Food & Drink

 Vol. 10, No. 34

August 22-28, 2002

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Best of the Bay 2002

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Best Restaurant Overall
Whether you’ve come for tapas and some of the best sangria anywhere, or a classic Spanish meal, or a simple Mexican lunch, you can’t help but be impressed with Jalapeño’s.

Not only is the food prepared with real imagination and artistry but the service is crisp and professional. Even the décor is understated and pleasant. Despite its unlikely location in Forest Plaza shopping center, you’ll leave with the feeling that you’ve been someone’s guest for dinner rather than just another customer.

Most Romantic Restaurant for Dinner
Old Field Inn
Here’s a twist on the usual: Beautiful as the Bay is, Bay Weekly readers in the mood for romance are smitten by the country charm of Old Field Inn. Slowed down, that drive through the country — you’re not on the way to work, now — softens the hard edges of daily life. Then, instead of rushing along Rt. 2/4 or zooming into one of its quick-exit edge stops, you ease into Prince Frederick proper, a small town in the classic sense, which is itself a rare commodity in Chesapeake Country. Drive up the green hill, and all those sparkling lights set the spell. Once you enter the restored old mansion — where each room is small, charming and private feeling — you’re in the mood for love. No hurry. This night is yours.

Most Scenic Dining
The Inn at Pirates Cove
Since the 1920s, diners hungry for a good meal and a spectacular view have come to the Inn at Pirates Cove (originally Zang’s Pier) in Galesville, overlooking the scenic West River. And over the years the view has only gotten better as a one-time dockside porch was upgraded to a four-season dining room and as outdoor seating along the pier has doubled.

Over the years, diners keep coming back for the same view and the same warm hospitality. Since 1960, bartender Joe Williams has twisted the ear of many a visiting sailor, only to remember the visitor — by name — 20 years later. Mainstays as well are the waitstaff, a corps of mostly women who make sure that your dining experience matches the million-dollar view.

Summertime, drop anchor at Pirates Cove and settle back with a cold drink on a warm night to enjoy the view. Equally breathtaking is the wintertime view at Pirates Cove, when far fewer boats line the docks and three fireplaces warm the restaurant

Best Splurge Restaurant
Lewnes Steak House
Make a killing in the stock market? Aunt Thelma leave you a surprise inheritance? Or, just want to feel special, eat fabulous food and be treated like you deserve to?

Bay Weekly readers say the place to splurge is Lewnes Steakhouse in Eastport. Lewnes does everything a great steak house should — and then some. Ambiance is thick: low light, a black acoustic ceiling, leather banquettes and comfortable armchairs. You feel like a VIP with a wine list that offers bottles in the $1000 range and lobsters at 19.95 a pound with a three-pound minimum.

Lewnes is an indulgence to be savored.

Best Place for a Cheap Date
Happy Harbor Inn, Deale
Walking into the Happy Harbor is like walking into a time warp.

In the heyday of American restaurants, when the growing middle class first started heading out for dinner, a place like Happy Harbor is where they sat down and ate. These were small, family-run places, where the waitresses knew you by name, as did the person at the next table, likely a neighbor. All the food came big. Big servings on big plates. Big plates of what today is trendily called comfort food. Better yet, it was cheap, cheap enough for the whole family to go out or, perhaps, for a highschooler's first date.

At Happy Harbor, none of that has changed, earning it Bay Weekly readers’ favorite destination for a cheap date. Hurry in before the Harbor gets wise and raises the prices — or the gargantuan, conglomerate, mom-and-pop-devouring TGI-Tuesday-ers catch onto the secret.

Best Bakery
Great Harvest Bread Company

“What would you like a taste of?” are the first words to greet you when you enter Great Harvest Bread Company. On the board in front of you are the day’s breads, scones, muffins and cookies. The staff cuts a generous slice of cranberry crunch bread. It’s good, but maybe you’ll like the lemon blueberry bliss better. You’ll have to try that too, and the blueberry oat muffin and the caramel-coconut scone. After all, how can you decide what to buy without a taste test? Perhaps you’d like to add a little butter from one of the crocks that are also set out.

