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Dining Out: Middleton's crab balls shining stars of middling meal


I'll wager that no restaurant in downtown Annapolis attracts more out-of-town visitors than Middleton Tavern. For the thousands that come to soak up the Colonial America atmosphere and history or dock their boats nearby and explore the town, the place is part of the "Annapolis experience."  

Who could resist raising a glass or taking a meal where Washington, Jefferson and Franklin had been before them?

And, the place feels old. The walls are lined with memorabilia of history and the Bay. Families, clearly at the close of a day of sightseeing, were the main occupants of the dining room the midweek night we were there. The pub area was crowded with patrons snapping selfies to capture the moment in front of that grand old bar.  

Middleton's dinner menu focuses on steak and seafood preceded by a couple of dozen appetizers, soup and salad choices. Other than Cuban black bean soup and tuna nachos in the starter category, they are designed to comfort, not intrigue. Half a dozen steak items, a couple of veal and pasta entrees and fish and crab cakes make up the dinner list. That's right, no chicken.

It seems as though you can't have a restaurant in Annapolis without serving crab cakes.  You can sample Middleton's as an appetizer (miniature crab balls) "market" priced at five for $14.50. We did and they were far and away the shining stars of an otherwise middling meal.

Chef Arthur Gross' little morsels of good crabmeat defy gravity. There is so little filler and wisps of vegetables and dressing that by every law of physics they should fall apart. The sweet, gentle shellfish flavor is what you pay for and what you get. They come to the table with useless tartar and cocktail sauces and crackers that will remind you of Ritz. Forget them, and ignore the brownish dabs of flavorless "imperial sauce" on top of them.

My companion and I both opted for the house salads that came with our entrees. The plates of fresh greens were dotted with the standard red onion, shredded carrots, grape tomatoes, cucumber and mushrooms, pretty to look at, but boring to taste and not helped along by the bottled dressings devoid of the promised bleu cheese and a way-too-sweet honey mustard vinaigrette.

My companion chose Steak Diane as her entrée, pricey at $39.50. The medallions of tenderloin -- if that's what they were – came rare, rather than medium rare and lacked much beef richness – the result, I suspect, of hitting the heat straight from the refrigerator and not at room temperature. The Diane sauce seemed to have been made ahead – not in the pan with the steak juices – and strewn over the meat before serving. Not much of the tang of the rich Dijon mustard, shallots or cognac ingredients survived.

The dish came with a side of lukewarm mashed potatoes.

I opted for the Seafood Crepe Dinner ($26.95), enticed by the promise of a "classic" crepe with shrimp, crab and scallops and fresh herbs in a brandy sherry cream sauce. What arrived was a gratin dish containing a crepe covered with sauce that had been prepared ahead, refrigerated, and oven reheated. The crepe was over griddled – blackened on one end – and soggy from sitting in cold sauce. The filling was good, but the sauce was missing the fine touch of enough sherry, brandy and herbs. Uneven reheating left it cold in some places, warm in others.  

The fat spears of spring asparagus on the side came without any seasoning and were oddly bitter.

With fresh strawberries just in season and most of the desserts at Middleton Tavern from outside sources, our server suggested the house-made Strawberries Zabaglione ($8.25).  Whipped up correctly, it's a luscious concoction of custard, Marsala wine and berries.  

Middleton Tavern's version substitutes the Italian liqueur Galliano for the nutty Marsala.  Galliano is a blend of star anise, juniper berry and a host of other herbs resulting in a very sweet, yellow after dinner drink. The result is a wrestling match between the custard and the berries. There is no winner.

The dining room team at Middleton Tavern is an experienced crew, accustomed to big crowds and families. The dining room host handled his younger customers with aplomb. When I informed Kim, our efficient server, that my seafood crepe was not heated through, she smiled and said: "Well I guess it wasn't in the oven long enough."  

A meal at Middleton Tavern is dining on a piece of historic real estate, part of the Annapolis experience. A little more care and spark from kitchen could turn the experience into a memory.


WHERE: 2 Market Space, Annapolis 

PHONE: 410-263-3323 


HOURS: Monday through Saturday: 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m.; Sunday: 10 a.m. to 1:30 a.m.; Sunday Brunch: 10 a.m. to 1p.m. 

CHEF: Arthur Gross 

1st COURSES: $6.95 to $17.95 

ENTREEES: $15.95 to $39.50 

CREDIT CARDS: MasterCard, Visa, American Express 



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