Issue: March 2003
Small is Delicious

Considering what they’re serving at the diminutive Dry Dock in Solomons, Md., size definitely doesn’t matter.

 

     One of the more amazing little restaurants on the Chesapeake Bay has been perched on the waterfront at Zahniser’s Yachting Center in Solomons, Md., for 20 years. In its earlier incarnation, the Dry Dock was located in the upper half of the marina’s bathhouse, with windows all along one wall facing the water. The place was about as big as a shoe box, and the kitchen was not much bigger than a ladies’ size seven. But from that kitchen emerged the most incredible, fresh food. One of the highlights of racing the Screwpile Regatta (based at Zahniser’s in late July) was knowing the boat’s owner would treat us to a crew dinner there.

     These days, I’m the boat’s owner, I’m cruising more than racing, and the Dry Dock has brand new, much roomier digs at the marina, with a porch overlooking the water for outdoor dining and the same stunning view from inside. It’s still a treat to eat here, and the food is still some of the best on the Bay. Manager Kathy O’Rourke and her chefs Shana Murphy and Terry Crane keep the menu flexible to reflect the changing seasons and what’s fresh and tasty in the here and now.

     When Johnny and I stopped by in late September last year, we were pleased to see that despite the new location (just a few yards away from the old building, which remains a bathhouse downstairs and is now an apartment upstairs) and larger dining room, the restaurant still has much of its understated elegance. The layout is pretty much the same, with tables along the windows and a varnished wooden bar behind. The cathedral ceiling is brought down a bit by open beams, upon which rests a sailing skiff upside down, so you can look straight up into the warm wood. Colorful pennants from boats that have visited over the years adorn the upper walls like a kind of cloth stenciling. It may have lost some of the intimacy of the old place, but the new incarnation is lovely all the same. And sipping a glass of merlot while standing on the porch, watching the moon sail overhead and dapple the water below, wasn’t torture either.

     The food hasn’t changed a bit-it’s as delectable as ever. For an appetizer I chose the mixed baby greens with feta, fruit, sunflower seeds and sweet balsamic vinaigrette. I always judge a place by its salads-is it iceberg or is it baby greens? Is it limp or is it crisp? This was a small mountain of mixed greens mingled with strawberries, apples and mandarin oranges whose sweetness was accented by the mild feta and flavorful dressing. For his appetizer, Johnny chose seared tuna over cucumber salad with sesame aioli; the large chunk of fish had a tangy, smooth sauce.

     For dinner, I couldn’t resist the late-garden temptation of basil-seared scallops tossed with fresh tomato salad and linguine, topped with gorgonzola. I knew the basil and tomatoes would be straight from a nearby garden and I wasn’t wrong; the dish was fabulous. I only wish my stomach was bigger-I had to leave at least three scallops, there were so many. Johnny chose the cilantro-baked wild rockfish with lime sesame oil and wild rice. The thick slab of fish was flaky and moist, topped with a subtle crumble of cilantro. Dessert was equally extravagant; creme brulee for me, and blueberry pie a la mode for him.

     Those of us who remember the Dry Dock of old will probably always miss its tiny charm, but the new restaurant is beautifully done, and the porch is a terrific addition. Had it not been blowing about 20 out of the north that night, we would absolutely have eaten out there beneath the moon, as some intrepid and heavily dressed diners were doing. The food here ain’t cheap; you can expect to drop $80 to $100 for a nice dinner for two, and more depending on the wine you choose. But one thing’s for certain; you never feel like you’re shelling out a lot of bucks for a nice view and mediocre food. Here, you know you’re getting the best of both.

 

     The Dry Dock, located in Zahniser’s Yachting Center, is open Sunday through Thursday 5:30–9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5:30–9:30 p.m., and Sunday for brunch 10 a.m.– 1 p.m. Entrees $18.95–$27.95. Major credit cards are accepted, and reservations are recommended. 410-326-4817.