Mediterranean Maryland: Michael Correll relies on the Eastern Shore’s bountyBy: TLP Editors
One of the most surprisingly delightful bites at Ruse, a two-year-old restaurant on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, is the Galician anchovy toast. The raw bar menu item features a warm slice of baguette topped with Vermont Creamery butter, anchovy, and a piparra, a slightly spicy and tangy pepper hailing from the Basque country of Spain.
“It’s only four ingredients, so it has to be executed perfectly,” says executive chef Michael Correll. Topped with a pinch of sea salt and served with a side of lemon, it’s the “perfect bite” he adds.
While the anchovy toast doesn’t feature the regional seafood and vegetables for which this St. Michaels restaurant is known, it’s nonetheless a prime example of Correll’s ethos for making simple dishes with quality ingredients.
The former chef de cuisine of Baltimore’s Tagliata and alumnus of Philadelphia’s esteemed Lacroix Restaurant at the Rittenhouse fled to Maryland’s waterfront town after the pandemic hit, eager to embrace more pastoral surroundings. The restaurant occupies part of the ground floor of the Wildset Hotel, a 34-room property located on St. Michaels bustling North Talbot Street, which swells with visitors during the warmer months. The hotel and restaurant are awash in neutral colors offset with splashes of blue, reflecting the area’s rugged coastal beauty.
“The food here is ingredient-driven cuisine,” Correll says. “I wait for things that come in season. I try to highlight them on the plate. Once they go out of season, I take it off the menu, and I look for the next best thing.”
Taking advantage of the abundant farmland and the Chesapeake Bay’s waterways, Correll rattles off a number of local purveyors: Cottingham Farm in Easton for tomatoes, peaches from Blades Orchard in southern Maryland, and the ever-changing weekly bounty from the St. Michaels Saturday farmers market. Conveniently, one of the hotel’s owners maintains a family farm where they harvest heirloom zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, and herbs in the summer.
While tourists no doubt bring big business in high season, restaurants in tourist towns have to cater to locals as well. And as the tables slowly filled up on a Sunday night in the shoulder season, it’s clear that Ruse also appeals to area residents. Correll says that many regulars are retirees who fled big cities in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast and have gravitated to the Ruse’s sophisticated take on local seafood. “The whole idea of the restaurant is to be able to produce a DC-caliber restaurant in St. Michaels, offering an elevated dining program, beverage, and service,” he says.
Many regulars sit at the raw bar to slurp oysters that come from near and far. Oyster fans will appreciate the variety of coastal areas represented—Virginia, Maryland, Maine, and Rhode Island. Local oysters come from Harris Creek Oyster Company, 8 miles away, or from local fisherman and oyster farmer Phillip Valliant, who also supplies Michelin-starred Albi in DC. Other regulars just want the cheeseburger with beef from Roseda Farm in Monkton, located 25 miles north of Baltimore City, popular with many upscale Maryland restaurants.
Middle Eastern influences are sprinkled throughout the Chesapeake Bay-driven menu, reflecting Correll’s own personal appreciation for the cuisine. Such items might include labneh dip with pickled onions and grilled spring onion relish served with za’atar lavash or baba ganoush and charred eggplant. “The owners always wanted to have a portion of the menu dedicated to just vegetables,” he says, which is easy to showcase with Middle Eastern food. “The spices and the way that they go about using vegetables and their cuisine is something I actually thoroughly enjoy.”
While local farms provide most of his produce, Correll sometimes finds another surprising source—neighbors who might exchange, say, figs or maitake mushrooms for gift cards. “Having access to that kind of relationship is not one that you really find in most areas,” he says. “I think one of the few unique things about living near the Eastern Shore is that you have people like that who are right in your backyard.”
To book a table at Ruse, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, visit ruserestaurant.com