The New Naptown
Hemmed in part by the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries that carve its lush coastline, Annapolis is a knockout of a town. Its cobbled streets lined with eighteenth-century houses and storied history have long charmed visitors. But the food scene? Let’s call it a late bloomer. Aside from a handful of beloved stalwarts, pub fare long dominated downtown. But all that’s changing as locals and newcomers open stylish spots that make the most of the town’s quirky Euro vibe and the rich bounty at its doorstep. Here are some of our favorites from the old guard and new.
Crab feasts are the equivalent of Louisiana’s crawfish boil or oyster roasts in the Lowcountry.
Naptown, as locals call it, is a walking city. Best fortify yourself for exploring with a stack of buttermilk pancakes with spiced maple bourbon butter at Iron Rooster, a new and welcome all-day breakfast spot on Market Square. That, and an apple cider fizz (or their bacon bloody mary with pickled asparagus) will keep you going till lunchtime. Annapolitans take their crab cakes seriously. Find one of the best in town at Main & Market, across Spa Creek. The local favorite subscribes to the purist school of crab cake-making: less filler, more jumbo lump—perfect in a sandwich. For the full-on crab feast experience— the Maryland equivalent of Louisiana’s crawfish boil or oyster roasts in the Lowcountry—follow the winding road that leads to Jimmy Cantler’s Riverside Inn, a forty-year-old institution that still sources its crabs from local watermen. Grab a table on the deck and get cracking while overlooking picturesque Mill Creek with its bobbing sloops and bay boats.
Back in town, restaurants and bars are climbing up West Street, one of the town’s main drags that originates from the spoke that is Church Circle. Here, neighborhood eateries like Lemongrass (three words: crispy string beans) share sidewalks with old-school businesses like cobblers and bail bondsmen. Rams Head Tavern was one of the first to stake a claim on the block with its cozy basement bar and extensive beer list some twenty-five years ago. Several additions later, the sprawling complex now encompasses a live music venue and brews its own beer off-premise. Go early to relax on the patio with a pint of their citrusy IPA. Or, duck into the cool-kid Sailor Oyster Bar for a pre-dinner nip of bubbles and a dozen of the Chesapeake’s finest on the half shell. And check back in for dessert—here’s where to get a taste of Maryland’s own Smith Island cake. Next door, the Light House Bistro debuted last winter with a mission to employ grads of its culinary arts training program, all of whom have experienced homelessness. The menu skews comfort with a dose of modern hippie and lots of gluten-free options like cauliflower mac and cheese with kale crisps.
Pickles and other ferments drive the menu at newcomer Preserve on Main Street, opened by Per Se alum Jeremy Hoffman and his wife, Michelle. Case in point: kimchi kicks up a dish of oyster mushrooms and gnocchi, and kombucha jelly brightens potted chicken liver mousse. Pick up a jar of housemade sauerkraut to go.
This article appeared in June/July 2017.