We checked to see what’s cookin’ in the Maritime Republic-for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Sometimes a square meal, three times a day, is all it takes to keep things afloat in our world. But trying to find three meals ashore in a single port is no simple trick. Knowing that the Annapolis harbor would be full of boaters this month, we decided to see what the Eastport side of town (a.k.a. the Maritime Republic of Eastport) has to offer in the way of breakfast, lunch and dinner for hungry folks afoot.
Eastport’s waterfront restaurants are pretty easy for boaters to spot: Carrol’s Creek and the Chart House sit prominently on Spa Creek, the latter at the old Trumpy boatyard. On Back Creek, you can’t get much closer to the water than McNasby’s, where the Annapolis Maritime Museum serves up fresh seafood on the outside deck. But we weren’t necessarily interested in the view this time around, so we decided to cruise inland, looking for Eastport’s other eateries. We found plenty. Among them, Ruth’s Chris Steak House looms large where Marmaduke’s used to be. Davis’s Pub serves up good brews and hearty pub fare along with daily specials. O’Leary’s Seafood Restaurant dishes up a dandy dinner [“Local Hero,” Galleys Ashore, November 2001]. And the Eastport Clipper provides a hot roster of live music to go with your evening meal.
For breakfast, though, there’s only one place to go during the week. Cafe Gurus (that’s what they call themselves, even though their street sign still reads Coffee Gurus; it’s a long story) is nothing if not eclectic. It occupies the old corner store where Miss Sophia dispensed coffee and cigarettes to the neighborhood back when the earth was new (I used to stop in on my way to work at Murphy & Nye Sailmakers back in the 1970s, and the place was, shall we say, well established even then). Now the shop is festooned with an ever-changing display of art, the odd collectible (like the hair dryer chair in the dining area), chatty bulletin boards and whatever whimsy proprietor James Borchelt has propped up on the counter. Frequently the place opens on Saturday nights for live music or poetry from local artists.
Fresh coffee is its hallmark: latte, cappuccino, espresso, and the myriad varieties thereof. You can buy tea or chai. And you can order up a simple yogurt smoothie or a protein-charged mega-muscle combo like the Source Shake (vitamins, minerals, protein powder, herbs-Jazzercise in a cup: $5 for 16 ounces). Juices are in the cooler.
The Gurus breakfast menu ($1.66 to $6) includes muffins, croissants, quiche, hot oatmeal (with cream), omelettes and fruit-or you can sit down to a plate of eggs and bacon or a helping of French toast served with whipped cream and fresh strawberries. I chose the latter, but they were out of strawberries, so I got thin slices of crisp yellow apples. And I sat under the hair dryer to eat it-an unusual sensation (I kept thinking a manicurist would show up). The French toast is obviously a favorite. Plate after plate came out of the little corner kitchen for delivery to inside and outside tables. For lunch ($3.50 to $6), you can get sandwiches, wraps, soups and salads-heavy on the sprouts, feta cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. Lest carnivores feel uneasy, roast beef is listed at least once on the menu (no burgers, though).
Gurus certainly could have satisfied us for lunch, but we wanted someplace new and different. So we decided to take in the Boatyard Bar & Grill, located in a brand-new building on the site of the Old Wharf. Touted by some as the “new Marmadukes,” this is where all the local sailors hang out. The large open room is separated by the bar. Serious diners head to the left, bar flies and folks interested in watching the videos of local regattas head to the right. Burgees from area sailing clubs hang from the ceiling, and the names of old and existing Eastport boatyards are scribed along a wide beam overhead. (Hey! My dad’s boatyard isn’t up there-Annapolis Boatworks, at the bottom of Third Street. What kind of gin joint is this?) The walls are covered with hometown artists’ work and photos of local boaters enjoying the water.
This is a noisy space, especially at night, when it’s hard to hear yourself talk across the table. Lunchtime is much nicer, before the bar fills up for happy hour. The food is plentiful and reasonably priced; the servers are attentive and pleasant, and if you know anyone in town, you’ll likely spot him (or her) at a table sooner or later.
The Boatyard’s menu limits itself to about half a dozen selections in each category: soup, salads, sandwiches ($4 to $10); and only four full dinners ($10 to $20): fish and chips, grilled salmon, crabcakes and a New York strip.
We ordered the crabcake sandwich and the Boatyard Burger. The crabcake was fine, though too full of “other” stuff for my taste (a lot of onion, peppers and celery). The burger was a mouthful-and-a-half, crowned with our choice of toppings from cheese to guacamole. We’ve also had the roasted portabella mushroom sandwich, an elegant and filling meal. We could have stanched our appetite from the appetizer list ($7 to $9): coconut shrimp, chicken quesadilla (to die for!), garlic mussels, jerk chicken, nachos. . . . Fordham and Otter Creek brews are on tap, and there’s a fine selection of bottled beer and wine.
Dinner made us wax nostalgic, yearning for a part of the “old” Eastport. We decided to go to Lewnes’ Steakhouse, run by the Lewnes family on the spot where grandfather Sam, a Greek emigre, first opened Sam’s Corner in 1921. (He and one of his sons also ran the old Bridgeview Restaurant, now the Eastport Clipper).
The steakhouse is broken up into several different eating areas. We were ushered to a small back room upstairs and seated in a spacious booth.
Make no mistake, this is where you go to eat meat. While the appetizers are predominantly seafood (we tried the clams casino and the crab cocktail; $7.50 to market price), and you can order Maine lobster, tuna or salmon ($21 to market price), these folks are clearly interested in serving you the choicest cuts of meat they can lay their hands on. My filet mignon (rare, thank you) melted in my mouth. It was, quite simply, the most magnificent piece of beef I have ever tasted. Also on the menu were porterhouse, New York strip, prime rib, rib eye, lamb and veal ($23 to $30).
My partner for the evening, a musician friend named Cliff Long, chose the Garides Scortholemono, feeling that to dine in a Greek house without sampling Greek fare was uncouth. He was brought a plate of large shrimp roasted in olive oil, lemon and garlic. Six were more than adequate. He made me eat one.
Lewnes serves its vegetables family style, a la carte ($3 to $5). It gives people something to argue about; we could hear them at different tables having heated discussions about which veggies they would have. The helpings are easily enough for two people, and probably could suffice for four. We asked for the saut'ed spinach a la George, a simple dish prepared with onions in olive oil. It was nice to try, but I wished we’d gotten the asparagus. And we ordered a bowl of lyonnaise potatoes; these were wonderful, but we couldn’t finish them.
The polish to the meal was the wine. We didn’t want to spring for a whole bottle (we could have gotten a nice cabernet for $1,700), but we thought a glass of the house wine would do nicely ($10 each). Cliff had the sauvignon blanc to go with his shrimp; I had the Australian shiraz. Both of us thought they’d never last the meal. But magically, they were so right with what was on our plates that small sips were a delightful adjunct to the pleasures of the palate, and lo, we each had a swallow left when the meal was done. They added the perfect finish to our meal and were easily worth the price.
Like most boaters, many’s the time we’ve come ashore looking for a meal, and like most boaters we’ve learned not to set our sights too high, lest we be severely disappointed. One of the blessings of Eastport is that so many fine eating establishments are just a block or two away from the water’s edge. Too bad custom limits us to only three meals a day.