The White Oak Tavern opened in January/2014 in the “Enchanted Forest” shopping center on Route 40 in Ellicott City. From the outside, it’s not much to look at but once you step inside, it proves to be surprisingly large with an interesting decor. There’s a large bar/lounge where you can eat at “high top” tables or a big dining room with 3+ dozen wood topped tables.
The menu is limited but offers options that you wouldn’t expect. Ten “starters” ranged from $7 – $12, two soups (Gazpacho – $6 and Italian Wedding Soup – $7), three salads (which seemed more like pricey side salads at $9-$10 ($5 more to add grilled chicken would make for an even pricier entree salad), Six sandwiches and a burger ($11 to $14 with bread/rolls sourced from Atwaters) and 4 entrees ($17-$24).
Our waiter gave us a heads up that Wednesdays at the White Oak Tavern are a “Happy Day” ( The usual “Happy Hour” discounts are available the whole day on Wednesdays; during happy hour, any of the the long list of 16 oz craft draft beers are priced at $4 and the price of “small plates” are discounted 25%). John took advantage of the craft beer pricing to try a glass of local Laurel-based Jailbreak brewery’s “Feed the Monkey” (An Orange Hefeweizen – pale, spicy, fruity, refreshing wheat-based ale which was perfect for a warm summer evening!)
The aspirations of the kitchen stood out with the “Grilled Watermelon” small plate. A mix of grilled plain and pickled watermelon ($6) served with chevre cheese, hot sauce, caramelized onion vinaigrette with parmesan crisps. (FYI – I’m not talking about pickled watermelon rind! No, No! This is cubes of pickled deep pink summer watermelon we’re talking about! <Wink>) Admittedly, it looked a little at first glance like a summer berry pie with the flaky Parmesan crips on top. The mix of grilled plain watermelon and pickled melon made for interesting contrast. The grilling process changed the texture of the melon to something smoother and less crunchy. The mix of soft chevre cheese and onion vinaiagrette made for a quite intriguing combination. Tom wasn’t fond of the pickled watermelon where he felt that the pickling was just too intense and didn’t work; John didn’t mind the pickled melon as much but preferred the un-pickled ones! The Parmesan crisps were so good that we wished that there were more of them!
We also decided to share a “small plate” order of Hush Puppies ($7). With a mix of corn meal, shrimp, and jalapenos and served with a remoulade sauce, these proved “comfort food” satisfying. Cutting them in half though, there weren’t many bits of shrimp or jalapeno to be seen. For sure, the Hush Puppies just didn’t have same “Wow” factor as the grilled watermelon; it left John in hindsight wondering if our young waiter’s recommendation for the empanadas ($8) might have been better choice than the hush puppies)
For our main course, Tom decided to go with a Pizza special ($10) while John opted for another small plate, a “Chicken Cheddar Habanero Sausage” ($11). Tom’s pizza was a “Thumbs Up!” winner with a “made here” crust that was excellent and generously topped with special sausage, slices of fresh tomato and lots of melted cheese. It was so filling that Tom end up taking half of it home with him!
John’s sausage arrived with a colorful and very tasty summer succotash mix with peas, corn and red pepper. It was very tasty and he enjoyed it. Even with the “Happy Wednesday” 25% discount ($8.25 instead of $11), it seem high priced for what you got and it should been accompanied by a chunk of good bread.)
Service was good and attentive (but the young man who served us was mostly a very serious lad). Between our starters and main courses, we were full and ended up passing on any of the five desserts ($6-$7).
We ended up intrigued with the White Oak Tavern – their menu shows some effort to go beyond predictable tavern fare. The kitchen’s focus on locally sourced top quality foods and beverages regretfully don’t come at bargain prices (outside of “Happy Hour” or “Happy Wednesday discounts, the menu can feel a tad pricey). Since it has been only open barely 6 months at this point, it will be interesting to see where the White Oak Tavern evolves as it matures.
FACTS: White Oak Tavern; Ellicott City; 10030 Baltimore National Pike (aka Route 40 West); (410) 680-8974; http://thewhiteoaktavern.com/ ; Open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner; open late to 2 am on Fri/Sat; open for Brunch on Sat/Sun starting at 10 am. ; adjacent free parking