And the Winners Are...Food & Drink
Vol. 9, No. 33
August 16-22, 2001
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Most Scenic Dining
Pirates Cove
For more than 50 years, The Inn at Pirates Cove in Galesville has drawn diners from near and far. One of the reasons that the people keep coming is the view looking out to the West River.

Tables from the three dining rooms, the lounge and bar all look toward the water. The clang-clang of rigging against masts plays like ambient music from the sailboats docked at the slips outside.

The best views come from the outside tables at the restaurant and its sister establishment, Big Mary’s Dock Bar. From here, sit back, order a refreshing drink and an appetizer and watch Chesapeake Country at its best.

Most Romantic
Place for Dinner ~ tied ~ Maria’s & Lighthouse Inn
Covering the better part of two counties as Bay Weekly does, it’s little surprise that our readerschoice for their favorite place for a romantic dinner stretches far and wide. High among the votes, demonstrating that romance is still alive in this oh-so-modern world, many readers chose home.

But when the votes were tallied, two restaurants stood out. Readers to the north chose Maria’s in Annapolis. Calvert countians selected the Lighthouse Inn in Solomons.

Like any place at Annapolis’ City Dock, space is tight at Maria’s. But here, the close quarters are cozy, the atmosphere intimate and the setting beautiful. Downstairs gives itself primarily to a standing service bar, where patrons also wait to be seated, and a few white-linen-covered tables look out at street level. Upstairs, if you’re lucky enough to sit near the windows, the view overlooking City Dock is magnificent. The food, Italian with both American and Chesapeake influences, is delicious, with a wine list deep enough to complement any meal and any wallet.

On Solomons Island, the Lighthouse Inn looks out onto the town harbor near the confluence of Back Creek and the Patuxent River - a setting romantic enough in itself to set aflutter the most jaded heart. Vaulted ceilings and exposed framing timbers provide an open-yet-warm feeling. It’s billed as fine dining in a casual setting, and you’re as welcome here in shorts as suits. While waiting for a table, many readers enjoy a cocktail at the bar, a hand-crafted, scale-model skipjack with the barkeep at the helm. It’s a true masterpiece created by Solomons’ own shipbuilding legend Pepper Langley.

Chef Kevin Pinti’s kitchen specializes, of course, in seafood, with a complement of chicken, steak, a vegetarian dish and daily fresh fish specials. Readers enjoyed a range from escargot to crab cake sandwiches.

Best Splurge Restaurant
Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse
Befitting a restaurant started in the Big Easy, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Eastport is the place of choice for Bay Weekly readers wanting to drop the big bucks. As in any N’orleans restaurant, the big bucks bring big plates with big portions. Whether you’re looking for someplace to celebarte or someplace to impress, Ruth’s Chris is the place, and not just for buttery steaks. Chops, chicken, seafood and even an occasional vegetarian entreé will warm your tummy. But be prepared: dinners start at $23.95 and climb as high as $58 for the porterhouse for two. Similarly, the wine list begins in the modest $21 a bottle range but climbs to $2,000 for a bottle of 1970 Chateau Petrus, Primier Cru, Pomerol.

Best Place for a Cheap Date
Double T Diner
No doubt about it, the Double T Diner gives you the broadest selection at the cheapest prices. Walking into the Double T is a visual feast, the polished-chrome walls, the long-stretching counters, the cozy booths and display case full ofcakes and goodies all made in house.

If it’s a first date and conversation lags, the jukeboxes at each booth will bail you out.
Best of all, the food’s great and there’s something for every taste. The menu is a workout, but the ample portions will replace those burned calories. The Double T Diner - actually more than a half-dozen around the Greater Baltimore area - is run by Greeks, so slouvaki and gyros share menu space with steaks and cheeseburgers. The salads make a meal in themselves, and there’s breakfast 24 hours.

Best Crabhouse
Cantler’s Riverside Inn
You know you’re in for good crabs when the bushels arrive at the restaurant by conveyor belt from Mill Creek, where local watermen dock.

