I have to ask...The Milton Inn?
I see so many recommendations on this site for the Milton Inn and quite frankly, they puzzle me. I've been to the Milton several times over the years and was impressed only when Mark Henry was doing the cooking.
The last time I was there (about 18 months ago), the appetizers were decent, but the entrees were uninspired, the service terrible and the wine list WAY overpriced. Their signature dish, the lobster with black linguine and vanilla sauce was, I thought, an abonimination.
It would seem to me that this is exactly the type of restaurant that a chowhound would pass by. From my experiences at the Milton, it's reputation far exceeds its execution.
My wife and I had Thanksgiving dinner at Milton Inn because we saw a review that stated they have been having Thanksgiving dinners for 10 years. We also had dinner there bout 5 years ago and it was very good. Well.......
We had reservations for 5:00 and they told us they were running 30 minutes behind. So we crammed in into the small bar/lounge with about 30 people...it was hard to move to get to the bathroom. I checked back at 5:30 and they told us just a few minutes. At 6:05 we were finally seated (why have reservatons if you have to wait?). The food was hot and ok, but not worth the $40 price. Then a man in a suite asks a table next to us to move even before they were done eating. He asked them to move because they had a party of 9 coming in and they need the table. He was less than accommodating and all but ignored their questions. When they asked the server who the man was, she said it was the owner!!!. Then when the party of 9 came in the room, they were complaining about the service and the very tight seating. What a night. I won't go back.
I have also been there twice for Thanksgiving dinner in the past five years or so, the most recent year in 2005. Both times we had to wait at least 45 minutes or an hour past our reserved time and were told to wait in the bar. I don't think Thanksgiving is a fair time to truly judge a restaurant (I've also had extremely mediocre Thanksgiving dinners at both Oregon Grill and Charleston), but someone seems to be falling down on timing the turning of tables, or maybe they just overbook. Another amusing side note: The first time we had Thanksgiving at Milton Inn, they refused to serve us tap water. Absolutely refused. I asked to see the manager, who also refused, saying that the restaurant preferred to serve only bottled water. In fact they said they *had* no tap water. I asked what they washed the dishes in, to which there was no reply. Well, it's Thanksgiving and we relented and bought our bottled water--where else are you going to go on Thanksgiving at 7:30 p.m.?--but it was outrageous. I think what was actually happening was that the well water had something wrong with it and it wasn't safe to serve, but if that was the case they should have provided complimentary bottled water.
Regarding the Milton Inn-
In the interest of full disclosure, I am a former server there who left of my own accord, so I am not a disgruntled former employee.
I am posting this anonymously as I still have friends at the restaurant and would like to remain their friends.
I went to work at the Milton Inn after spending years at various fine dining and exclusive establishments in the greater Baltimore area. I went to work there based solely on its reputation and the beautiful environs I encountered during the interview. Someone was obviously paying attention at this restaurant; someone obviously cared.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, this is all a well constructed veneer. The rooms and atmosphere are unrivaled in Baltimore. It just "feels" so right.
The food is not bad at the Milton Inn. But it is most definately not good! The dishes are quite simple, and consistently prepared. However, they do not even come close to being worth their price tag. The shortcuts taken in the kitchen are astounding! This is not a restaurant for people who love food. I could take up a full page listing the culinary "liberties" I witnessed in the few months I was there. Some bordered on fraud.
It was a running joke amongst the waitstaff that the food was average or below average. We were just happy to make the money we were making, but many of us were actually afraid to ask the standard "How is your steak, this evening, Mr. Smith".
Complaints were rare, which was shocking. We figured that people didn't complain because they just figured they were wrong. I mean, this was the Milton Inn? Been around for 60 years. I just spent $200 on dinner for 2 that was, to quote the initial poster "less than inspiring".
In regards to the posting about the rotating Chefs- this happens at many great restaurants, where executive and sous chefs ply their trade at below market costs in order to learn new techniques and pad their resume. This does not happen at the Milton Inn. The chef owns the restaurant, and I don't think anyone in the kitchen actually went to culinary school, other than the chef.
The service, at least when I was there, was somewhat cutthroat. Half the servers actually cared about the service they rendered. The other half viewed the customer as nothing more than a pocketful of credit cards.
I left when I realized I was no longer proud of where I worked. It WAS a TRULY GREAT restaurant (10 years ago). It could be the greatest location in Baltimore for a meal. I just hope they get their house in order soon, because people may be slow on the uptake, but they do know when they are getting taken. I know, because I saw it on peoples faces nightly for several months.
Thank you for your post. I think it's fair and candid, which evidently is not the way the Milton Inn's owner(s) feel(s) about their customers. It also raises an interesting question of how a restaurant that serves mediocre food would ever get "called out"--especially in this case where the Milton Inn keeps getting great reviews by the local rags.
As for my posting on the rotating cooks, I may have my timetable a little mixed up, but I was pretty sure that one set of owners of the Milton Inn moved down to Hamilton's in Fells Point when Savannahs became Charleston. I also thought at some point Mark Henry cooked there before moving to the Oregon Grille. I think since the group from Peerce's Planation/Brass Elephant took over, I have been hearing more and more comments like yours about the Milton Inn.
I think the problem is that for a good restaurant, the Milton Inn turns its chefs over quite frequently. Since I have been there (and that was several years ago), I think at least three different people have been cooking there. So as you say, it's reputation (and the setting itself, which I assume hasn't changed too drastically), is the basis of people's recommendations.
I'm glad you posted about your experiences. If a restaurant goes south, it's posts like yours upon whom other chowhounds rely.
Have you been to the Oregon Grille lately? I was there about a year ago and had a very good meal (they also have a very good wine list). Has that changed as well? I know that some people think that north B'more County doesn't have much to offer. . . .
Actually, I'm going to the Oregon Grille on Friday. I'll post a report.
So far, OG is 1 for 2. The first time I was there, I got a plate full of grilled meat, prepared no better than I could have done myself. The second time (last winter), the food was much, much better and Mark Henry's talent was able to shine through. I'm looking forward to dinner on Friday, hoping I see some more of Mark's style in the menu.
i eat at the o.g. often, since it's the most decent meal up here in northen baltimore county. usually it's a business lunch -- and i avoid the milton inn even when clients are paying. but i frequently go to the grille for dinner and brunch on my own dime.
i am generally pleased and frequently downright happy with the quality. the kitchen does a roster of basic "classic" steaks and chops to please the conservative locals, and those are fine if not spectacular -- but the more interesting offerings are clearly superior, and where the kitchen's finest efforts seem to be directed. try the lobster corn cake, or the rockfish with crab hash.
even the most innovative entrees - speaking relatively here -- are still variations on a classical theme and play it relatively safe. but if you live up here, want good food but don't want to drive the 40 minutes downtown for fusion/pan-asian/whatever, the oregon grille is a solid choice.
christina, let us know how your dinner goes!