Visiting Great Harvest isn’t just about buying bread. “Be loose and have fun, bake phenomenal bread, run fast to help customers, create strong, exciting bakeries, and give generously to others.” That’s the mission statement of this “freedom-based franchise.” By selecting Great Harvest as the best bakery, Bay Weekly readers say that the mission is being met.

Great Harvest grinds its own wheat and does not use artificial preservatives. Its honey whole wheat bread is made with only five ingredients: wheat, water, yeast, salt, and honey. The staff recommends the round loaves because they bake better and thus taste better. Of course, you’ll have to learn the Great Harvest “patented” method for slicing a round loaf. Once you’ve tasted a Great Harvest loaf, you won’t go back to grocery store bread, even if your slicing technique needs some work.

And you’ll never get bored with Great Harvest. Honey whole wheat and honey white breads are baked every day. Then there are the monthly breads, with a different selection available each day.

Best Deli
Giolitti Delicatessen
Established in Rome in 1889, Giolitti’s brings more than a little bit of Italy to Bay Country.

There’s the obligatory selection of lovely cheeses, olives and meats as well as the best selection of Italian wines in Bay Country. And the fresh-baked Tuscan bread and focaccia must not be missed. The ready-to-bake freshly made basil manicotti, various lasagnas and other pasta entrees make it easy to impress dinner guests with your cooking skills.

The dining room does a brisk lunch trade thanks to a large selection of sandwiches and hot entrees. You'd be hard pressed to leave Giolitti's hungry — unless you hit the lunch rush and don't have time to wait in line.

Best Fisherman's Breakfast
Happy Harbor
“Being a fisherman, I can appreciate the outcome of this vote by Bay Weekly readers,” says Bill Burton. “Happy Harbor is one of my three favorite Bay morning eateries. Breakfast is the only meal I've enjoyed at Happy Harbor because the boats aren't around for lunch, and by dinner time I'm home to dine on fresh rockfish or sea trout. With a meaty menu — choose from creamed chipped beef, scrapple, sausage, bacon — plus eggs and pancakes (combine several in the Belly Buster), you won't leave Happy Harbor’s table hungry. And though the service is prompt and efficient, it's not like a fast food joint on the road to there.”

Best Breakfast or Brunch
Rod ‘n’ Reel
Yes, Bay Weekly readers know they really shouldn’t do it. But Rod ‘n’ Reel’s stupendous Sunday brunch simply can’t be resisted. Once more this year, readers have voted their hearts (rather than their heart’s health) by lining up for fresh fried donuts; waffles slathered with whipped cream and strawberries; omelets cooked to order, full of ham and cheese and veggies; fleets of biscuits smothered in sausage gravy — plus sides of sausage, bacon and ham. Wait, there’s still more eggs, and don’t forget the potatoes, or the bagels or the toast. Still hungry? Try sweet rolls and muffins for dessert. If there’s any room left, finish with fresh fruit.

Yes! said Bay Weekly readers, yes!

Best Pizza
Ledo Pizza
For more than 40 years, Ledo Pizza has been winning fans with its flaky-crusted pizza … cake. Yes, more a cake than a pie, Ledo's square pizza — "We don't cut corners" — is the choice of Bay Weekly readers for Best Pizza on the Bay a second year in a row. Originally a mom-and-pop restaurant outside College Park, Ledo has graduated to a regional chain boasting more than 52 locations in seven states, each the same signature pizza — with its slightly sweet sauce, its ample toppings and its mounds of cheese — created at the original Adelphi location near College Park back in the ‘60s.

Best Mexican Restaurant
That a restaurant with a mostly Spanish menu also serves the best Mexican food in Bay Country is a tribute to the owner and chef, and to our readers who can ferret out a hidden treasure.

