Tex-Mex Restaurant Opens:

What’s Cooking in Hampden?
by Iris Sauber
       There’s a new eatery on The Avenue: the Sierra Grill. The owners, Kelly Rindone and Todd Creager, are back home in Maryland after years out West. The restaurant, which opened on March 20, has been their dream for the last five years.

       The couple had initially planned to buy an existing restaurant. When those plans did not work out, they had to make a choice: did they want to look for another opportunity, or did they want to start from scratch? They opted for the latter.

       It took more than a year for them to get the restaurant open. They investigated many areas, among them Towson, Timonium and Columbia. A friend suggested Hampden. When they visited the neighborhood, “We knew immediately that this was where we wanted to be,” said Todd, who grew up in Westminster and holds a business degree from Towson University. Kelly, originally from Timonium, also studied business at Towson.

       The 4,000 square foot space they now occupy, which had been vacant for three years, required a great deal of work. There are 65 seats in the main dining room, plus space for private parties. A coffee bar and sofas are planned for the rear dining room, to add to the Southwestern ambiance the couple are aiming for. They’ve installed new walls, ceiling and carpeting. French doors, commonly used in California-style architecture, divide the dining rooms. The décor will be relatively Spartan until Southwestern color photography by Lewis Katz, a well-known western artist, arrives. His works will be for sale, starting at around $50.

       For most of her working life, Kelly has been employed in restaurants and for food brokers and distributors. Todd, on the other hand, worked in the swimming pool business. Both were avid amateur chefs who enjoyed the Tex-Mex style of food so popular in Arizona, where they used to live.

       For their restaurant venture, they wanted a place that cooked everything from scratch, rather than serve ready-made foods from containers like many restaurants do. If customers wanted to request that ingredients be added or omitted, the pair wanted them to be able to do that. And so they now can at Sierra Grill, where they’ll cook to order for you.

       When Kelly and Todd were planning their menu, they first ate in all of Hampden’s restaurants. They didn’t want to imitate anyone. The resulting menu, which is evolving as they learn the preferences of their customers, currently includes chicken, beef and pasta dishes combined in innovative ways with spices and sauces.

       Entrées, ranging in price from $7 to $9, include such choices as Sedona Cheese Enchiladas (“three amigos dressed with Mexican cheeses, onions, and chili peppers, covered with enchilada sauce and sour cream and served with Adela’s Spanish rice and black beans”) for $7.99, Tahoe Grilled Vegetable Pasta (“grilled vegetables over penne pasta with a white creamy sauce”) for $7.25, and Country Fried Steak (“battered fried steak served with a white peppery country gravy and our special seasoned mashed potatoes”) at $7.50. Many dishes are prepared on a char-broiler. They also offer a salad bar and three homemade soups daily, made from Kelly’s own recipes.

       Desserts, from a local bakery, vary, but always include some variety of ice cream cake and cheesecake among the eight to twelve choices offered on a given day.

       Menu items will be changing as the seasons evolve, with somewhat lighter dishes in the warmer months. Vegetarian dishes and a few more pasta entrées are planned.

       So far, Kelly reports, the fried steak, Mexican entrées and half-pound charbroiled burgers are big favorites with customers. “We’re learning you can’t go too far out on the edge with ingredients,” she said with a grin. “Smoked gouda cheese on our turkey sandwich wasn’t a big hit with some of our customers.”

       Other ideas in the works include wine tastings and slide shows of the Southwest. The restaurant has no liquor license, but patrons can bring their own wine or beer. “We’d like to have a liquor license,” said Kelly, “but it’s really hard to get one in Baltimore City.”

       The Sierra Grill, at 1105 W. 36th Street, is open Monday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m. The restaurant is closed on Sunday. Call 235-8556 for information.


Iris Sauber is a freelance writer and the community relations manager at the House Of Ruth.


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This story was published on May 30, 2001.