Chesapeake City, Maryland, 410-885-2040, www.chesapeakeinn.com
The C&D Canal looks like any popular waterway on a Saturday night. Speed boats and runabouts are clustered at just about every available dock space. Larger cruising yachts lie at anchor. The only thing to make us realize that we aren’t just anywhere on the Bay, is the arrival of the Marilis T, a Greek cargo ship. This massive freighter slides into view and then is the view for the moments it takes to pass in front of us at the Chesapeake Inn Restaurant and Marina in Chesapeake City.
We are upstairs in the inn’s formal dining room, six of us, looking forward to an evening of conversation. We’re surrounded by murals of classic sailing ships-the “tankers” of yesteryear. Exquisite ship models stand in glass cases against the room’s interior wall. Otherwise, the decor is the canal outside, visible through spacious glass windows. There is no sound other than gentle murmurs from the surrounding tables and, eventually, from the jazzman (Duane Dillard) at the piano; this is significant, because the inn has a downstairs dining deck, complete with nightly entertainment-tonight it’s reggae.
We select from a limited menu. The inn is so busy on weekends, we’re told, that the kitchen can only do so much. Still, we have an enticing array of choices.
We begin with a generous plate of fried calamari, lightly done, almost like a tempura. We also try the crab encroute, a baked concoction of creamy cheese, herbs and chunks of fresh crabmeat; there is plenty to go around. The seafood sampler is more standard: stuffed mushroom caps, clams casino and oysters baked and topped with crab imperial.
Our entrees, cooked to order and so a trifle slow in coming (we happen to be hungry at the same time everyone else is; the place is really packed) are ample and elegant. With six of us dining, we have put the kitchen through its paces. The crab ravioli comes with a creamy tomato marinara-what the fork doesn’t get, the warm bread does. The fettucelle is a plate of noodles tossed with crabmeat and crab claws in a white cream sauce. The crab claws are interesting: They’ve been marinated (we’re guessing here) and present a smoky flavor, decidedly not sweet. We suspect these crabs hail from a much farther shore. The stuffed flounder is nicely done, domed with a lavish helping of crab imperial. The pan-seared salmon and shrimp is succulent, braised in a fresh basil and tomato concasse. Someone has to try the crabcakes, of course: They’re both fist-size and full of lump crab. For the carnivore among us, the medallions Diane is a feast in itself: filet mignon sauteed with mushrooms and Dijon mustard, in a light cream and tomato sauce with just a touch of Chablis. Snap peas and a half of a baked potato round out the portions.
This is a meal worth waiting for, and our conversation slows considerably between mouthfuls. Meanwhile, we eye the dessert cart moving deftly past us. When it finally gets to our table, we have our choice of positively gorgeous-looking cakes: chocolate filled with chocolate mousse, chocolate filled with white-chocolate mousse, peach, lemon coconut, a traditional Black Forest. And then there is an apple tart. From the freezer we are offered a variety of fresh sorbets: lemon, peach, melon. . . . We are served on the spot with hearty helpings that turn out to be just plain wicked good-not so rich that we can’t polish them off with aplomb, and flavorful enough to remind us that gluttony is one of the deadly sins. One of us gets the sorbet: heavily frosted from being in a freezer, but delicate and satisfying nonetheless.
Dinner over, we can’t help but sneak a peek at the dining options below. Here a decidedly younger set is enjoying a more casual menu: pizza, steamed clams, chicken baskets, etc. The band is on break, but that doesn’t stop anyone-including the band members-from dancing to the CD blaring through the sound system. Everyone was clearly having fun-except anyone who might be tied up at the dock nearby, trying to get a little shuteye.
The Chesapeake Inn Restaurant and Marina is located on the south side of the canal, adjacent to the Back Creek Basin. Diners are invited to dock for free, space permitting. Overnight slips require reservations; $1.50 a foot, includes electric. Upstairs dining: Appetizers $6–$10; soup and salad $4–$12; dinner entrees $16–$31 (some of the less expensive items are not on the limited menu). Deck dining $3.95–$13.95. The restaurant is open Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m.; Sun. noon–10 p.m. The Deck operates from May through October. Chesapeake Inn accepts most credit cards. Reservations recommended for both dockage and upstairs dining.