Don't worry about being able to spot The Big Fish Grille while cruising down Crain Highway on your way to dinner. Just look for the flashiest and splashiest neon signage you can find. Then hit your turn signal.
With out-of-town friends in tow, we made our way to Big Fish on a recent weekday evening and found a crowd of diners enjoying a variety of items from sandwiches to seafood entrees.
When it's only Tuesday and you're already wondering, "Will this week never end?" it would seem that an adult beverage is in order. With an oenophile in the group, we decided to pass on Big Fish's super cocktails and go directly to a bottle of a surprisingly tasty New Zealand white. The Matua Sauvignon Blanc ($32) carried us nicely through the meal, particularly shining with the estimable Cream of Crab soup ($5 per cup, $8 per bowl).
Usually a menu with representative items from many types of cuisine (everything from traditional Chesapeake fare to Thai dishes here) waves a giant red flag, for it's not easy to maintain quality when pulled in so many different gastronomical directions. Never fear, Big Fish pulls it off adroitly and seamlessly.
Ordinarily, our appetizers alone would test a kitchen's mettle, as we went from pork shanks to deviled eggs to seared ahi tuna.
Living in our wonderful area, we are exposed to practically every use of crabmeat imaginable, but the Crab Stuffed Deviled Eggs ($10) was a first, inventive and totally scrumptious. We'll definitely order them again.
The Seared Ahi Tuna ($10) featured an abundance of exquisitely fresh and succulent sushi-grade tuna with the traditional wasabi and ginger accompaniments. Gluten-free soy sauce is available as well.
The Bone-In Bourbon Pork Shanks ($11), delectable with the homemade bourbon glaze, would have been a sure home run with a bit more cooking time. You really want the meat to fall off the bone in a dish like this.
Our main course selections proved once more the kitchen's range (pun intended) as we ordered fish, chicken and beef.
Hawaiian Butterfish ($19) didn't need a second chance to make a first impression, as the diner's first introduction to this delicate white-fleshed fish (with apricot chili glaze) came complete with major wow factor.
Prime rib is not an everyday treat for most people, so if you're going to have it, you want it to be spectacular. The member of our group who chose Prime Rib Junior Cut ($20) found the beef to be well-marbled, tender and popping with flavor. As was the case with the other two main courses, this one came with yummy garlic mashed potatoes and steamed asparagus.
Chicken and Crab Pontchartrain ($24), the selection of the final diner, earns its reputation with a mushroom seafood cream sauce that was out of this world. Enough chicken and lump crab for two enjoyable meals (complete with eco-friendly takeout container).
Several dessert temptations on the Big Fish menu, but our fond memories of their Vanilla Bean Crème Brulee ($7) sent us there without passing Go and without collecting $200. A creamy, custardy treat! (If you're a fan, their version of Peanut Butter Pie is similarly swoon-worthy.)
We're accustomed to seeing little caveats on menus — fees for splitting main courses, corkage fees, reminders about cellphone use, etc. Have to say, though, that we've never seen one like the one on the Big Fish menu. Diners are instructed that they should limit their reservation to two hours at table (as we had dined in a leisurely fashion, we joked about maybe being banished to the parking lot to eat our dessert.)
The other unusual warning should motivate you to order very carefully with complete understanding of ingredients and preparations. "If your food or drink item is made correctly to our standards, there will be no exchanges or refunds."
On the other hand, their menu is one of the most gluten-free friendly that we've encountered anywhere. They have GF icons on the menu itself plus a note advising you to inform your server so that they may take extra care in preparing your food. Kudos! (Vegetarians can cobble a meal from among the salads and delicious side dishes.)
There's something nice about being the big fish in a little pond. When The Big Fish Grille opened in the mid double-naughts, they held that enviable position in the Crofton-Gambrills area that is their home. Lots of changes since then, though, as there are now well over a dozen eateries vying for the west county dining-out dollar.
With their whimsical décor, their varied menu, their profusion of great deals and specials, plus the loyalty of many happy regulars, the Big Fish Grille continues to hang on to a healthy market share along the Route 3 corridor. Check them out. This Big Fish will reel you in.
A FINAL NOTE: What possibly could be better than running into an old friend whom you haven't seen in years (her son was 5 and is now 14!)? Running into an old friend who just happened to be giving away free whiskey.
Alison Paige Sachs, former executive chef and co-owner of the late and highly lamented Aqua Terra, is now associated with Bacchus, the distributor of Wyoming (Small Batch Bourbon) Whiskey (yep, it's made it Wyoming and not in Kentucky).
It was great to get caught up with Alison and to sip some of this exquisite spirit. Watch out, Knobb Creek! Take cover, Woodford Reserve!
Terra Walters is a freelance writer and editor based in Annapolis.
WHEN YOU GO
WHAT: The Big Fish Grille.
WHERE: 1260 South Crain Highway, Crofton.
HOURS: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday, with brunch from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
EXECUTIVE CHEF: Lupe Cortez.
FIRST COURSES: $8 to $22.
MAIN COURSES: $16 to $32.
RESERVATIONS: Accepted and recommended for holidays, weekends and large parties.
CREDIT CARDS: All major cards accepted.