The Peppermill Celebrates 40 Years of Stiff Drinks and Camaraderie

Last summer, when 86-year-old Martin McGinn moved to Towson to be closer to his family, he left his longtime friendship, bridge partner and golf buddy in Princeton, New Jersey. But the widower soon settled into his 55+ apartment complex in the new community and began looking for a place to “get fresh food and socializing.”

Neighbors suggested The Peppermill in Lutherville, a beloved 40-year-old restaurant known in many circles as “God’s Waiting Room,” “Ruck’s North,” after a nearby funeral home, and “The Wrinkle.” Did.

Sure enough, retired chemist McGinn has found his niche. “Most people my age have stories to tell,” he says. “It’s a cast of characters.”

And that’s exactly what the owner wanted.

Since opening in 1982, the 265-seat restaurant at Heber Plaza has attracted an older clientele. “We were thinking [ages] Over 50,” says Dave Jones, former owner of business partner Rick Siegel and Jones’ late father-in-law Tommy Perera. “We’ve always aimed at the same market.”

According to the 2021 American Community Survey, Baltimore County has a healthy demographic, with one in four residents over the age of 60. Also, from 1975 to 1990, the number of senior citizens in the county has steadily increased since the 1970s, when the U.S. Census showed that residents aged 65 and over increased by 50,000. Increased has.

Laura Riley, director of the Baltimore County Department of Aging, which has 20 senior centers, points to the importance of social interaction for seniors. “It’s very positive for your physical and mental health,” she says. “We all grow by interacting with others.”

It’s one of Peppermill’s attractions for 73-year-old Lutherville resident Sally Nesbitt. Since the store opened, she has been going there every day with her husband, who passed away 14 years ago, and now with one person and a friend. “I like meeting people,” the retiree said, sipping a glass of Pinot Grigio during her latest visit. “The food is delicious and the owner and bartenders make everyone comfortable.”

Dave Jones never planned to enter the restaurant business, but he fell in love with and married Perera’s daughter, Darlene. At the time, Perera and Manny Di Paulo were running Diavolo’s in Timonium, but in 1974 changed the name to Turf Her Inn (now High Tops Her Backstage Grill). Darlene’s cousins ​​Jones and Siegel worked together at the Turf Inn. When the Perrera-DiPaulo partnership split, Jones, Ziegel, and Perrera began looking for a new location.

They found four failed restaurants about three miles south: Masons Heritage House, TJ’s Greenery, Knott’s Landing and Gibsons. Some blamed the closure on the lack of windows in the place. But that didn’t deter restaurateurs. “We took our chances,” says Jones. “Tio Pepe has no windows. No problem.”

From the beginning, the restaurant has been popular with older diners because of its affordable food and drink prices and its friendly atmosphere. . “I think we brought a lot of that here. We brought a familiar menu. We knew what people wanted.”

The name Peppermill was suggested by Jones’ sister-in-law, Terry McGuinn (no relation to Martin McGuinn). He visited a similarly named facility in Las Vegas and loved the sound. “We didn’t want to call it Dave’s or Rick’s,” says Ziegel. “So Terry came up with the name.”

When the restaurant opened, it had 500 Lucite pepper mills, but they kept breaking and disappearing from tables. “We were bankrupt [from replacing pepper mills]’ cracks Siegel. “Then I bought a wooden pepper mill.” The 18-inch grinder is no longer on the table, but customers can request freshly ground pepper for their meals.

The menu offers a variety of moderately priced items such as sandwiches, burgers, crab cakes, meatloaf, throwbacks such as veal liver and onions, and chicken Baltimore with crabmeat and mushrooms. Even splurges like the 5oz Lobster Tail ($23.95) and 6oz Filet Mignon ($22.95) won’t break the bank. Daily specials offer classics such as oyster Rockefeller, fresh rockfish, and tuna salad.

But Peppermill isn’t completely ignoring the ongoing culinary revolution in the US, where ramen shops and vegan bakeries are raging. While it leans toward traditional offerings, it has taken small steps in that direction with products such as shrimp tacos, beet salad with goat cheese, and swordfish piccata.

Still, this restaurant may be best known for its seasonal salmon roe. This is the egg sac of a female striped parrot fish baked in lemon and water and sometimes braised in bacon. Each spring, a large billboard on busy York Road announces its arrival. running. “It’s an age group,” explains Jones of the dish’s popularity. “It’s what people like to eat.”

The restaurant may be best known for its lemon-roasted, bacon-grilled shad roe.

Jones, 72, has a myriad of duties at The Peppermill, from running payroll to replacing light fixtures, while his partner Ziegel, 65, is in charge of the kitchen and more. Ziegel learned how to make several restaurant recipes, such as Maryland crab soup and oyster stew, from his late mother, his Concetta “Chettie” Ziegel.

He started working as a busboy at the Turf Inn when he was in high school at age 14, then as a cook in the kitchen. He attended what is now Towson University, where he studied business and economics, but his heart was never far from Peppermill. Ziegel doesn’t cook much these days, but his day-to-day preparations are left to head chef TJ Waldt. But he orders and buys food and is involved in deciding what appears on the menu.Jones and Siegel have grown old with their customers.

“Now we’re old people,” Jones says with a laugh.

But this is not The Peppermill’s line ending. A new generation is already involved in running the restaurant. Jones’ daughter, Heather, 43, is Allen, and Siegel’s son, Brady, is her Siegel, who turns 28 in March. Allen works in the office, handles payroll, pays bills, and is slowly taking over her father’s administrative duties.She’s been working at the restaurant since she was 16, first as a hostess, Next, I am working as a waitress while studying Public Relations at Loyola University. But she remembers having her first taste of a pepper mill as a child and that she could order anything on the menu.

“I thought it would be pretty cool for my family to have a restaurant,” she says. “I remember my birthday here and celebrating with her grandparents.”

Brady Siegel knew from an early age that he would work in a restaurant. His first impression was drinking a non-alcoholic Shirley He Temple his cocktail and eating a bowl of goldfish crackers at a bar when he was about six years old. By the time he was 15, he was a student at Hereford High School, and he was bussing tables. At the age of 15 he started cooking. “I will see everyone [in the kitchen]and pick up what they did every day,” he says.

After high school, he realized he had no interest in going to college. “This is what I wanted to do,” he says.

Today, Brady doesn’t just help out in the kitchen, he also spends time in the dining room and bar, greeting customers and making sure everything runs smoothly.

“Brady is total assets,” says Jones. “He can go from the front of the house to the back of the house.”

Baltimore’s food scene is getting trendier, but Allen and Brady aren’t going to change anything about Peppermill.

“Everything from Baltimore’s classics, from oysters only in months ending with an ‘R’ and Shadolko in March to sour beef and dumplings to soft-shell crabs, plus a few more.” It’s always good to know that doesn’t change. says Allen. “So many regulars come and say that this place reminds me of my grandmother, or that my grandfather took me there after soccer practice. I think that’s very special.”

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