What sets Jalapeño’s apart is fresh, high quality ingredients and careful food preparations. There’s much more to Jalapeño’s cuisine than the too common combinations of waxy cheese, refried beans, tortillas and ground beef that lesser eateries endlessly rearrange. The staff and service is professional and the atmosphere more elegant than the typical Mexican dive.

Best Oriental/Asian Restaurant
China Harbor
Fresh, fresh, fresh! No wonder readers took China Harbor, all the way down in Solomons, to the top of the list for Best Oriental/Asian Restaurant. There is nothing in their open-for-viewing kitchen that comes pre-made or contains MSG. Family recipes call for no animal fat, and all sauces to be made from scratch. And sauces there are! You can let your palate choose the flair you would like in a sauce and from there choose the ingredients underneath. Same goes with the veggies. In the mood for snow peas, string beans, asparagus, broccoli or a mix? Once you've decided on the vegetable then you choose the seafood, poultry or meat you'd like to have with it. All the regular lo meins, chow meins and sweet and sours are also available. Plan on dining in on beautiful inlaid tables or carrying it home to the comfort of your own couch. Either way, join in with those readers who've eaten there enough to know why China Harbor shouldn't be missed.

Best Sushi
Look for sushi in a 1976 American Heritage Dictionary and you’ll find that the phenomenon of raw and cooked fish noshes is hard to define — in this case impossible as there was no such listing. Yet there's no denying sushi's current popularity, and the place to nibble is Tsunami in Annapolis.

This trendy establishment is a newcomer that obviously filled a need. After opening in 1999, Tsunami completed a sizable expansion last year, doubling its ability to satisfy eager appetites. Sushi Chef Stanley Hsu presides over the busy sushi bar with a colorful collection of sushi, sashimi hand rolls and California rolls. It doesn't hurt that all the groovy people hang out here, too.

Best Crabhouse
Cantler’s Riverside Inn
The constant thwack of wooden mallets sounds like a horde of carpenters rushing to finish their work, the smell of Old Bay seeps into your clothes, the brown paper laid across your table makes you smile with anticipation and the din of voices makes it too difficult for any serious conversation.

Aahhh, just another day at Cantler’s Riverside Inn, which is enjoying it’s second year as the Bay Weekly readers’ choice for Best Crabhouse.

The tables stretch from one end of the room to the other and the wait staff scurries about, bringing a dozen jimmies here, two dozen there. Don’t forget that pitcher of beer.

If you’re lucky, you’ll find a seat outside on the deck overlooking Mill Creek. Work boats and pleasure boats will be tied up at the dock.

Cantler’s is difficult to find by land, but it’s well known. On a busy night, you’ll sit elbow to elbow with your neighbor, but that’ll give you a chance to observe other crab picking techniques or offer a little advice to a tourist.

Best Crab Cakes
The evening sky turns dark, the waters of Island Creek reflect moonlight and candlelight — and Stoney’s Seafood House on Broomes Island bustles with activity. The weekend crowd awaits their first taste of the best crabcake on the Bay.

The crab cake never disappoints. Whether you opt for the four ounce size or the mammoth eight ouncer, it’s always the same. The smooth, tasty soft interior filled with delicate and lush crab, not a hint of filler, covered by a crisp, never greasy, exterior. Tucked into a great tasting bun, ahh heaven! Just try getting the eight-ouncer, lettuce, tomato and tartar sauce into your mouth.

Few things can be counted on to remain the same in our rapidly changing world, but Stoney’s crab cake manages to be consistently delicious. You can try to avoid the crowds by visiting Stoney’s other sites — Fox Run Shopping Center in Prince Frederick and Kingfishers Captain’s Grill at Calvert Marine in Solomons, but don’t bet on it.

What you can count on, Bay Weekly readers agree, is Stoney’s as the best crab cake on the Bay.

Best Soft Shell Crab
Cantler’s Riverside Inn
When a crab sheds its shell in order to grow, it’s all meat. But within 24 hours, it will be hard again. Removing the crab from the water as soon as it sheds, when it feels like velvet, is the trick to the perfect soft shell. That’s what Canter’s Riverside Inn does so well, and that’s why it’s again Bay Weekly readers’ choice for best soft shell crab.

