a tiny little quail egg yolk on top. Although it was delicious, I didn’t include a picture here because let’s face it, there’s only so many ways to make a plate of chopped up raw meat look good, and, armed with just an iPhone and a low-lit room, I wasn’t equipped with any of those methods.
Next up, we ordered the sweet potato soup, which came in a cute little lidded crock (I love the crock out of dishes presented that way). It was phenomenal. Silky-smooth, with a punch of heat from the smoked jalapeño crema, a bit of toasty hazelnut crunch, and—my, oh my—brown butter.
I wish I could bathe in brown butter. I suppose I could, but I’d probably break my neck slipping and sliding my way out of it.
After all that indulgence, we decided to share a main dish. We chose one of the evening’s specials, slow-braised short ribs over polenta. It was so incredibly comforting, though a little on the acidic side—I was picturing more gravy-style, but this was heavy on the tomato. Still lovely, though, and I’d definitely order it again, now knowing where my flavor expectations should lie.
We didn’t want to leave; Ty was making us feel so at ease. But I didn’t bring my laptop with me, so I had to go home in order to work the next day, so we floated out the door, already planning our next visit. That took a while to come to fruition, being that we had a two-week vacation lined up in November, but considering we came back to Turn House the day after we got back from Florida, that should tell you how much we like this place.
The host (I don’t know his name, but he is delightful) recognized us and gave us a big smile, and after we saw how busy the bar was, we opted for the full dining room experience. Tim, the maître d’, got our attention as we were being led to our table, quietly asking, “Do you guys want to be guinea pigs?”
The answer is always “Yes” when you’re in a great restaurant, by the way.
Mario, our server, spent loads of time going over the wine list with us, but before we could order anything, Tim strode over with two full-sized martinis for us to try. Anthony, another bartender, was experimenting with something he called the Manhattan Project—a spin on a Manhattan, featuring an absinthe rinse and Luxardo (at least I think that’s what he told us when he came over to our table to see how we liked the drinks…by then I was already two-thirds of the way through mine, on a mostly empty stomach).
Mario told us the restaurant was featuring a Tomahawk ribeye special—50+ ounces of beefy goodness. We seriously considered it, having just returned from a vacation living with someone who doesn’t eat red meat, but I knew we’d be tempting fate by doing so—we’d be eating steak all weekend, and I was convinced that if we did that, my dad would make steak for Sunday dinner (He did, by the way. Apparently, I’m a bovine psychic).
The same beef-less vacation we’d just returned from also featured a lot of cheese plates, since the cow lover is married to a bonafide Frenchman. We weren’t ready to forego the fromage quite yet, so we started off with the meat and cheese plate. Mario made some great suggestions based on my strong assertion that I don’t like anything that tastes like feet (you know what I’m talking about…)—we ended up going with his suggestions of the Saucisson d’Alsace as our meat selection, and two cheeses: the Monacacy Ash (a goat cheese), and another whose name I don’t recall, but if you ask Mario what the triple cream cheese is, he’ll point you in the right direction. They were all fantastic, served with marcona almonds, pickled onions, beer mustard, and toasted house sourdough.
I told Mario I was very interested in the sourdough since, as you all know, I’m trying to raise a bread baby of my own at home, despite her many tantrums. He graciously brought us some untoasted bread and softened butter so we could give it a whirl. It was quite tasty—what I’m guessing is a whole-wheat version, dark and tangy. Mmm…
For our entrée, instead of the big steak, we opted for a little [read: normal-sized] one: the Wagyu [read: tender AF] steak with potatoes and parsnips. We each enjoyed a glass of red with our red—I opted for a cab/syrah blend, while Joe went full-on cabernet. The steak was juicy and had that perfect chew you can only get from an expertly-cooked piece of beef, and it turned out to be the ideal amount of food when split between the two of us; we knew we were going to get dessert, and wanted to save room.
So now let’s talk about that dessert. Mario touted the skills of Jessica Banner, the restaurant’s pastry chef, saying that all of her creations were amazing, though his personal favorite was the bread pudding. We wanted something a little lighter, so he suggested the panna cotta.
Panna cotta is basically the lovechild of flan and crème brûlée—a sweet, creamy, gelatin-thickened dome of pleasure.
Ours was paired with a red wine sorbet and pomegranate seeds, along with a crunchy touille. It was a beautiful demonstration of flavor, texture, and indulgence, and provided a nice balance to the earthy steak we’d just enjoyed.
Sam, the manager, visited us from time to time to check on how we were doing. She was both friendly and professional—you could tell she wanted to ensure that we were having the most optimal experience possible. I feel like once managers know you’re happy, they like to come back to get a boost of joy—it probably balances out the inevitable cranky tables (not that I can imagine people would have much to be cranky about at Turn House, but we all know someone who Debbie-Downer’s things as much as possible, don’t we?).
Now, let’s talk about two things that set The Turn House apart from most restaurants in Howard County:
- Every staff member was kind, knowledgeable, and generous. Certainly, it could be “we’re-just-getting-started-in-this-town-so-everyone-put-your-best-foot-forward” syndrome, but I have a feeling that it’s more that Zippelli has pieced together a working balance of seasoned experience and fresh ingenuity.
- The food was fantastic. Up to 70% of the restaurant’s ingredients are sourced from local farms. That freshness comes through, as does the care the chef has taken to get to know both his food and the people who produce it. Zippelli trained under the Thomas Keller. (The French Laundry is on my restaurant bucket list.) This dude is serious about food, and he’s serious about eating local. It’s even the restaurant’s simple yet poignant tagline: Eat local.
So the next time you’re in the mood to eat local, eat well, and eat happy, give The Turn House a try. (And don’t forget to tag them on social media. As much as I dread the word getting out about this place and not being able to get a table because of it, this restaurant really needs to stick around.)
The Turn House
11130 Willow Bottom Drive
Columbia, MD 21044