Around six o’clock in the evening, seven days a week, the Broken Oar Bar and Grill, perched in a small marina along Nabbs Creek in Glen Burnie area, gets very busy.
The tables fill up quickly.The peppy background music is a spirit lifter for the singles and couples who crowd the bar. Three-generation families fill the big tables with the oldest doting on the youngest. You know you are in a neighborhood.
With its many rivers and creeks and the Chesapeake Bay, Anne Arundel is believed to have the longest contiguous coastline of any county in the nation. The Broken Oar is a fine example of the dozens of “bar and grill” spots, some around for decades, that dot our shoreline. They are dear to their communities, part of the social, economic and cultural fabric that gives them identity.
Like most such places, Broken Oar isn’t fancy; it doesn’t pretend to be any more than it is; and it serves moderately priced food and drink that, with few exceptions, hit the spot. Its menu is dotted, with one exception, with traditional crowd pleasers from starters to desserts.
The exception was Broken Oar’s extensive and impressive sushi offerings. It was a surprise at a “bar and grill” tucked in a blue-collar waterfront community. We didn’t try it on this outing, but judging by its popularity at nearby tables, it’s on our list for a future visit.
Our foursome shared the fried green tomatoes ($9.75) and the fried calamari ($9) for openers. The calamari was a notch above the usual, mostly because they were cooked at the right temperature, allowing the breading to fry to a golden brown without first soaking up excess oil.
But Chef Jason Hall’s fried green tomatoes stole the show. Starting with real green tomatoes, not half ripe ones, they were carefully breaded and crisply fried. Topped with excellent jumbo lump crabmeat and a creamy butter sauce, they were a serious contender for the main course accompanied by a baguette and a glass of wine.
Sandwiches and entrees were the order of the night for dinner. The crab cake sandwich ($18) was a fine version, laced with good meat and subtle filler. The accompanying fries arrived hot and fresh. A cheese steak sandwich ($13.50) arrived, not on the advertised baguette, on a toasted bun. Meat and cheesy it was, but more of the promised fried onions would have lifted it above the average.
Broken Oar’s list of entrees numbers less than a dozen, but diners will find seafood, pork chops, steak, pasta and a down home chicken pot pie among the choices.
The chicken pesto pasta ($18) stars penne cooked a bit past the Italian’s sacred al dente (firm to the tooth) bathed in a creamy sauce with chunks of chicken breasts. It’s a big dish for a hearty appetite.
My choice of a pan-seared sea bass ($25) produced a generous helping of fish nestled on a bed of risotto and spinach. Rather than the Mediterranean Sea bass branzino so popular these days, Chef Hall chose a big cut of Chilean sea bass – a fish with a silky texture and delicate, lobster-like flavor. The dish was beautifully plated, but the fish seemed to have spent a bit too long searing in the pan, resulting in a taste and texture closer to cod. Not bad, just not a Chilean sea bass at its best.
With Broken Oar’s formidable portions and after those fried green tomatoes, dessert seemed too much. But the lure of a fresh strawberry bread pudding ($6) in early December was intriguing. The big warm chunk, surrounded by whipped cream was pillow soft and redolent with fine fruit flavor. Check please.
Over my eight years writing this column, I’ve wandered into some first class, fine dining establishments … of which our area is graced with many. But friendly, satisfying meals in pleasant old creek and riverside eateries tucked away in Anne Arundel County … well those are the makers of memories.
Broken Oar Bar and Grill
WHERE: 864 Nabbs Creek Road, Glen Burnie
HOURS: Tuesday-Wednesday: noon to 10 p.m.; Thursday: noon to 11 p.m.; Friday-Saturday: Noon to midnight; Sunday: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
FIRST COURSES: $5-$18
SANDWICHES AND ENTREES: $12-$26
CREDIT CARDS: All major cards