After 10 years of running Backfin Blues Bar & Grill in Port Deposit, chef-owner Bob Steele was ready for another venture — this time, on the other side of the Susquehanna River.
He opened Backfin Blues: Creole de Graw in Havre de Grace last winter, featuring a cuisine he loves.
“Creole is one of my favorite foods,” he says. “It’s what I eat when I go out to dinner. It’s something different.”
Steele located the business in an historic building that has housed several restaurants over the years, most recently Chiapparelli’s, a spinoff of the Little Italy restaurant. He got the “Graw” part of the name from a former race track in the area that drew Triple Crown horses and even gangster Al Capone, according to the restaurant’s menu.
Steele is pleased to be in the waterfront city, a location he says he’s been approached about in the past.
“I love the commerce in Havre de Grace,” he says. “I like the small-town feel.”
We like going to the Harford County town, too. Backfin Blues: Creole de Graw is a nice addition to the dining scene, though our meal had a few drawbacks.
We started with the voodoo shrimp, which promised “plump” Gulf crustaceans on the menu. The shrimp served were numerous but really small. The sweet and spicy sauce, a red pepper-tomato blend, redeemed the seafood, which was served with lightly toasted buttered bread.
Another appetizer — blackened Creole crab cakes — lived up to most of our expectations. The two fat patties were presented atop crispy fried green tomatoes but were heavily drizzled with a thick remoulade that almost buried the crab flavor.
You can pair your meal with an assortment of wines and beers. There are also wine and beer cocktails, including a bayou shandy with a light-beer draft and housemade lemonade.
Our friendly, chatty waiter recommended the jambalaya as a popular entree. And we can understand the attraction. It’s a big bowl of Cajun-seasoned rice with plenty of andouille sausage slices. But it can be costly if you add “your choice of protein.” We decided on shrimp (an extra $8), which bumped up the price to $28. If you choose the seafood combination, it’s a $33 price tag.
You can also substitute bowtie pasta for the rice, but that wouldn’t honor its true Creole roots. The sauteed green beans as the vegetable du jour were enjoyable.
The blackened catfish was a dynamic dish. The moist fish, with appropriate zigzags of remoulade, was draped over a mound of Creole rice.
We may have misheard our server, but when we asked about the vegetable of the day, which was included with the dish, he said we had to order from a list of a-la-carte sides (at an extra charge).
He suggested the maque choux, a succotash-like medley. The traditional Louisiana corn staple was wellm prepared, but the $3 charge seemed steep, boosting the dish to $25.
The made-in-house desserts were terrific finales. The bourbon pecan pie was a rich, gooey wedge that avoided being too cloying. And the creamy Key lime pie pleasantly captured the fruit’s tartness in a delicate crust.
We like what Steele is trying to accomplish at the restaurant. You just need to pay attention to the menu pricing structure so you leave with a pleasant taste in your mouth, not sticker shock.