Buddy's Crabs and Ribs in Annapolis has a scenic location overlooking City Dock and an up-tempo atmosphere, but neither justifies the overpriced plates of bland seafood my husband and I had one recent early evening.
The dinner buffet -- $8.95 for stuffed shells, salads, fruit, fried oysters, mussels, shrimp and a raw oyster and clam bar -- was tempting. But we wanted to see what else Buddy's had to offer. If we had known, we might have chosen the buffet.
First, I learned not to take the name of the place to heart. Ribs were hard to find on the menu, and that should have been a clue they were not a specialty. But I had a taste for ribs, so I ordered a rib shooter ($6.95). My husband went for oysters on the half shell ($6.50).
Three two-piece rib sections slathered in barbecue sauce and arranged in a circle on a bed of leafy greens came steaming hot to our table. But after one tasteless bite, I ate the greens, scratched Buddy's off my rib joint list and asked the waiter to pack up the meat.
My husband's oysters came detached from their shells and attractively arranged on a bed of ice with lemon slices and cocktail sauce. They tasted like raw seafood, which is hard to mess up unless it's spoiled.
For entrees, we tried the seafood sampler ($21.99) and the seafood extravaganza ($22.99). Each came with a side item and a salad, but I asked for cream of crab soup ($4.99) instead. The soup was flavorful, smooth and thick, with tender bits of crab meat and the occasional shell.
The difference in price between the entrees was $1, but the difference in the amount of food was huge. The sampler had only three scallops, three shrimp, a slab of dry flounder, wild rice and a crab cake. The scallops had a wonderful grilled flavor I could have used more of. The crab cake was fair, with an even distribution of lump meat and filler.
The extravaganza had at least a dozen mussels, about a half-dozen clams and three oysters, all steamed; crabs (blue and snow), a pile of shrimp and a pile of crawfish. All of it was drowned in butter (a pool of it remained in the platter when we were done), and that was the problem. All seafood needs is steam and a little seasoning. Step outside that simple recipe and it's easy to miss the mark. Buddy's did, by a wide margin.
The blue crabs were steamed without seasoning and smothered in garlic butter. Ugh. The snow crab legs, which have a more flavorful meat and are traditionally dipped in butter, were a little better. Everything else was pretty much as expected. The mussels were clean (no beards), the shrimp were in shell and seasoned, and the crawfish were tasty. We topped dinner off with a slice of caramel apple granny ($3.95), a tasty apple pie version served hot with a few puffs of whipped cream as garnish.
Our waiter, Nick from Arnold, was talkative and helpful. He quickly replaced a drink we didn't mean to order, rushed to our table with extra napkins -- a necessity with the seafood extravaganza -- and checked on us regularly.
But it took close to a half hour to get our entrees. And when the check ($74.99 before tip) arrived, we found we had been charged $5 for the soup I had ordered in lieu of the salad and side item that came with the entree. When we asked about it, Nick brought over the manager, Vicki, who apologized but informed us that the restaurant does not make substitutions.
Too bad Nick didn't tell us sooner. Vicki offered us dessert ($4) or one of the flavored coffees ($3) to make up for it, but we thought it absurd to give away a $4 dessert when the $5 soup charge could simply have been taken off the bill.
It was poor judgment that left us with a sour taste.
Buddy's Crabs and Ribs
Where: 100 Main St., Annapolis, 410-269-1800 (Balt.) or 410-626-1100 (Annapolis).
Hours: Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday 8: 30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers, $4.25-$13.99; entrees, $8.99-$28.99
Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover and Diner's Club
Ratings: * culinary wasteland, **** culinary heaven
Pub Date: 5/21/98