If you have the opportunity to meet Chef John Creger, you’ll quickly discover his desire to breathe new life into The Tillery.
With his experience with local sourcing of ingredients, he aims to double down on the vision The Tillery’s restaurateurs hope to achieve—food that pays homage to the history of farming and milling in Owings Mills.
“I think (it’s) to capture and to give some bit of identity to Owings Mills,” Creger says. His hope for The Tillery is to be a beacon for more independently owned establishments to join the Baltimore County restaurant community.
The Tillery opened last December in Owings Mills Metro Centre—a mixed use residential and retail community that surrounds the Metro that connects to downtown Baltimore.
David S. Brown Enterprises opened it as a standalone dining venture with upscale cuisine within the Marriott Hotel. Its menu draws on local partners such as 1623 Brewing in Eldersburg and the Metro Centre’s Honey House.
Although it bears the markers of a luxury hotel—a glass-enclosed fire dances over smooth dark stones in a leather-chaired lounge, while Glenn Miller’s Orchestra croons over the loudspeaker—a central bar and high tables where guests can work on their laptops make it feel accessible.
The idea in the name “The Tillery” was to acknowledge the region’s milling history while pushing the concept forward. In the same way tilling revitalizes the land, the Brown group hopes the restaurant will bolster community revitalization.
Owings Mills was once a meeting point for millers and suppliers of the East and West coasts, but much of the local production has since moved on or developed into larger manufacturing ventures, such as where 1623 is now, Creger says.
In this spirit, The Tillery will honor where it came from and where it’s going.
“I think we’re trying to create not only a restaurant that the community can feel that they can drop into and give it that neighborhood feel but also create a destination restaurant,” says General Manager Carmelo Pecoraro.
For that feel, there’s no better option in the food department than Creger, who knows Baltimore and knows food.
Growing up in Baltimore with a family centered in the local food scene—his father, mother and both older sisters all had separate ties to food—Creger carried the food-focused mindset with him to New York at age 18 with $400 to his name.
“I have been working in restaurants since I was probably 12 years old,” he says.
He returned to Baltimore three years ago with 20 years of experience in the kitchen and on-the-job training in French cooking. He opened Fuisine in Canton, where he caught the attention of Howard Brown of David S. Brown Enterprises.
As chef there, Creger did much of the local sourcing. He poured tremendous blood, sweat and tears into that project, putting the majority of profits back into the restaurant.
Creger brings this same passion to The Tillery. His revamped menu launching in April will include a nod to steakhouse specialties and Creger’s own flair. “I like to make my food approachable,” he says, noting he uses modern ingredients from multiple regions. They’re not unfamiliar, but you don’t see them all the time, he says.
Currently he has a bar menu with options including handhelds, snacks, seafood, meat and vegetarian.
Dishes include Sesame Rock Shrimp with a sesame chili glaze and furikake Japanese seasoning. A Truffle Mushroom Mousse features a white-wine gelee, pickled East Asian beech mushrooms and frisee.
Valenda Richardson, who tended bar for Fuisine alongside Creger, is also bringing her expertise to the team. She likes creating food-based cocktails to pair with menu items and tell a story.
“If he has cauliflower on his food menu, then I want to make a cocktail that has cauliflower in it,” she says.
The Gone Green Margarita uses green peppers, cucumbers and basil chopped and mixed in house.
Looking ahead, Creger plans to rotate menus seasonally, partially to allow for specials from local partners. Two Creger knows he will be working with are Moon Valley Farm and Karma Farm in Monkton.
Also on the horizon is an outdoor patio with a fire pit due to open this spring, a new prep area and bakery—April’s menu will feature a bread basket and pastry section—and a dry-aged meat program. Earthenware will replace white plates and more greenery will give the atmosphere more “natural life.”
Carmelo says another big focus of Brown’s service is hospitality—taking care to remember names of hotel guests and setting the restaurant apart from chains and casual dining with truly elevated service.
“He (David S. Brown) was trying to set the bar very high,” he says.
And the community has been very supportive of their efforts so far, Carmelo adds, noting the positive response from guests.
“As we continue to build the team, I think we’re going to create something really special here,” he says.