A whole comfy world: gourmet, modest prices at Columbia’s Victoria Gastro Pub [classic article]

Right near the interstate and conveniently on the edge of a shopping center is a whole different world onto itself: Victoria Gastro Pub. Modeled somewhat after the pubs found in London, it still has is own unique feel. The cuisine is eclectic — with even Canadian notes to it — but modestly priced and quite gourmet in what they are accomplishing. There are over 200 bottles of beer (and others on tap), many wines, and long lists of interesting cocktails. They’ve even been nominated for their wine collection as the best in Maryland. I was fortunate to be able to sample their most interesting menu.

When you walk in, the decor reminds one of a Medieval castle, but comfortable. Feel free to come as you are, but you could also get a corner nook and be perfectly set for a special occasion out. The bar area is pretty happening, too.

Diners start out with a melt in your mouth light shortbread made with beer, a family recipe.

One of their signature dishes is an appetizer to share, the Poutine. It’s a traditional Canadian snack that puts “fries and gravy” to absolute shame. The Victoria Gastro Pub version is made with duck fat fries, duck confit, Gruyere cheese, and duck gravy. If you’ve had poutine from street vendors in Canada, don’t imagine the goopy buckets that you’re afraid to stick a hand in. These are rich, savory fries that are redolent of flavorful duck, you’ll be addicted. The seasonings are fresh and fragrant with green onion, rosemary. Try it with a Canadian beer for super authenticity and a natural flavor pairing.

An appetizer that you see a lot in the Midwest, but not here, is French fried frog legs. Victoria Gastro Pub serves them like this: crispy Belgian ale marinated frog legs with Curry and Chili Aioli. If you’ve never had fried frogs legs, please don’t wince! When properly prepared — as they most certainly are here — they are like fried chicken wings. The aioli was a perfect foil for the crispy legs.

One of the most popular entrees on the menu is the lobster grilled cheese with Brie Fondue and Maine Lobster. It’s a steal/deal at $15! Don’t confuse this with the proliferation of lobster mac and cheeses on menus everywhere. Those baked dishes toughen the lobster. This, instead, is a grilled dish chock full of sweet lobster that stays sweet and tender. You can order it with a side of duck fat fries that are dusted with truffle salt. Such luxury at a great price point.

If you take a survey of staff at Victoria Gastro Pub, they all love the horseradish encrusted sea bass, with good reason. It’s served with celeriac puree, wilted spinach, jumbo lump crab, mustard butter. Don’t worry that the horseradish is over hot — it adds just a pleasant mouth heat to creamy-moist, buttery and mild sea bass. The accompaniments works really well with it.

Of course, a restaurant that takes such care with its flavors would never leave its dessert production to a “Mrs. So. and So”. Victoria Gastro Pub makes its own every day from scratch. One that will knock your socks off is the roasted pineapple upside down cake with brown sugar and rum roasted pineapple brown sugar sauce, sweet and sour cherries. The brown sugar is not melted into syrup oblivion — rather, it’s left in its sugary texture to add a contrast in your mouth between that and the juicy fruit. The sour notes aren’t blatantly sour; they are just counterpoints that make it a sophisticated dessert.

Victoria Gastro Pub has many special events and a beer club.

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