A Trip to Cantler's Gives
an Ex-Marylander a Taste of Home
During a Visit to the Chesapeake.
by Ann Levelle, October 2009
When my friend Annie comes back to visit each summer from Charleston, S.C., she only has a short window in which to cram all of her favorite Maryland activities. So husband John and I have taken it upon ourselves to make sure she gets a boat ride and a crab feast. What can I say? We're good friends. . . .
For the first leg of this year's cruise, we headed to the Rhode River, enjoying a great sail and a quiet night on the hook. On Sunday we turned back toward Annapolis, bound for the ever-popular Jimmy Cantler's Riverside Inn on Mill Creek--known far and wide simply as Cantler's. It was about two on a cloudy and slightly muggy Sunday afternoon when we got to Mill Creek's winding entrance. We hoped that the threat of rain and lack of sun would keep the restaurant from being totally packed--or at least its slips from being full. Thankfully we were right.
Knowing Cantler's doesn't monitor the VHF, we headed straight for the docks and I hopped off the boat at the fuel dock to find a dockhand. He assured me that there was a good five to six feet in the slips and said we could pull in wherever we liked. There were three slips open out of the dozen or so on site, so John pulled into the farthest from the bulkhead, which had plenty of water.
While John and Annie tended to dock lines, I headed up the stairs to the main dining patio and then inside to the hostess station to put our name on the list for a table. The patio was crowded, but I was told we'd have a table pretty quickly. So I took my table-alert beacon and headed back to meet John and Annie on the boat. We turned on some tunes, cracked open a round of beers and relaxed in the cockpit. While waiting, we watched a boat come up to the bulkhead and unload bushel after bushel of crabs as restaurant employees culled through them, sorting the crabs by size and carting them off to the steamers. Now that's what I call fresh!
After only a 20-minute wait our table-alert beacon began buzzing and we headed up the stairs to the uncovered side of the patio overlooking the creek. Cantler's features both an indoor dining room--with wood-paneled walls and very long family-style tables--and a large patio, half of which is fully covered with more long tables. Inside and out, there's the sound of ubiquitous brown paper being torn off its rolls echoing amongst the chatter of diners and the cracking of crab claws.
As soon as we were seated at our half of a picnic table overlooking Mill Creek, we ordered crab and lobster quesadillas and some pan seared ahi tuna. We hadn't eaten since very early that morning and needed something to hold us over till crab time.
Our appetizers arrived quickly, and we dove right into the quesadillas. Full of tender lobster and crabmeat and held together lightly by cheese and tortillas, they were not even the slightest bit greasy, and an excellent beginning to our meal. As we ate, we perused the menu to see if other items could tempt us away from eating steamed crabs alone. Annie and John were content to split a dozen extra-larges. But I was so impressed by our appetizers (did I mention the perfectly seared tuna?) that I couldn't stop scanning the menu for other fresh seafood. A fresh rockfish platter? Stuffed jumbo shrimp? Seafood crepes? It all looked delicious.
In the end I opted for the Cantler's Crab Boil--a heaping mound of steamed mussels, clams and shrimp, plus three large steamed crabs, corn on the cob and coleslaw. It gave me the best of both worlds: lots of mouthwatering seafood plus a few crabs to pick and enjoy. The dozen extra-larges that Annie and John split were indeed extra large and they were as juicy and full of sweet meat as a crab can get.
After an hour or so of good crab eating and beer drinking, we were all stuffed and happy, and Annie was thoroughly ecstatic about her Maryland crab feast. Mission accomplished.
Cantler's is located at 458 Forest Beach Rd., in Annapolis. It's not easy to find by land, but by water it's a piece of cake. Head to Whitehall Bay and then to Mill Creek, which is the westernmost creek off Whitehall Bay. Cantler's is about a half-mile up on the western side. The restaurant has a fuel dock and about a dozen slips in front of the restaurant, all first-come-first-served, and dockage is free for diners. The restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner. Sandwiches and salads $7-$15; entrees and platters $17-$25; steamed crabs are priced daily. 410-757-1311;www.cantlers.com