Ah, there's nothing quite like comfort food at the end of a long, uncomfortable day. I don't mean to complain; it had been a good day, mind you, but a bouncy and uncomfortable one, too--galumphing up the choppy lower Potomac, hoping I might be able to make the trip from Solomons, Md. to Occoquan, Va. in one long run.
The aforementioned bouncy-choppy business made that idea something of a joke. By early afternoon, still crashing steadily west, still many miles from the river's northward bend toward Washington, I knew I'd need a stopover. And I knew with barely a glance at the chart that the stopover should be Colonial Beach, Va.--a bit beyond the halfway point to Occoquan. So it was that I found myself taking a slip at the Colonial Beach Yacht Center, at the southern tip of that charming little peninsular nest of old-school vacation cottages. And, after a long bike ride up the peninsula and back (and an unscheduled nap), so it was that I came to the Dockside Inn and Blue Heron Pub--which occupies an old oyster packing house on the marina grounds.
Thanks to the unscheduled nap, it was pushing 8:30 when I arrived. It being a Thursday night, the dinner rush was long over, so I could have had the restaurant's elegant little dining room all to myself. But I'd been by myself all day and, frankly, I was starting to get on my nerves. So I chose the much livelier and more diverting option. By that I mean the bar, aka the Blue Heron Pub, where there were not only people but also a mildly interesting football game on the bar's huge flat-screen television. I'm not exactly an NFL encyclopedia, so I didn't have much to contribute, but since one of the teams was the Minnesota Vikings, I did know that just about any vaguely disparaging comment about Brett Favre would fit neatly into the conversation. And I got some mileage out of that--over a plate of fried oysters, made all the more interesting by the accompanying horseradish cream sauce and a dollop of corn pico de gallo.
The game, as it turned out, held my attention for only about a beer and a half. Looking for chair that, unlike the bar stool, did not remind me of the helm seat I'd been perched on all day, I moved to a nearby table, to enjoy a proper chair and a proper dinner.
The choices for the latter were diverse and all tempting: a New York strip topped with hazelnut cream sauce, a glazed double pork chop, herb-crusted salmon, potato-crusted rockfish, Norfolk -style (broiled in sherry-laced butter) shrimp, scallops or lump crabmeat, or a combination of two or three; fish and chips, soups, salads, po boys, wraps or sandwiches. O, the myriad choices! What's a famished explorer to do?
In the end I went with something that promised the most variety--the potentially army-feeding "Dockside-Style Fried Seafood Platter." This was a tremendous plate-load: crabcake, flounder, oysters, shrimp and scallops, accompanied by a baked potato, cole slaw and a garden salad. It was all cooked to perfection and quite delicious--making it all the more tragic that I could neither finish it nor take it with me, having no convenient way to reheat leftovers.
The the other tragedy was that I left no room at all for dessert. None. Zero. Not a square centimeter. On the upside, however, I found a perfectly sweet way to spend the next hour or so before heading back to the boat--karaoke. No, I didn't sing; it being karaoke Thursday, I joined a small but appreciative crowd in the pub's rustic back room, cheering on the brave amateur singers. Some very good, some very bad--as is always the case, in my experience. And what better way to end my uncomfortable but lovely day on the water? One learns to take the good with the bad.
The Dockside Restaurant and Blue Heron Pub is on the grounds of Colonial Beach Yacht Center, 1787 Castlewood Drive, Colonial Beach, Va. Open Mon.-Thu. 2-10 p.m, Fri. 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.-2 a.m., Sun. 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Live music Saturdays. Closed Tuesdays in winter. Free docking for patrons. Starters $7-$10. Dinner entrees $17-$30. 804-224-8726; www.docksiderestaurantandblueheronpub.com.