By Michaila Shahan
Starting from the historical sign on Solomons Island Road, I embarked on a cultural, food-destined, historical expedition last weekend.
It was a Culinary Quest, a creation of Gwyn Novak, chef and owner of No Thyme to Cook in Solomons. Novak has recently begun offering these self-guided tours, leading visitors and locals on a tasty scavenger hunt with clues and riddles to “discover” the next location and assemble a meal along the way. It’s a miniature foodie adventure around the island in search of your day’s lunch, with some help from an app you download to your smartphone.
Blending local fare and historical facts together, participants pick up multiple lunch items as they visit significant landmarks on the island, hopefully learning a bit along the way.
Opening up the app on a late Sunday morning and prepared with tennis shoes to walk the 1¼ mile quest, I began by reading about an early bridge that separated Solomons from the Avondale mainland, followed by a couple of hints for my first restaurant stop.
After answering a word-scramble riddle correctly, I headed over to pick up a takeout bag of Maryland crab dip with oven-baked bread. Sitting with my appetizer on one of the white benches along the riverwalk, overlooking the Patuxent, and feeling a light breeze on this rare 70-degree day, I was surprised to learn that Solomons once anticipated a James Adams Floating Theatre in the early 20th century.
My visions of the island’s past expanded even more after tapping the “next” button, when I was directed to a scenic route around the island, down less busy streets and out onto roads with unobstructed views of the Bay meeting the river.
The app informed me of long-gone but important steamboats on the wharf, big scientific discoveries in places I walked by, and some little-known facts about the Naval Air Station visible on the other side of the river.
With some new-found appreciation for the land I walked on, I filled out another riddle to win my next piece of lunch: a chicken salad. No ordinary mix of lettuce and meat, this wrap came with little, bursting pieces of mandarin oranges, cucumbers, goat cheese, and a garnish of fennel and vinaigrette (also available in croissant form).
One last riddle solved and I found myself enjoying the trip’s finale with a serving of dessert and a VIP view of Back Creek. As I dug into a soft key lime pie mousse, nearly so light that I couldn’t feel its weight on the plastic fork, I looked out over the wharf to take in a view of the numerous colorful boats dotting the shoreline as they bobbed below the massive visiting tall ship Kalmar Nyckel.
This entire experience was inspired by a trip Novak once took to Georgetown on a similar culinary quest. She told her chefs, “We could so do this in Solomons,” and began a program that packaged both the urban idea of culinary experiences and a local history lesson of Solomons’ past into one.
Culinary Quests take place Fridays through Sundays on the first and third weekend of every month until October. The items I chose are just one option of many; restaurants participating in the Quest offer special, secret menus with multiple choices, and tickets cover all food expenses.
Novak is collaborating with area restaurants, the Calvert Marine Museum and Richard J. Dodd’s book Solomons Island and Vicinity: An Illustrated History. Novak’s quests aim to offer “the full experience…the whole community working together.” They provide not only a fun adventure, but a lasting memory and appreciation for a delicious culture.
Buy a ticket ($45) for July 15-17 and wait for your clues at nothymetocook.com/.