On previous visits to Havre de Grace, Md., I've found myself wondering about MacGregor's Tavern, housed in the gray brick building on the corner of Franklin and St. John streets. It's a bit of a hike from the marinas in town, but it's smack dab in the middle of the town's center, where cute shops and other restaurants line the quaint streets. I've always thought it looked like a fun local tavern spot, probably an institution among the local crowd. It turns out I was right; MacGregors has been serving up crabcakes, seafood platters, steaks and a host of other Chesapeake delicacies for nearly a quarter-century.
When I arrived late last fall for a lunch date with a friend, I entered through the pub side of the restaurant and strolled through the bar and (awkwardly) through a portion of the servers' station before finding the main dining room. Once I had negotiated the maze, I was greeted by the sight of a warm, brick-walled two-level dining room with wide windows spanning the length of the seating area. Beyond those windows lay a wide outdoor dining patio. With the nice shade given from the upper deck and the fantastic view of the Susquehanna River and railroad bridge beyond, I can only guess that the patio is hopping during the summer months.
When my friend Cat arrived, we had a lot to catch up on, so we ordered a crab hush puppy appetizer to hold us over while we chatted. It was a delightful new spin on two classics, a light and airy corn hush puppy with the added Chesapeake touch of crab, boosting the flavor past the everyday fried cornmeal. I loved it. I also loved the cup of cream of crab soup I ordered next. This was the first truly cold day of the fall, perfect for the opening day of soup season. I was not disappointed. MacGregor's is now high atop my list of cream of crab favorites.
The fun appetizer menu didn't stop at crab hush puppies; in addition to regular favorites (think crab dip, crab pretzels and wings) MacGregor's starters include a spicy thai shrimp, fried oysters wrapped in bacon and a fire-roasted tomato shrimp cocktail.
I still wanted a proper lunch--though after the appetizers I had consumed I couldn't imagine finishing the Monte Cristo panini that was calling to me. I mean ham, turkey and cheese all tucked between slices of French toast? Yum. Instead I opted for beer-battered fish and chips, somehow figuring that it would be less filling. I was wrong, but the fish was flaky and tasty, so how could I complain?
While we noshed and chatted (Cat, showing more restraint than I, had a nice, fresh cobb salad, complete with applewood-smoked bacon and avocado), I peeked at the dinner menu to find even more tempting items, including several seafood platters--one with three different seafoods topped with crab imperial, and another with flounder, scallops and shrimp in a buerre-blanc sauce. There were also several "award-winning" seafood dishes (they didn't mention which awards), a few steaks and the obligatory thick and creamy pasta dishes topped with crab and shrimp.
Everything was as you'd expect at your local tavern: a warm atmosphere, good seafood and pleasant service. All of that, coupled with the great view, gives you as good a reason as any for you and your hungry crew to head on down to the local pub.