On a recent weekday afternoon, the lunch-hour crowd in the dining room at Christopher Daniel is mostly 60 and older. Christopher Ellis, his surfer-blond hair tucked under a visor, sits at the bar, which is separated from the rest of the steakhouse by a wall decorated with oil portraits of Jerry Garcia and Janis Joplin. He admits that his daytime crowd isn't the hippest he could ask for.
"Out here in the county, they're only semi-adventurous eaters," he says. "Down in the city, it's a younger white-collar crowd, who are reading about food, watching the Food Network, saying, `Oh, I want to try that.'"
And you have to sympathize with him. Ellis' restaurant is located in a strip mall on Padonia Road in Timonium, across from an Applebee's, a few blocks from a Macaroni Grill. It is one of only a few independent restaurants in an area chock-full of franchises, but that doesn't stop Ellis from loading his menu with some unexpected items: sea bass with lobster edamame succotash; scallops with truffle-whipped potatoes, wild mushrooms, and beurre blanc; and kurobuta pork chop with pecan stuffing, to name a few.
The building where Christopher Daniel stands was once Rothwell's Grille, and Ellis met his original business partner, Daniel Chaustit, when they were both sous-chefs in the kitchen there in 1996. Chaustit has since bowed out of the restaurant to spend more time with his family, but Ellis says that his years at Rothwell's with chef Mark Hoffman helped him understand his clientele.
"When we started the place, we kind of felt like there weren't really any good restaurants in the county," he says. "After six years here, I got a feel for what the people around here like to eat. Instead of actually traveling to the city, we wanted people to be able to have city-style dining in the county."
On occasion, Ellis says, the public has passed harsh verdicts on some of his more daring dishes. He tried to serve a lobster and sweetbread napoleon with blood orange sauce, but his regulars turned up their noses. "We couldn't believe that one didn't sell," Ellis says. "It was so delicious!"
In general, though, he has kept things simple, "not too oversauced," he says. He serves steak from an à la carte menu, with eight different optional sauces, and pushes the bar and banquet facility as moneymakers. But Ellis is still up for trying to widen county denizens' palates. "As an owner, you take risks," he says.