Cantler’s crab deck holds its shedding tanks where the “peeler” crabs are checked as often as every hour. The “velvets” are removed and chilled, which prevents the new shell from hardening.

Cantler’s thus avoids serving “shippers,” soft shell crabs that are shipped and that form a soft shell, which has the texture of a grocery bag. At Cantler’s, if a crab has gotten a little too hard, it will not be served.

The soft shells are lightly battered and fried, but these velvets are so filled with water, they cook from the inside, actually steaming.

Best Steak
Steak, the great American food (watch out, Oprah). It comes in many sizes, shapes and forms, but our readers say the best place to feed on the hoof is Lewnes Steakhouse in Eastport. Readers agree that this independently owned and operated restaurant can serve it up against the chains and plate the best steaks in our area. Cornfed and aged whatever style you choose — porterhouse, prime rib and filet. Always prepared perfectly and topped with butter, it will literally melt in your mouth. Fabulous steak does not come cheap, however (see Best Splurge).

Best Barbecue
Adam's the Place for Ribs
Barbecue is as much a part of America as baseball, hot dogs and apple pie. Originally a means to make palatable the lowest cuts of meat from hogs and cattle, barbecue has evolved to an art practiced in backyard grills across the U.S.A. Regional flavor and flair infuse barbecue in every part of the country: Memphis-style barbecue is sweet and sticky; Texas barbecue is beef brisket, cooked so long it dissolves in your mouth; North Carolina-style is tangy with vinegar. No matter the style, barbecue should be moist and tender enough to fall away from the bone or split along the grain when pierced with a fork.

Whether you're looking for pork ribs, beef brisket or Carolina dipping sauce, you'll find them at Adam's, the Place for Ribs. Maybe that's why Bay Weekly readers voted Adam's the Best Barbecue. It might also have something to do with the consistently satisfying barbecue served not only at the original Edgewater location but also in Eastport, Prince Frederick, Severna Park plus Columbia and Fruitland.

Best Burger
Fudrucker's is one of those chain restaurants that are always busy, and Fudrucker's has earned that busy with a focused devotion to one thing: burgers. Walking into a Fudrucker's you're immediately reminded why you are there. Burgers. Before you reach the counter where you place your order, waiting to feed the crowds behind brightly-lit glass cases are mounds of … Burgers.

Whatever your appetite, there's a burger for you, cooked to perfection, at Fudrucker's, from a quarter-pounder up to a half-pound monster. There's even an ostrich burger, which tastes surprisingly good and has less fat and cholesterol than breast-meat chicken. There are chicken sandwiches as well as salads for those not leaning toward ground beef, but then why go to a burger joint?

Fudrucker’s self-serve condiments let you make your own perfect burger, with fresh-cut tomatoes and lettuce, pickles and onions, relish and jalapeños and a whole lot more. Best of all, you get unlimited napkins.

Best Fries
They couldn’t help themselves. Like most Americans, Bay Weekly readers are addicted to McDonald’s french fries. They know, as we all do, that these fried and refried crisps are so bad for you that a whole book, Fast Food Nation, plus an article in New Yorker have been written about what they’re sooner or later going to do to you. But that’s someday. Here and now, there are times when there’s nothing in the world you want more than a fried fix of salt and animal fat. Thus spake Bay Weekly readers.

Best Wings
ACME Bar & Grill • Catamaran's
The quintessential bar food is the chicken wing, so it makes sense that northern Bay Weekly readers found their favorite wing in a bar: Acme Bar and Grill in Annapolis, to be exact.

Noted for their live music and spirited mingling, Acme has also made a name by offering over a dozen preparations to choose from so you can pick a wing that best suits your style. Are you Cajun or barbecue, Thai or Buffalo? They're all finger-lickin' good. A best bet is to hit happy hour, when you can snack on wings at only a quarter a pop.

