Cool beer on a sunny deck at a bend in the river. Nabbs Creek Cafe has a sweet situation on a little pinkie jutting into the Patapsco. There's actually a series of decks descending from the back of the chalet-style restaurant, a rundown but still-handsome structure built snugly into the hillside. On the deck closest to the creek, a busy boat-filled marina to their backs, an energetic cover band was playing a sweaty set on a late summer evening. And if you were anywhere in the tri-county area on a recent Saturday night, and kept thinking you heard a woman shouting across the water, "Bon Jovi! Bon Jovi!," she was sitting at the outdoor bar at Nabbs Creek Cafe. Her, we liked.
Everybody who lives near the Chesapeake Bay should have a hangout by the water, and the boaters and local residents who come to Nabbs Creek Cafe are pretty lucky. Because it's off the main roads, outsiders are unlikely to wander into it - it's a place you either know about or don't. When we visited, there were a few patrons gathered at the bar inside, watching sports and enjoying the air conditioning. There were also a few parties dining at tables in the glassed-in porch, where they have nice views of the water. But I think most people show up at Nabbs Creek for the outdoor party atmosphere.
I don't think they're coming here for the food. At least not for anything we tried from the bar-food menu, which ranged from just OK to not so good. The thing is, I don't think anyone who frequents here minds it very much. Regulars might even be relieved that some glowing newspaper review isn't going to send carloads of intruders down there looking for culinary wonders. The place is what it is.
Still, there's a fine line between shaggy contentment and lazy indifference. The ramshackle backyard is fine; so is food served in baskets and on paper plates. But near the restaurant's entrance, there's a planter we saw filled with discarded beer cans and bottles, some with sun-bleached labels, suggesting that staff members had walked by and ignored them for more than a day. It makes you wonder what else the staff doesn't care about.
The appetizer menu is a typical assortment of things like barbecue shrimp, mozzarella sticks, wings and nachos. The simpler the better is probably the best way to go here. The crab dip, presented in a bread bowl with the torn-out bread cubed for dipping, is very bland, with much of the crab flavor creamed away. Mini-slider burgers are no-flavor dollhouse patties covered with American cheese.
The main menu features a handful of entrees - steak and cake, baby back ribs, yellowfin tuna. There is a larger listing of sandwiches and pizzas, too. A grilled Cuban sandwich may have been real pork tenderloin, but it ended up tasting like ham-and-Swiss on rye, with too much yellow mustard and not enough good pickle. A fried seafood platter was one-third good - the beer-battered haddock was very nice, with flaky white meat and a tasty coating, but the crab cake was super mushy and underseasoned, and the jumbo shrimp badly overbattered. A house specialty, the shrimp salad, was the best thing we tried, a true half-pound of gently seasoned shrimp, but was undermined by a bad roll.
Near the bar, a crab pot was boiling, which added a bit of authentic creekside charm. It's so easy to reimagine Nabbs Creek Cafe as a stellar waterside seafood restaurant and crab house. The reality of it is not so bad, though - a fun place to sit and drink by the water.
nabbs creek cafe Where: 864 Nabbs Creek Road, Glen Burnie
Open: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily
Credit cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa
Food: * 1/2
Service: ** 1/2
on the menu •Nabbs shrimp salad - $10.99
•Crab dip - $10.99
•Mini-slider burgers - $7.99
•Fried seafood platter - $18.99
•Grilled Cuban sandwich - $8.99
•Beef bratwurst sandwich - $6.99