Dining Out: Donnelly's Dockside is a neighborhood gem in Arnold

Local folks agreed: The former Deep Creek Restaurant in Arnold, a popular neighborhood seafood spot for decades, was beginning to look and taste a little tired.

The property was sold in March 2017. Would the new owners turn it into an upscale waterfront eatery or keep it a cozy, creek-side haven for the surrounding residential community?

Dan Donnelly, a genial veteran of the local restaurant scene, forged a partnership with owners of Baltimore’s Oliver Brewing Co. and Pratt Street Ale House to take it over. A major renovation ensued.

The happy result is Donnelly’s Dockside, a spanking new, airy space that captures the friendly feel of its predecessor and adds an upbeat energy and verve that will keep the locals — and anyone in search of good Maryland seafood — coming.

And yes, excellent steamed crabs await you. They are market price, of course, and are drawn from local waters when available. Donnelly’s tells you right on the menu that, if they can’t get the native variety, their backup source is Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain, which has brackish water similar to the Chesapeake.

Our group of four arrived early on a Monday evening, usually a slow time at many places, to find the dining room filling up and the waterfront outdoor area already busy. The new layout features an upstairs bar where food is served and another on the lower level that connects to the outdoor dining area. The whole shebang has an easy, casual vibe that we really liked. The high-decibel noise level in the dining room is a conversation killer, but management is on it and will be adding a correction soon.

Donnelly has assembled a team to match the atmosphere. Servers know the food and are quick to assure the diner that the kitchen can adjust a recipe just for them. Chef Carlo Biondi has cooked at the Severn Inn and Gordon Biersch, among others. His menu is a cast of crowd-pleasing favorites accented with some interesting twists on the ordinary.

His appetizers, labeled “sharable,” are slanted toward seafood, particularly fresh crabmeat. We chose crab bruschetta ($14) and “boom boom” shrimp ($12) along with selections from a reasonably priced wine, beer and cocktail list.

The bruschetta proved the old adage that less is more. The four ovals of fresh toasted baguette were layered simply with chopped Roma tomatoes, fresh basil and a balsamic glaze with a generous topping of quality crabmeat — about as good as it gets. The dozen or so lightly breaded and perfectly fried medium shrimp came in a basket along with a pair of tangy sauces for dipping. Again, thumbs up.

Other starters star familiar preparations of crab, oysters, tuna, calamari and chicken. Starter baskets of fried shrimp and clams, steamed shellfish and several salad varieties also are available.

One in our party has a hard time resisting crab soup in any form. He pronounced a cup of their cream of crab ($5) a smooth version with a hint of sherry and fresh crabmeat added just before serving. It needed only a couple of grind of fresh pepper.

Seafood dominates the entrees, with the exception of a filet mignon, a stuffed chicken breast and the chef’s nightly specials. Sandwiches come with the signature sidewinder fries, which taste much better than they sound; thick ringlets of fresh potato are deep-fried golden brown. Other sides come a la carte.

Sugar cane sea scallops ($26) quickly caught the eyes of one in our group. Six large scallops were grilled on sugar cane skewers, nestled on a bed of citrus rice and draped with a pina colada sauce, which actually tasted like the summer drink. The shellfish were perfectly grilled with a hint of smoke to balance the sweetness.

Grilled mahi-mahi ($22) won praise from another in our party — a moist slab of fish, nicely seasoned on a bed of spinach, again with a helping of rice. A $4 side of home-style slaw added a cool crunch to the plate.

The hot, humid evening tilted two of us toward the sandwich choices, which include the usual burgers and crab cakes, but also a Cuban sandwich, blackened tuna tacos and a shrimp po’ boy special.

My companion ordered a salmon BLT — which can be a pleasure or a pain. Underdone fish or bacon, too much mayo or bread not up to the task can mean a messy dinner. Biondi’s fine edition ($15) was dressed with herb aioli on hefty multigrain bread.

I chose the Magothy River club ($23). This house specialty is built with Texas toast layered with lettuce, tomato, herb aioli, bacon, shrimp salad, another slice of bread, a fried crab cake and more greens, aioli and bacon. Half of it went home with me, but the half I managed was terrific. My only quibble: punch up the shrimp salad seasoning.

Donnelly’s Dockside, with its shiny new look and savvy staff, joins the ranks of neighborhood gems tucked away along the rivers and creeks of Anne Arundel County.

Donnelly’s Dockside

WHERE: 1050 Deep Creek Drive, Arnold

PHONE: 410-757-7045

WEBSITE: donnellysdockside.com

HOURS: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Sunday; 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

CHEF: Carlo Biondi

PRICES: $6-$29 for appetizers, $12-$34 for sandwiches and entrees

RESERVATIONS: Accepted

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes

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