That’s one reason it’s smarter to come to Cantler’s Riverside Inn by boat. Another reason: Cantler’s is off the beaten path, across the Severn from the Naval Academy and at the end of Forest Bay Road. You know you’re on the right track by the line of cars backed up the narrow road most meal-times.

Either way, the reward is worth the journey, and if you can’t wait you shouldn’t be heading out for crabs in the first place.

Inside, a narrow bar invites. But if you’re eating crabs, head toward the long, narrow tables stretching the length of the room. If it’s crowded, don’t be surprised if you’re seated with other groups. Space is at a premium here, and crab-eating is a social sport.

So sit down, order up a dozen or two jimmies, sip a cold can of beer and lift your elbows from the the brown crab paper, ’cause it’s eating time at Bay Weekly reader’s wise choice for Best Crabhouse on the Bay.

Best Restaurant Overall
Similar to herding cats, identifying one restaurant as Best Overall in our large reading area is no small feat. Loyal readers and eaters fought for their favorite in this category.

Rising to the top was the Spanish-Mexican restaurant Jalapeños. A charming little oasis camouflaged by the less than opulent Forest Plaza Shopping Center, Jalapeños continues to serve up delicious food that is fresh in quality and unique in preparation. With its warm ambiance, deliberate service and refreshing cocktails, the ordinary becomes extraordinary and Jalapeños’ patronage continues to grow. Our compliments to the chef!

Best Place for Fresh Produce
Fresh Fields Whole Foods
Fresh Fields has revolutionized produce in Chesapeake Country.

This time of year, you don’t have to go far to find tomatoes, corn, cantaloupes and a garden basket of other fruits and veggies sweeter than kisses. They’re at every roadside stand and Farmers’ Market.

But from November through May, we might as well have been living in the last century. Sure we could buy tomatoes, corn, cantaloupes and a garden basket of other fruits and veggies at any supermarket - but by and large, they tasted like paste.

All year long, Fresh Fields reaches across the nation and south of the border to supplement the bounty of summer with the best of many crops. From their bins of tender, young mixed greens, we enjoy our salad days all year long. Even in the deep of winter, you can take home bunches of basil and tomatoes (especially the tiny grape ones) worth their salt. Some of their potatoes are so good we’ve written home about them. We’ve got fields of grown-up greens to choose from, including dandelion and arugala.

Don’t even get us started on fruit. Even apple snobs can find satisfaction here, no matter what the season. Every pear is a peach. Melons are marvelous, even when winter squash is all our latitude has in season. Figs are fantastic. And yes, they have plenty of bananas, including delicious little lady fingers. All in all, Fresh Fields’ fruit is the berries.

What’s more, dozens of items are organic - 105 today - so you can pass on pesticides.

No wonder Bay Weekly readers give this honor to Fresh Fields. They’re the ones who’ve made it fun to eat your veggies (and fruit) all year long.

Best Breakfast or Brunch
Rod ’n’ Reel
Rod ’n’ Reel’s stupendous Sunday brunch is certainly not the best breakfast for you. Think of what you’re doing to your heart with fresh fried donuts. Waffles slathered with whipped cream. Omelets to order. All the biscuits and gravy, sausage and bacon you can eat. Sweet rolls and muffins for dessert. No wonder you said no, I’m just too full for that fresh fruit.

Forget all that, said Bay Weekly readers. Big is best. Eat today, for tomorrow we diet.

Best Dessert
Aromi D’Italia
Gelato … the name rolls off the tongue almost as easily as the cool, creamy dessert. This frozen delicacy, in 30 flavors made daily at Aromi D’Italia in Annapolis harbor, is unmistakably reminiscent of a more common favorite. But don’t call it ice cream! Its flavor is more intense, its texture smoother and, with only seven percent fat in the most sinful flavors, it could be called a healthy alternative - if you’re willing to use some imagination.

At Aromi D’Italia, the acknowledged favorite is Romeo and Juliet, a blend of chocolate and cream. Stracciatella means mixed together; Bacio, a chocolate hazelnut concoction, means kiss. When it comes to this creamy import, ordering is almost as sweet an experience as eating. Almost.

