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Dining Out: Pussers has room for redemption after dreary dinner

Pussers is a fun place to be, but the food needs to improve. See the video and photos.

If you've ever been around the City Dock in Annapolis in the spring, summer and even deep into autumn, you know that Pussers, the Caribbean-themed bar and grille in the Annapolis Waterfront Hotel, is one of the hottest, most popular spots in town.

Situated on the water's edge with a great harbor view and lots of outdoor seating, it's THE place to eat, drink and be merry.

But, after a dreary dinner there on a chilly February evening, here's hoping the old place hits its stride again by the time boating and summertime crowds, tourists and hotel guests descend on downtown once again.

To take the edge off sizable appetites, we started with a cup of the Maryland crab soup ($5.95) and a half dozen Oysters Rockefeller ($11.95).

The soup had either been reheated too many times or simmered far too long when first prepared. The tomato-based broth had devolved into a strange-tasting brown liquid with overcooked vegetables and a sprinkling of crabmeat, also overcooked, all but devoid of flavor. A word to Addison, our affable and skilled server, had it removed from the bill.

My Oysters Rockefeller fared only a bit better. The menu described oysters topped with a "creamy spinach, garlic and bacon mix" and topped with Parmesan cheese. The topping with a lot of cheese had been baked or broiled to the point of forming a hard, nearly crispy, crust on the mollusk. The recipe was just fine, but the result made it tough for the flavors to come together.

The Caribbean style – with jerk seasoning and lots of spices and curries — dominates the entrée list, but steaks and fresh fish and shrimp come in a variety of preparations. My wife's Curried Chicken Sauté ($19.95) promised "jerk-rubbed chicken sliced" and sautéed with peppers, pineapple, onions and garlic and finished with a sweet, curried coconut sauce and rice. The dish was actually more like a stew in texture with chunks of thigh meat and vegetables in a thick brown sauce. The heat from the curry and very sweet sauce successfully hid the flavors of the chicken, fruits, and vegetables.

I was drawn to one of the "signature entrees," a "pick two mixed grill" ($18.95) from a selection of flat iron steak, chicken, salmon or a skewered shrimp wrapped in bacon. The dinner came with steamed vegetables and a helping of the house Road Town Rice.

The flat iron steak wallet-sized portion of lightly seasoned meat was perfectly grilled to medium rare. Nice. Two medium shrimp, wrapped in a thin slice of bacon were on the grill just long enough to cook the shrimp, leaving the bacon little more than warm. Not so nice.

I asked our server what the very strong herb or spice was that pervaded the Road Town Rice, a sort of pilaf with finely chopped vegetables. He didn't know, cheerfully offering to ask the cook. He returned a few minutes later. The cook didn't know either. Steamed carrots, cauliflower, broccoli and green beans added crisp color to the plate.

Pussers' impressive beer choices cater to traditional, tropical and microbrew tastes. Wine selections are the drinking equivalent of tried and true comfort food. (Yes, Kendall Jackson Chardonnay is poured.)

The lighthearted cocktail list sticks with the tropical theme. We tried their Painkiller – a sweet mixture of rum, fruit juices, crème de coconut and freshly grated nutmeg – offered in three degrees of strength depending on your pain. Whether its physical, fiscal or romantic, relief is just a swallow away.

Hotel restaurants with their three-meal-a-day schedule, plus meetings, weddings and special events to handle have it tough — seldom breaking out of that routine to be a magnet destination. But for years, Pussers has cultivated a reputation perfectly attuned to its town — youthful, maritime, a love of history (just look at the neatly decorated interior) and laid back.

There's no reason to believe it won't recharge its batteries and keep doing just that.

Pussers Caribbean Grille

WHERE: Annapolis Waterfront Hotel

80 Compromise St., Annapolis

PHONE: 410-626-0004

WEBSITE: www.pussersusa.com

HOURS: Daily 7 a.m. – 11 p.m.

CHEF: Jim Erikson

FIRST COURSES: $9.95 – 14.95



CREDIT CARDS: All Major Cards


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