Riverdale Restaurant: Old Time Chesapeake Dining
by Gabby Crabcakes
As nice as it is to have a romantic dinner for two, it's also a lot of fun to get a group of friends together for a leisurely meal. You know the routine: good food, good friends, good times. It's also a great opportunity to explore uncharted dining establishments. Of course, certain issues arise when choosing a restaurant that not only appeals to the taste buds of multiple diners but also is conveniently located.
The Riverdale Restaurant in Pasadena was our mutually agreed upon destination. It drew us a little off the beaten path by sheer longevity (70 years) and promising vistas (it sits on the banks of the Magothy River).
Owned and operated since 1981 by husband and wife Charlie and Dee Vane, the Riverdale is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. Originally a grocery store, the restaurant has changed hands a few times. From 1951 to 1962, it was owned by Charlie Vane's father. With a close eye on day-to-day operations, the Vanes strive to offer "a friendly place, with good food, that you can visit in casual dress" (e.g., after a day on the boat).
With 350 feet of waterfront, what once was a remote spot is now a rapidly developing neighborhood as well as a haven for boaters.
The restaurant itself is large, serving upwards of 240 people. There is a separate room off the river available for private functions, like the Rotary that meets here for dinner every week. Most of the everyday dining happens in the large dining room facing the water. It's hard to miss the views with three walls of windows. The motif is, of course, nautical. There are ship's wheels and retro (some may say dated) wall paper featuring clippers. Actually, there's a little of this and a little of that throughout the Riverdale: Just what one would expect from a restaurant that has survived seven decades. It's not fancy, but it's not intended to be.
Upon entering, you are immediately drawn to the long dark bar. Featuring a decorative cedar shingle roof, mock brick back-splash, Christmas lights (and watermelon lights), inflatable beer promotions and the all-important Ravens and Nascar schedules, this is the kind of bar where you could lose some time and share a story or two.
By calling ahead, we were assured a window table. Our server was quick to make introduction and take drink orders. I can't say it was seamless service (they must have been short-staffed), but our waitress tried hard to make us feel comfortable. There were a few disconnects, but we were having fun and not in any hurry.
There may be water, boating and relaxing, but this should not be confused with spa cuisine. The menu is rich with what I'll call Chesapeake Country cooking. There's crab (local when available) in a variety of forms (imperial, cake, soft, salad), scallops, shrimp, oysters (in season) and lobster; steaks and chops; chicken and roast beef.
There are all sorts of combinations; such as, The Riverdale ($21.95) with stuffed shrimp, soft crab, and crab cake (broiled or fried); and the Cat Tail Creek ($19.95) with crab cake and filet mignon. On the lighter side, there are salads (crab, $18.95 and shrimp $13.95) and smaller platters for smaller appetites (Chicken Little $6.95 for one-quarter fried chicken). All entrees come with a choice of a bevy of fresh vegetables and homemade side dishes. Pick from pickled beets, Polish cabbage, baked potato, stewed tomatoes, tossed salad and fried eggplant (to name a few).
With six at our table, we knew we'd get a good flavor of what Riverdale had to offer. To start, we split a basket of shredded clams ($5.95) and intriguing spicy cheese balls ($3.95). The basket of clams was huge and could easily have been a meal for two. The clams arrived hot and tender and were accompanied by tartar and cocktail sauces. The spicy cheese balls were a mystery to us, but still very tasty. A platter of about two dozen small fried balls of cheese were served with a dish of spicy mustard and plastic sword toothpicks. For libation, the wine list is very limited, although the house chardonney was decent and only $2.50. Heineken was $3.25 and ample cocktails $3.50.
For entrees, we were disappointed to hear they were out of soft crab, which figured prominently in several of the combination platters. I ordered the fish of the day, orange roughy, stuffed with crab imperial ($18.50). The fish was broiled moist and flaky. The crab imperial was a large heaping of lumps of crab, with a mayonnaise-type binder dolloped on top. The serving was huge, and, coupled with the coleslaw (very good) and fried eggplant (I had to get something fried), the doggie bag was imminent.
Around the table, broiled scallops, broiled crab cakes, and fried chicken were the popular entrees. Polish cabbage, potato salad, lima beans and tossed salad were also well represented. Several clean plates were revealed, but there was no room for dessert in anyone's stomach.
A good time was had by all at Riverdale Restaurant on the banks of the Magothy River.
Riverdale Restaurant: 143 Inverness
Pasadena · 410/647-9830
Proprietors: Charlie & Dee Vane
Reason to go: Chesapeake country cooking in a casual setting that has stood the test of time.
Something to think about: There's some serious frying going on & appetizers are probably overkill, unless you are really hungry.
| Issue 35 |
Volume VII Number 35
September 2-8, 1999
New Bay Times
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