Best Ice Cream
Ben & Jerry’s
The ’80s were an ice cream revolution. Decadence was the fashion, and, like the skirts, containers of ice cream were getting smaller and more expensive. On the cutting edge of the fashion-forward frozen industry was Ben & Jerry’s, purveyors of the $3, pint-sized single-serve carton of fun.

As years went on, Ben & Jerry’s changed with the times. The flavors got wackier (and more delicious) to keep up with the increasingly short attention spans of the MTV generation. The company went pop-culture, with suggestive flavors like Cherry Garcia and Phish Food. They released Chubby Hubby and Chunky Monkey for the older crowd who’d fattened up savoring their early flavors.

In the health-conscious ’90s, Ben & Jerry trimmed down with sorbets and frozen yogurts. They’ve gotten environemtally friendlier with unbleached paper packaging.

Finally, they’ve gone global, with a cool website - - in five languages and storefront shops offering upwards of 30 flavors to towns and cities all over the world, just like our own in downtown Annapolis.

Best Kids Menu
~Tie ~ McDonald’s & T.G.I. Friday’s
For kids on the go, a Mickey D’s burger or chicken McNuggets Happy Meal is the perpertual favorite. McDonald’s knows that entertainment is the most important part of any meal, so they present their younger patrons with toys like Barbie and Hot Wheels.

When you’re in the mood for a fancier night out with the little ones, T.G.I.Fridays serves up tons of choices: macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, pizza, spaghetti, and many others in a festive, lively setting.

Best Pizza
Ledo’s Pizza
The pizza is the same great flaky crust pie first served at the original Adelphi location near College Park back in the ’60s. The sauce is slightly sweet. The toppings are overflowing. The atmosphere is family-friendly. The service is prompt, the wait is short. The pizza, says the motto, is square because they don’t cut corners. The only problem? No delivery. But that small shortcoming didn’t bother Bay Weekly readers, who’ve said “make ours Ledo’s.”

Best Mexican Restaurant
Not long ago, Mexican cuisine was only found south of the border or in small ethnic cocinas. Times have changed. While Bay country doesn’t proliferate with Mexican establishments, we certainly offer some great authentic choices. Chevy’s - with its fresh salsa, homemade tortillas, large menu, bar and seating for almost 300 - was voted most popular by readers. Bigger is obviously better, say our respondents, and Chevy’s doesn’t fail. Big portions, big space and big lines prove a true success. Add to that formula reasonable prices, and dining here is a real winner.

Best Oriental/Asian Food
While we all enjoy Chinese delivery, when it came to choosing the Best Oriental/Asian restaurant, readers agreed that one led the pack - even though they don’t deliver. Joss Restaurant and Sushi Bar located on Main Street in downtown Annapolis wins our readers’ hearts and Oriental/Asian appetites. Space is limited (even with a recent expansion) and waits can be long, but the sushi is fabulous and the menu full of wonderful Oriental treats.

Best Steak
It’s hard to call a place unpretentious that serves 24-ounce T-bones, three-pound lobsters and $1,000 magnums of wine. But Lewnes’ Steakhouse, formerly a neighborhood diner, combines small-town charm - dark oak walls and old pictures of Annapolis - with the flavor of a top-dollar steakhouse.

Tucked on the corner of 4th Street and Severn Avenue in Eastport, Lewnes’ serves Bay Weekly readers’ choice for best steak.

Huge cuts of corn-fed, aged beef are seared at 1,800 degrees, topped with butter and served as 24-ounce porterhouse ($27.95), 17-ounce New York strip ($25.95) and 13-ounce fillet ($29.95) that melt in your mouth.

To complement your perfect steak, try a tomato and onion salad topped with crumbled blue cheese; hashbrowns; sauteed asparagus; and creamed spinach. Served family style, ($2.95-$4.95) all sides are more than enough for two to three to share.

Best Barbecue
Red, Hot & Blue
Although a national chain, Red, Hot & Blue - located off Route 50 in Annapolis under a landmark windmill and off Route 2/4 in Prince Frederick - serves barbecue in the true sense of the word. Founded by Tennessean Lee Atwater (a top Republican party strategist and amateur blues musician who has since died of a brain tumor), Red, Hot & Blue is a testament to Memphis, to blues and early rock ‘n’ roll - and to great barbecue.

