The Liberatore family is on a roll.
Well known in the northern Baltimore suburbs for their eponymous Italian restaurants, the Liberatore family is branching out. Lib's Grill in Perry Hall, the family's seventh restaurant, ditches the Italian in favor of a steak and seafood concept.
The menu feels familiar, and diners will find few surprises or adventurous choices among its snacks, sandwiches, steak and seafood. But some dishes are classics for a reason. When they're well executed, as most are at Lib's Grill, and served with aplomb, even commonplace foods are cause for celebration.
Lib's Grill is in the Honeygo Village Shopping Center space formerly occupied by Manhattan Grill, just a hop and a skip from Liberatore's Perry Hall location. The restaurant is cozy and comfortable, full of dark wood tables and accented with a chalkboard wall where the raw bar menu is written in a cute, vintage-inspired hand.
The space is divided between the bar and restaurant. Even midweek, the bar was lively and packed; from our spot, tucked into a booth on the restaurant side, we were protected from the noise but still felt like part of the scene.
After a round of drinks, we realized that Lib's Grill's bar will probably always stay packed, and with good reason. The house sauvignon blanc, Geyser Peak from California, was bright and citrusy, and the Terra Andina, an Argentinian malbec, was smooth and fruity. Both were food-friendly — and the glasses were positively enormous. We almost needed two hands to lift them to our mouths.
A Mediterranean Mule, a figgy spin on the Moscow Mule, was slightly sweeter than the traditional lime, vodka and ginger drink and very nicely balanced.
We were equally impressed by a Natty Boh oyster shooter. Building an oyster shooter seems simple but achieving the optimum proportion of beer, cocktail sauce and oyster can be tricky. Lib's Grill got it right.
The kitchen, led by Daniel Chaustit, the former owner of now-closed Crush in Belvedere Square, gets the job done. A simple chip-and-dip snack was better than expected, thanks to warm, ruffled chips and thick, well-seasoned dip. Beef-filled empanadas, served with a spicy red pepper sauce, were savory and steamy.
Chorizo and bread crumb-stuffed clams, Lib's take on clams casino, were toasty, salty and just spicy enough. Cooked until the clams were hot, but still plump, they were one of our favorite dishes.
Nick Liberatore, the general manager of Lib's Grill, says he hopes the restaurant will appeal to people out for a burger with their kids as well as those looking for a more refined meal. The short-rib sandwich — a pile of braised beef served on a glossy bun with fried onions and a dollop of horseradish sauce — would work in both scenarios.
The beef was tender and juicy with rich flavor that gave the sandwich a sophisticated edge. Fries, served on the side, were less elegant but gorgeously crispy, skinny and salty.
Like that giant glass of wine, the entrees overwhelmed us with their size. Most options from the grill were available in two sizes. We opted for the smaller prime rib, but at 14 ounces, the thick slab of meat still seemed gargantuan (the 20-ouncer might have required a bigger table).
The meat was well-seasoned, cooked properly and nicely accessorized with au jus (we also added a side of creamy, spicy horseradish sauce). It wasn't the most tender prime rib we've tried, which was our biggest complaint of the evening, but it did have nice flavor.
A large piece of sea bass was thicker than a textbook, but cooked until flaky and just done. On top, a basil-flecked salad of crab tossed with a light vinaigrette complemented the delicate white fish, adding a bit of bright, herbaceous flavor.
Both entrees were served with well-seasoned, smooth mashed potatoes and a scoop of sauteed zucchini, onion and mushroom (which was tasty but even better after a few shakes of salt). The side dishes were smart, matching equally well with the fish and steak.
Desserts included several cheesecake options, ice creams and a rich, dark chocolate Heath bar cheesecake that, like everything else, was built for sharing.
Happily, the hospitality at Lib's Grill was as generous as the portions. From the hostess to bussers, everyone wore pleasant smiles; their enthusiasm seemed genuine. Food was timed correctly, water glasses stayed full and drinks arrived from the bar with impressive speed.
The crowd in the bar had thinned by the time we left, but those remaining were having a great time. We weren't surprised. Given the mix of smiling faces, good food and giant glasses of wine, we'd bet that Lib's Grill will continue to make people happy for a long time to come.
The Sun's restaurant critic, Richard Gorelick, is on vacation.
Rating: 3 stars
Where: Honeygo Village Shopping Center, 5009 Honeygo Center Drive, Suite 101, Perry Hall
Contact: 410-513-7133; libsgrill.com
Open: Monday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m, Friday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m, Saturday 10 a.m. to 11 p.m, Sunday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m
Prices: Snacks, appetizers, soups and salads $4-$14; sandwiches and flatbreads $9-$18; entrees $15-$65
Food: Sandwiches, steakhouse fare and seafood with a raw bar
Service: Friendly and prompt
Parking/accessibility: Lot in front
Children: Kids' menu including standards like pasta and chicken tenders
Noise level: Moderate in the dining room but louder in the bar, where there are seven televisions.
Dress code: No dress code; most guests wear business casual attire.
[Star key: Superlative: 5; Excellent: 4; Very Good: 3; Good: 2; Promising: 1]