River Watch is as much about location as it is about food. Overlooking Hopkins Creek in Middle River, the restaurant is popular with boaters who tie up at its 110-slip marina to eat steamed crabs and hear live music on the outdoor deck during warm weather or by one of three fireplaces inside when the weather's chilly.
For a casual, come-as-you-dock kind of place, River Watch isn't cheap. An 8-ounce cheeseburger with chips and a pickle is $7.50, a cheese steak $8.95 and a crab cake $12.95. While the atmosphere does not exactly match the high prices, the solicitous service does. Our server, an older woman who knew the menu by heart, delivered each dish with a slight flourish and kept us well-watered.
On the bright side of the tab, they don't skimp at River Watch. There was plenty of crab meat swimming around in the extra-thick cream of crab soup. A crab cake - the size of a large adult's fist - mostly contained lump crab meat.
The steamed crabs were wonderful, fat, meaty ones from Louisiana that were cooked to perfection and rubbed with just enough spice. A good-sized appetizer of jumbo shrimp wrapped in good, crisp bacon fed three easily.
The only real disappointment: a house specialty that our server said was very popular, a pasta dish called seafood Decceco. In this case, a few small, sweet scallops and shrimp would have worked far better than the overload of large, rubbery ones mixed in an olive-oil-based sauce. And had the few artichokes not peeked through the noodles, we would have never known they existed; the flavor had been cooked right out of them.
Two out of three homemade desserts were excellent. Delicious bittersweet chocolate frosting coated three layers of moist chocolate cake. Pineapple upside-down cake (a special) was a yummy throwback to the '60s, right down to the maraschino cherry plopped in the middle of a broiled pineapple ring. Bringing up the rear was a tasteless wedge of carrot cake spread with too much overly sweet cream-cheese frosting.
Given the nautical feel that River Watch cultivates, ordering seafood here seems natural. Just keep the choices simple and you'll be fine.
Where: 207 Nanticoke Road, Middle River
Open: For lunch and dinner daily
Prices: Appetizers $3.50 to $9.95; entrees $5.95 to $29.95
Credit cards: Major credit cards
Food: * * 1/2
Service: * * 1/2
Atmosphere: * * 1/2