Ordering ribs, you’ll find the meat pink: Don’t panic, it’s not rare. That’s the sign of true slow-cooked, wood-smoked barbecue. The spareribs are served either dry or wet. If you want to taste-test, order half of each. The same moist and smoky meat drips from the pulled pork, barbecue beef and chicken sandwiches.

Best Burger
For more than 20 years, the Fudrucker’s chain of restaurants has focused on one thing: burgers. And Bay Weekly readers rewarded that focus, citing Fudrucker’s on Jennifer Road near the Annapolis Mall for Best Burger.

Not quite fast food, Fudrucker’s is very much self-service. You order your burger deli-style. Everything’s there to see, fresh, including the hanging beef-to-be-hamburgers. Begin to build your burger by choosing between quarter-pound burger and half-pound. Add bacon or cheese, grilled onions or sautéed mushroom. There’s even an ostrich burger - less fat than chicken, rich flavor like beef.

When your burger’s ready, they’ll call your name, and then you can lather it up with all the condiments you want, and not just mustard or ketchup. There’s barbecue sauce, cheese sauce, mayonnaise, relish, lettuce, tomato, onions, hot peppers - enough to turn your burger into a salad. If you want to go and mess up such a good and juicy burger.

Best Fries
True, McDonald’s is no place to go if you’re afraid of clowns or want to know what cut of meat is in your burger. But democracy doesn’t lie. Bay Country’s favorite fries are cheap and tasty extruded potato mush deep fried to a greasy golden brown (as they should be) and so good with catsup.

Best Wings
ACME Bar & Grill
Buffalo (regular, hot, extra hot, or insane), Buff-a-que, Bar-b-que, Caesar, Cajun, Bar-b-cajun, Teriyaki, Chesapeake, Island Zing, Honey Mustard, Lemon Pepper, Memphis Gold. Sweet or tart, hot or mild, Acme’s 15 styles of wings are a diverse and delicious bunch that pay homage all sorts of taste buds, from the classicist to the die-hard Marylander, from the daredevil to the deep-Southerner. Try them all, but be cautious: Acording to the menu, “the insane wings are extremely hot. They may not be exchanged or returned for milder wings … consider yourself warned!”

Best Bartender
Karen Sturgell, Happy Harbor
Since a teenager working as a a bus girl at Happy Harbor in Deale, Karen Sturgell has had two dreams: She wanted to move up to bartending, and she wanted to own the place.

Sturgell fulfilled the first dream nearly 20 years ago, and she’s been behind the horseshoe bar at Happy Harbor most nights a week ever since. Last year, Karen fulfilled her second dream, moving from bartender to boss, when she joined her mother, Barbara Sturgell, as owner of the popular Rockhold Creek bar and restaurant.

“I love this place,” Karen said. “I love the people. I like the social life of bartending.”

Best Bar
~ Tie ~Happy Harbor & Riordan’s
Walking into the bar at Happy Harbor in Deale, it takes a few minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dim lighting. Formerly a roadhouse (rent the Patrick Swayze movie to get a clearer picture), Happy Harbor is a bar in the true, old-fashioned sense. Although there are two televisions in the bar, and you’ll never miss a Redskins game, Happy Harbor is the antithesis of today’s sterile sports bar. The walls and ceilings are dark with years of cigarette smoke. Watermen and businessmen share space at the bar, a large horseshoe that fills the room. By mid-day, odds are good that many of the barstools will be filled.

Don’t be shy, idle up and order a cold one and strike up conversation. If you’re looking for someplace to drink in quiet, stay home or come in early - the Harbor opens at 5:30am during fishing season.

Happy Harbor has kept its character while keeping up with the times. It’s still a favorite with the locals, but now you’re as likely to rub elbows with a group of businessmen just back from charter fishing, a couple day-tripping from Virginia or a newer resident unwinding after the day’s commute from D.C.

