Treat yourself to a visit to the Trolley Stop, one of the best restaurants in the historic district of old Ellicott City, Maryland. Strictly speaking, I suppose the restaurant is technically in Oella, the Baltimore County town that is right across the river from Howard County and Ellicott City's historic downtown; but considering that when you step out the door, you are looking right at downtown Ellicott City, with the oldest railroad depot in America and the church where Babe Ruth got married, I'm not disposed to quibble about what town or county the restaurant is located in.
The important thing is that this is a fun and atmospheric restaurant with great food. The building goes back to the 19th century, and its name stems from the fact that the old #9 Trolley Line from Baltimore stopped at that building (the line is now a gorgeous and scenic walking trail, an ideal place to take a walk and work up an appetite before lunch or dinner). The brick work on the inside is the real thing -- nothing put-up or gentrified here. The walls are covered with photos and graphics that illustrate the history of the region, with particular emphasis on the Oella area (see, I *told* you it's really in Oella) and the many times when the Patapsco River has flooded the region, such as Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972. Visit this restaurant, and you'll not only enjoy a great meal but also learn a lot about the history of the Patapsco River Valley.
The service is friendly, cheerful, down-to-earth, and unpretentious, and the food is marvelous. I had the lump crab cake sandwich -- big gorgeous lumps of crabmeat on the inside, well seasoned, with a nice remoulade sauce on the side. The french fries are crispy on the outside, warm and soft on the inside -- perfect. The cream of crab soup was on special that day, and it was rich and flavorful. I also got to try the shrimp melt, and it too was spicy and delicious.
The restaurant draws a fun and friendly cast of characters, and there's always something interesting going on. For example, the background music that's playing from the bar, right by the keno screen (an inevitability at many Maryland restaurants), is usually classic rock; but one day when we were there, the music kept getting switched to Bad Company. A song by Pink Floyd, or AC/DC, or Grand Funk Railroad, or Bachman-Turner Overdrive, would start playing; but then there'd be a brief interruption, and it was back to "Rock and Roll Fantasy" or "Feel Like Makin' Love." Maybe a customer who's a big Bad Company fan kept making music requests; I don't know. I mention this only because, if you're the stuffy type who defines a restaurant experience in terms of austerity and sterility, the Trolley Stop is probably not for you. But if you're a real person who enjoys good food in a fun and informal setting, and if you appreciate the wonderfully quirky spirit that is so much a part of the life of Greater Baltimore (still my favorite part of the United States), stop at the Trolley Stop. You will not be disappointed.
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