Boatyard has Chesapeake and Key West flavor

Blue crabs and conch fritters are part of the lure at the Eastport bar and grill

January 02, 2003|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It's easy to imagine popping into the Boatyard Bar and Grill after a day of sailing. This is a boat-happy restaurant, located near the Annapolis City Marina, across the Spa Creek Bridge in Eastport.

The walls are covered with photographs, paintings and doodads of all things nautical; the handsome wooden bar is in the shape of a boat's hull; and sailboat races are shown on the television in the bar.

Boating enthusiast Dick Franyo, who with his wife, Susan, opened the restaurant in October 2001, films local yacht races on Wednesday nights during the racing season, then shows them shortly afterward on television sets in the bar. After September, reruns from the previous season are shown on Wednesdays.

He said the restaurant is packed on Wednesdays, and I believe him. Even on a wintry-cold Sunday night, the bar was busy, and half the tables in the spacious dining area were full. Though the bar was a focal point of the action, the food was not neglected.

The menu is Chesapeake by way of Key West, mixing Maryland favorites such as crab cakes with Caribbean-inflected dishes including jerk chicken and conch fritters. The prices seem a bit high for a casual restaurant, but the portions are large.

The menu notes that the restaurant serves Otter Creek beers, which are made in Vermont, and Fordham beers, which are brewed in Annapolis, so we asked the server for advice about which beer to choose. She cheerfully admitted she was not familiar with all the beers, then just as cheerfully exchanged my beer for a similar one after I complained that it was flat.

As in many bars, some of the best dishes here are the appetizers. The hot blue-crab dip was a gooey, addictive blend of crab, Parmesan cheese, spinach, onions and artichoke hearts, served with slices of a nice chewy house bread.

The spices on another appetizer, the jerk chicken skewers, were not evenly distributed. Two of the four pieces of chicken were almost too hot to eat, while two had hardly any spice at all. A mango salsa on the side helped cool the heat of the spicy pieces.

A third appetizer, the conch fritters, were a little light on the conch but had the right amount of heat. The generous portion came with a mango chili dipping sauce that tasted sweet in one bite and spicy in the next.

The main-course dishes were almost overflowing with food. The crab-cake dinner included two cakes, a huge side of mashed potatoes and some snow peas and baby carrots. The steak dinner had all those things, plus a large onion ring.

The snow peas were tender, but the baby carrots were slightly undercooked. The potatoes were mashed with their skins on, and were so tasty that we ate almost all of them, despite the size of the portion.

The native Marylanders in our group were quick to note that the crab cakes, described as lump crab on the menu, were more filler than lump. They were also somewhat greasy. The steak, though, was flavorful and juicy, one of the best things on the menu.

We also ordered a blue-crab sandwich, which came with a choice of french fries, coleslaw or other side dishes. The drab potato salad was clearly the wrong choice. The sandwich was basically the crab-dip appetizer spread on bread, with some tomato slices and cheese melted on top. Nothing wrong with that, except that the bread was a little soggy.

In keeping with the other dishes at Boatyard, our desserts were huge, too. We tried a chocolate cake and the bread pudding of the day (chocolate chip). Both were rich but managed, just barely, to avoid being too sweet.

We washed them down with decaf coffee and vowed to come back to the Boatyard Bar and Grill in summer, when we can watch the boats and the boaters while we eat.

Boatyard Bar and Grill

Where: 400 Fourth St., Annapolis

Call: 410-216-6206

Prices: Appetizers $4.95 to $11.95; entrees $7.25 to $21.95.

Credit cards: All major cards

Food: ***

Atmosphere: *** 1/2

Service: ***

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