At Happy Harbor the beer is always cold, the pours are always generous and the experience always memorable. Unless, like at any great bar, you have too much fun.

Riordans Saloon, a busy sports bar at Market Space by City Dock, wins kudos from the locals for its old-fashioned ambience, fun atmosphere, full menu and - not to forget - Maryland brewed Wild Goose or Oxford Raspberry Wheat .

Cheer on the home team on five TVs. Should bartstool spectatordom sap too much energy, you can recharge with Maryland-style steak and seafood menus featuring a very popular crab dip. Should the home team screw up royally, perhapsa shot of single malt Jack Daniels will do. And when home’s chips and pretzels don’t cut it for Sunday football, you can fill your plate up here at brunch.

Best Oysters
When the oyster was king in Chesapeake Bay, watermen docked and unloaded their catch at City Dock in Annapolis. A lot has changed since those days, for the oyster, for Annapolis and for the Bay itself. The oyster survives, but it’s threatened after years of overfishing, pollution and more-recent threats from microscopic predators like MSX and dermo. And there are no longer watermen at City Dock, at least not working.

But you can still find the best and freshest oysters at City Dock - at McGarvey’s Saloon and Oyster Bar.

McGarvey’s remains true to the character of both saloon and oyster bar. There are no televisions. As in days of old, patrons come for the drink, the camaraderie and the oysters, which are served fresh-shucked year-round. In season, Chesapeake oysters are still the favorite. Out of season, oysters are flown in fresh from all around the Eastern seaboard and beyond.

McGarvey’s boasts two elegant bars, the kind that were tediously carved and formed by skilled craftsmen in the days when the oyster was king. But if you’re in search of the authentic oyster bar experience, head to the bar in back, the raw bar. Sitting at the marble-topped bar, you can watch as your oysters are shucked to order by men who make it look as easy as opening a pop-top. Add a squirt of lemon, a dollop of cocktail sauce or hot sauce, maybe a pinch of fresh horseradish. Bottoms up.

At McGarvey’s Saloon and Oyster Bar, the oyster is still king.

Best Crab Soup
Pirates Cove
Bay Weekly readers aren’t alone in recognizing Pirates Cove for its cream of crab, as this soup is a regular winner in the yearly crab soup contest at the Maryland Seafood Festival. Not for the calorie-conscious, this soup is rich, with a fresh cream base, more than a little butter and more than a lot of crab. Sprinkled with a little sherry, served in a tiny bottle along with the soup, a taste of this soup is like heaven. Out-of-towners have been known to order gallons of the stuff to take home with them, savoring a Chesapeake classic as far away as the Midwest or California.

Best SoftShells
Cantler’s Riverside Inn
Ordering a soft-shell at Cantler’s Riverside Inn is like ordering a glass of milk at a dairy - fresh!
A look below the outside crab deck reveals Cantler’s secret: Nearly a dozen fiberglass-formed shedding tanks where the “peeler” crabs are sorted by their closeness to shedding. In peak season, these crabs go nary an hour without being checked, and as soon as they’ve discarded their old shells, the crabs are removed from the water and chilled. This stops the new shell from hardening until they are ready to be cleaned, lightly battered, fried and served table-side.

“If the crab’s gotten a little too hard,” says manager Bobby Crook, “we’ll set it aside and serve it for staff lunch.”

Don’t expect anything too fancy with these. The dinner is two unadorned soft-shells. The sandwich is served on your choice of white, wheat or rye bread. Like a little spice? Try the New Orleans-style soft-shell po’ boy, a delicacy fitting of the Big Easy.

Best Crab Cake
Size matters. So does weight. Other key characteristics of a superb crabcake: melt-in-your-mouth insides; crisply browned crust; no-nonsense filler; easy on the shells (though one or two adds style); hard on the jumbo lump. Eaters are divided on fried versus broiled, crackers versus bread and tartar versus cocktail. Bay Weekly agrees on the place: Stoney’s. With two restaurant locations, a carry-out store and the new Kingfisher’s Captain’s Grill in Solomons, both the eight-ouncer and the four-ounce Babycake are easier than ever to come by.

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