When a reader suggests a restaurant, I listen. It's easy for restaurant owners to tell me they serve the best crab cakes in the county (and many of them have), but readers give me a less biased view.
So when I received a recommendation for Hurricane Pizza Grill, I headed over the county line to check it out.
On the outskirts of Columbia, this gem is housed in a fairly humdrum brick building. Inside, the food is mostly all made fresh and the hurricane theme is rockin'.
Pale yellow walls are decorated with island photos, a large anchor and a wooden life preserver. Wooden oars hang from a space cut out in a center wall. And that's just the upstairs.
The upstairs is a dining area fit for families with several tables, flat-screen TVs and a pizza buffet open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Downstairs is a full bar with activities like trivia, karaoke, bingo, live music.
"A lot of people come to the restaurant and don't know there's a bar underneath," owner Beth Giffen said.
She and her husband, Chris, took ownership of the restaurant in June.
The full menu is offered both upstairs and downstairs, which includes food and drink specials every night of the week. On Mexican Mondays, get a six-pack of tacos for $3; on Five-Dollar Fridays, pick up a medium pizza for $5 – you get the idea.
Hurricane makes its own chili, pizza dough, pizza sauce – even ranch dressing, Beth Giffen said. The ranch dressing is her favorite; the pizza and wings are popular with customers. The ribs are rubbed and roasted at the restaurant, and customers can choose any flavor wing sauce to smother on.
On a recent Saturday, I dined upstairs (the hostess let me pick a seat).
As customers steadily walked in and out, picking up food at a counter close to the door, I ordered a medium cheese pan pizza ($8.99) with five boneless wings ($4.59), celery and ranch dressing.
The wings come with a choice of a dozen sauces – I picked the Medium, but if you dare, there's Suicide Hot.
I can see why Beth Giffen likes the ranch dressing; its rich buttermilk flavor is no Hidden Valley.
But the pizza blew me over.
The crispy crust is unlike any chain's pie, not "super doughy," as Beth Giffen described it. I ate four slices (let the piggy jokes commence).
Also on the menu are sandwiches, wraps, grilled subs, toasted subs, salads, bolis -- and fried pickle chips ($3.89).
Fresh-cut fries available range from Wet Fries – topped with a sauce of your choice and bleu cheese ($3.99) to Baltimore Fries – topped with Old Bay and cheddar cheese ($4.49).
There's so much going on at Hurricane – between the large menu, the activities, food and drink specials and buffet – you'll have to cross the county line like I did to eye it for yourself.
Hurricane Pizza Grill
Location: 4031 Columbia Ave., Columbia
Jess' pick: Medium pan pizza, $8.99; five boneless wings, $4.59
Hours: Upstairs dining: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, noon to 10 p.m. Sunday; downstairs bar: 4 p.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday, noon to midnight Sunday
Price range: $2.39, pizza slice; $44.99, 10 half racks of ribs
Alcohol: Full bar downstairs; beer specials throughout the week
Accepts: Cash and credit
Kid's menu: No
Details: Call 717-684-6000 or visit hurricanepizza.com