Bay Bites
Wagners' Steamboat Landing: Seafood with a Bay View
by Gabby Crabcakes

A trip to Galesville was in order to investigate the reincarnation of Steamboat Landing, a beautiful spot on the West River that has struggled with identity and success in the past. The vistas are tranquil and the esthetic improvements, thanks to the previous owner, add a more refined decor.

Brothers Jeff and Andy Wagner, who bought the restaurant earlier this summer at a bankruptcy auction, are applying their high-tech business acumen to the high risk food industry. After achieving success from building and selling their computer software company, they decided to take a new path. With no previous restaurant experience, the Wagners are combining the existing Steamboat Landing structure with the operations and culinary expertise of Jerry's Seafood Restaurant of Seabrook, Md.

The Wagners have contracted with Jerry's to provide trademarked menus, recipes and day-to-day operational guidance and support.

The restaurant itself appears larger than reality: The deception comes from the large deck and surrounding boat slips (26 available for patrons at no charge). A private boardwalk connects the restaurant to land and ample parking. Weather permitting, the majority of activity and dining is outside, but our recent visit on a brisk fall evening brought us inside. (I should mention that a few die-hards braved the chill to dine al fresco). A cozy table for two next to one of the walls of windows in the main dining room was a comfortable beginning. With seating for 50, the room is intimate without being claustrophobic. The high ceilings and dark polished wood paneling add to the drama.

A dichotomy exists at Wagners' Steamboat Landing. The dining room is refined with white table cloths and candlelight and the menu is pricey - some of the most expensive entrees in our area - while the service is casual - at times uninspired - and the presentation lacks imagination. The quality is obvious, but the preparation is more "mom and pop" than fine dining. Our server was friendly and helpful, at one point summoning the manager to address questions (the special fried oysters were Blue Point, while the soft shells were from Deale). Timing was good, and everything arrived at appropriate temperature. However our small table became cluttered with dirty dishes and was not cleared until the check arrived. That's not something you would expect in a better restaurant.

The menu at Wagners' is full of Jerry's Seafood specialties, mostly dishes made of jumbo Venezuelan crabmeat. Personally, I'm a Maryland crab loyalist, but I have to admit the Venezuelan brand served here is excellent.

Starting with soups and appetizers, you'll find cream of crab soup ($6.25), a cup topped with a generous mound of lump crab. There's also crab puffs (2 for $12.95) and crab casino ($10.95) which intrigued us when described as jumbo lump crab baked with a blend of Swiss cheese, bacon and garlic butter. Served in an escargot dish and sided with a small piece of garlic toast, the crab was mild and delicately flavored, making a nice beginning to share or an entree when paired with a salad. But I had a job to do, so we moved on to the next course.

While the list of entrees is limited to seafood, we were told steak and chicken options were available upon request, and a new menu would be including some non-seafood options in the near future.

For now we were vexed with deciding between crab cakes ($26.95), the mariners platter ($29.95, a fried chef's variety) and fried shrimp ($24.95). Other choices included such house specialties as the crab bomb ($29.95), a 10-ounce crab ball lightly seasoned and baked, and crab imperial ($29.95). While deciding, we were treated with a sampling of the evenings special fried oysters, compliments of the manager. They were small and tasty, lightly fried but not greasy.

We ultimately selected the baby bomb ($23.95), a smaller six-ounce version of the original, and the crab imperial stuffed soft shells. As promised there was no filler with the baby bomb, a large portion of lightly seasoned big lumps of crab. The soft shells, a serving of three smaller crabs instead of the usual two larger, were fried and generously filled with imperial. Again, this entree was lightly fried with a crusty exterior, while the crab itself remained moist and wonderful. All entrees include a choice of two sides such as salad, baked potato and a very flavorful cup of stewed tomatoes.

A full bar offers libations of choice, while the wine list (while limited) has a nice selection of both glasses and bottles ($4.50-$6.75 and $15-$26, and Dom Perignon $150).

For overkill, there are desserts. Purchased through a vendor, the evening's selection included key lime pie and cheesecake. While I had to pass, I did request what little was left to be wrapped up for latter consumption. It would be a sin to waste any of this good crab.

Wagner's Steamboat Landing
4851 Riverside Drive Galesville 410/867-7200

Proprietors: Andy & Jeff Wagner

Reason to go: The views are glorious and the crab is delicious.

Something to think about: You pay a premium. Are you worth it?

| Issue 43 |

Volume VII Number 43
October 28-November 3, 1999
New Bay Times

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