Early this spring when my granddaughter Sarah was visiting from Ohio, we decided to take advantage of the unseasonably superb March weather and tour Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. But rather than just putter around Harborplace, we opted for a boat ride and lunch at the Rusty Scupper, a long-standing Baltimore favorite that claims the best view of the Harbor.
Sarah is a photojournalism major, and was excited to record our whole day for her portfolio, even more so since we’d be getting out on the water. After a little shopping at Harborplace we hopped on the water taxi and headed across the harbor to the Rusty Scupper. We were a little ahead of the lunch crowd, so we had no trouble scoring a table with a fabulous view of the harbor, as well as some of the boats in the marina. The dining room itself is very attractive, with a beam ceiling and maritime decor, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows.
Our lunch was fun right from the start, when Sarah’s cherry coke arrived sporting a skewer of six maraschino cherries lying across the glass. A basket of sliced ciabatta with a pot of red pepper and almond spread kept us busy until our appetizers arrived. Sarah was delighted with her introduction to crab and artichoke dip, while I had chosen the spicy seared yellowfin tuna, perfectly rare, accompanied by little dollops of wasabi aioli and a salad of gracefully entwined strands of sweet-and-sour wakame seaweed next to crisp shaved ginger. A small meal in itself, this appetizer was a pleasure to look at and to eat.
Still in blissful disbelief that we could have such a beautiful day in March to enjoy this casually elegant restaurant perched over the harbor, we struggled with the decision-making around the entrees. Sarah settled on one of the Waterman’s Po Boy choices--deep-fried Cajun popcorn shrimp and remoulade sauce--and was surprised by its huge size, as well as the added appeal of the colorful peas and carrots in the sauce and the tasty pita chips. Having already been adventurous with the tuna and wasabi, I figured I owed it to all Marylanders who quest for the perfect crabcake to check out the broiled crabcake platter. The crabcake itself wasn’t exactly what I’d expected; It cames glazed with a three-mustard butter sauce, which I feared might alter the texture, and it was a little softer than most crabcakes--but the delicate taste was a more-than-delicious trade-off. A scoop of rice medley and some perfectly cooked vegetables added texture and color to the dish.
Not yet sure if we could manage dessert, we took a few minutes to enjoy watching the tugs pushing barges back and forth from a dredging site across the harbor, and a workboat pulling up to the marina’s fuel pump below our window. Water taxis, kayaks and a center-console cruised past, the latter’s fishing rods and cooler revealing the occupants intentions for the day. Finally, the temptation to share the signature apple walnut upside-down pie overcame our dithering. It was a masterpiece, served warm with brown sugar, walnut sauce, vanilla ice cream and a big dollop of whipped cream. Congratulating ourselves on our wise choice, we dispatched it in a flash and headed back into the warm, lovely day.
After readjusting to the sunlight, we walked along the harbor promenade and crossed Key Highway to Federal Hill’s American Visionary Arts Museum. Sarah had never seen anything like it; her camera was clicking almost continuously at the outdoor exhibits. A couple of hours later we returned to the water taxi stop and caught some rays while sitting on the promenade wall to wait. The taxi, following the loop around the harbor which we’d begun that morning, passed Fells Point, Canton and the Aquarium, then returned us to Harborplace--sun-warmed, windblown and hoping all the Bay boaters who sail into Baltimore’s harbor this summer will can enjoy such a tasty day.
The Rusty Scupper is located at 402 Key Highway in Baltimore. Slips are available at the adjacent Inner Harbor Marina (410-837-5339; www.baltimoremarinecenters.com) for $20 (up to two hours). The Rusty Scupper is open daily for lunch and dinner, and Sunday brunch. Lunch entrees $10–$22; dinner entrees $18–$35. For reservations (suggested), call 410-727-3678; www.selectrestaurants.com/rusty.