A Taste of Nostalgia and More at Freds Restaurant
by Gabby Crabcakes
Years ago, while living in DC, I read in Washingtonian magazine that the best crab cakes in the area were to be found at Freds in Annapolis. Not familiar with Annapolis, I had a mental image of a waterside restaurant with all the nautical accouterment expected from a place famous for its crab dishes. I made a mental note to find and dine at this renowned spot when opportunity presented itself.
So I was surprised to discover upon moving to Annapolis that Freds is not what you would expect - in more ways than one.
Inconspicuous in appearance, Freds is located across from the nearly deserted Parole Plaza. Since 1960, Freds has seen much change. Owner Martha Christo says that back when her husband (deceased) and two friends (one named Fred) opened their doors, there were only 15 restaurants in Annapolis. Through the years, Annapolis has grown and changed all around Freds, but that doesn't necessarily mean Freds has changed. While competition has grown considerably, Freds has remained a touchstone for loyal patrons and a good example of what non-franchise business is all about: personality.
Although expansion and refurbishment have occurred over the years, Freds retains the aura and original recipes of an old-fashioned yet dependable friend.
The restaurant is large, seating over 250. It's deceiving since the whole is divided into separate themed dining rooms. Each room has been designed and decorated with careful thought and attention. Many of the fixtures - such as Tiffany lamps, converted Victorian oil lamps and stained glass windows - were rescued from Baltimore mansions and churches that were being torn down in the '60s. The musical instruments in the lounge and some of the fine furniture have come from antique dealers. There's a lot to look at if you choose; otherwise it all seems to fit.
The Wine Room is my favorite, not because of the wall of wine bottles (though I do find it inspirational) but because it tends to have the most action. Located next to the lounge, it is a smoking section (and actively used as such), but the ventilation system works pretty well. The room is dark, with the only natural light coming from the stained glass windows. Tables are draped in red cloths and the floors and walls are dark.
For the newcomer to Freds, people-watching is a must. With some patrons dining here for almost 40 years, there's clear familiarity and camaraderie. As many of the patrons have longevity, so do many of the staff. Service can ebb and flow (we got forgotten at a corner table), but for the most part these waitresses take their careers very seriously and can really hustle. Be sure to let them know if you're a first-timer. We got extra special care on our first outing several years ago.
On the menu, too, there are options. The twilight supper (Mon.-Fri. 4-6pm and Sat. & Sun. noon-6pm) is a great value, including soup or salad, vegetable, starch, coffee or tea plus your choice of over 20 entrees - all for under $12.00. A lunch menu is available seven days a week from 11am-4pm. There is also a limited children's' menu. On the dinner menu, if you're a light eater or interested in complementing a larger appetizer, there is a petite-fare section. Since I was doing research, it was my duty to make the most of my ordering.
Dinners are served with a house salad and choice of starch or warm rolls. With so many courses, it may not be necessary to start with an appetizer; however, I do recommend the hot crab and spinach dip ($9.95). Freds is generous with lump crab in most of the dishes I've sampled, and their crab dip is no exception. This cheesy rendition is complemented with spinach and served in a bubbling crock. For true decadence, the dip is served with buttery garlic toast. It's a meal in itself.
On my most recent outing, we tried an order of the steamed cherrystone clams (half doz. $7.95), which were presented with all the accessories (melted butter, broth, cocktail sauce and lemon). The clams were larger than usual and a little chewy, but they were nicely seasoned with Old Bay and, we suspect, a secret ingredient (maybe nutmeg?).
While my destiny was predetermined, don't assume crab cakes are the only option. Seafood, steaks and Italian dishes are well represented: Eggplant Parmigiana ($10.95), chicken Florentine ($10.95), porterhouse steak ($21.95), seafood Newburg ($16.45). My companion had the imperial crab and filet mignon ($18.45) which was a nice pairing. The filet was small (maybe 4 or 5 oz.), but you won't go hungry: the imperial was riddled with big lumps of crab. Whatever else strikes your fancy, I encourage you to select the stuffed potato as your starch. These are great.
As for the crab cakes, they are still wonderful. Freds' style is unique with a glaze of some kind (a mayo or egg mixture, but I'm guessing). There is filling, but it doesn't compete with the ample crab. The glaze makes it unnecessary to garnish with a sauce. The recipe, created by the late Mr. Christo, remains a closely guarded secret. The two cakes are large; I usually take one home for lunch, but a fork kept reaching across the table.
They may not be the best for everyone, with so much more competition these days, but they're consistently good.
One final note: Stohli martini only $3.75 with a side car. Need I say more?
2348 Solomons Island Rd. Annapolis/Parole · 410/224-3575
Proprietor: Martha Christo
Reason to go: A taste of nostalgia and those yummy crab cakes.
Something to think about: Trendy it's not, and the dinner rush is usually over by 7:30pm.
| Issue 30 |
Volume VII Number 30
July 29 - August 4, 1999
New Bay Times
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