When it comes to the Shanty Grille, the term "in for a penny, in for a pound" definitely applies. The Grille — formerly the Crab Shanty, a popular county seafood eatery for decades — opened with a new name, a new décor and a new menu last November after about six weeks of renovation, during which the restaurant remained (mostly) open.
According to Jeanne King, wife of Eric King, the Grille's vice president and scion of the original owners (who are still much involved with the restaurant), the decision to redecorate the restaurant to make it more modern pretty much led simultaneously to a name change and a new menu.
So now when you walk in the (new) front door, you'll find a re-done foyer with a fireplace and exposed brick, a larger eat-in bar with high-top tables and cozy booths, and nicely laid out dining areas with booths boasting stained and etched glass dividers. A newly opened outdoor dining area seats 40. In short, comfortable.
It was up to Executive Chef Jim Harlow and Chef Charles Warner to transform the old Shanty menu into something that Jeanne King calls "casual chic" and Eric King calls "diverse American cuisine." From the looks of it (and the taste of some of the featured items), the two have succeeded.
There's still plenty of seafood here — you can still get the Shanty's justifiably famous crab cake — but many of the offerings are done up in more contemporary preparations. In the appetizer section, you'll find Asian influences like firecracker shrimp in a crisp spring roll, a Shanty maki roll and seared ahi tuna alongside good old "American" chicken wings, clams casino and steamed shrimp.
Also appetizing is a listing of six "oyster bar" bivalves, including tatamagouche, blue point, malpeque and Chesapeake Bay. Or get the sampler, and enjoy all six.
There are entrée salads, pastas, meats (a cast-iron ribeye, a New York strip, and veal short ribs au jus among them), small plates (like Coca Cola ribs and bacon-wrapped meatloaf), sandwiches and flatbreads to boot. For the diet-conscious, items containing 600 calories or fewer, and those that are gluten-free, are noted.
Another plus to all that tweaking in the kitchen is that the prices here seem more approachable than they used to be.
Girls' night out
My tasting group took the form of a girls' night out, so we didn't sample some of the heartier items the guys tend to prefer. Still, we did manage to fill up very nicely, in a genteel sort of way — "genteel" meaning salads.
Crab jalapeños ($9) as an appetizer were fun to share. A quartet of large bacon-wrapped jalapeños with crab dip and lightly glazed with a blackberry reduction were a charming combination of textures and flavors.
The classic crab dip ($13) provided a generous supply of very creamy, very lumpy crab, nicely broiled for a golden brown cap and served with a crusty, toasted Parmesan baguette.
Among the entrées we ordered was the grilled avocado salad ($15) — pretty much a masterpiece. An avocado had been brushed with lemon pepper, grilled, then dolloped with a bit of crab salad (could use more) and plated on a bed of mixed greens featuring tomato, onion, a half-dozen steamed shrimp and mandarin oranges, drizzled with a key lime vinaigrette for a tropical feel. A lovely summertime entrée.
The Shanty shrimp salad sandwich ($12) was really two little sandwiches, each featuring a generous offering of chunky, celery-enhanced shrimp salad, with lettuce and tomato, all on chewy ciabatta rolls. A creditable cole slaw and fresh cut chips accompanied.
Fish tacos are now classics in most "contemporary" American eateries. The Shanty Grille's version (small plate menu/$11) proffered a pair of semisoft flour tortillas sandwiching crisp batter-fried mahi mahi strips, pepper jack cheese, diced tomato, guacamole, chipotle sour cream and fresh cilantro. A successful offering, they were quite spicy with smoky undertones. But the tortillas cry out for more of the fish.
Off to Hawaii (or even farther East) for grilled island shrimp ($17) in the menu's seafood section. The dish was composed of a six moist, crisp-tender jumbo shrimp laved in a well-balanced coconut curry sauce and arranged around an "island" of jasmine-scented sticky rice with red bell peppers and sweet onions. The result was fragrant, texturally pleasing and good-tasting. An order-again kind of dish, the island shrimp are a good example of what the kitchen in the "new" Shanty Grille can accomplish.
Since the four of us were so "genteel" in our appetizer and entrée orders, we celebrated with dessert. The traditional raisin-bread pudding had plenty of nutmeg, plenty of rum and plenty of crème Anglaise oozing over all. Pure comfort, any time of year.