Issue: December 2003
A Night Inn

The Inn at Perry Cabin in St. Michaels remains one of the Bay’s most elegant eateries.

 

     Those long familiar with the St. Michaels harbor will recall when Harry Meyerhoff purchased the Fogg Cove estate called Perry’s Cabin, which included the 200-year-old manor house named affectionately for its most august visitor, Oliver Hazard Perry. Meyerhoff turned the place into a comfortable inn and restaurant, complete with champagne brunches on Sundays and a raucous, outdoor gazebo bar. It became the happening place on the harbor, drawing locals and visitors alike.

    Then came a succession of owners bent on developing an Elegant Resort, something to draw the rich and famous into town. Thankfully, the present innkeeper, Orient-Express, has knocked the establishment down a peg, replacing its former exclusive image with a gracious country charm. Ties are no longer mentioned, and although reservations are strongly recommended, there is absolutely nothing snooty about the process. The new owners are also responsible for doubling the physical size of the place (already doubled by earlier owners), which now resembles something akin to a small college campus.

    When Clint and I dined there, a smiling hostess greeted us, not in the least put off by the fact that we were a shade early for our reservation, and delighted that we simply wanted to look around a bit before dining.

    The place is downright inviting. Cozily grouped chairs beg to be sat in. Open bookcases and a scattering of magazines offer a casual respite to all comers. Subtle colors and warm textures glow with welcome. The decor is simple; a few antique prints hang on the walls and the occasional corner cupboard displays collectibles.

    We nosed into the bar - more like a living room, really, with a fireplace at one end. Plump comfortable chairs were grouped for quiet tete-a-tetes. A chess game beckoned on one side. Overall the atmosphere was one of confidence rather than pretension, and we felt entirely at home - even more so when, a few moments later, an affable manager found us ensconced in a small waterfront sitting room and offered to take our coats.

    When the hostess led us to the dining room, she gave us a choice: window or fireplace? It was dark enough outside to curtain the water view, and new-fallen snow had left a psychological chill, so we went for the fire, a real one, blazing away on an ample brick hearth under an intriguing collage of nautical gear framed by Old Glory and the Maryland flag. A waiter brought us a layered concoction that was part butter, part preserves and part something else. It looked like the most lavish of confections, too good to be wasted on mere bread. Then another waiter offered us our choice from a huge basket of fresh rolls - hardly mere bread: whole grain muffins, cheesey swirls, sourdough rounds. . . .

    Our waitress, Vickie, brought us menus and an extensive wine list. We settled on a glass of house red for Clint, house white for me (opposites attract, you know, but it makes it hard to compromise on a single bottle of wine). Turns out they don’t offer house wines, but they were happy to recommend and provide a glass of pinot noir for Clint and a splash of mellow chardonnay for me. Then we took a look at the entrees. On the left was Executive Chef Mark Salter’s Chesapeake Tasting Menu. For $85 a person, we could have essentially a five-course meal topped off with coffee and petits fours - but the whole table had to go for it. Or we could choose a la carte from the right-hand side of the menu, or opt for one of Chef Salter’s prix fixe suggestions: a three-course or four-course meal for, respectively, $60 and $69.50 per person. These were special-occasion prices for us, to be sure, but the descriptions on the menu suggested we’d be getting special-occasion fare.

    The “starters” were delectable: oysters on the half shell, of course, but also Thai chicken noodle soup, sauteed jumbo shrimp with crushed yucca and coconut-saffron sauce, deep-fried Brie with cranberry-ginger relish, among others. The entrees included Chesapeake seafood bouillabaisse, macadamia crusted mahimahi, seared venison and the chef’s signature dish: honey- and tarragon-glazed shank of lamb with sun-dried tomato sauce.

    Our heads spinning, Clint and I did the nearly unthinkable. We chose the tasting menu for two. Since these were the chef’s own recommendations, how could we lose? Indeed we couldn’t, and didn’t. We began with small servings of hearty lentil soup topped with a single seared sea scallop crusted with parsley. The taste and texture combination was stunning. The scallop sliced easily with a spoon, and its delicate flavor oddly seemed emboldened by the stronger lentils. Next came a sampler of Bay seafood: an exquisite taste of bluefish pat', an oyster shooter and two small fillets of fried perch, moist and flaky. A salad followed, garnished with pink grapefruit and thin slices of avocado, topped by half a crab spring roll (another signature dish). Then came the entree: wild rockfish, crusted with pepper and crowned with a roasted Cippolini onion, served with carrots, butter beans and squash. I didn’t care for the pepper crust, but it was easy enough to eat around it. White fleshy chunks came up on my fork, plenty good without the seasoning. Believe it or not, we had room for dessert, in this case, tropical nut cake topped with a slice of butter braised pineapple and coconut sherbet. This one was full of macadamia and Brazil nuts, offset by the sweet coconut and pineapple.

    And that was that. Our coffee came with petits fours, but by now we really were full. I actually left what I suspect was a chocolate-covered cherry untouched. But Clint and I did manage to share a tart little piece of jellied something, which surprised us - we both thought it would be jellied ginger. (The chef suggests it may have been grapefruit; I’d swear that it was Key lime.)

    We’d had a lovely evening. Pleasant surroundings, pleasant people, wonderful food. Our meal had come in well measured increments; we felt neither rushed nor neglected. No one hovered. We were delighted to find that the Inn at Perry Cabin is, quite simply, a class act. They even welcome pets. 

 

    The Inn at Perry Cabin sits on Fogg Cove to the west of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Md. Call ahead to be sure of courtesy dockage (8 feet MLW). The dining room is open daily for breakfast 7–10 a.m., lunch noon–2:30 p.m., and dinner 6–10 p.m. Breakfast averages $12, lunch averages about $18, a la carte dinner entrees $27 to $37, salads and starters $11.50 to $17. Major credit cards accepted. Reservations recommended. 410-745-2200; www.perrycabin.com.