Dinner with a dollop of history Restaurant: Rustic decor and period-costumed waitresses make the Union Hotel an appealing lunch or dinner stop.

November 09, 1997|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

Over the river and through the woods to the Union Hotel we go. The river is the Susquehanna, and there are miles of interstate before you get to the woods. Still, at the end of your journey is a place so steeped in history I can't imagine a more appropriate setting for Thanksgiving dinner. (As of this writing, the Union Hotel will have as the special on Thanksgiving Day a turkey dinner, or you can order from the regular menu.)

The Union Hotel, built in the late 18th century, isn't a hotel but a restaurant. It has a rustic log-cabin feel to it -- an elaborate log cabin, with lots of cozy nooks, beamed ceilings, fireplaces and candlelight. A front porch overlooking the river is decorated for the season with pumpkins and chrysanthemums.

The waitresses wear period costumes a la Williamsburg, but there's no attempt to be rigidly authentic in decor or food. Owner Janet Dooling says she wants to introduce foods that "were common in the early years of our country, but which have faded into obscurity." That doesn't stop her from also having lobster ravioli in vodka tomato sauce on the menu.

The Union Hotel isn't a restaurant I would normally drive over an hour to just for the food. But as a pleasant place to eat after an afternoon at the nearby Perryville outlet mall, or after biking or hiking or antiques shopping in Port Deposit -- that I could see.

Not that there's anything much wrong with the food. There's enough wrong, however, given the prices. Take the oysters Calvert. They were baked on a bed of stewed watercress and chopped onions. I say stewed because their Parmesan cream sauce separated, and the dish ended up being unpleasantly watery. Pan-fried Camembert was covered with apple slices sweetened with maple syrup. It tasted more like dessert than an appetizer. Of our first courses, only a well-seasoned, not-too-thick salmon chowder really hit the mark.

As for main courses, if you don't want to spend major money for prime rib or lobster tails, there are plenty of pastas in the $14 to $18 range. A special of the day paired tenderloin tips with shrimp in a quite spicy marinara sauce over linguine. Not bad.

From the seafood selections, shrimp and scallops flavored with sambuca, an anise-flavored liqueur, worked pretty well but wasn't memorable.

The best of our entrees was an old-fashioned Maryland combination of tender boneless chicken breast, salty country ham and quite rich and mayonnaisey crab imperial with some nice lumps of crab.

Dinners came with potato or wild rice and fresh green beans with Oriental seasonings. Either a house or a watercress salad with good dressings like sesame seed or Dijon vinaigrette is also part of the package.

Skip the Ms. Desserts cheesecakes and other store-bought pastries in favor of the homey apple dumpling in puff pastry with lots of good vanilla ice cream or the old-fashioned "hotel cake," yellow cake with a custard filling, smooth white icing and chopped walnuts on top. But forget the peach cobbler -- this time of year it's made with canned peaches.

The Union Hotel

Where: 1282 Susquehanna Road, Port Deposit

Hours: Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday

Prices: appetizers, $4.95-$9.95; entrees, $13.95-$28.95; Visa, MasterCard accepted

Call: 410-378-3503

Pub Date: 11/09/97

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