THERE are certain restaurants worth visiting for their atmosphere alone. Magothy Seafood Crab Deck and Tiki Bar is one of those. It's a relaxed place on the banks of the Magothy River that evokes a fishing camp or summertime family picnics with the cast of The Wonder Years.
The restaurant is a large glorified tent plopped in the midst of Ferry Point Marina. Rows of picnic tables, covered with bright vinyl tablecloths, share space with a thatched tiki bar decked with tiny red crab lights and authentic crab traps. Butterfly kites and crab balloons hang from the ceiling. Lady the dog totes a tennis ball from table to table in that halfhearted way old hounds do after spending most of their lives playing fetch.
Rolls of paper towels share table space with crab mallets and ashtrays. Plates, glasses and utensils are plastic. The big-screen television is tuned to a sports event. Before or after your meal, you can climb aboard restaurant owner Don Broglie's boat, the Lady Bug, for a free 30-minute cruise.
We visited the Magothy the week before the Lady Bug officially kicked off its cruise season. And it was not quite warm enough to sit at one of the outside tables and do justice to a bushel of crustaceans. But the restaurant was charming nonetheless. Service was friendly, never rushed. Most of our food was good. And the advantages of dining in full view of a working marina were not lost upon the younger members of our group; the children spent most of the night outside watching sailboats go into dry dock.
The only low points in the evening arrived in the forms of two appetizers and three sides. There was more filler in the crab balls than crab. The steamed shrimp was overdone. Potato salad was flavorless, and so was the overcooked asparagus. Our server warned us that the corn was not fresh, as it would have been during the summer; she was right.
Spicy french fries and crunchy-sweet hush puppies helped us forget the disappointing appetizers. And the entrees we got fared far better than anything that came on the side. The meaty back fin lump crab cake was broiled perfectly. We loved the sweet-salty combination produced by wrapping five fat New England scallops in bacon. The kids liked the crispiness of the chicken tenders, and the adults liked the fact that all the meat was white.
Magothy's desserts befit the summertime feel - frozen homemade Key lime pie; tart, tiny Key lime cookies; ice-cream sandwiches made with chocolate-chip cookies; and the biggest and best Nutty Buddy knockoffs in the world. Picture the old favorite with twice as much vanilla ice cream, chocolate and nuts piled atop the sugar cone. These retro treats are made locally - by St. Michaels Ice Cream, just across the Chesapeake Bay on the Eastern Shore.
So, anyone ready to get a jump on summer with a crab cake, ice cream and a boat ride? The Lady Bug leaves at sunset.
Magothy Seafood Crab Deck and Tiki Bar
Where: Mill Creek and River roads, Arnold
Open: For lunch and dinner daily March 15 through December
Prices: Appetizers $3.25 to $10.95; entrees $5.25 to $24.95
Credit cards: MC, V