A Trip North And Back In Time

DINING OUT

November 24, 1991|By JANICE BAKER

The Union Hotel's address is 1282 Susquehanna Road, Por Deposit. To know where that is, put in mind the high bridge over the Susquehanna River on Interstate 95 north to New York. There's a memorable house and barn on the northern hillside to the left of the roadway. Down the vertical bank and up the river from it lies the town of Port Deposit.

To get to the Union Hotel from the bridge, we paid a $2 highway toll north of the bridge (there's no toll on the return trip), exited to the right where it says "Port Deposit," crossed over the freeway, descended a steep hill, and then drove through and beyond Port Deposit for a couple of miles.

The hotel (which actually isn't a hotel, only a restaurant) sits above the flood line in trees on the north side of the road, and looks like an overgrown log cabin. We entered the restaurant through a bar in the cellar. Had we been more astute, we would have ascended an outside central stairway that rises to a porch furnished with chairs. We later learned, it's a pleasure to look out from the porch toward the river, and to watch the establishment's goose and gander, ginger cat and black Labrador as they wander the grounds.

Inside, the owners' interest in old domestic articles became apparent through an assemblage of candlestick molds, butter churns, jugs, medical prescriptions, maps, clocks, stoves and unusual lighting fixtures. The five rooms were lit partly by candles, and tables and chairs were simple and sympathetic to the building's age.

We began our evening with an order for a bottle of wine (from a short list of wines, all of them inexpensive), and the hope that the hotel's culinary skills would match the exceptional interest of the building, a construction of hemlock logs that antedates the presidency of George Washington.

The simple menu offered four appetizers, four soups and 16 entrees, one of which -- crab imperial ($17.95) -- is unavailable December through March. There were such classics as prime rib (32 to 36 ounces, bone in, for $22) and filet mignon (11 ounces for $17.95). There were also such classic suggestions as baked chicken ($11.95), liver with bacon and onions ($11.95) and frog legs ($15.95).

Our appetizers, a cup of New England clam chowder ($2) and spinach ricotta pie ($3.95), assured us we would enjoy the evening. We liked it that the clam chowder relied on a fish broth for its flavors, not on heavy cream. Also, its thickening was subtle, and it included, besides clams, chunks of potato and chips of bacon. The pie, modeled on a Greek spanakopita, consisted of a large triangle of buttered, sesame seed-sprinkled phyllo wrapped around a mixture of spinach (almost certainly the frozen sort) and ricotta.

Both were followed by a house salad of romaine and iceberg lettuces, together with slices of cucumber, tomato, radish and -- carrot, all of which were fresh and attractive. While the house dressing was mostly a tasteless oil, a commercial-tasting blue cheese dressing was agreeable, and both dressings were served separately, making it possible to eat the vegetables plain.

With the salad, we were brought a delicious, small loaf of warm homemade bread together with a dish of whipped butter.

Our entrees were rabbit ($17.95) and sambuca shrimp and scallops ($16.50). Rabbit? Yes, it's rare to find a restaurant that cooks rabbit, except as hasenpfeffer, or German rabbit stew, but the Union Hotel, as it says on its menu, intends to supply food "common in the early years of our country." Taking advantage of rabbit's propensities to absorb flavor, the kitchen had marinated three pieces in wine and vinegar. Sauteing lent a crisp, golden and greaseless edge. A raspberry syrup on the side counterbalanced the marinade's acidity.

Sambuca refers to a licorice liqueur, used delicately with the fresh shrimp and scallops to give a light lacquer of sweetness. Both entrees came with green beans mixed with toasted, shaved almonds and with baked potatoes. Though their firm, moist interiors seemed microwaved, the potatoes tasted carefully selected and cooked to order, and were satisfying with slatherings of butter and sour cream.

Desserts were both modest and pleasant. A chocolate mousse cake ($3) brought in from an outside source was strongly chocolate, though granular and ultimately commercial in taste. A light, fluffy, yellow square of "hotel cake" ($2.50), iced with sweetened cream cheese, took on character from a crown of crunchy, toasted walnuts.

Our waitress was courteous and attentive. We appreciated the modern version of Colonial clothing that she wore, and her cotton, gathered cap. The Union Hotel is good at details, and a very easy place to like and recommend.

Next: O'Leary's

UNION HOTEL, 1282 Susquehanna Road, Port Deposit, (410) 378-3503

HOURS:

Lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays; dinner 5:30 p.m. 9 p.m. Tuesdays to Thursdays, until 10 p.m. Fridays and

Saturdays, 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays ACCEPTS: MC, V FEATURES: Continental and regional cuisine NO-SMOKING AREA: No WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: No

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