Local Tradition; Chesapeake Traditional
By Gabby Crabcakes
A distinction must be made between the 'traditional' and the more accessible and trendy 'tourist' establishments. Living in downtown Annapolis, we have some fine restaurants that specialize in pleasing the collective palates of huge numbers of guests to our state capital. Not to diminish their contribution, however, I have found that our guests crave more local flavor and ambiance.
To find authentic Chesapeake restaurants, you need to leave the high-rent district and get off the beaten path. Which led me down the road to Galesville.
The Topside Inn, serving locals and boaters with hearty Chesapeake cooking for generations, is just the place to enjoy true Bay character and good eats.
The building, which dates to the late 1800s, is strategically located across the street from the West River. True to its name, Topside Inn offers several rooms for overnight accommodations as well as an attached liquor store, two dining rooms, a cigar lounge and a lovely second-floor wrap-around porch for al fresco dining. Little has changed over the years, according to manager Karen Mitchell, who stands by the adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." While the kitchen staff has recently changed (two new chefs were just hired), the recipes and menus have endured for years.
Open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday, lunch Friday, Saturday and Sunday and buffet brunch on Sunday, Topside draws its biggest crowds on weekends. Live entertainment ranges from '70s and '80s music on Friday, piano bar on Saturday and Dixieland jazz on Sunday.
For more peace, take your meal on the second floor porch with its serene views of the West River and quaint Galesville Park. Tables and chairs are garden-variety plastic patio-style - nothing fancy- but fancy shouldn't be your goal here.
I recommend the Sunday Dixieland jazz dinner (beginning at 5:30pm). Dine early to catch the great views, but be forewarned, window seating is first-come first-served. The main dining room is also part of the bar and, therefore, a smoking section.
On our recent visit, we met friends at 6:30pm and were pleasantly surprised with a comfortable window table. The music, provided for many years by the Topside Jammers, keeps spirits high and energized. A small dance floor beckons.
We were immediately greeted by a cheerful waitress and a basket of warm sourdough mini loaves and butter. Service is friendly and informal. Casually attired in logo T-shirts and shorts, the waitstaff actively keeps pace with the crowd.
The menu is a seasonal blend of classic Chesapeake surf and turf with some Topside originals and weekend specials. In the summer, according to Mitchell, most produce and integral ingredients - including crabmeat - are purchased locally.
Speaking of crab, you'll choose from crab balls (market price), hot crab and artichoke dip ($5.95); Maryland crab soup ($2.75/4.00); an almost coagulated cream of crab ($3.75/4.95); chicken Chesapeake ($15.95), a grilled six-ounce breast topped with crab imperial; crab cakes (market price); and crab imperial (jumbo lump $21.95).
Steaks, chops, entree salads and Italian dishes are also available, as is a petite menu and a children's menu.
We began our meal with a dozen of the tiniest little neck clams ($9.95), a special for the evening.
I couldn't have been happier than with the catch of the day: broiled salmon served with a cucumber dill sauce ($16.95). The large piece of fish was juicy and melted in my mouth and was perfectly complemented with the summer fresh sauce. Other orders included a house favorite, the Topside Platter ($22.95) which comes with a crab cake, three large shrimp, several scallops and a small portion of the catch. My companion selected the broiled version and smacked his lips happily, especially pleased with the meaty and slightly spiced crab cake.
Fresh local corn on the cob was also a hit. An order of the southern fried chicken ($10.95) was more than any one diner could polish off with three large breasts.Our final selection was off the petite menu, a six-ounce filet mignon ($13.95) served with a wild mushroom demi-glaze, which was actually closer to a gravy as we speculated that the kitchen was fond of thickening agents.
We could have stopped here were it not for the dessert of the day, apple pie a la mode ($3.95). We happily shared it.
1004 Galesville Road · Galesville · 410/867-1321
Proprietor: Morgan Wayson
Reason to go: Fun times, good food and lots of local color.
Something to think about: Having this much fun on a Sunday will probably throw your week out of whack.