Founders Tavern and Grille in Pasadena was a surprise to me. Tucked away in the corner of a shopping center at 8125 Ritchie Highway, the restaurant offers a surprising touch of class, along with great food and excellent service.
Inside, the décor impresses — a modern tavern with a historic theme featuring a centerpiece U.S Cowpens flag, silhouettes of founding fathers, maps and other 1700s decorations. Wood floors and walls, exposed beams, and hanging lights also give a nod to the past and provide a comfortable yet sophisticated feel. Diners can choose to eat inside or outside under covered tables with twinkle lights.
Our hostess greeted my two tween-aged dining companions and me and seated us quickly.
Ashley, our efficient and friendly waitress, arrived to take our drink and appetizer orders. My companions immediately chose the crab dip, and with Ashley's suggestion, I ordered the Eastern Shore chips.
Beautifully presented, the food was impressive. The crab dip, topped with fresh blue crab meat, filled a homemade bread bowl, toasted with butter and Old Bay - pure comfort! All of us raved over the creamy, just-hot-enough cheesy dip with that fabulous crispy bread. If you're someone who wants lots of crab meat in the dip, this may not be your pick, but it hit the mark on the crab taste, and we loved the smooth texture and spicy flavor. It was a highlight.
The Eastern Shore chips were skinny cut potatoes, with ale cheese, tomatoes and green onions. They were tasty, but really needed more of the toppings. I'm assuming you can ask for extra. I had gone back and forth between the chips and the smoked jalapeno poppers, but Ashley said the chips, though a close tie, were ordered more than the poppers. Bacon lovers will probably want to check out the candied bacon with brown sugar and maple syrup.
We went to Founders on a Sunday, and they were serving Sunday brunch, salads and sandwiches. Once again, following Ashley's suggestion, I ordered “broken” shrimp tacos with French fries, and the highlighted chicken fried steak, bacon gravy and waffles.
I found the tacos better than most I've tried locally. Like the restaurant itself, the tacos were unique. Filled with perfectly cooked shrimp, and "Chesapeake salsa" — tomato, cucumber, chili peppers, cilantro and shaved lettuce — the dish had a nice bite, but what really ramped it up was the avocado-infused sour cream. Not only were the tacos visually appealing with excellent taste, but they gave me that satisfying mix of textures and flavors – crunchy vegetables, tender shrimp on a soft taco, with the smooth, cool taste of the sour cream. I highly recommend this. The girls found the homemade French fries exceptional. If I were giving them a grade, I'd give them a "B."
The chicken fried steak, bacon gravy and waffles impressed one of my young friends so much she said it was one of the best things she's ever eaten. It was flavorful, yes, but I wouldn't give it those high marks. The meat had a fair amount of gristle and was dry – it didn't come with the gravy. The Belgium waffle was bland, but a nice contrast. The dish came with average home fries. "It's just a matter of taste,” my young friends said with a wise look. Perhaps.
We finished our meal with tiramisu and a chocolate chip cookie baked in a pan. Both desserts were baked in-house and were excellent; there was no disagreement there. I could taste the homemade flavor of the cookie – think of a great giant chocolate chip cookie right out of the oven, served in a hot skillet, a little thicker than usual, and just the right crunch in the corners of the pan.
The tiramisu was exceptionally rich, creamy, yet with a light feel. Served layered in a cup, the espresso sweetly mingled with the airy custard over the delicate ladyfingers.
Founders has a great selection of sandwiches and burgers that I will definitely try.
Though we didn't indulge in libations, the bar has some great offerings, especially for whisky enthusiasts. Founders offers whiskey flights. Several times a month, the owner chooses three whisky pours, allowing you to expand your palate.
Other specialties included Rhubarb & Rosemary, a historic cocktail from the 1930s called "The French Quarter," a Jefferson Mule and other specialty drinks, craft beers and seasonal varieties.
The entire meal came to about $75, very reasonable. Overall, this place is a hit.