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Bites Nearby: Matthew's 1600

Patch shares the best of the best in local restaurants.

Patch has reached out to local restaurant owners to get the details of their establishments. In each installment of Bites Nearby, you'll find some interesting tidbits of history as well as what dishes to try.

This week we caught up with Matthew’s 1600 on Frederick Road. Here's what you need to know to enjoy your dining experience: 

The Basics

  • 1600 Frederick Road
  • 410-788-2500
  • matthews1600@verizon.net
  • www.matthews1600.net
  • Open Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 12 a.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
  • Full bar available; extended hours are until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday and until midnight every other night.
  • Reservations are recommended on weekends, though not required; available by telephone (410-788-2500).
  • Family Friendly: Menu items and high chairs are available for children, and around 40 percent of the tables on a given night are occupied by families.
  • Parking availability: well-lit lot on site with 150 spaces
  • On-site catering for private events: Four separate private rooms can host parties for 20-150 people; contact restaurant for details

What They Do: New American cuisine with fresh ingredients.

Sample Menu:

  • Appetizer: Crab Dip: Lump crabmeat in a cream-based sauce with sherry and Old Bay, served with French bread ($12)
  • Entrée: Macadamia-crusted mahi-mahi nuts are crushed; served with a honey compound butter, rice pilaf and vegetables ($20)
  • Dessert: Ice cream sandwiches, made with SugarBakers cookies and Haagen-Dazs ice cream; popular combinations are double-chocolate with mint chip and snickerdoodle with cinnamon ($6) 

Also Try:

  • Montrachet Salad: baby greens, cranberries, candied walnuts and warm pan-fried goat cheese medallions, topped with homemade balsamic vinaigrette.  Although technically an appetizer ($8), owner Lori Parsons says that with grilled chicken ($12) it’s a perfect portion for lunchtime.
  • Any of the homemade sauces and dressings: making them by hand and keeping them perfect is the closest thing to difficult for the chefs, most of whom have been here since the restaurant opened seven years ago and know the menu inside-out.

Specials:

  • Happy Hour: Monday through Saturday, 3 to 6:30 p.m.: At the bar, all alcoholic beverages are discounted, while half a dozen appetizers are specially priced (steamed shrimp, waffle nachos, wings).
  • Lobster Tuesday: 20-ounce Maine lobster with drawn butter and two sides ($17)
  • Soft-Shell Wednesday: While in season, 2 pan-fried tempura soft-shells with 2 sides are $20, and a single-crab sandwich with fries is $14.
  • Sunday Brunch: special menu from 11-2; regular menu is also available
  • Daily specials on drinks, appetizers and entrees

Who’s in Charge: Al and Lori Parsons are no strangers to the restaurant business.  They met while working at Cacao Lane in Ellicott City and have named two subsequent restaurants (Matthew’s and Russell's, one of the property’s previous incarnations) after two of their sons. They boast an astonishingly low turnover rate among their employees, who return to work at the restaurant even after landing jobs in law, engineering and medicine.

“I always tell customers to be nice to their servers,” says Lori, “because one of them could be the president one day!”

Why They’re Here: While working at Cacao Lane, Parsons says, they passed the property often to visit her family in Catonsville.  In 1982, they saw a "For Sale" sign in front of the building, and her husband bought the property the very next day.  Formerly Loverde’s, a disco, they converted it to Russell’s restaurant, which they ran for 11 years before selling the business to other tenants.  It changed hands again, becoming The Wharfside, but when the Parsons realized the current management wasn’t taking care of the building, they took legal action and regained possession of the property in August 2003.

“The good thing” about the protracted court battle and extensive property damages, says Parsons, was that “it was all so bad that we completely reconfigured the space.”  They were able to move the location of the bar and completely renovate the interior to realize their vision of an upscale, casual-chic place which would be both elegant and comfortable.

Why They Love Catonsville: For one thing, Catonsville has been good to them.  “We were mobbed from day one,” Parsons remembers.  The restaurant opened on a Tuesday in July 2004, with only an announcement on their marquee the night before.  “We hoped for maybe 40 dinners the first night,” she says, shaking her head, “and we got 300.”

In addition, Parsons genuinely loves her work in a business that celebrates milestones, both large and small, in the lives of her customers.

“I’ve truly made friends with so many people here.  Everybody knows everybody’s name; people come in and go from table to table greeting their friends...I’ve been lucky enough to be included in their lives; I’ve had retirement parties, anniversary parties, rehearsal dinners and memorial gatherings for [people in] the same family.”  

Ninety-nine percent of the time, she explains, people come to a restaurant relaxed and happy, looking to have a good time, which makes her job all the more pleasurable. 

Why Catonsville Loves Them: Matthew’s 1600 prides itself on accommodating customers’ requests, whether based on taste or diet.  Her regulars, Parsons says, come in three to six times per week.  The family also enjoys giving back to the community through donations to schools, churches and other charitable sources.

“I get a letter almost every day,” she laughs, “and I try to set a budget, which I never end up sticking to.”  She especially favors cancer research, having been involved with the Relay for Life and Ribbons of Love as well as the American Cancer Society.

Why They Go Local: After more than 30 years in the restaurant business, the Parsons have a multitude of contacts with whom they work to get the freshest and closest ingredients possible.  Matthew’s gets deliveries six days a week, and it simply doesn’t have the freezer space to work with a lot of packaged foods. 

“That’s on purpose,” Parsons says.  “We get as much as we can locally.”  

They even experimented a few years ago with growing produce on their 15-acre property in Marriottsville, but between the crafty deer that roam the area and their long hours at the restaurant, realized it was probably better to leave the farming to the farmers.  In a nod to home gardeners, however, all of the restaurant’s fresh herbs currently come from the kitchen garden of one of her chefs, who lives in Catonsville. 

“I love the community here,” Parsons says, words that would sound trite if they weren’t such a common theme among Catonsville businesses.  “Everyone is so nice.”

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