Stevensville’s Rustico Restaurant & Wine Bar
is worth the very short side trip off the beaten path.
By T. F. Sayles, April 2012
Anyone who has crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and paid the slightest bit of attention to the highway signs, knows of Stevensville, Md. Indeed, they’ve been to Stevensville, zip-code-wise, because that’s the address for most of Kent Island. But I’d venture to say most of those bridge crossers have never actually been to Stevensville itself, the little mid-19th-century crossroads town and rail junction that now sits just far enough off the beaten path (U.S. Route 50/301) to be virtually invisible.
That was the case for me, until recently, when I discovered the town during a boat-and-bike exploration of the island--based first out of the Kent Manor Inn and then the Bay Bridge Marina, both within easy bicycle striking distance from the old town. The thing about bicycling is one gets hungry and thirsty. And the thing about being hungry and thirsty in downtown Stevensville is . . . the choice is pretty obvious. That would be Rustico Restaurant and Wine Bar, which presides over the town’s skewed main intersection, that of E. Main Street and Love Point Road. And, oh, a happy choice it is. Owned by Gino Romano and Michelina Scotto (who is also co-owner of Annapolis’s very popular West Street ristorante, Luna Blu), Rustico has delicious food and a lovely, relaxed old-world feel to it, extending even to its trellis-covered patio.
As much as I love an outdoor table, that was not in the cards for either of my visits to Rustico; the weather worked against me each time, first with muggy heat, then with the cold of winter. But that’s all right, the main dining room inside is lovely too--an elegant but not too fussy space with earth-tone walls, dark wood furniture and ample light pouring in from the street-side storefront windows at one end of the room. The dining room is in the slightly younger of the restaurant’s two seperate buildings, this one built as a grocery store and residence in about 1900, according to the Kent Island Heritage Society. The building next door, housing the wine bar, was also built as a grocery store, but several decades earlier, in 1865--making it, the society says, one of the town’s oldest buildings. Though Kent Island was settled in the early 1600s, it remained mostly farmland until the mid-1900s, when steamships and railroads gave rise to the town.
On my first visit, having arrived by bike and feeling somewhat fitness conscious (an unusual condition for me, that), I went for light fare--a house salad with shrimp and the delightful frittura di pomodori verdi appetizer. No, not a green tomato fritter, which is what my faulty built-in Italian translator came up with. Rather, it’s breaded slices of fried green tomato, served in a lovely warm pool of marinara and topped with buffalo mozzarella. Fabulous. And this all of course called for a nice glass of chianti--a very nice classico riserva from Castello Banfi.
A year or so later I had another chance to visit Rustico, this time with CBM managing editor Ann Levelle along for the culinary ride, and with a somewhat stronger appetite (or, put another way, with less dietary resolve). So, in addition to a slice of bread or two and the crab foccacia appetizer I shared with Ann, I ordered the “Romeo and Juliet” panini--a simple but delicious sandwich of prosciutto and fresh mozzarella, with lettuce and tomato and a perfect drizzle of olive oil. And another glass of chianti, of course. Ann was more than happy with her choice of tortellini alla Romana, with sausage, mushrooms and alfredo sauce.
It was all, in two simple words, very delicious. But, as ample as the lunch menu was, I resolved as we drove away to make my next visit at dinner time, if only to try the Rockfish Mediterranean--a sautée with capers and crabmeat, served over angel hair pasta with a lemon white wine sauce. Mercy, that sounds good.
Another resolution: get off the beaten regularly. It really pays.
Rustico Restaurant and Wine Bar is located at 401 Love Point Road in Stevensville, Md., a block north of Route 18. It is open seven days a week for lunch (11 a.m., noon on Sunday) and dinner (4 p.m. to closing). Starters $6–$12; pasta $8–$12, dinners $20–$30; wines by the glass $6–$10. Call for reservations or book online. 410-643-9444; www.rusticoonline.com.