It was good to get your tweet this morning that you are at long last coming home to Annapolis for a visit after so many years. We’re all are so excited.
I hope you won’t be too shocked when you see how your quiet little hometown has changed. Downtown doesn’t look a thing like it did when you left. Parking is hell and a lot of the old stores you loved are gone. And the Market House? Well don’t get me started … it’s gone to pot from the old days.
But we have a real treat for you. We have dinner reservations at your old favorite -- Carrol’s Creek Café in Eastport. Yes, it’s still there after 30 some years. We hadn’t been there in a long time ourselves until last week. That area around the City Dock is just wall-to-wall restaurants. Funny how you can forget about a place.
Well, you’ll be glad to know it’s different than it was and still the same. Remember how we thought it was just one of the nicest places to go with its harbor view, atmosphere and good food?
It still is, but maturity, the presence of lesser dining lights around it and a management and kitchen obsessed with quality have placed Carroll’s Creek among Annapolis’ restaurant royalty.
You can start off a dinner there with a list of 11 appetizers described as “small plates” with the emphasis on seafood. They run the gamut from the simple (steamed clams or mussels) to the sublime (oysters baked with their house-cured bacon and Vermont cheddar cheese at $13.50). Loin lamb chops and beef make star appearances as well. Soups and salads are standouts too. The Caesar for two ($18), tossed tableside, with the fresh Parmigiana Reggiano grated to taste is a classic.
My companion chose the soup of the day, a silky cream of broccoli ($7) that brought out the best of the fresh vegetable’s subtle flavor with just a touch of red pepper. Elegant. My choice of steamed Middle Neck clams ($12.50) could have ended my meal on the spot. Chef Ricardo Bello’s thick steaming broth of chardonnay wine, tomatoes, basil and pancetta was so good the clams seemed like a bonus. I finished mine, longing for more or an entrée with that broth over linguine.
Just 11 main course items, along with some Chef specials, is probably one of the reasons for this restaurant’s consistent quality and enduring success – do the right things and do them well every time. Seafood dominates, but a pair of steak choices and a chicken dish is offered too.
My wife went for the sautéed chicken breast ($22) and was rewarded with a three plump medallions cooked with fresh vegetables, mushrooms and pancetta and served over linguine. The plate was finished with a rosemary and Marsala cream sauce.
I hope the chef’s special I had that night is on the menu when you visit.
As our excellent server, Angela, described it to me (I made her do it three times) it sounded irresistible … and it was. A red trout filet, fresh and moist, was topped with a lobster imperial sauce studded a tiny dice of fresh vegetables and nested in mushroom risotto ($33). Red trout is a particularly delicate and mild fish that Chef Bello took to the top.
Desserts are made in the Carrol’s Creek kitchen, ensuring that the meal will end on the same high note with which it began. The frozen Key Lime Soufflé ($7.25) was a tangy late summer treat.
Service is seamless at Carrol’s Creek. Angela’s timing and bright demeanor never flagged. And, remember I said Carrol’s Creek was the same, only different? That goes for the wine list too. It has grown into a smartly chosen collection that is nicely in tune with the food.
So Annapolis has changed since you’ve been away. The view of the harbor is more crowded and so are the sidewalks. Not all of the new buildings have added to the city’s charm and that small town feel is fading.
You’ll still be able to look around and see what defines us though – the rivers, creeks, and the Bay, the magnificent old homes, inns, taverns, colleges and churches, the State House and the special places you remember so fondly.
But we’ll talk about that over dinner at Carrol’s Creek.
See you soon.
Carrol’s Creek Café
WHERE: 410 Severn Ave., Annapolis
HOURS: Monday through Thursday: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday: 10 a.m.to 8:30 p.m.
CHEF: Ricardo Bello
SMALL PLATES: $8 to $19
ENTREES: $21 to $34
CREDIT CARDS: All Major Cards accepted