Down south, wing-hungry readers get their fix at Catamarans, the Solomons destination overlooking the Patuxent River. Here Buffalo’s the style, with variety in the heat. The range rises from mild through hot to — beware! — “suicide” or “death wish.” Still you’ll die happy — or at least not hungry.

Best Oysters
McGarvey's Saloon and Oyster Bay
For more than 100 years, oysters were king in Chesapeake Bay. In those days, taverns in seafaring towns served oysters brought fresh ashore and shucked on the premises, often by the bartender. Annapolis was no different, with a number of oyster bars lining City Dock, the one-time center of commercial fishing.

Gone are those days along with the abundant native oyster population that fueled those glory days.

An appetite for oysters, however, never waned, and oysters are still king for true seafood lovers. Among Bay Weekly voters, the best place for oysters is at McGarvey's Saloon and Oyster Bay.

McGarvey's is a tribute to the oyster bars of 100 years ago. The dark-wooded paneling and long, polished main bar beckon you inward. Farther back, beyond a dining room, runs the marble-topped oyster bar. Weekends and weekdays for happy hour, here is where the succulent bivalves are pried open and served with the bare essentials: a wedge of lemon, a little cocktail sauce, maybe a dash of Tabasco. Look for the true oyster aficionados barside at happy hour, where you can often slurp them back for only 25 cents apiece.

Best Place for Dessert
CD Cafe • 49 West
On the best desserts in Chesapeake Country, Bay Weekly readers took their cue from Thanksgiving’s dessert bounty, saying, ‘We’ll have a bit of this, and a bit of that, too, please!’

When you’re down South in Solomons, they say, you can’t do better than CD Cafe. Part-owner and pastry chef Catherine File creates all her confections daily. Key lime pie, creme brulee and cheesecake are almost always available, with flavors varying on the latter two. Today’s dessert lovers can also choose from coconut cake, chocolate truffle cake, carrot cake and sour cream apple pie. Who knows what delicious decadent dessert File will whip up tomorrow. But according to our readers, you are hardly taking a chance at the CD Cafe.

In Annapolis, they say, you can’t go wrong stopping into the coffeehouse and winebar 49 West to finish a meal (it had better have been a light one) or indulge in a sweet for its own sake. Long hours mean that you can stop in whenever the craving strikes, from late morning through late night. Cakes here are tall, rich, exotic and pricey, with big slices presented prettily on their plates. But after you’ve savored yours all up, you’re likely to wish you hadn’t eaten the whole thing.

Best Ice Cream
Tastee Freeze
It’s not only the ice cream, you understand. It’s the experience. Ice cream parlors are like oases, and the ice-cream loving nomads of Chesapeake Country have them all mapped. Among the real parlors are big-names like Dairy Queens in Arnold and Edgewater, and smaller shops in Chesapeake Beach, Huntingtown and Prince Frederick. Nowadays, in most communities you can find a soft-serve shack (Deale has two), and Annapolis is ice cream heaven, with a half dozen downtown and suburban choices including Ben and Jerrys.

With so many choices, why do Bay Weekly readers love North Beach’s Tastee Freeze best?

First of all, clearly, is the fact that they’ve got ice cream, both scoopable and soft, and not only the standard chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. Here too are fun flavors, plus quite good no-sugar-added vanilla for diet-conscious ice-cream lovers.

The clearest advantage in Tastee Freeze’s favor is that it puts the fun back into eating ice cream. Unless you’re desperate for ice cream, who wants to be handed a cone, shake or sundae that you’re going to have to eat in the car? To acceptable indoor seating, Tastee Freeze adds exceptional outdoors seating. Here you take your Tastee treat to nice outdoors tables, where, if you look one way, you can watch the North Beach action, and if you look another, Bay and boardwalk action. Want to get closer to the water? The view readers call the best in Bay Country is only a block away.

Here you can have your ice cream and seating, too.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly