Middleton provides tradition

November 06, 1997|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

Restaurants come, and restaurants go, but Middleton Tavern is forever -- well, 247 years and counting.

The Annapolis landmark, tucked along the side of City Dock, helped fuel the fires of the American Revolution by serving men named Washington, Franklin and Jefferson as they debated our country's future.

Our goals these days may be less lofty, but Middleton still holds up its end of the bargain.

If you want cutting-edge cooking, look elsewhere, for Middleton does not have what one might call a daring kitchen.

But man (and woman) does not live by poached turbot in mung beans alone. Sometimes only a perfectly cooked hunk of beef or a plate of freshly shucked, briny oysters will do.

For those occasions, and when relatives from Iowa visit, Middleton is the place.

Middleton has retained its early American atmosphere down to portraits of George and Martha. But unlike the period restaurants at Williamsburg and other historical theme parks, Middleton's decorations seem less like props and more the selection of the owners.

The dining space is cozy without seeming cramped, and the noise level acceptable.

Middleton also pays tribute to Annapolis' fishing-village past and waterfront location at its raw bar, where fresh cherrystone clams and oysters are served on the half shell, and clams, mussels, oysters and shrimp are prepared in the steamer. You can't go wrong on the bivalves and shellfish, although the cocktail sauce is a tad on the thin side.

For other appetizers, there's the Cuban black bean soup ($3.95), a hearty preparation with onions and rice; the Maryland crab soup ($4.25), a winner at the Maryland Seafood Festival; and the special the night we were there, Oysters Sellman ($6.95), baked on the half shell with crab meat, Cheddar and bacon.

The wine list is reasonable. This night we chose a bottle of Ravens-wood cabernet ($21.95) to ward off the cold.

Middleton might want to rethink the rolls. The fist-sized breads arrive warm and crusty, but without the whipped butter, they don't really have a lot of taste.

My companion chose for his entree the roasted veal chop ($24.95), which had that Fred-Flintstone-at-the-drive-in look. It was prepared with a wild mushroom and bordelaise sauce. Ordered medium, it arrived that way, juicy and flavorful.

I ordered surf and turf, which at Middleton can mean: a petite filet mignon and three stuffed jumbo shrimp for $23.95; a junior New York strip steak and a lump crab cake for $24.95; or the petite filet and a broiled lobster tail (market price). I chose the strip and the cake and held my breath, figuring it wouldn't be easy to get both components right.

I was wrong. The steak was seared and crusty on the outside, medium rare, tender and moist on the inside. The crab cake was held together with a minimum of fillers and cooked well.

If you have room, try a wedge of carrot cake ($4), dense and not too sweet, with recognizable chunks of the healthy ingredients.

The full treatment at Middleton isn't inexpensive. What in historic Annapolis, save some of the cheesy souvenirs, is? But a lighter sandwich menu includes the crab cake and some pasta dishes that can lower the cost.

The staff is helpful and efficient without trying to be everybody's best buddy.

Middleton Tavern was good enough for George and Ben and Tom, and it's just the ticket for you, your friends and Uncle Mike from Iowa.

Middleton Tavern

Where: 1001 2 Market Square, Annapolis, 410-263-3323.

Hours: Open 365 days a year, weekdays from 11: 30 a.m. to 2 a.m. and weekends 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover

Rating: ***

Ratings: * culinary wasteland

**** culinary heaven

Pub Date: 11/06/97

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