Sailors regale as one-stop feasting reaches new levels at St. Michaels' Market House.

by Beth Schucker

"The sandwich put me here." That's the way Jen Bridges describes how the Market House, her restaurant in St. Michaels, Md., came to be. Her culinary antenna picked up on the fact that locals wanted a good breakfast and lunch spot and boaters needed a good spot for ready-made provisions. So when a location became available, she jumped at the chance. Judging from all the people waiting in long lines for her take-out sandwiches, she seems to have found the right spot. Her market cafe now features on-premises dining, gourmet-to-go prepared foods and packaged specialty food items. Of the gourmet-to-go items, the pork tenderloin salad with mango and raspberry salsa is popular with the boat crowd and the craisin chicken salad is apparently everyone's favorite, judging by the 250 pounds of it that leaves the shop every week. 

It was the wine that first attracted me to the Market House. A staggering array of boutique wines is sold at retail prices--not from a wine list, but from bins and a long glass wall of coolers. One day, I counted 45 different reds, and just as many whites I'm sure chilling alongside a worldly assortment of beers. And if you don't finish your bottle of wine with lunch, the staff will re-cork it for you to carry back to your boat, along with your memories of a satisfying meal and your bundle of goodies for the dawning new day.

For boaters, a stop at the Market House is a win, win, win opportunity--dine ashore today, buy tomorrow's provisions and stow-away cuddy delights for the sailing days to come. A bonus of dining-in is the mod feel of the interior's sassy green and purple walls, black leather banquettes, acrylic chairs that beg one to linger, and couches in front of a stone fireplace that, with or without cocktails in hand, turn hearts and heads in the middle of summer to thoughts of winter. 

During my first visit, the dinner menu was somewhat amorphous, and the entree choices were slim. My lobster pot pie on this visit was big on flavor but small on lobster (though I'm told it's getting chunkier all the time). The friend who accompanied me on that early dinner visit would return anytime to have seconds of his braised beef short ribs. And now after several visits, I too almost always leave the Market House happy. But I was happiest the time I discovered grilled baby artichokes. I salivated at the sight of the little green orbs perched in the shallows of a small white dish. Their outer leaves, charred from the grill, glistened from a rub of olive oil and sprinkle of salt and pepper. Simply scrumptious. 

Among other favorites are the rib eye steak with truffle mac-n-cheese and the Georgia peach "pizzette"--with its flat bread crispy base, tangy pesto mingling with the sweet peaches and covered with creamy mozzarella. In addition to cre-ative entrees, all of chef Bridges's soups  are homemade. I have enjoyed the gazpacho, which has a wake-up flavor of cold, heat and sweet, with a hint of vinegar. As her new dinner menu ex-pands, Bridges hopes to add a third night of dinner service with more entrees and, best of all, half- and full-size portions.  

Looking over the menu, especially the ambitious lunch menu (much of it available for dinner) you don't appreciate that Bridges begins baking at 5 a.m. each morning--cheddar biscuits for the sausage and gravy, raisin bread for the artisan cheese platters, and all the sandwich breads. And, as we've established, she takes her sandwiches very seriously. That much you'll know from the first bite of her popular turkey, havarti and Granny Smith sandwich. "For me, sandwiches are an art form," says Bridges, "and they also pay the bank." 

Market House is located at 105 N. Talbot Street, at the corner of Mill Street, just a few blocks from the harbor. Breakfast and lunch are served daily and dinner is served Friday and Saturday. Breakfast $7-$13; sandwiches and salads $9-$16; entrees $12-$24. Major credit cards accepted. Call for seasonal hours 410-745-6626; 'www.markethousegourmet.com.